‘As for Bath, all history went and bathed, and drank the waters there.’ – William Thackeray.
One of my favourite cities in the world is actually a lot closer to home than many people may think. Bath, the beautiful spa city in Wiltshire, with its warm honey-coloured limestone architecture, has been a place I invariably return to every year or so.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when Bath won a spot in my heart and became one of my favourite places. I’ve visited so many times over the years that I know the city almost like the back of my hand, but it still never fails to leave me feeling excited when I return and surprised at how much I actually missed it.
When my good friend A recently informed me that she’d be spending a night in the city after our upcoming trip to Devon, and asked me for recommendations, I decided it was high time I wrote a post about Bath. It is long overdue!
An Overview of Bath
The city is small, with a population of under 100,000. It sits on the banks of the River Avon, with buildings sweeping up the rolling hills all around. Bath is invariably overrun with tourists, even during the ‘quieter’ months of the year and it is a honeypot for visitors. There are a plethora of famous sights that will satisfy even the most hard-to-please culture vultures., including the Roman Baths, Bath Abbey and The Royal Crescent. The Georgian architecture is plentiful throughout the city, and even new buildings are constructed using the iconic limestone that is synonymous with Bath. In short, it’s a beautiful city, one that rightly deserves its UNESCO World Heritage status.
It’s really easy to get to and from Bath – there are regular trains running from London, or it is a short ten-fifteen minutes from Bristol if you’re coming from the other direction. To find out more, check out the National Rail website. Although I’ve driven to Bath, I wouldn’t really recommend it unless your accommodation has parking. Finding somewhere free to park can be difficult!
The best way to see Bath
Since Bath is only a small city, I would say you can see plenty with only one night and two days. However, I’d always recommend a longer stay if you have time – two or three nights – so that you can get a better feel for the history and culture of the city, rather than a brief overview.
My first and most important top tip for Bath? Walk everywhere! It’s the best and easiest mode of transport and you can get lost down narrow lanes, back streets and side alleys if you do this, finding a whole new side to Bath that you would have missed otherwise. Below, I’ve outlined a walking tour of Bath that I think can be fitted into one (albeit long) day or stretched over a couple of days if you have more time. My tour encompasses all the main sites and attractions, takes you through the best of the city streets and lanes and offers great lunch and coffee stops. Feel free to add or remove stops and mix it up – make the visit your own, these are only my recommendations and don’t need to be followed to the letter!
Pulteney Bridge. Start the day at Pulteney Bridge. This beautiful bridge spans the Avon in the centre of town and is lined with shops and cafes. Don’t miss out on the antique map shop halfway across! It’s the perfect place to begin the walking tour – situated quite centrally and you can pep yourself up with a drink and a bite to eat in one of the cafes overlooking the river before heading off to the next stop on the tour.
Bath Abbey. Perfect for getting your bearings. Here, you can climb the Abbey tower to get a birds eye view over the city. If you choose to do a tower tour, the ticket price is £6. It’s definitely worth the small cost, as the views are marvellous, although bear in mind that there are 212 steps to climb until you are gratified with said views. Upon descending, check out the Abbey interior, which is extremely grand and very beautiful, before heading out on the next leg of the tour.
The Roman Baths. If it’s your first time visiting Bath, you should definitely check out the historic Roman Baths. They’re located right in the very centre of Bath, are easy to find and cost £15.50 for an adult ticket. You should definitely pick up a free audio guide to take with you around the Baths. They provide loads of extra information about this historic site and are available in several languages. The most iconic part of the visit is undoubtedly the main bath house, where steaming water still rises to the surface and fills the pool. Taking the water became a well-known Victorian cure-all, with many travelling great distances for it, and I dare you to have a taste as you exit the museum… I promise, it is an experience if nothing else…
Sally Lunn’s Eating Shop. After a morning spent climbing towers and exploring the Roman Baths, you’ll probably be ready for lunch. Sally Lunn’s is the perfect pitstop – located in one of the oldest houses in Bath and with a menu based around the historic Sally Lunn bun, still baked to the traditional secret recipe. Fuel up on a tasty lunch menu and then wander back out into the city for the afternoon section of the tour.
Exploring the city centre. Take a little time to wander through the narrow back alleys and side streets that make up Bath’s historic centre. Get off the beaten track and plunge down lanes to find independent shops selling all sorts of treasures. Buy some souvenirs and then start heading uphill towards the next pitstop…
Boston Tea Party. Time for another break, if needed! I’m adding in a stop at Boston Tea Party – a visit at some point during your stay in Bath is definitely needed! The cafe serves great coffee, and there is a menu you can choose from too if you feel peckish. Perfect for kicking back and reading a good book if you want a real break, or just enjoy people watching as you eat one of their delicious cakes!
