With its beautiful Georgian architecture, well-preserved Roman baths and buzzing cosmopolitanism, Bath is an obligatory stop on any UK tourist trail. Here are our tips for an unforgettable experience, on and off the beaten track.
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The Roman Baths
Bath’s namesake is a majestic complex of bathing facilities right in the 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 first century CE, 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 well-maintained Roman facilities buried beneath street level are a unique historic treasure trove, visited by over 1m tourists every year (tickets must be prebooked).
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Thermae Bath Spa
The original Roman Baths themselves are no longer available for use, but the geothermal waters have been channelled into an exciting, more recent project: the Thermae Bath Spa. Established in 2006, this combination of modern and Georgian architecture gives visitors the chance to experience the UK’s warm geothermal springs. The fully trained personnel offer a vast range of health and beauty treatments, from the cutting-edge to those based on traditional practices.
Hit the pubs
After a day’s sightseeing, what better way to unwind than with a trip to one of the numerous pubs in 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. The Cork, the Old Green Tree and the Star Inn, among others, serve a range of great food and drink, and will occasionally host music and quiz nights. Check their websites for details.
The Holburne Museum
The Holburne Museum was Bath’s first public art gallery, and today displays a glittering variety of fine and decorative art. Home to traditional works by painters such as Thomas Gainsborough, Francesco Guardi and Johan Zoffany, the Holburne also showcases modern works by artists such as David Fisher. And its location in Sydney Gardens, at the end of the lovely Great Pulteney Street, makes it a convenient stop-off while soaking up the city’s architecture and green spaces.
Take the Skyline Walk
Bath is a compact city, and prime countryside for ramblers can be found near 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 sight, appears 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.
Just a few yards from the Roman baths is another tourist hot spot: Bath Abbey. It was founded in the seventh century BCE by the Anglo-Saxon king of the Hwicce, Osric, then sporadically rebuilt and renovated over the years. The abbey is particularly striking to architectural enthusiasts especially for its gothic features, 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 well worth a look.
Bath’s section of the River Avon is as delightfully scenic a stretch of water as you could ask for. At Bath Boating Station, you can row, punt or paddle your way along the Avon in a variety of different crafts. You can even head out into the open green spaces of Bathampton, where birds and the occasional otter are to be seen, among the 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.
The Royal Crescent
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 No 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.
Hot Air Balloon
Tightly clustered though Bath may be, it boasts so many places of interest that it can be hard to see them all – so a hot air balloon ride is a tempting option. A number of companies operate safe, regular rides over the city, typically departing from the spacious Royal Victoria Park. 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 no better way.
The Oldest House in Bath
It’s no secret that Bath is one of the most ancient cities in the UK, but which is the oldest house in the city? Not only can you visit it, sitting as it does on North Parade Passage, you can stop by and get something to eat here. Sally Lunn’s has stood proudly since 1482, operating now as a tea house and restaurant. The most famous item on the menu is the Sally Lunn bun, a delicious bread bun/cake hybrid.
Take an Architectural Tour
While it might look like a gigantic open air museum, Bath doesn’t have plaques describing the age and pedigree of every building. So, for those interested, an architectural tour is a no-brainer. Tours start at the city centre and there are a number of vendors who can be booked either online or at a tourist information centre. If you want to take in as much as you can in a single visit, this is the way to do it.
Visit Prior Park
Venture a little further out of the city, just south of Bath station, and a serene haven of green space is your reward. Prior Park has stood here since the 18th century, and much of the original landscaping is still intact. The Palladian bridge is perhaps the most recognisable feature, but there’s also an old temple and the repurposed remains of the old manor (now an ice house).
The Herschel Museum of Astronomy
History isn’t the only thing you can marvel at in Bath. The Herschel Museum of Astronomy gives visitors the opportunity to learn about the work of William and Caroline Herschel, brother and sister astronomers responsible for many amazing discoveries, including the planet Uranus. The museum is built out of their old house on New King Street, and is open daily and even runs stargazing sessions during the summer months. Who knows, you might make your own galactic discovery.
The American Museum
It takes a bit of a steep walking route up Bathwick Hill to reach the American Museum from the centre. Take your time, but do it, though, and you can explore this wondrous little museum in an old Georgian manor house. The American Museum boasts one of the most extensive collections of American artefacts anywhere outside the States, including Civil War weapons, an arboretum of native North American trees and a collection of textiles dating back to the colonial era.
Additional reporting by Callum Davies
For more inspiration, discover our guide on must-visit attractions in Bath.
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