Bath manages to combine the elements a big city with the feeling of a small town. This UNESCO World Heritage Site city is just a 90-minute train ride from London and a weekend is just long enough to fall in love with this historic city. Today I am covering what to do in Bath, England.
We loved Bath for so many reasons – it’s clean, it’s beautiful, there is lots to do – but the number one reason is the people. It would be impossible to exaggerate how kind the people of Bath are. They are honestly some of the friendliest people that I have ever met. The bartender at one cocktail bar was practically jumping up and down with excitement, we had a great chat with a security guard, and the manager of the hotel we stayed at came out to introduce himself before we were shown to our room.
Bath gained fame for a couple different reasons. The first is the ancient Roman Bath in the center of the city. The fact that Jane Austen called Bath home for a couple of years is a source of great pride. Plus, Bath has remarkable Gothic and Georgian architecture.
Bath became a popular getaway for well-to-do Brits in the 1700s and it remains a popular tourist destination today. In the 1700s and 1800s members of the British aristocracy would travel to Bath to take in the waters at the bath which were believed to have the ability to cure various ailments. Bath also had a social season filled with activities, this is something Austen depicted in her literary works. Historically, Bath was a place where the wealthy would socialize and search for a spouse.
What to Do in Bath
Bath Abbey Tower Tour
Charles and I loved this tour. Bath Abbey is a large Gothic-style abbey in the center of downtown Bath. You do want to book the tour in advance because it does sell out. We went to the Abbey at 1pm and pre-booked our tickets for the 3:30 tour and got some of the last available tickets for that day.
The hour long tour took us up to the roof and the top of the tower providing us with views of the city and the green tree covered hills that surround the city. Along the way we got to learn about how the bells are rung, which was surprisingly fasincating. We were even up in the bell tower when the bells rung, which was slightly loud but very cool.
I do want to let you know that the tour involved walking through narrow spaces and walking up 220 small narrow stairs. The climb was broken up into three sections which made it easy to accomplish. But choose your shoes wisely.
Even if you can’t get tickets for the tower tour, you can walk into the Abbey. It’s a stunning example of Gothic architecture.
The Roman Bath
When you think of England you probably don’t think about Roman Ruins, but Bath is home to a Roman Bath that dates back to the first century A.D. and it is in remarkable condition.
You definitely want to go first thing in the morning before the bus tours and school trips arrive. We made it to the baths at 9:30 and there was no line to buy tickets (mid-day the line spills out into the square) and it wasn’t crowded at all. When we left at 10:20, the place was starting to fill up. And just to be clear, this bath is a historical site and museum, you can’t bathe in these waters.
The Jane Austen Centre
Full disclosure, Charles left Bath at 11 on Sunday, and I stayed behind to do some more exploring. Men probably wouldn’t love the Jane Austen Centre or the Fashion Museum. But – they probably wouldn’t mind grabbing a pint at a pub while you visit some pretty girly spots.
Overall, the museum is a little cheesy. It’s housed in a building down the street from a home where the Austen family lived briefly, but Jane has no specific connection to the building were the museum is located.
The visitors’ experience combines a guided tour by a costumed guide, a self guided tour, a couple interactive activities (like dressing up in Regency fashion), and a couple videos. The Jane Austen Center is a place to get a glimpse into Jane Austen’s life and to learn about her family and literary works. Not much is known about Jane Austen’s personal life since the majority of her personal letters were destroyed.
True Jane Austen fans will get a kick out of the experience of visiting the center, but I wouldn’t say it is one of the best things to do in Bath. And I wouldn’t say to make the trip to Bath just to visit the Jane Austen Centre – unless you want to go during the elaborate 10-day Jane Austen festival.
You could opt to simply have tea in the Regency Tea Room (this was mentioned heavy handedly throughout the videos on the tour).
The Fashion Museum is a very short walk from the Jane Austen Center and the two sites pair well together. You can see the museum’s collections in under two hours, and you will learn the history of fashion from the 1700s through present day. The fact the surprised me the most is that up until the 1800s shoes were made to go on either foot – having left and right shoes didn’t exist before then!
