The picturesque city of Bath, located in the base of a deep valley in the southwest of England, has a rich history. The city, which was founded by the Romans, is home to natural hot springs, and it was a center of the wool industry during the Middle Ages. It became a fashionable spa destination in the 18th century, prompting the construction of the numerous Georgian buildings for which the city is famous. Many well-known writers of the period visited and wrote about the city, most notably the novelist Jane Austen. The whole city is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
There are many historic spots to explore in Bath, but here are some of the ones you won’t want to miss.
The Roman Baths And Pump Room
The hot springs of Bath have been in use since at least the ninth century B.C. The Romans built the first baths around the springs at a settlement they called Aquae Sulis. Even in Roman times, the baths attracted tourists from across the empire, and today they are considered some of the best-preserved Roman baths in the world.
The baths were rediscovered in the late 17th century, and they were remodeled during the Georgian era. At the same time, the neighboring Pump Room was constructed. This was where fashionable people would assemble to meet friends, drink the water, or walk through a tunnel to bathe in the hot water. Although bathing is no longer allowed, today’s visitors can walk around the baths and marvel at the steaming hot water, the Roman engineering, and the Georgian architecture. There is also an extensive museum area that showcases some of the Roman ruins. The Pump Room is now a restaurant where visitors can enjoy lunch or afternoon tea, sometimes to the accompaniment of live music.
Note that the Roman baths are the main tourist attraction of the city. If you are visiting during the peak tourist season (July, August, and September), we recommend that you stop by the baths at the beginning or the end of the day.
Thermae Bath Spa
Although you can no longer bathe in the city’s Roman baths, you can still experience the hot springs for yourself at Thermae Bath Spa, which combines modern facilities with the historic spa. It includes two historic sections: the 18th-century Hot Bath, and the Cross Bath, a Georgian building with an open-air thermal pool.
This is the only place in England where you can enjoy naturally hot mineral water. Thermae offers a full range of treatments as well as a free visitor center where you can learn about the history of the spa and the role it once played in the social life of Bath. A bonus? The rooftop pool is one of the best places to get a view of the historic city center.
There isn’t much left of the medieval city of Bath, but one building you can’t miss is Bath Abbey, which dominates the town center. There has been a church on this site since the eighth century, although the current structure dates to 1500. The abbey originally housed a monastic community, but the order was dissolved during the reign of Henry VIII. The building later reopened as a parish church.
Be sure to stand outside the abbey and admire the magnificent stonework, especially the ornate west door with its carved ladders of angels. The interior of the building is less impressive (and you will be asked to pay an entrance fee). If you do go inside, consider taking a tour of the tower. At the top, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of the city and the surrounding countryside.
Outside the church is the abbey’s churchyard, a place where both locals and tourists spend time. On sunny days, the area is full of buskers and other street entertainers.
Aside from its Roman baths, Bath is best known for its Georgian architecture. When the city became a fashionable watering hole in the 18th century, several notable architects were commissioned to build grand houses and public buildings. These were designed in the Palladian style and constructed with the distinctive yellow stone of Bath, giving the city a remarkably homogeneous appearance.
The most famous architectural landmark in town is the Royal Crescent. Designed by John Wood the Younger and built between 1767 and 1775, the magnificent semicircle of 30 tall houses overlooks a large lawn and features views of Royal Victoria Park and beyond to the city. One of the houses, No. 1 Royal Crescent, is now furnished as it would have been in the time of Regency Bath. At this fascinating house museum, you can learn about how both the gentry and servants lived.
The Royal Crescent may well look familiar to you. This is probably because the landmark has been featured in many films and period dramas.
Jane Austen Centre
Jane Austen is the author most closely associated with Bath. The city is mentioned in all of her novels, and some of them are partly set in Bath. You can learn more about the author and her works at the Jane Austen Centre on Gay Street. The museum is in a Georgian house very similar to the one that Jane Austen lived in during one of her stays in Bath, and it is decorated in the style of the period. As soon as you enter the home, you are greeted with 18th-century hospitality by docents dressed in Georgian attire.
After you have looked around the house, you can visit the elegant Regency Tea Room on the top floor. Treat yourself to coffee and cake or a full afternoon tea. Menu items include Tea with Mr. Darcy and Mrs. Bennet’s Cake of the Day. If you are just visiting the tea room, you do not need to pay the entrance fee to the house.
The Assembly Rooms were some of the great meeting places of Regency Bath, and they feature in Jane Austen’s novels Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. Designed by John Wood the Younger and constructed in 1769, they include four separate rooms. The main area is the ballroom, but there is also a tea room, an octagonal room, and a card room. The Assembly Rooms suffered bomb damage in 1942, but they were restored in 1963.
The rooms are normally open to the public, but be sure to check in advance, since they are popular for weddings and other functions. The Fashion Museum Bath, which tells the story of fashion from the 17th century to the present day, is located in the basement.
Pulteney Bridge And Weir
Pulteney Bridge was built in 1774 to replace the ferry across the river Avon. It was intended to connect the city with land owned by the powerful Pulteney family on the other side of the river. The architect, Robert Adam, set out to create a grand design in keeping with the fashionable city: Pulteney Bridge is one of only four bridges in the world that have shops on both sides. Many of those shops are now cafés or restaurants, some of them with enviable views of the river and the weir.
The original Pulteney Weir was constructed in 1603 to prevent the city from flooding, but the current structure dates to the 1970s. It is one of the most photogenic spots in Bath, and on any given day, you will see lots of tourists snapping photos of the weir with the bridge behind it.
Looking for other day trips from London? You’ll love Brighton and Oxford.
About The Author
Karen Warren is a writer, travel blogger, and book reviewer living in Bath, England. On her website, WorldWideWriter, she records stories of her travels around the world and offers information and inspiration for independent travelers. Karen’s first novel, Shadow of the Dome, was inspired by her travels and is based on real events that occurred in the 13th century. She is currently working on a novel set in the present day. When she’s not traveling or working on her novel, Karen edits book reviews for the Historical Novel Society.