Visiting Bath

Bath was designated by UNESCO in 1987 and is the only city in the UK to be declared a World Heritage site. Once a Roman spa town called Aquae Sullis, the Romans built baths and a temple on the surrounding hills, turning Bath into the elegant retreat it still is today.

Located about an hour and a half from London, Bath has a variety of fascinating sites that span early Roman times to late Georgian. The juxtaposition of such different styles of architecture nestled in a valley surrounded by rolling green hills really makes Bath unique. Walking the streets of Bath is like taking a step back in time to the beautiful Georgian period of elegance and innovation with sprinklings of different eras mixed in.

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THE ROMAN BATHS

If the architecture doesn’t do it for you, consider the Roman Baths. The first shrine at the site of the hot springs was built by Celts and was dedicated to the goddess Sulis, whom the Romans identified with Minerva. When the Romans took over the site and built a temple sometime between 60–70 AD, they dedicated the temple to both Sulis and Minerva in hopes of appeasing both populations. Over the next 300 years, the bathing complex was gradually built up until the Roman civilization went into decline and eventually left Bath in 407 AD. A scant population continued to live in the city, but over time the walls and grand buildings fell. The Saxons claimed Bath in 577 AD and turned it into a fortified city. Around that time, the original temple was destroyed. Flooding and silt deposits covered the temple ruins and the original springs. The temple surrounding the baths was eventually built over, to remain in obscurity until 1880 when they were rediscovered.

New buildings were built over different portions of the springs during the following centuries. The 12th and 16th centuries saw the addition of King’s Bath and Queen’s Bath, though the current building over the springs is from the 18th century. The temple ruins have been incorporated into the current building design, allowing visitors the opportunity to visit the actual baths used in Roman times, view the temple ruins, and sip the mineral-rich thermal waters. If you desire to try out those waters, you can also enjoy luxurious relaxation in a more modern thermal spa in the city.

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JANE AUSTEN

For those literature-minded visitors, Bath was home to Jane Austen from 1801-1806. Visit where she lived, check out the Jane Austen Centre, and take a walk on streets she would have ambled down. One of Jane Austen’s residences in Bath was No 4 Sydney Place, where she lived for three years. While it is now a private residence, visitors may take a photo of the front where a sign is seen designating it as a residence of a famous former occupant. Jane also lived with her mother and sister at 25 Gay Street for around 1-1.5 years, though the Jane Austen Centre is not there, either. It is in a similar apartment down the street at 40 Gay Street.

BATH ABBEY

Another famous site in Bath that shouldn’t be missed is Bath Abbey. Bath Abbey was founded in the 7th century and has been modified and rebuilt over the centuries. The fan vaulted ceiling was added in the 1530s and restored to the original style during the late 1860s. One of the unique attributes of this ceiling is that along with being visually stunning, this particular architectural component serves a functional purpose. The fan element is used as a method of distributing the weight of the roof to the support columns and providing structural stability. An interesting fact about Bath Abbey is that the stained glass currently in place is not the original. Unfortunately, the original windows from the early 1500s were removed and sold when King Henry VIII began dissolving monasteries in 1539. All stained glass in the Abbey were added in the late 1860s when Bath started becoming a popular tourist destination.

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PULTENEY BRIDGE

Pulteney Bridge over the River Avon is one of the most photographed examples of Georgian architecture in the city and one of only four bridges in the world to have shops across its full span on both sides. Designed by Robert Adam, the bridge took five years to build between 1769-1774.  The architecture is classical, with pediments, pilasters and tiny leaded domes at either end. Another claim to fame this bridge boasts is being the scene of Javert’s suicide in the 2012 film version of Les Misérables.

THE ROYAL CRESCENT

The Royal Crescent is another famous and cherished site to visit in the city. This building is a row of 30 terraced houses laid out in a sweeping crescent shape. Designed by the architect John Wood, the Younger, and built between 1767-1774, it is among the greatest examples of Georgian architecture in the United Kingdom and is a Grade I listed building. Although some changes have been made to the various interiors over the years, the Georgian stone façade remains much as it was when it was first built.

I could go on and on about the fascinating things to see in Bath, but there are just too many. There are world-class museums, festivals that draw visitors from all around the world, breathtaking views, beautiful gardens and parks, a variety of art galleries, fantastic eateries, eclectic shops, and plenty of historic marvels. Whatever your interests are, Bath has plenty for visitors and locals to explore.

TIPS:

  • Plan to spend at least an entire day in Bath. There are far too many things to see in just a few short hours.
  • If you are interested in architecture, book one (or more) of the many architectural tours operating in the city.
  • Arrive early in the morning to watch the city come alive.
  • Make the trip to Alexandra Park to get the best views over the city.
  • Stop at Sally Lunn’s House to try the most famous local delicacy, the Sally Lunn bun.
  • Visit Green Park Station for locally produced food and artwork.
  • Plan for 2-3 hours at the Roman Baths if you want to read all the signs and view all the displays.
  • Make the trek to the bottom of the Roman Baths for a free sample of the spa water.
  • Take advantage of the many free walking tours that operate around the city.

WHEN TO VISIT:

Overall, there isn’t really a bad time to visit Bath. In the spring, the flowers are blooming and the weather is relatively calm. May is a good month to visit as temperatures are moderately cool, rainfall is the lowest of the year, days are long, and flowers are in bloom. September is also a good time to visit with warmer temperatures than May and low rainfall, though the days are shorter and there are not as many flowers.

WHERE TO STAY:

Bath boasts almost 300 places of accommodation, including more than 80 hotels, over 180 bed and breakfasts, and two campsites.

WHERE TO EAT:

I won’t profess to be foodie enough to recommend which places there to eat are the best. There are over 100 restaurants and over 100 pubs and bars. You will find anything from quaint cafes to cultural dining experiences to locally sourced restaurants to award-winning upscale dining. Whatever your preferences are, you will find something to your liking in Bath.

HOW TO GET THERE:

  • Railway.
    • Reach Bath at Bath Spa railway station via Great Western Railway.
  • Flying.
    • Bristol Airport.
      • Bristol Airport is located about 20 miles from Bath. Transit from Bristol airport will take about an hour.
        • The Air Decker bus will take you to Bristol Temple Meads Railway Station where you can catch the train to Bath.
        • The Bristol Airport Flyer coach service will take you to Bath with stops along the way.
    • Gatwick Airport.
      • Gatwick Airport is located in South London, approximately 140 miles east of Bath. Transit time varies.
        • You can take a train from the airport to Reading Train Station where you can pick up a train service to Bath.
    • Heathrow Airport.
      • Heathrow Airport is 100 miles east of Bath. Transit from Heathrow will take about 2-2.5 hours.
        • National Express coach service goes direct from the airport to the center of Bath.
  • Sightseeing tours.
    • Many tours make stops in Bath. It should be noted that, depending on the tour, the stop in Bath will be anywhere from 1-3 hours.
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2 Replies to “Visiting Bath”

  1. Ken Burton

    That place looks so amazing! Every time I read on of your history posts I’m adding another location I want to visit. Thank you!

    Reply

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