Aptly named, the spa town of Bath has been attracting wellness invaders – erm, tourists – since Roman times. The Romans built the first public baths around the only natural hot springs in Britain, in the settlement they named Aquae Sulis, and you can still bathe in the famed hot springs today and visit the original baths. However, there’s much more to this genteel town than mere hot water. There’s no shortage of Bath attractions: channel your inner Jane Austen as you wander the streets, lined with handsome, sand-coloured Georgian stone houses; learn what a Sally Lunn bun is; take a boat trip on the River Avon; and peruse fashions through the ages.
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The Roman Baths
Jostle for space with parties of schoolchildren as you stroll around the most popular of Bath attractions: the largely intact Roman bath complex, fed by mineral-rich hot springs and dating back to 70CE. Marvel at the Romans’ hugely advanced contribution to the personal hygiene of ancient Britons, and don’t miss the Great Bath – a lead-lined pool, surrounded by statues – or the excellent on-site museum showcasing Roman coins, wonderfully intact mosaics and Roman statuary. To beat the morning crowds, it’s well worth staying at one of the best luxury hotels in Bath, several of which are just a short stroll away.
Thermae Bath Spa
While things to do in Bath most definitely include bathing, the only time visitors end up swimming at the original Roman Baths is when they accidentally fall in – which is most certainly not encouraged. Instead, check into one of the best hotels in Bath, then head for this state-of-the-art spa fed by the same thermal waters – a steady 46C (115F) – that the Romans once enjoyed. Look out over the city streets from the rooftop pool, or soak yourself into a state of blissful bonelessness in the basement pool and hot tub.
Herschel Museum of Astronomy
It’s a little-known fact that the planet Uranus was discovered using a home-made telescope from a garden in Bath in 1781. If you’re an astronomy buff, a visit to the house-museum of William Herschel – a German musician and astronomer – is a must. A film screened in the basement divulges fascinating details about his life, while his rooms, left practically untouched since the 1800s, look as if he’s just stepped out and might be back any minute.
Fashion Museum Bath/Assembly Rooms
If you take even a passing interest in what preceded Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood and Ozwald Boateng creations among English high society, check out couture through the ages at this excellent Bath attraction. Exhibits cover everything from 17th-century gowns, wigs and breeches to “that” Princess Diana dress. Step into the Assembly Rooms and imagine the 18th-century equivalents of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian strutting their stuff beneath the frescoed ceilings and chandeliers.
Jane Austen Centre
If you loved Northanger Abbey (1817) or Persuasion (1817) – or were tortured with either during high-school English lessons – you’ll know that Jane Austen made Bath the setting for her novels after spending five years living here and making copious notes on the Regency society. For a light-hearted look at the author, her life and work, follow the guides dressed as characters from her novels around this Bath museum, or play dress-up yourself.
No1 Royal Crescent
Occupying a prime slice of parkland just on the edge of the city centre, this sweeping crescent of 30 terraced mansions, designed by famed architect John Wood the Younger and built in the 1770s, is one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in Bath. Behind the honey-coloured stone facade of No1 hides a sensitively preserved Georgian mansion, complete with original furnishings. If you’re stuck for things to do in Bath, here’s a fun, albeit thematically limited, scavenger hunt idea: count all the wig stretchers in the bedrooms.
Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House
Having a Bath cream tea, complete with tiny cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off and Sally Lunn buns, at the oldest tea shop in the city is such a cliché that it’s actually cool. For the uninitiated, “Sally Lunn buns” is not a euphemism – it’s a reference to the large teacakes, similar to brioche buns, that are unique to this Bath establishment. The recipe dates back to the 1680s, and they are served warm and smothered in cinnamon butter, with clotted cream as an accompaniment.
Boat trip on the River Avon
On a warm summer’s day, a lazy outing on the water is a Bath attraction that’s hard to beat. The River Avon curves around the centuries-old heart of the city, and you can explore this venerable waterway via an hour-long excursion with Pulteney Cruisers, which departs from the eponymous, famous bridge. Alternatively, you can steer your own canal narrowboat or electric craft, available for rent from Bath Electric Boats.
Victoria Art Gallery
Step inside this splendid Grade II-listed, turn-of-the-century building, opened in 1900 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, and peruse works from more than 2,000 artists. Highlights such as cityscapes by John Nash and Walter Sickert mingle with portraits by Thomas Gainsborough and Johann Zoffany, as well as lesser-known works by local painters. There are numerous hands-on kid-friendly activities for budding artists, too.
Taking inspiration from the Colosseum in Rome – hence the name – architect John Wood the Elder designed these three stately rows of Georgian townhouses, built in 1768, to loop around a circular green space. Fun things to do in Bath include peering at the golden-stone facades from the outside and trying to guess which of the mansions were once home to Clive of India, painter Thomas Gainsborough and actor Nicolas Cage.
The Dark Horse
If heaven had a bordello, it would look something like this. Descend into this subterranean bar, found near one of the best boutique hotels in Bath, and discover subdued mood lighting, crimson walls, plush leather couches and intimate nooks for cuddling with your sweetie. Next, order one of the bespoke cocktails, which are the best in the city. Sea of Storms is a favourite, but it’s hard to go wrong with any of the original creations that use seasonal ingredients, including some made in-house, such as saffron syrup. If you’re lucky, your visit will coincide with the monthly whisky socials.
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