A Whistle-Stop Tour of the City of Bath
Famous for the Roman Baths, the residence of Jane Austin and the home of Sally Lunn’s buns, the city of Bath has been a popular tourist destination for many a year. Its traditional Georgian architecture in striking Bath sandstone is a great draw for international tourists. The whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and while many of the attractions may, in the past, have been tailored to the upper classes, these days Bath is a city where you can find attractions to suit all travellers. Take a look at our whistle-stop tour of Bath and discover which spots will be making their way onto your itinerary.
These thermal springs, running with naturally hot water, date back to Roman times and have been a number one attraction in the city ever since. While you can no longer bathe in the baths here, the complex has been turned into a fabulous museum where you can learn about the history of the baths.
Try on period costumes and watch the CGI projections that bring the space to life. Look out for special events such as the torchlit evening openings (highly recommended), underground tunnel tours and events like T’ai Chi on the terrace.
Thermae Bath Spa
If you’d rather get your feet wet than explore the ancient ground of the Roman Baths, head to the modern Thermae Bath Spa building. The spa includes a luxurious ground floor swimming pool, an open-air rooftop pool with views across the city, and the Wellness Suite which includes scented steam rooms and other experiences.
Also on offer are spa packages featuring massages, facials and more, and the Springs Café for drinks and light meals. Tickets to the spa can be pretty pricey, and you’re advised to book well in advance.
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For a cheaper experience, check out the Cross Bath – a separate building with one, smaller, open-air pool which is no less luxuriant – the Georgian sandstone and classy decoration make it a trip to remember.
First port-of-call for Bath fashionista’s is the Fashion Museum, which has an extensive collection of textiles on show as well as temporary exhibitions. The Dress of the Year showcase is always an interesting thing to see, and you can see garments owned by royalty such as Queen Victoria. A pricey entrance ticket but well worth it if you’re interested in textile history.
National Trust – Prior Park and Skyline Walk
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The National Trust has two sites in the heart of Bath that should feature on your hit list, especially if the weather is good. Either walk or take a public bus to the Prior Park Landscape Garden (no parking) for a spectacular stroll in a gorgeous garden. The park isn’t huge but is quite hilly, but the views from the top are well worth it.
The Skyline Walk starts in the centre of the city, and the 6-mile walk (of moderate difficulty) will take around 4 hours to complete. Pack a picnic and make a day of it – there are plenty of takeaway bistro joints in the city to grab something great to eat from: the pasty shop on Pulteney bridge, the Chinese noodle bar at the bus station and the budget greasy spoon behind Debenhams are all top recommendations.
Bath Abbey is a stunning piece of architecture both inside and out. The Abbey is a picturesque backdrop for its regular services, as well as events such as University graduation ceremonies. Not to be missed is the Abbey Tower Tour where you can climb up into the dizzy heights of the roof and even peer out from behind the clock face. Spiral staircases lead up to your adventure behind the scenes – wear sensible shoes and bear in mind the recommendation that the tour is intended for those who are able to climb over 200 steps.
Little Theatre Cinema
Dating back to 1935, a visit to ‘the Little’ is like stepping back in time. Going to the cinema may not seem like the best use of your time when visiting a new city, but regardless of what you see, viewing a film at the little is a wonderful experience. Big, squishy chairs and red velvet drapes on the wall give this theatre a rustic charm. The ladies toilets are themed (Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn to choose from. I’m not sure if the gents are similarly decorated…) and you can buy mini bottles of wine from the bar. The Little is known for showing foreign, indie and interesting films, so it could be a chance to see something you’ve never heard of before.
Victoria Art Gallery
Often overshadowed by the city’s newer art gallery (the Holburne) the Victoria Art Gallery is absolutely worth a few minutes of your time. Upstairs, the permeant exhibition of more classical works is a joy to see. Top artworks include a Thomas Gainsborough, as well as some more modern pieces. The downstairs exhibition room changes display several times a year, with plenty of work by local artists as well as art students.
Festivals (Xmas market)
Festival time is usually when locals avoid the city like the plague, and when visitors flock to it. There are things going on in Bath year-round, with one of the most popular events being the annual Christmas Market. The wooden chalet huts erected around the city are the perfect place for a spot of Christmas shopping, as well as some personal indulgences! Literary festivals include the Bath Literature Festival (in March) and the Children’s Literature Festival (in October). In November, look out for the Film Festival as well as the Mozart Fest. The Bath Festival (in May) has events of all sorts, and there are also smaller, indie festivals throughout the year.
The Jane Austen Experience
The city is famous for Jane Austin, but did you know that she famously hated Bath? A country girl at heart, Austen detested the bourgeois society of Regency Bath and the years she spent living there were both depressing and unproductive for her as a writer. However, the fact that she lived here means that local tourism has plenty to cater for Austen fans.
The Jane Austen Centre and Regency Tea Rooms are the first port of call for fans, as well as a stroll around the Paragon where Austen first lived. From Jane Austen tours, dressing up in period clothing, visiting her old haunts such as the Assembly Room and Sydney Gardens, there is much in Bath to entertain Pride and Prejudice fans.
While most tourists flock to the popular museums, Bath has plenty of niche attractions that are certainly worth a visit. Centrally located, the Herschel Museum of Astronomy is often overlooked by visitors. Home to the astronomer William Herschel allows visitors to enter the auditorium, and there is also a beautiful garden to enjoy. The American Museum in Britain is a short drive out of the city centre, but there is a free shuttle bus that you can use. If anything, views from the museum grounds are completely stunning. In the centre of Bath is the Bath Postal Museum, located underneath the town post office. Perforate your own traditional stamps and purchase charming postcards in this cute and cosy museum.
Parks and Gardens
If relaxing outdoors is your idea of heaven, Bath is full of places to do so. Most of the parks and gardens in the city are free. The Royal Victoria Park is the biggest, with a generous children’s play area and a botanical garden to explore.
Sydney Pleasure Gardens are located behind the Holburne Museum and were a favourite of Jane Austen. Also worth seeing are Alice Park and Henrietta Park which are both in central locations. A brisk walk up to Bear Flat and then up further will take you to Alexandria Park – the views across the city are unrivalled.
Discover Local Areas
Strolling up and down the centre of the city is alright for most tourists, but if you like discovering real local areas where you can get away from the crowds, they aren’t hard to find. A few minutes’ walk away from the train station, Widcome Parade is a local area where you can find a number of shops, cafes and more. Just a stone’s throw away is the Prior Park Garden Centre, which is one of the loveliest garden centres in the city. Similarly, a short walk away from the town you can find Moorland Road – a local shopping street in a residential area that is popular with students and families. From great eateries to independent shops, visiting Moorland Road will give you a sense of what Bath life is like for the locals.
Imge Source: Bath, Pedro Szekely cc by sa 2.0