American Museum in Britain, Bath | Courtesy of American Museum in Britain
If you’re looking for a cultural way to spend an afternoon in Bath, you’re in for a treat. This elegant city has an excellent and diverse choice of museums and art galleries to keep you occupied, covering everything from fashion through the centuries to Jane Austen. Here’re seven of the best.
Based in the centre of Bath, right next to the city’s famous Pulteney Bridge, Victoria Art Gallery is home to an impressive permanent collection as well as a rolling programme of innovative temporary exhibitions. Spread out over two floors, you can expect to see work by artists including Turner and Gainsborough, as well as 20th century artists Walter Sickert and John Nash, and Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry. The gallery is free to visit, although there is a small charge for viewing the temporary exhibitions.
You really can’t visit the city without taking a trip to the world-famous Roman Baths. Following a £5.5 million redevelopment, the Baths are now one of the most visited heritage attractions in the country and will capture your imagination whatever your age! Built in 70 AD as a grand bathing and socialising complex, you can now walk through the site and among the extensive ruins including The Great Bath, ancient changing rooms and plunge pools. The accompanying interactive museum will give you a real taste of what the Baths were like in Roman times, you can even meet costumed characters and listen to their ancient stories.
Spanning over 400 years of history and with over 160 dressed figures, the Fashion Museum gives a fascinating insight into the world of clothes. Housed in the Assembly Rooms, one of Bath’s most magnificent Georgian buildings, you can see first hand everything from beautifully decorated gloves from the time of Shakespeare, right through to cutting edge fashion from contemporary designers. If you like a more hands on approach, there’s even a dressing-up room (for children and grown-ups!) where you can try on different pieces before having your photo taken.
Royal Crescent is one of Bath’s most iconic buildings. Instantly recognisable, this sweeping crescent of 30 elegant Georgian terraced houses is a real slice of history and No. 1 Royal Crescent brings it to life. The museum occupies, funnily enough, the first house on Royal Crescent, which has been decorated and furnished just as it might have looked in the late 1700s. Giving a glimpse into what life was like for Bath’s most affluent and fashionable residents, No. 1 Royal Crescent will give you serious house envy.
Of course, you should never judge a book by its cover, but one look at the stunning Grade I listed building and grand gardens that are home to The Holburne Museum and you know you’re in for a treat. Inside you’ll find an impressive collection of fine and decorative art from around the world, including excellent Dutch oil paintings, bronze sculptures and precious silverware. Once you’ve explored the museum, head to the Garden Café which opens onto Sydney Gardens for a delicious spot of lunch.
Surrounded by 120 acres of stunning grounds and picturesque scenery, with spectacular views over the Limpley Stoke Valley and River Avon, the American Museum is just a 15 minute drive from Bath city centre (there’s a free shuttle bus throughout the day). It’s the only museum dedicated to American decorative and folk art outside of the US, with period rooms showcasing how American families lived during the last 300 years. There’s also a beautiful folk art gallery, quilt collection and map exhibition as well as annual festive Christmas displays.
Bath and Jane Austen go together like a pot of tea and a Sally Lunn’s bun, so if you want to find out more about Bath’s adopted daughter, pay a visit to The Jane Austen Centre. Inside the original period property, there are talks and activities to learn more about the famous novelist and even the chance to dress up in Regency costume yourself.