Bath is the epitome of what many visitors to the UK probably imagine is “quintessentially English”. It’s a pint-sized ‘city’ of gorgeous Georgian architecture and more twee tearooms than you can shake a stick at. A one-time hotspot for the invading Romans and centre of the social scene for Regency ladies and gentlemen in need of a spa break, nowadays Bath is mostly filled with a motley crew of tourists, students and world-weary locals.
Whatever your budget and whatever the weather, you certainly won’t be short of things to do or see in Bath. To help you decide, however, here are our top 5 recommendations:
1. Explore the Roman Baths
Even if you have no real interest in history usually, the eponymous baths are really not to be missed, and well worth the slightly costly ticket. They were constructed in 70 AD by the Romans to take advantage of the area’s natural hot springs – the temperature can reach 46 °C. Although these baths are no longer used for bathing today, the remains are among the best preserved in the world and merit several hours of exploration. Pick up an audio guide (narrated by Bill Bryson!) and step back in time 2,000 years inside this labyrinthine complex. You can even sample the water in the Pump Room – it supposedly has healing properties, although to be honest it tastes pretty horrible. It’s your call!
2. Visit the Jane Austen Centre
A must for any Austenite, this centre is dedicated to all things Austen, complete with costumed staff, a tea room serving Crawford’s Crumpets and a gift shop stocked with ‘I <3 Darcy’ memorabilia. There’s even a Jane Austen festival each September. Fun fact: although it purports to celebrate “Bath’s most famous resident” – the link between Austen and Bath is something the city is only too keen to show off – Jane Austen did not in fact much like the place. Ah well.
3. Take Afternoon Tea and Try a Bath Bun
It’s not a trip to Bath without a visit to one of its plentiful tearooms. Sally Lunn’s is one of the most popular options – and with good reason. It’s housed inside one of the oldest houses in Bath, and is home to the famous Sally Lunn Bun – the original Bath Bun whose secret recipe has been passed on along with the deeds to the house since the 17th Century. Oh yes, and you can still check out the faggot oven downstairs.
Cost: See menu.
4. Treat Yourself in the Spa
The Roman Baths may not still be open for business, but don’t worry – that’s what the modern Thermae Bath Spa is for. It’s not cheap, but sometimes it’s good to splurge, and after all this is Britain’s only natural spa. Choose between either the open-air Cross Bath or the more luxurious New Royal Bath, which boasts a rooftop pool and steam rooms. You can even throw in some spa therapies if you really feel like being pampered.
Cost: £17 for 1 ½ hours in Cross Bath; £27-£57 for 2 hours to a full day in the New Royal Bath
5. Take a stroll or get on your bike
The great thing about Bath is how compact it is; you can easily explore the city centre on foot. Take in the magnificent Abbey and the Royal Crescent before wandering over to explore the city’s many beautiful parks, including the Botanical Gardens, Prior Park Landscape Garden, Royal Victoria Park and Parade Gardens. Better yet, go on one of the many walking tours: there’s a free one, an audio one, a comedy one, an Austen one, a Regency one and a ghost one, to name just a few options!
If you fancy going further afield, then hop on a hire bike and take off on one of the many cycle paths out of the city. Explore the local area on the Two Tunnels Greenway, follow the canals on the Kennett and Avon Cycle Route, or make your way to Bristol – the cool capital of the South West and the UK’s only designated ‘Cycling City’ – on the Bristol & Bath Railway Path (stopping for chips and cider along the way, of course).
Cost: Free to variable.
Have you got any tips or recommendations for visiting Bath or the surrounding area? Share them below.