The historic city of Bath, Maine, known as “The City of Ships,” has been a thriving shipbuilding center for over 400 years. The Kennebec River’s navigable waterway, sheltered but accessible to the Atlantic Ocean, was key to creating the history of this thriving mid-coast Maine city. Situated on a deep and straight, five-mile stretch of river coupled with a shoreline perfectly shaped for constructing enormous ships, Bath quickly became known as a safe harbor for shipbuilding.
Home to captains of industry, Bath’s architecture reflects an age of wealth and prosperity. Although it has seen economic ups and downs, Bath remains true to its ship-focused legacy. A visit to the pretty downtown area, with its beautiful brownstone buildings, unique shops, and fascinating history, is a must-stop on any coastal Maine road trip.
1. Maine Maritime Museum
Welcome to the Maine Maritime Museum. It is situated on the banks of the Kennebec River, and it’s home to a shipyard where custom wooden sailing vessels were once built. The museum reflects and honors the history of Bath and her sailing heritage. As you wander through the beautiful grounds and explore the schooner Wyoming in sculpture form, visions of a bustling, 19th-century dockyard play through your mind.
Inside, visit the exhibit Snow Squall. An American clipper features the bow of the Snow Squall, retrieved from its burial ground near Cape Horn. Tour the Victorian-era Donnell House, home of a Bath shipbuilding family. The guided tour takes you through the history of the shipbuilding boom in Bath and how a wealthy family lived in the late 1900s. Tour the boat shop where skilled crafters teach the methods used to create these beautiful old wooden clippers.
One of the museum’s most popular attractions is its river cruises. The Lighthouse Lovers Cruise introduces you to Maine’s iconic lighthouses with an unobstructed water view. Some of the lighthouses covered on this 4-hour cruise are Perkins Island & Light, Kennebec Range Lights, Doubling Point Light, and more. They also offer a one-hour Shipyards & Lighthouses Cruise. The sail takes you past Bath Iron Works and the Doubling Point Light and Kennebec Range Lights. This cruise offers an up-close-and-personal view of the Navy’s enormous ships docked at the ironworks. The ships are so massive, you wonder how they actually stay afloat.
2. Waterfront Views
Take a sightseeing break at Waterfront Park, a little green oasis with a pretty water view of the Kennebec River. It is a beautiful park for a picnic lunch. Grab a classic Italian sandwich or pizza from Amatos or some barbecue ribs and Mac & Cheese from Beale Street Barbeque for your al fresco dining. While you sit back and enjoy the comings and goings-on in the river, you can plan the remainder of your afternoon in Bath.
3. Chocolate Church Arts Center
The Chocolate Church Arts Center is housed in the former Central Church, a beautiful example of Gothic Revival architecture. The Chocolate Church proudly anchors one end of Main Street and is integrated into the fiber of the city. The Arts Center is home to concerts, art shows, and various special events. Guests are treated to free gallery access where you can view the rotating exhibits from local artists and artisans. Showcasing photography, painting, fiber arts, and more, the changing displays are a thoughtful peek into the heart and soul of Maine’s artists.
4. Shopping and Galleries
Main Street Bath is home to an eclectic mix of shops, many displaying items exclusively created in Maine. If you are searching for a perfect memento to represent your time visiting the beautiful Maine coast, you can find just the right thing shopping in Bath.
Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine is a beautiful collection of unique gifts and must-haves created by Maine artisans. It’s the perfect shop to explore and select your Maine handcrafted souvenir. The shop offers humorous themed items with lobsters, seashells, or moose references. You will also find pretty jewelry, artistic pottery, clothing, and art. Lisa-Marie’s is a gallery-style store for the small, independent artisans to present their wonderful creations.
The Centre St Arts Gallery is an artist-owned space showcasing the work of 20 local artists. The gallery presents member’s works in a classic gallery style for your viewing enjoyment. The featured art represents many different media and style techniques. A walk through this well-appointed gallery is a beautiful way to spend an hour gazing at fine art created by local artists.
Markings Gallery is a cooperative artists gallery where you will find a wonderful mix of pieces created from a wide range of media. Functional art pieces like jewelry and accessories are displayed alongside decorative art pieces. All the gallery’s creative artisans reside in Maine and take their inspiration from the beautiful countryside.