The Royal Crescent and the Circus. After your coffee break, stroll a few streets over and arrive at The Circus. This historic street has some amazing examples of old townhouses and is well worth a walk around, before heading towards the Royal Crescent. The No1 Royal Crescent Museum has been decorated and furnished in a style replicating the period 1776-1796 and is worth a visit if you’re interested in the history of this famous area. Then, take a turn around the Crescent and head onto the next leg of the tour.
Bath Botanical Gardens. Take a break from the city streets and head into the Royal Victoria Park and Botanical Gardens. These gardens are really beautiful, with nine acres of plants, trees and flowers to admire. I spent a couple of hours wandering here, and generally chilling out. Although Bath isn’t a big city, it can be hectic with all the tourists, so this setting provides the perfect antidote if you need a bit of time out!
The Jane Austen Centre. As much as I enjoy most of Jane Austen’s books, I am yet to head to this museum and tea rooms. It’s something I hope to rectify soon, so am including the museum into my tour, as I am sure it is worth visiting if you’re interested in this famous author. The museum chronicles the life and times of Jane Austen and her novels, celebrating her work and the time she spent in Bath. The city is mentioned in all of her novels and is the setting for both Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, so visiting the museum seems the perfect way to bring about the close of your immersive tour of Bath.
Thermae Bath Spa. One last stop after a busy and tiring day (or couple of days, if you’ve spread this tour out). Time for a spa! Definitely the best way to relax and decompress, you should now make like the Romans and immerse yourself in the bathing culture at Thermae Bath Spa. With a rooftop pool overlooking the historic Roman baths you’ve already visited, you can almost imagine you’ve gone back in time to a bygone era! Spread over several floors, this is the perfect place to kick back, get a massage and generally indulge yourself in some serious pampering after a busy day or two visiting one of my favourite cities.
A couple of Restaurant and Accommodation Recommendations
Obviously, you need somewhere to stay if you’re visiting Bath overnight. I’ve stayed at multiple accommodations over the years I’ve visited the city, but the best experience I had was when I stayed at Brocks Guest House, slap bang in the middle between The Circus and The Royal Crescent. This elegant B&B has beautiful and extremely comfortable bedrooms, is ideally located in the heart of the city and serves a mean cooked breakfast come morning. Rooms start at approximately £90 (give or take a couple of pounds) and all of them are en suite. The room I stayed in was in the front of the house, overlooking the street, but there was little noise and I wasn’t disturbed during the night. I’d highly recommend this property if you’re visiting Bath as a couple or if you’re there solo. I stayed there alone and had a great time.
I’ve offered some suggestions in my tour itinerary that I think are perfect for lunch and coffee breaks, but for dinner you may want something a little more special. Now, I’m a vegetarian, but I think my recommendation will satisfy even the most stubborn of meat eaters going. I suggest you head to the Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen for your evening meal. Whilst I’ve only eaten lunch there, I am dying to go back and try dinner, as the food we had was exquisite and it was an absolute luxury to eat in a restaurant where I could select from all the options on the menu, not just have the pick of one or two items. The food here is extremely creative, beautifully served and absolutely delicious. I ate here over three years ago and to this day that meal remains one of my favourite meals I’ve ever eaten. I simply cannot recommend this restaurant highly enough – definitely make time for at least one meal here, you will not be disappointed.
Finally, if you fancy a night out or just a tipple to round off your night pleasantly, you’d do worse than to visit Sub 13 on George Street. Set in an old wine cellar, this atmospheric bar serves a range of excellent cocktails, including twists on the old classics and lots of exciting options that will get your taste buds tingling. A sample menu can be found here.
The Bath Takeaway
I hope you go to Bath full of excitement and anticipation, spend your time there exploring, discovering the history and culture that steeps the city and enjoying the beauty of the architecture and I hope you come away having had your appetite whet but determined to go back again and again, just like I do. Bath is an extremely special city, full of charm and charisma. It has come to feel like one of the places I feel most at home – I am safe there. Coming back is always a real treat and a chance to destress and fully relax. Writing this post has made me long to start looking up dates when I could visit, book trains and start checking out accommodation for my next visit… I must definitely return in the next couple of months, if only to take some new photos of the place. For someone who has visited so many times, I have remarkably few images of the city to share in this post!