The Romans established Bath in the year 43 AD and this city, awash with fabulous architecture, history and culture, has been welcoming travellers ever since. Many of Bath's great buildings date back from its renaissance in the 18th century when it again became a fashionable spa town and played host to royalty and the cream of aristocracy, who famously visited the city to 'take the waters'. Today visitors can walk around the old Roman Baths, enjoy the splendour of Bath Abbey or simply take in the breathtaking Georgian architecture of this beautiful city, which somehow managed to escape the ravages of industry and the Luftwaffe.
Jane Austen lived and based several of her books in Bath, and on Gay Street, near her home, visitors can find the Jane Austen Centre, which allows visitors to immerse themselves in her life and times. For an authentic feel of life gone by, period decorations and furniture have been reinstated at No. 1 Royal Crescent, so that the house appears as it did in its days as a fine 18th-century townhouse.
Bath is home to much older attractions than its Elizabethan assets, including the famous ancient Roman baths, situated over natural hot springs. Bath was a prosperous tourist destination as early as its Roman occupation, when the baths were built, and continued its reputation as a therapeutic health resort through the medieval period.
Though architecturally Bath is something of a period piece, it is also a very modern city. Its restaurants and pavement cafés are packed full of local businessmen and artisans, and its cinemas, pubs, and nightclubs keep its residents entertained each evening. Bath's answer to Camden Market is Walcot Street, where a bohemian street market takes place each weekend, its parks and gardens are also popular for relaxing and enjoying pleasant weather.
The International Music Festival marks the beginning of summer and adds to Bath's lively, festive atmosphere. Its Theatre Royal is one of the country's leading provincial theatres, attracting big names and pre-West End show runs.
The Romans were the first to capitalise on the only natural hot springs in Britain, but it is believed that they were a local attraction long before the building of Rome. These ancient baths were once considered the finest in the Roman Empire, but in the middle ages fell into disrepair. It was not until a visit by the ailing Prince George in 1702 that the baths once again became a popular healing destination. Over the course of the city of Bath's redevelopment in the late 18th century, the Roman ruins were rediscovered and restored. Today, visitors can see the seven ancient baths and view the Georgian splendour of the Pump House, where the musty mineral waters can be sampled by the strong of stomach. The magnificent centrepiece is the Great Bath. Lined with lead and filled with hot spa water, it once stood in an enormous barrel-vaulted hall that rose to a height of 131ft (40m). For many Roman visitors, this may have been the largest building they had ever entered in their life.
Berkeley (pronounced 'barkly') is a perfectly preserved 840-year-old castle with a keep, dungeon and splendid staterooms with original tapestries, furniture and silver. The castle was most famously the scene of King Edward II's gruesome murder in 1327. It is believed that Edward was deposed by his French consort, Queen Isabella, and her paramour, the Earl of Mortimer. The castle also played an important role in the English Civil War (1642-1649). The oldest part of the castle was built in 1153 by Roger De Berkeley, a Norman knight, and has remained in the family ever since. The surrounding meadows, now the setting for pleasant Elizabethan-style gardens, were once flooded to make a formidable moat.
The fascinating story of Georgian Bath is wonderfully presented by the Museum of Bath Architecture. The museum is the natural place to start any sightseeing expedition of Bath. It is housed in the Gothic-styled Countess of Huntingdon's Methodist Chapel, which was built in 1765 and renovated in 1984 by the Bath Preservation Trust. Inside, visitors are treated to a unique exhibition, with installations describing how Bath developed from a small provincial spa to the most fashionable resort in Georgian England. Using models, maps, paintings, reconstructions, live crafting demonstrations and hands-on exhibits, including a touch-screen computer, a visit to the museum is an informative and entertaining experience. Budget about two hours to take it all in.
Distinguished astronomer William Herschel used a telescope he built himself to discover the planet Uranus in 1781, thus securing his place in history as one of the greatest astronomers of all time. His observations, and the telescopes that he built, doubled the known size of the solar system in his time. The telescope through which Uranus was first spied was built in the delightful Georgian townhouse that today houses the Herschel Museum of Astronomy. Visitors to the museum can view Herschel's workshop, as well as the original kitchen and the music room in the house where William lived with his sister, Caroline, at the end of the 18th century.
Bath's comprehensive Fashion Museum brings alive the story of fashion over the last 400 years, from the late-16th century to the present day. The huge collection is fetchingly displayed on hundreds of dummies, providing a chronological journey through changing styles over the centuries. Visitors can listen to an audio tour or take part in a conducted guided tour of fashion through the ages. Apart from looking at all the fashion, there are opportunities to try on some replica garments for both kids and adults. A highly popular attraction that will appeal to visitors of all ages and from all walks of life, you should budget about two hours to do the museum justice.
Bath's best-known resident, Elizabethan novelist Jane Austen, is celebrated in this permanent exhibition which showcases her life and work. Bath was her home between 1801 and 1806, and her love and knowledge of the city is reflected in her novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, which are set in Georgian Bath. The Jane Austen Centre also runs an annual and extremely popular Jane Austen Festival, which holds the Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of people dressed in Regency costumes. If you are one of the many people for whom Bath immediately conjures associations with Austen and her literary world, this museum is a must.
