The city of Bath is a perfect getaway for a long weekend. Just 90 minutes from London by train and you are in the heart of Bath. 2 nights is usually enough, leaving enough time to see the city, without a rush.
Some interesting facts about Bath:
- The city was a Roman town named Aquae Sulis (the waters of goddess Sulis).
- There is evidence that the initial baths have been built by 76 AD, as there is an inscription referring to the Roman Emperor Vespasian.
- Whole city is of Bath is Unesco World Heritage site.
- The city became popular in 17th century, due to claims about curative properties of the water. People used to sit in the water as well as drinking up to 2 gallons of it per day, referred as “taking the water”.
- Jane Austen lived here for 5 years (1801- 1806). Legend says that it was not her favourite city due to while colour of the Bath Stone.
Once, only rich and noble could afford to visit Bath, as it took over 3 days by carriage from London. As middle class has expanded (thanks to Brunel for the train) Bath became more accessible and exponentially grew as a city.
Bath owes a lot to two important men: Ralph Allen and John Wood. Ralph Allen is the modern day success story of entrepreneurship. He started as a post office clerk in 1712 at the age of 19. He later made a fortune by getting a contract to run Postal Services outside London and improving its efficiency. He used his fortune to acquire the stone quarries around Bath (where Bath Stone is carved) and contracted the famous Architect John Wood to build grand buildings using this stone.
This is one of the main reasons why all buildings in Bath are built from the creamy gold Bath stone (a type of limestone) and it is so beautiful.
The best way to discover Bath is to walk on a nice sunny day. I created the ideal path for this walk, taking around 2.75 km (1.7 miles): https://goo.gl/XVdOfY
Important points during the walk:
- Starting Point: Roman Baths and Bath Abbey (literally the centre of Bath)
- Stop 1: Walk around the river where you can see views of Imperial Hotel (no longer a hotel)
- Stop 2: Pulteney Bridge, one of the 4 bridges in the world, which has shops on both sides, along the entire length (sounds like a made-up category to me)
- Stop 3: The Royal Crescent
This is the ancient ruins where the original baths once stood. You see the archaeological ruins and learn about the bathing routine in Roman times.
The temple was dedicated to the goddess Sulis Minerva. Sulis is the Celtic goddess of healing and sacred waters and Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom. The Roman creation of the hybrid “Sulis Minerva” demonstrates the Roman’s adaptation of Britain’s Celtic traditions to establish their own dominance. The effect of this on the modern day is that many shops/restaurants in Bath are named as Minerva, don’t be surprised.
It was a much bigger facility at ancient times; the restored area is much smaller. It still takes at least 2-2.5 hours to see the whole facility, depending on how much you stop to take pictures. Plan your time accordingly.
The admission includes an audioguide, but it was very disorganized and hard to follow in my professional opinion (this is one of the very few areas where I can humbly state a professional opinion).
The best part of the tour is the great images of the Abbey from the Baths. You can later recognize this image on many Bath memorabilia.
At the very end, you get a chance to drink the thermal water from a fountain. I will not bias your opinion about how the water with 20+ minerals taste, see for yourself.
Price: 14.5 per person
Tip:Inside the temple, there is a guided tour starting every hour. The tour starts in the ground floor, around the pool. This guided tour was the highlight of Roman Baths for us. We had an amazing guide and we learned more from her in 30 minutes, compared to what we learned from the audioguide and the posters in the past 1.5 hours. Definitely try to catch a guide, if you can.
Very impressive abbey. It is free to enter and take a look around.
I would especially recommend the “Guided Tower Tours”, which starts on the hour. You need to have the stamina to climb 212 steps, but the view is definitely worth it. You stop at various levels and learn more about the abbey, the clock and the tower. And the view on top is definitely the best, given that no building in Bath can be taller than the abbey. The tour takes 30-40 minutes overall.
One interesting fact about the abbey is that, outside has the statue of Angels, climbing up a ladder. One thinks angels have wings and therefore can fly, rather than needing a ladder. I am sure there is a symbolism here, which I could not figure out. Another interesting fact is that, one both sides, there is one angel coming down (head down) rather than climbing up. Try figuring out which one!
Price: 6 per person for Tower Tour Tip: Tower Tour is a must-do, if you like a bit of an exercise
This is “the spa” in Bath. If you would like to experience the thermal waters you have been hearing about, this is a definite must-go.
Normal “welcome pack” provides 2 hours access to the facilities. (See the tip below to increase it to 4 hours for free). You also get complimentary use of towel, robe & slippers. There are 3 main areas:
- Indoor pool/ jacuzzi
- 4 x aroma steam rooms
- Rooftop pool/ jacuzzi
Inside, you get a cool bracelet with a chip, with which you can lock your locker door, pay at the restaurant etc. The bracelet also tracks your time, as you have to pay extra if you stay more than 2 hours.
All areas are quite clean, and the water is amazing as expected. There is also a restaurant on site; but you have limited time in the spa so ideally you would want to spend more time with water.
Especially on weekends and bank holidays, the massages get booked up very early, so if you are thinking of a massage you should book in advance. Even to get a massage, you still need to pay the 2-hr spa admission fee, which is a bit annoying.
Tip: If you go with train (FirstGreatWestern), you can get a voucher to use the spa for 4 hours (rather than 2) with standard welcome pack. Voucher link is here. You should bring the ticket receipt with you, as they asked us for it when we redeemed the voucher at the spa.
Price Welcome pack is £ 32 per person weekdays or on 35 weekends for 2 hours + £ 10 for each hour
Overall summary: Doing everything in 2 hours is a bit of a rush, including changing time etc. But with a 4 hour-deal; it was great time. The facilities are superb; a definite must-go in Bath.
Where to stay:
I am sure everyone is well experienced on finding a good hotel according to their budget from booking.com, hotels.com or airbnb.com; so I will not recommend particular hotels. We stayed in the city centre, which made it easy to drop by the hotel during the day.
What to eat:
The best option is to look at tripadvisor.com and pick a restaurant according to your budget and taste. But I would like to especially recommend 3 places that really exceeded our expectations. You can check their menus online to get an idea about prices. And as a disclaimer, we are not affiliated with any of these restaurants..
Ole Tapas: Tapas the way they should be. Pretty much as you would eat in Spain. It is in the second floor, so you should watch for the sign Address: 1 John Street, Bath, BA1 2JL http://www.oletapas.co.uk/
The Herd: Great steakhouse. Top quality steaks, skilfully cooked. Great ambiance as well. Address: 12 Argyle Street, Bath http://www.theherdrestaurant.com/
Jacob’s Coffee House: This was a “lucky find”. The coffee house is located right across from Roman Baths. Normally, centrally located restaurants in tourist destinations as extra expensive so we were sceptical / cautious at first. But they everything we tasted was super delicious. Carrot cakes, almond croissants, and paninis are amazingly delicious. http://jacobscoffeehouse.com/
- Prices are valid as of May 2015.
- This blog is written by a traveller to demonstrate the city of Bath. Tours on Cultrex app are written by professional art historians.