When I visited there was a special exhibition of Royal Fashion that displayed dresses worn by members of the royal family including the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret. This was wonderful, and each dress was displayed with information on who wore it and where they wore it.
This spa is just beside the Roman Baths, and they offer spa treatments and they have a rooftop pool. On weekdays they offer a twilight experience.
We stayed at this hotel which had an incredible spa. Hotel guests get access to the baths, which use the same waters as the Roman Baths. The spa has several pools at different temperatures with massaging elements, plus a steam room, and two different saunas. If you aren’t a hotel guest, you can gain access to the spa and baths by booking a spa treatment.
Bath has a mix of locally owned shops and major retailors. British brands well represented and you can find brands including Jigsaw, Whistles, Molton Brown, Reiss, LK Bennett, and Jo Malone.
Admire the Georgian Architecture
Bath is filled with wonderful examples of Georgian Architecture, the best places to go are the Royal Crescent, Lansdown Crescent, Gay Street, and Milsom Street.
The Pulteney Bridge is a can’t miss architectural landmark that is right downtown.
Downtown Bath is small and walkable. I recommend wandering and exploring, the small city is so pretty.
The old Green Park Station is home to a monthly antiques and vintage market. The old train Victorian train station is beautiful, and it is a fun venue for a market. A variety of furniture, collectables, vintage clothing, and homeware are sold at the market. Check the website for the market schedule before you go. There are also a few restaurants at the station.
Where to Eat in Bath
Afternoon Tea at The Pump Room
There are several places in Bath that serve Afternoon Tea, but The Pump Room is the place that Jane Austen mentioned in both Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.
You might want to make a reservation in advance – the space is gorgeous and the tea and all of the food was delicious. The restaurant is attached to the Roman Baths, so you might want to combine this with a tour of the baths.
We were incredibly impressed with our meal at this fine dining restaurant. Our two course dinner was included when we booked our hotel room, and this has to be one of the best restaurants in Bath. We had tomato soup and then I had stuffed squash blossoms that had a slightly spicy curry sauce. The food is trendsetting and creative and the space is welcoming and not stuffy. I have a tendency to be skeptical when it comes to hotel restaurants, but this one is exceptional.
Breakfast was also included in our hotel stay (a perk of booking with Amex Platinum’s booking platform) and we were treated to a small feast! We had Full English Breakfasts and also go to enjoy fruit and pastries from the buffet – plus some delightful British cheeses.
This restaurant has four levels plus a rooftop. The massive restaurant is divided into different spaces with distinct menus, so you can for snacks and drinks or a full dinner.
The rooftop has nice views of the city and it a great spot to enjoy a warm sunny day. I should say that the weather was absolutely perfect when we visited in mid-July.
Where to Drink in Bath
Canary Gin Bar
It is unfair to call the Canary Gin Bar just a bar because it is much more than that. There is a distillery below the bar – it is Bath’s first gin distillery in 205 years! They offer tours and gin making workshops. You can also buy Bath Gin at their shop.
We loved the social atmosphere at this bar – and the huge selection of gins including the seasonal flavored gins produced in house. I sipped on a Rhubarb Gin and Tonic which was delicious followed by a Red Berry Gin and Tonic. The most interesting drink I tried was a Grapefruit and Black Pepper Gin and Tonic. They serve two sizes of cocktails, and I decided to order the small size so that I could try more flavors.
The Dark Horse
This cocktail bar is tucked away in a basement and it spans several rooms. The cocktails were wonderful, and the place had an atmosphere perfect for a date. It is very popular, so I recommend making a reservation.
A cocktail bar with the friendliest bartender in the world – I have never seen someone so excited to mix up a drink for me. While the Dark Horse is quiet and dark, The Hideout has a small outdoor patio and you aren’t expected to have a reservation.
The Griffin Bar
A little pub and a local hangout. We popped in to catch a bit of a World Cup match. This is a place to grab a pint while you decide where to go next.
This is the oldest pub in Bath opened in 1713. Go here to grab a pint and maybe a pub meal.
I cannot recommend spending a night in Bath strongly enough. It is a very easy getaway from London and Bath’s slower pace, kind people, and wide variety of sites will make for a fun and relaxing trip. And I should mention that Bath is more affordable than London.