One of the most popular tourist spots in England, the UNESCO World Heritage City of Bath is a short jaunt from London (about 2 hours by train or road) and makes a perfect day or overnight trip from the capital.
Bath was established as Aquae Sulis by the Romans in the first century AD, although the town was likely a pagan site of worship long before the Romans arrived in Britain. The Romans built a large bathhouse here around the town’s natural hot springs, which remains Bath’s most popular attraction to this day. Later, during the Georgian era, the concept of bathing in hot healing waters was re-popularized, and the town was expanded significantly. Most of Bath’s architecture is thus in the Georgian style, and unlike most red brick English towns, the primary material in the town is gray Bath Stone.
Because of its stunning architecture, it’s a lot of fun to just spend a day wandering through Bath’s many little lanes. However, if you’re up for sightseeing, here are a few spots that you won’t want to miss:
The Roman Baths
Bath’s number-one tourist attraction, this series of baths was built nearly 2000 years ago by the Romans. The site was originally a temple dedicated to the Goddess Minerva (the Celts worshiped Sulis here on the same spot). They built four main baths (all about a storey below street-level), which stood for about five centuries, until the Romans finally pulled out of Britain.
The baths were reconstructed a few times over the centuries, most recently in the 18th century, during the Georgian era. During this time, the adjoining Pump Rooms—a ballroom-cum-restaurant and a popular place for tea—was built. You can also sample a glass of the spring’s water at the Pump Rooms for a token fee, although to be frank, the warm, mineral-rich waters—as curative as they may be—taste pretty bad.
It’s a good idea to give yourself a few hours for visiting the Roman Baths. Although the site is not particularly large, there’s a lot of historical information to take in. Make sure you get an audio guide (narrated by Bill Bryson), as this will help you get the most out of your experience. (www.romanbaths.co.uk)
Thermae Bath Spa
Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed to bathe in the original Roman Baths. However, if you want to experience the curative properties of Bath’s hot springs firsthand, you can always visit the Thermae Bath Spa.
The spa opened a few years ago (after many years of delays). The main building, known as the New Royal Bath, features two large pools (one subterranean and one rooftop), each with a series of jets and waterfalls. There’s also a large steam room comprised of four chambers, each infused with a different essential oil. Massage and beauty treatments are also available here. Those on a budget may prefer to take a dip at the Cross Bath, a historic, single-pool bath (www.thermaebathspa.com)
Just next to the Royal Baths, the Bath Abbey is one of Bath’s most architecturally stunning buildings. The site has been home to churches since 757; the Abbey in its current incarnation was built in the 19th century by Sir George Gilbert Scott, in the Victorian Gothic style. As with many English Abbeys, many important people were buried here, and it’s quite fun to wander through the structure, reading the tombstones of the interred. If you have time and are able to climb a 212-step spiral staircase, don’t miss a guided tour to the top of the Abbey’s bell tower. (www.bathabbey.org)
Anyone interested in the history of fashion and costumes will adore the Fashion Museum, also known as the Museum of Costume. Located inside Bath’s historic Assembly Rooms, the museum is home to a large collection of clothing (especially dresses) from the last few centuries. The dresses are organized by decade, and audio guides featuring detailed descriptions of trends throughout the years are free with admission. Museum highlights include one of Queen Victoria’s famous black dresses, as well as a dress up section, where you can try on modern versions of the restrictive corsets and bustles that once were part of everyday fashion for English women. (www.museumofcostume.co.uk)