Water, wool and architecture could be said to have defined the beautiful city of Bath in England’s West Country. Water, because of its Roman thermal spa and baths; wool, because of its importance as a centre for the industry in the Middle Ages; and architecture, in the shape of many Palladian buildings.
Bath’s combination of culture, history and architecture have led to it being the only place in the UK to have the whole city designated a World Heritage site.
What To See
The city is packed with things to do, but top of the list has to be the Roman spa and baths, probably the best preserved Roman spa in northern Europe. The baths are below street level and the main areas to explore include the Sacred Spring, where naturally hot water at a temperature of 46°C (115°F) rises every day, and the Great Bath, a massive pool lined with lead and filled with hot water. You can even sample the mineral-rich, curative spa waters from the fountain.
You can’t use the Roman baths, but Thermae Bath Spa’s four thermal baths are fed by the same natural springs as the Roman Baths nearby. It offers great views of the city.
Bath Abbey, a site of pilgrimage and worship for more than a thousand years, is well worth a visit. You can climb the 212 steps to the tower and stand on top of the Abbey’s vaulted ceiling.
If the Roman baths represent Bath’s heart, then the Royal Crescent is surely its soul. This curve of Georgian townhouses is set around a manicured lawn overlooking Royal Victoria Park. Visit No. 1 Royal Crescent, which is now used as a museum and has been decorated as it might have been in the late 1700s.
For an alternative watery attraction, take a cruise from Pulteney Weir along the River Avon to the village of Bathampton. Hour-long trips are available with plenty of beautiful scenery and wildlife to see along the way.
A Taste of Culture
Cultural Bath is has a long list of museums to choose from. Highlights include The Holburne Museum, which is home to the art collection of Sir William Holburne and includes bronze sculptures and Dutch landscapes.
Victoria Art Gallery has collections ranging from the 15th century onwards and includes works by artists who have lived and worked in the area, such as Thomas Gainsborough and Walter Sickert.
Meanwhile, the American Museum in Britain at Claverton Manor is the only museum outside the US that specialises in American decorative and folk art. It contains everything from fascinating photographs of Native Americans to Shaker furniture.
Alternatively, Georgian enthusiasts will enjoy a trip to the Jane Austen Centre, which details her experience in the city between 1801 and 1806 and celebrates her life and work.
Time for Tea!
Given that they’re named after the city, it goes without saying that you should try one of Bath’s most famous exports: the Bath bun. Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House—named after Solange Luyon, the Huguenot refugee who created the original recipe—is located in one of Bath’s oldest houses dating back to 1482. Today, visitors can enjoy a Sally bun—a light bun similar to brioche—as part of a Bath cream tea. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are also available.
For an elegant dining experience, The Pump Room Restaurant is perfectly positioned as it is attached to the Roman Baths. The room is bathed in light and home to resident classical group the Pump Room Trio. It’s also home to another spa fountain where you can try the hot mineral-rich water.
Another great eatery is The Bath Bun tea shop, associated with William Oliver, an 18th-century doctor credited with creating a sweeter version of the Bath bun. The shop serves cream teas near tranquil Abbey Green.
Afternoon tea is also served at The Royal Crescent Hotel, where guests can imagine they are in a Jane Austen novel, such is the grandeur of the Georgian architecture. There is also a modern spa.
Events in Bath
Early autumn makes a great time to visit Bath, with annual events that bring travelers from around the country. The Bath Children’s Literature Festival is the largest dedicated children’s book festival in the UK; it features events, readings, guest writers, quizzes and games galore. The Irish Day at Bath Racecourse is an afternoon of racing with a special Irish theme. Between the horse races, expect live Irish music. For another literary-themed event, schedule a trip around the Jane Austen Festival. This week-long festival of events celebrates the great author. Get your bonnet at the ready and practice your waltzing.