Located in the beautiful Avon Valley, just four and a half miles (7km) from central Bath, Avon Valley Adventure and Wildlife Park is the perfect day out for families with children. Kids can let loose in the adventure playground, which features a junior assault course, a riverside trail, farm animals like Shetland ponies, llamas and wallabies, a boating pond and even a miniature railway. Younger kids will love the indoor play area where they can enjoy enormous slides and ball pits. Families should pack a picnic to savour on the riverbanks, while the children, and probably even the adults, enjoy the wide open space and exciting activities.
Longleat is a bit of a strange tourist destination, catering simultaneously to two very different markets. On one hand, it is regarded as the best example of high Elizabethan architecture in Britain, and one of the most beautiful stately homes that are open to public tours. The magnificence of the house itself is matched by the splendour of its surroundings, a spectacular mix of landscaped parkland, lakes and formal gardens.
In 1949, Longleat became the first grand home in England to open its doors to the public, and a few years later opened the first safari park outside of Africa. Visitors can drive through eight enclosures, where a wide range of animals can be seen, including elephants, rhinos, giraffes, monkeys, lions and tigers.
In recent years, however, Longleat has also become one of the UK's most popular family tourist attractions, offering a wealth of child-friendly sights and amenities. Try not to lose your kids in the world's longest maze, made up of more than 16,000 English Yews. Alternatively, take the little ones for a ride on the miniature railway or to meet some of the friendly animals at Animal Adventure, before letting them run amok in the Adventure Castle. A great option for a fun, excitement-filled day out for the entire family to enjoy.
In common with the rest of southern England, the weather in Bath is temperate but changeable, especially during the summer months, when a cloudy, cool morning can turn into a hot, sunny afternoon. Generally summer days are fine and warm, but spring is the best time to travel to Bath, when the city's parks and gardens are in bloom and the weather is mild. Winters in Bath are cold and very wet. Snow is rare, but days tend to be frosty.
Unsurprisingly, Bath is a great destination for foodies: although Michelin-starred or celebrity chef endorsed restaurants are thin on the ground, the restaurant scene is varied and fun with something for everybody and some very good quality establishments for those wanting to splash out. Visitors should note that there are many good places to eat out just outside of the city, including some quaint old country pubs. Gourmets should consider visiting Bath during the annual Great Bath Feast (usually in October), when the city shows off with farmer's markets, cookery classes, tastings and chef demonstrations.
There are good restaurants dotted all over the city and it is better to search for the kind of restaurant you want than to head to a certain restaurant district. Those on a budget will find that there is plenty to choose from. The dominant cuisine is traditionally British, as one would expect from this staunchly English city which relishes tradition and historic charm.
The Bath International Music Festival merged with the Bath Literature Festival in 2017 to form a new arts festival that incorporates a broader range of events: The Bath Festival. Showcasing exciting performances, with art forms including orchestral, classical, jazz, folk and world music, as well as ballet, opera and literary events, The Bath Festival is one of the main highlights on Britain's summer calendar, and one that has gained a truly international reputation. The Bath International Music Festival was established in 1948 and The Bath Festival is now renowned for both its variety and the unusual collaborations it showcases. The programme takes place mainly in city venues and also includes free-to-the-public outdoor events. For full programmes and other details check the official website listed below for details.
The 'World of Music and Dance' (WOMAD) Festival first began in 1982, and brings together artists from all over the globe. It also hosts participatory workshops, special events for children and educational programmes. Since the first WOMAD festival more than 160 festivals have been held in 27 countries, bringing a worldwide audience of over one million people across the globe together in celebration of the art forms of music and dance. The festival is atmospheric and creative, attracting artistic and open-minded people keen to celebrate music of many genres and from many cultures. For details on programmes and tickets check out the official website listed below.
The compact city of Bath can easily be explored on foot or by bicycle, and these slower modes of getting around are the best ways to take in the historic character of the city. Different walking tours, including a ghost walk, are offered, and some are free. Another great option for visitors wanting to sightsee and get a feel for Bath is to hop onboard one of the numerous bus tours, many of which are open-top and offer a hop-on, hop-off service with tickets valid for 24 hours.
The city's bus network is also good and connects the city centre and its outskirts. A park-and-ride service is available. Taxis are unnecessary in the city centre as walking is often much faster, but they are easy to find at the railway station. There are several car hire agencies, but hiring a car is not really necessary unless you are planning excursions out of the city. Mobile app based taxi services like uber are also commonly used.
The city of Bath is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a hugely popular city to visit for tourists, particularly during the summer months when the streets come alive with visitors, performers and other colourful people.
Culture vultures will love this city as so much of England's history is reflected here, with everything from the Roman Baths and Bath Abbey to the Fashion Museum and Royal Crescent - a residential road of 30 houses laid out in a crescent shape showcasing Georgian architecture - it's like taking a trip back through time. Head to the Jane Austen Centre to discover all there is to know about Bath's most famous resident; stroll along the Pulteney Bridge and look in its shop windows; visit Sally Lunn's Refreshment House and Museum, the oldest house in town; or take a day trip to visit the iconic ancient ruins at Stonehenge.
Visitors to Bath should make use of the Bath Visitor Card, which is valid for three weeks from the date of validation, and can be picked up from the Bath Tourist Information Centre. The card affords visitors plenty of time to make their way around the city and also offers a wide range of discounts on food, drinks, shopping, attractions and sightseeing tours.
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