Stop by the Bath Sweet Shoppe for your fill of gourmet chocolates. You must try the Katahdin Krunch, a toffee caramel confection covered in milk chocolate. Another flavorful treat is the Maine Neehams. They are made with coconut and potato filling dipped in dark chocolate. Round out your order with a handful of gummi lobsters for a Maine-inspired sweet treat.
Peaceful panoramic vistas with the expansive Kennebec River starring in the beautiful views are a highlight of hiking in Bath, and a wonderful way to experience the outdoors. Forests, ponds, rivers, oceans bluffs, and fields await the curious trekker in the mid-coast Maine region. It’s easy to get out and enjoy the surrounding natural beauty for an afternoon stroll or an all-day adventure.
The Hamilton Audubon Sanctuary offers an easy 3.1-mile loop trail through the forest with views of Back Cove along the way. The sanctuary is home to an assortment of birds and wildlife. Visit early in the morning or at dusk for the best chance of spotting birds busily attending to their daily routines. The easy forest hike does require some tree root navigation along the way; however, the trail is fairly even.
For the more intrepid hiker, Whiskeag Trail is an intermediate 3-mile, out-and-back trail in the Thorne Head Preserve. You will be able to get an aerobic workout on this pretty hike. You will be rewarded for your efforts with views of the Kennebec River along the forested paths in north Bath.
6. Tour Bath
Walking through a neighborhood with a knowledgeable, local resident is the best way to learn about a city, its people, and history. Embark Maine Tours offers two iconic walking tours that provide a peek into the local facts and legends. The Historic Bath tour and the Historic Houses tour impart a wealth of information about the history of Bath and America focusing on its seafaring past.
Your guide will intrigue you with Bath’s shipping past along with stories of the men and women that built this thriving seaport. Walk past stately homes with their roots firmly planted in Victoria, Greek Revival, and other classic architectural styles that line Bath’s streets.
Eating well does not have to mean eating in a fine dining restaurant. You can enjoy a fabulous repast in locally sourced and locally managed dining establishments that expertly prepare regional food for your dining pleasure.
When you think of homemade in Maine, you think mom’s best cooking. Well, J.R. Maxwell & Co. takes homemade to an entirely different level. There is nothing pre-made or pre-packaged here. Try the Black Angus sirloin steak with a lobster Drambuie cream sauce — a fun take on surf and turf. When in Maine, you should dine on lobster, and the twin lobsters dinner with clarified butter and all the requisite sides — a classic Down East Maine feast.
Seems like every hip town has its own brewery and Bath was not going to be left behind. Locals and visitors alike can be found enjoying a pint at Bath Brewing Co. It offers everything you want from a great craft brew. The artisan beers are spot on. The Grateful Red has all the deep notes of a classic red. The namesake Bath Pale Ale is exactly what you are looking for in a pale ale but surprises you with a peppery back note. Its classic pub grub pairs well with the flavorful drafts.
Vacation nights call for a traditional ice cream treat. Witch Spring Hill Ice Cream serves up classic hard ice cream along with several soft-serve options. Swing by its West Bath location to finish off your day with a sweet dessert.
8. Stay In Bath
Immerse yourself in the shipbuilding days of Bath with an overnight stay at a historic home. Experience a shipbuilder’s house at the historic Benjamin F. Packard House Bed and Breakfast. The B&B envelops you with the trappings and architecture of the 1790s while providing modern amenities. Cozy quilts, lace curtains, and a peaceful ambiance provide a relaxing spot to unwind and enjoy a relaxing getaway.
Cottage-style vacationing on the river is quintessentially Maine. This Vrbo private, waterfront cottage sleeps four and offers spectacular views. Quaint and eclectic inside, relaxing in the yard with a chilled beverage while you watch the sun dance off the water is tough to beat.
Pro Tip: When you are planning your historic Bath getaway, visit Bath, Maine City of Ships website for all the best things to see and do.
Many of Maine’s small towns and villages offer glimpses into their historical relationship with seafaring and the seafaring life: