Captivating Bath: Embrace the Georgian Era's Grandeur in England
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When I was looking for places to visit in England, I'll be honest. Bath wasn't originally on my list. However, while researching an extended trip for a client, I got to know a bit about the city and was intrigued.
The only logical thing to do was to see it for myself, so I scheduled a week to go see everything I could.
The entire city of Bath is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and once you see it you'll quickly understand why. The streets are beautiful, and many of them feel frozen in the Georgian period of the early 1800s.
In fact, the city is so well preserved that it has been used repeatedly as a filming location. Most recently it served as one of the main filming locations for Bridgerton as a stand-in for Georgian London.
How to get to Bath, England
Getting to Bath from London is very simple, only a bit over an hour trip from Paddington Station. Trains can get quite full, so I recommend reserving a seat. The city is served by the Great Western Railway with frequent service to and from London. The Bath Spa station is very close to the historic center of the city, you can walk from the station to Bath Abbey in about 5-10 minutes.
One thing to keep in mind when catching the train. The final stop isn't Bath, so you'll need to know the final destination for your train in order to make it easy to find the track information on the board at the station.
Bath is close enough to make an easy day trip from London, but to really experience the city I'd recommend at least a couple of nights.
So what’s there to see and do in Bath, England?
The skyline of Bath is dominated by the towers of Bath Abbey, a beautiful gothic style church. A church has sat on the site since the 7th century. The current building dates from the 16th century, with extensive restoration in the 1860s.
Make sure to take a look at the west front of the church facing toward the Roman Baths and The Pump Room. This is where you'll find carvings of angels climbing up and down ladders, which are the church's most famous feature.
The churchyard surrounding the Abbey is popular with both locals and visitors. On sunny days you'll find yourself serenaded by street musicians, with people sitting on every bench enjoying the music, sun, and maybe some ice cream from one of the shops nearby.
The Roman Baths
Bath was once the site of a bustling Roman town named Aquae Sulis, with a temple and bath built on the site by around 60 AD. The temple was dedicated to the worship of Sulis Minerva, a combination of Sulis, the Celtic goddess of healing and sacred waters, and Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom.
The Roman baths were used until the end of the 5th century AD, when they fell into disrepair and were lost to history. That is, until Major Charles Davis, the city surveyor, found the remains of the baths in 1878. Over the next several years the baths were uncovered, and the site was opened to the public in 1897.
The Great Bath in its current form is an interpretation of what it would have looked like at the heyday of the town of Aquae Sulis.
The Roman Bath Museum is a must visit. It's one of the best museums I've been to, telling the history of the site as well as diving into the stories and lives of the people who would have lived there.
Pulteney Bridge and Weir
Pulteney Bridge is one of only four bridges in the world with shops on both sides. Two of the others, Florence's Ponte Vecchio and Venice's Rialto Bridge, can be found in Italy, and the fourth, Erfurt's Krämerbrücke, is in Germany.
Built in the Palladian style, the Pulteney Bridge was completed in 1774 to replace the ferry that used to take people across Bath's River Avon.
Just below the bridge is the Pulteney Weir, one of the most photographed locations in Bath.
Flooding and variable river depths have always been a problem on the Avon. The construction of weirs, or small dams, allowed the river depth upstream to be more precisely controlled, which allowed millers to ensure the water level remained adequate to turn their waterwheels.
A weir has been located on the site since at least 1603, when it first appeared on local maps. However the current horseshoe shaped weir was constructed in the early 1970s and now includes a flood control gate.
The Royal Crescent
Designed by John Wood the Younger and built between 1767 and 1774, the Royal Crescent is made up of 30 terraced houses that form a perfect 500 foot long arc.
Some of the houses have been divided into individual flats, but 10 of them remain single homes. The middle and largest of the houses is now The Royal Crescent Hotel, one of the most luxurious hotels in Bath.
No. 1 Royal Crescent is now a museum, and has been restored to the way it would have looked in the late 18th and early 19th century when Georgian Bath was at its peak.
The museum is another great one to visit. It takes you through all levels of the house, both upstairs and downstairs, to learn about a family, their servants, and the way they would have experienced life during the height of the Regency period.
The Jane Austen Centre
Jane Austen is Bath's most famous resident, although she is said to not have enjoyed her time living in Bath. Two of her novels, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, are set in the city.
At the Jane Austen Centre you can explore Bath the way the author would have seen and experienced it. You can even try your hand at writing with a quill pen or dress up in the centre's extensive collection of Regency dresses, bonnets and shawls for a photo.
The Assembly Rooms
The Assembly Rooms are another of John Wood the Younger's masterpieces. They were designed to be a place for members of proper society to see and be seen, dance and listen to music, play cards and take tea.
Today the rooms are available to hire for private functions, weddings and concerts, and are open to the public when they aren't hired out. They are also the home of Bath's Fashion Museum, which houses both a permanent collection of historic costumes and rotating exhibitions.
Prior Park Landscape Garden
It's not the easiest location in Bath to get to, but Prior Park Landscape Garden is worth the effort. Set in the hills above the city, the beautiful landscape garden is a natural haven.
Designed by Alexander Pope and renowned landscape gardener Capability Brown, the gardens helped define the style known as the "English garden".
One of its most defining features is the classic Palladian Bridge. It was built in 1755 and is one of only three in England. Due to its beautiful and romantic location it's a very popular place for proposals.
To visit the gardens I recommend taking the bus or a taxi up and walking down. It’s quite far up the hill and the roads are very steep, so unless you’re looking for a challenge or are in great shape I don’t recommend walking up. There is also no parking on site, so don’t plan to drive yourself up.
The walk down is lovely. You can access a portion of the Bath Skyline Walk directly from the garden. From there you’ll walk through the outlying areas of Bath and along the towpaths of the Kennet & Avon Canal before making your way back to the center of the city.
North Parade Passage, Abbey Green and Sally Lunn's
One of the oldest streets in Bath, North Parade Passage is a lovely little street of picturesque buildings. It opens onto the Abbey Green, where the giant Plane Tree dominates the center of the square. The tree was planted in 1793 and is one of the oldest architecturally planted trees in the world.
Sally Lunn's is located along North Parade Passage in one of the oldest houses in Bath, which was built in 1482. When Sally lived there in 1680 the house was already 200 years old!
Sally Lunn was a Huguenot refugee who came to Bath in 1680. She found work in a bakery, and later went on to create the Sally Lunn bun. The bun is a brioche style bread, which became very popular in Georgian England and is still popular today.
You can get the bun many different ways, with both sweet and savory toppings. My personal favorites are the Welsh Rarebit and the classic bun with jam and clotted cream. Of course you also have to have it with a good pot of British tea.
The Pump Room
If you're looking for the most elegant tea experience in Bath, you need to make a reservation at The Pump Room. The tea, sandwiches, scones and cakes are delicious, and the room is elegant and refined with a pianist or string quartet playing in the background.
Jane Austen was also familiar with the Pump Room, and probably went there to enjoy tea and fresh gossip. It is used as a setting in both Persuasion and Northanger Abbey.
Thermae Bath Spa
While Bath has long been a location for taking the waters, there wasn't a place to soak in the natural hot springs for many years. That changed in 2006 when the Thermae Bath Spa opened.
Visitors to the bath spa can enjoy swimming in the naturally warm waters, as well as classic spa treatments like facials and massages.
The rooftop spa pool is one of the best locations in the city to enjoy the skyline and is worth visiting during the day or after dusk.
The Bottom Line
Whether you go for a day or a week, there's plenty to see and do in Bath. Plus it's always fun to indulge your inner Jane Austen and take a step back in time.
Are you ready to start planning your trip to Bath, England? Contact us to start the planning process!