Bath’s namesake is a majestic complex of bathing facilities located in the buzzing city centre. The naturally occurring hot waters of the area have been appreciated for at least two millennia – the Romans built the surviving subterranean caverns in the 1st century AD, and folklore has it that the pagan king Bladud constructed his own baths here even earlier (the most fanciful version claims that the waters cured Bladud of leprosy). The astoundingly well-maintained Roman facilities buried beneath street-level are a unique historical treasure trove, thought to be visited by over one million tourists every year.
The original Roman Baths themselves are no longer available for use, but the geothermal waters of the area have been channelled into an exciting, more recent project: the Thermae Bath Spa. Established in 2006, the Spa is a combination of modern and Georgian architecture, and gives visitors the chance to personally experience the UK’s warmest geothermal springs. The Spa’s fully-trained personnel offer a vast range of health and beauty treatments, from the cutting-edge to those based on traditional historic practices.
After a day’s sight-seeing, there’s no better way to unwind than with a trip to one of the numerous historic pubs dotted around the town. The Campaign for Real Ale describes Bath as “one of the finest cities in the country for real ale”, and you’ll find a range of local West Country beers and ciders alongside the standard fare. Throw in an eclectic mix of music and events, such as the weekly folk sessions each Sunday evening at The Star Inn on the Paragon, and Bath’s pubs are a cultural heritage in themselves.
The Holburne Museum was Bath’s first public art gallery, and today displays a glittering variety of fine and decorative art and historical items. Home to traditional works by painters such as Thomas Gainsborough, Francesco Guardi and Johann Zoffany, the Holburne also showcases modern works by artists such as David Fisher. Moreover, its location in the heart of the placid Sydney Gardens at the end of the lovely Great Pulteney Street, makes it a convenient stop-off whilst soaking in the city’s spectacular architecture and serene green spaces.
Bath is a highly compact city, and prime countryside for ramblers can be found just a short way away from the city centre. One of the most rewarding routes is the Skyline Walk, a scenic trail across the forested hills surrounding the city. An unusual and must-see feature is the so-called “Sham Castle” – a well-known folly which at first sightappears to be a firm stone fortification. Following this National Trust-listed path around the city is a great way to get out and about in a gorgeous country setting.
Located a few yards away from the Roman Baths is another tourist hot spot: Bath Abbey. Founded in the 7th century by the Hwicce king Osric and then sporadically rebuilt and renovated, the abbey will be particularly striking to architectural enthusiasts especially for its Gothic characteristics, while its huge stained glass windows and stone sculptures are engaging to even the most casual of observers. Still functioning both as a place of worship and as a museum of regional heritage, the Abbey is more than worth a look.
While Bath’s football team currently languishes in the lowly Conference South division, the city does boast a top-flight rugby team. Narrowly beaten into second place in last year’s Aviva Premiership struggle, Bath is as hungry and ambitious a club as ever, and taking in a game at the Recreation Ground, where the team has played since 1894, can be a thoroughly satisfying experience, both for confirmed rugby fans and curious newcomers alike.
Bath’s section of the River Avon is as delightfully scenic a stretch of water as one could ask for. At Bath boating station, visitors can row, punt or paddle their way along the Avon in a variety of different crafts, heading out into the open green spaces of Bathampton where birds and the occasional otter are to be seen among a scattering of traditional pubs and brightly painted canal boats. For those who would rather escape the physical labour, any number of companies offer motorised boat tours into the city centre.
No tour of the city is complete without a stop at the Royal Crescent. Occupying a majestic position overlooking the expanses of the Royal Victoria Park, the Crescent is a marvel of Georgian architecture. Of particular interest is Number 1, which is maintained by Bath Preservation Trust as a painstaking recreation of the interior of a typical 18th-century upper-class dwelling, and can now be entered and explored as a museum. The Crescent is a must for anyone whose curiosity is piqued by Bath’s unique municipal style.
Tightly clustered though Bath may be, it boasts so many places of interest that it can be hard to see them all – and so a hot air balloon ride is one particularly tempting option. A number of companies operate safe, regular rides over the city, typically departing from the spacious Royal Victoria Park. The popularity of this attraction needs no explaining: to take in Bath’s compelling architecture, its flowing waterways, its pretty green spaces and the fetching smaller settlements on its rural outskirts: there’s really nothing better.