Bath is easily one of Britain’s most atmospheric cities. Famous for its Roman Baths, impressive Gothic abbey and elegant Georgian achitecture, it’s well worth a day trip or longer visit.
Much as citizens of the Roman Empire once flocked here to enjoy the natural hot springs, the Roman Baths are still the city’s premier tourist draw. Built 2000 years ago during the Roman occupation, the site of the bath complex has been transformed into a museum that gives a fascinating glimpse into life in Roman Britain. Along with the remains of the site’s temple and a series of pools there are collections of artefacts such as curse tablets – pieces of metal on which people named and shamed others they felt had wronged them, before throwing them into the baths’ sacred spring for the goddess Minerva.
The Roman Baths can get incredibly busy during peak times in summer, so if you don’t fancy sweating in the steam with hordes of other visitors, try coming on a weekday morning or take advantage of the summer late opening times – until the end of August you can explore the baths by ambient torchlight until 10pm.
It wasn’t just the Romans who rated Bath’s hot springs. The city was a popular health retreat in the 18th and 19th centuries, when people would ‘take the waters’, believing them to have curative properties. With the opening last week of the long-awaited Thermae Bath Spa (www.thermaebathspa.com), modern-day visitors can again enjoy a dip in the famous hot springs. The bathing areas include a rooftop pool with spectacular views over Bath. There’s also a dazzling array of spa treatments on offer.
Money poured into Bath in the 18th century as the city’s status as a fashionable retreat for the rich and influential grew. This wealth saw the creation of architectural gems such as the Royal Crescent and the Circus, home to some of the most exclusive real estate in the country. Designed by the architect John Wood the Elder and completed by his son, the Circus is particularly impressive, with its central lawn encircled by three curved sections of houses that fit together in a seamless facade.
The original chick-lit author lived in Bath for several years, and wrote about it in her novels Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. Evidence suggests she didn’t particularly like the place, but nonetheless she’s honoured with a Jane Austen Centre which explores how the city influenced her work and provides an insight into life in Bath during Regency times. Ardent Austen fans should check out the city’s annual Jane Austen Festival, which kicks off this year on Saturday, September 16. See www.janeausten.co.uk.
Bath is practically the world capital of posh afternoon teas. The Pump House in the Roman Baths complex was one of the places to be seen in Regency times, and its elegant surrounds still make the perfect setting to partake in delicate sandwiches and scones with jam and cream. Another historic option is Sally Lunn’s Refreshment House and Museum. Located in the oldest house in Bath (watch your head on those low beams), its speciality is the Sally Lunn bun, a sort of brioche that’s incredibly light and fluffy and an equally good accompaniment for savoury or sweet toppings. You can even check out the kitchen Sally Lunn herself used more than 300 years ago.
Worth a look
Bath Boating Station
Work off that cream tea by hiring a punt, rowing boat or canoe and enjoying the view of Bath from the River Avon.
Museum of Costume
This has an internationally acclaimed collection and the current John Bates exhibition (until August 28) is a must for anyone interested in ’60s and ’70s fashion. See www.museumofcostume.co.uk.
No.1 Royal Crescent
The first house to be built in the Royal Crescent, this is now open to visitors and has been restored in the grand style of the late 18th century.
Bonus points for: Architectural treasures
Loses marks for: Crowds
Check out: http://visitbath.co.uk
– Amy Macpherson