The Romans knew a thing or two about the recuperative properties of mineral springs, so when they happened upon what is Britain’s only hot spring in around 60AD they set about building the massive bathing complex of Aquae Sulis. Since then there have been several stages of revival associated with rediscovery of the baths’ benefits, first in Elizabethan times, then the Georgian and Victorian periods, through to today.
Much of the architecture that helps make Bath a World Heritage-listed city is associated with these periods; the iconic Georgian crescents are a standout. Several million people visit Bath each year, not only for its history but because it makes the perfect escape, with delightful places to stay, excellent restaurants, good shopping and – of course – the bathing.
The Roman baths are a must-see. You can’t bathe in them these days, but there is a contemporary alternative in the nearby, hugely popular Thermae Bath Spa – the only place in Britain where you can bathe in natural hot spring pools. The Roman baths are a living museum and superbly well maintained. They’re open all year (times vary).
Bath’s other great claim to fame is its magnificent Georgian architecture, led by Royal Crescent, a curving terrace of townhouses completed in 1774. One house, decorated in the style of that time, is open to the public. Another key attraction is the late-Gothic Bath Abbey, home to a memorial to Arthur Phillip, first governor of NSW, Australia, who spent his final years in Bath.
Eat and Drink
Foodies will find themselves well catered for with a wide range of dining options dotted around town, including top restaurants, cafes, gastro pubs and stylish bars. You can eat your way around the world, from modern British to Greek, Turkish, Italian, Indian and more. Some are in a period setting, others strikingly contemporary.
Afternoon tea is an English tradition and key hotels such as the Bath Spa Hotel and Royal Crescent Hotel serve it with particular style. Meanwhile, treat yourself to the local speciality, the Sally Lunn bun, at Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House and Museum. The recipe remains a closely guarded secret. Its sweet, sticky rival is the Bath bun. Try one at the Bath Bun Tea Shoppe.
Where to Stay
There are hundreds of places to stay in Bath which is a reflection of its popularity for both short breaks and as a base for exploring further afield. That popularity also means that at certain times accommodation can be at a premium so it pays to book ahead.
You will find everything from five-star hotels (one in the centre of the iconic Royal Crescent) to smaller, family-friendly boutique accommodation, including self-catering, often in heritage buildings. Bed and breakfast is particularly popular in Bath, with dozens of options within easy striking distance of key attractions.
High street and luxury brands, independent retailers and quirky gift shops, homewares, galleries … Bath delivers on a reputation as a great place to shop while you take in the sights. Key shopping districts within walking distance offer different styles of retail depending on your taste and need.
The new SouthGate shopping development is a one-stop shop for brands such as H&M, Top Shop and Next. High street retail in a more traditional setting is found in the central precinct around Stall Street and Union Street.
North of central you will find boutique fashion, designer retail and quirky independents in the area around Milsom Street and the Upper Town around George Street.
Bath Like a Local
Getting to know Bath better than many locals doesn’t have to lighten the hip pocket. Orientate yourself with a free two-hour walking tour taking in the key sights with one of the Mayor of Bath’s Honorary Guides.
Alternatively, if you prefer to go “solo”, the visitbath.co.uk website offers free downloadable audio guides. Choose from the World Heritage Site tour or In the Footsteps of Jane Austen. Yes, she lived in Bath for five years.