Bath – A Gorgeous Spa Oasis in Southwest England
Considered one of the most beautiful cities in England and famous for its namesake ancient Roman baths, the Somerset city of Bath is a wonder to behold. Just a short train journey from London, a trip to Bath feels like a step back in time, into a world of grandeur and splendour. Indeed, the mystery and romance of its historic buildings helped to earn the city World Heritage Site status in 1987. It’s perfect for a one to two day stay and a must for any trip to England.
The clue is in the name – the Roman Baths are the city’s best-known tourist attraction and a treasure trove for history buffs. Bath is home to the only hot springs in Britain, a fact which didn’t go unnoticed by the Romans. In around 70 AD, the town Aquae Sulis (waters of Sulis – a deity worshipped at the thermal spring) was founded and the Romans set to work fortifying the largest hot springs with a wall. An elaborate and impressive bathing complex was built up around it over 300 years. Roman engineering brought contemporary marvels such as water pipes, aqueducts, and even underfloor heating to Britain, recreating the splendid baths in Rome. For Romans, the baths served as oases in which to bathe, read, relax, and socialise. Even many years later, the hot baths brought prestige to the city and made it a popular health resort.
Nowadays, the Roman Baths are to open to the public as a museum, where there are exhibitions of Roman and Celtic artefacts uncovered during excavations. The site is open daily and offers slightly cheaper ticket options on weekdays, as well as student discount. Expect to pay between £24 and £28. The ancient Great Pool can be viewed from a terrace – but no diving! Visitors cannot enter the water, so you’ll have to book into the nearby Thermae Bath Spa, where state-of-the-art thermal baths, wellness and beauty areas give a true luxury R&R experience. With water from the natural hot springs and a warm rooftop pool with a brilliant city view, the spa is the ultimate location for soaking up the wonders of Bath.
Directly opposite the Roman Baths, in the heart of the city, the Gothic abbey church Bath Abbey impresses visitors with a beautiful stained-glass window over its altar. The window shows 56 scenes from the life of Christ and is only one of many stained-glass windows in the church. A former Benedictine monastery, the Abbey has a long history covering its 7th century founding, 10th century reorganisation and numerous rebuild and restoration projects. Now, as an active place of worship, visitors can enter for free, making it perfect for budget travellers who want to admire the beauty of the city. A guided climb up the church tower will take you behind closed doors to see the famous bells and fan-vaulted ceiling from a new angle, as well as the picturesque city panorama at the top, and will only set you back £10.
Pulteney Bridge and Parade Gardens
Fans of films and musicals shouldn’t miss a visit to the striking Pulteney Bridge and be transported to 19th century Paris and the world of Les Misérables. Actually commissioned in the 18th century, Pulteney Bridge is one of the most beautiful and romantic bridges in the world and one of only four bridges across the globe to have full-width shops on both sides. Browse the array of antiques, music, and flower stalls and don’t forget to snap a pic of the famous River Avon for that quintessentially English view.
If you want a view of the bridge, a short walk to Parade Gardens will immerse you in the scenery of lush green meadows, charming flowerbeds and a great view of Bath Abbey and Pulteney Bridge. Can you imagine a more idyllic summer’s day than listening to brass band music from the park bandstand wafting through the air while you stroll along and take in the Georgian finery that characterises Bath?
The Bath Royal Crescent
One of the most impressive and renowned examples of Georgian architecture in the city is the Royal Crescent. A bow of thirty terraced houses built over 7 years in the late 18th century, this architectural masterpiece now contains opulent private flats, as well as a museum at No. 1 and a luxury hotel at No.16. At the Royal Crescent Museum, you can travel back in time and see how the residences were furnished and decorated in the late 18th century. Historic furniture, photographs, and clothing show how Bath’s fashionable upper-class residents lived at the time. Half-enclosed by the buildings of the Royal Crescent is the Royal Victoria Park. Named after the then eleven -year-old Princess Victoria, who opened the park in 1830, it is home to a botanic garden, various sports fields and a pond that can be explored by boat. In summer, numerous open-air concerts create a relaxed atmosphere.
The Bath Circus
Breaking from Bath’s seeming tradition of does-what-it-says-on-the-tin names, The Circus is another historic ring of Georgian townhouses about 20 minutes’ walking distance from the city centre. It is not however, as you might have expected, home to clowns and strongmen, but in fact gets its name from the Latin word circus, meaning circle.
The Circus consists of three curved rows of townhouses forming a circle with three entrances. Architect John Wood, the Elder took inspiration from the Roman Colosseum and the famous Stonehenge. Consequently, The Circus, like Stonehenge, has a diameter of 97 metres. After John Wood, the Elder died shortly after construction began, his son, John Wood, the Younger, took over and completed the project in 1768. John Wood, the Younger, also designed the Royal Crescent, just a few metres away. The Circus is best viewed from the centre and has one spot where everything you say echoes. Try and find it!
Skyline Walk and Food Options
An absolute highlight of Bath is the Skyline Walk, a 10-kilometre walk around the city. It leads through secluded valleys, ancient woodlands and meadows and offers impressive views of the city. The walk’s starting point is at Bathwick Hill, which can be reached from the city centre in about 25 minutes. From here, the trail is very well signposted and can be completed in about three to four hours.
To recharge your batteries after the walk, visit one of the many restaurants and cafés in Bath city centre. Bath is famous for its buns, which are best sampled at The Bath Bun Tea Shoppe or Hands Tearoom. Be sure not to confuse these sweet buns with the famous, light brioche-style Sally Lunn bun, available at the world-famous eatery Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House & Museum.
If you’re after a taste of the alternative scene of the city, check out the so-called Artisan Quarter in the London Road and Walcot areas. This area is popular among locals so, as the saying (partially!) goes, when in Roman Baths, do as the Romans do! Neptune has its flagship café in this trendy quarter and Walcot House is a hip, contemporary restaurant, with its own cocktail bar and basement nightclub. Walcot Street also boasts a range of independent craft, shops, and workshops, as well as a popular Saturday flea market.
Jane Austen in Bath
“I really believe I shall always be talking of Bath, (…) I do like it so very much…. Oh! Who can ever be tired of Bath?”
So proclaimed Jane Austen heroine Anne Elliot in the author’s famous novel Northanger Abbey. The English novelist lived in Bath for many years during the Regency Era and took inspiration from the city. Many well-preserved buildings and places from her novels such as Persuasion can still be visited here. Satisfy your desire for knowledge of all things Austen in Bath’s Jane Austen Centre, where you can learn about the author’s life and the fashion, food, and social life of her time. Chat with the Regency-outfit-clad staff and enjoy a traditional English afternoon tea in stylish surroundings. You can book your tickets in advance online for £12.50, or £10.50 with a valid student card! What’s more, in September, the Jane Austen Centre also hosts the Jane Austen Festival. Hundreds of like-minded people come together to journey into the world of the author and her novels. During the festival, participants can prepare for the Summer Ball with Regency dance lessons and etiquette workshops.
The city of Bath in the west of England has its own special charm. With its long and exciting history and quaint buildings, it is a dream for both history and architecture fans.
Nature-loving backpackers will also get their money’s worth here – in the midst of a fantastically green hilly landscape, there are countless hiking trails and excursion destinations. Explore the surroundings or take a day trip to nearby cities. Bristol is less than an hour away by car and London is less than three hours away.
Want to experience the idyllic and romantic Bath for yourself? Then plan your trip to the West of England with our web app and look forward to a varied and exciting visit!