‘Oh, who can ever be tired of Bath?
Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
Bath – one of the UK’s most beautiful cities – has long featured in tourist guides. For over 2,000 years, tourists of all kinds have made the journey south-west; travelling through the rolling green hills of Somerset to reach this sophisticated city. Perched atop natural hot springs, Bath was the chosen spot for bathing Romans (now the name makes sense), who enjoyed a soak in the very pleasant 46 degree water that ran down from the surrounding Mendip hills. Fast-forward a few centuries and civilisations, and the Bath we know today was born: the golden child of eighteenth century England. Beautiful Georgian architecture filled the city as fast as well to-do Georgians, keen to be seen strolling the streets of the Royal Crescent.
Today, Bath remains every inch as beautiful as those fancy Georgians would have had us believe. Complete with Roman Spas (old and new); elegant townhouses; boutique- filled streets and a rich culture that locals are both proud and defensive of, there is something special about Bath. Having lived in Oxford – beautiful Oxford – even I can say that Bath clinches it for me: my very own beauty queen of historic England.
So, keen for a trip away, this weekend I dragged my boyfriend south-west to enjoy some r’n’r in this beautiful city, staying at the incredible Bath Priory Hotel. Below is a guide to Bath, mixing old and new, historic and modern. I hope you enjoy!
You’ve made it to Bath (a two hour drive from London, or a short train ride via Paddington on the Great Western Railway), and are ready for a bite to eat and a cup of tea (you’ll need a fill up before exploring this city in all its eighteen century splendour). For breakfast, head to Jika Jika for something a little more modern (coconut porridge, for example) or Bea’s Vintage Tea Rooms or The Pump Room for some traditional eggie soldiers and smoked salmon. Alternatively, if you’re after something a little more al fresco, why not grab a croissant from Bertinet Bakery and head up to the Royal Victoria Park, for views over the city and a walk around the nearby botanical gardens.
Morning: Historic Bath
No trip to Bath is complete without a quick immersion in its historical sites. Most popular, perhaps, are the original Roman Baths, which were meticulously redeveloped in 2011. A quick note: you can’t actually bathe in these baths, so to avoid disappointment, leave your swimsuit at home. However, you can drink the spa water, said to contain 43 different minerals and able to cure your leprosy. Handy! Be warned, there are long queues for the Baths and entry is £15.
After miraculously curing yourself of debilitating diseases, head out of town and up towards the famed Royal Crescent: Bath’s jewel in the crown.
This sweeping semi-circle of elegant Georgian townhouses has long been a symbol of the city; overlooking the parks below it. To experience the townhouses as they would have looked, visit Number 1 Royal Crescent: a restored Georgian townhouse, modelled on 1776 living. It’s time to embrace your inner Austen and experience this era of English history in all its refined glory. Whilst visiting the Royal Crescent, make sure you also walk across to The Circus. Bath’s answer to the Roman Colosseum, The Circus is made up of three gently curving terraces of beautiful Georgian mansions, encircling a small park. Home to some of Bath’s wealthiest, residents have included the famous artist Thomas Gainsborough and more recently (and perhaps a little more unexpectedly), Nicholas Cage.
If you have any time left, then be sure to visit Bath’s towering Abbey, which offers great views of the city (after hot-footing it up 212 stairs!) Worth visiting are also any of Bath’s museums – I’d definitely recommend the Fashion Museum, for an introduction to eighteen century fashion at its best.
After a busy morning, take a break in one of Bath’s many lovely restaurants. If you’re after a satisfying pub lunch, then visit King William: a pub offering great British seasonal food. Or, for something a little quirky, head to Same Same but Different, for a medley of pan-European food.
Afternoon: Shopping and Spa
Historic sites done, it’s time to visit some of Bath’s many gorgeous boutiques. I like shopping – a lot – and Bath more than caters to my retail habit. One of the first shops we came across was a traditional letter press shop, selling stationary that I wanted to scoop up, put in a van and drive home. The store, Meticulous Ink, although small, is perfect for stationary lovers and admirers of all paper goods! Bath also offers a wealth of crowded antique stores, full of little trinkets and oddities. Try Old Banks Antique Centre for a rummage and Topping & Company Booksellers for a wander around its 45,000 different titles. A bibliophile’s dream! For gifts and fashion, have a look around Prey.
Feet hurting yet? Book yourself into the new Bath Spa (a modern take on the Roman Baths). Here you can glide around outdoor and indoor naturally heated pools, or enjoy a beauty treatment or two. Prices start at £34 for a 2 hour ‘bath’, complete with towel. Do book ahead as it can get very crowded!
After a big day comes a big dinner. Any foodie is well-catered for in Bath, with a huge range of fantastic restaurants to choose from. I’d definitely recommend The Circus, for dinner at one of Bath’s most popular restaurants. Other great choices include The Olive Tree, an independent restaurant that makes use of the ‘muscular animals’ and tasty vegetables that fill Somerset’s green valleys, and Sotto Sotto for Italian food at its best.
Where to stay?
Bath is teeming with beautiful hotels and it can be difficult to choose where to stay. We decided to stay at the beautiful and award-winning The Bath Priory, and are incredibly glad we did. Sat high above the city, the hotel is tucked away on a quiet, leafy street, far away from the bustle of the centre.
A country house built in 1835, the hotel has kept its manor house elegance and warmth: filled with sumptuous soft furnishings, the family’s art collection and boasting a beautiful english country garden. Countering the traditional is a discreet but beautiful Garden Spa, offering indoor and outdoor pools (and beauty treatment rooms if you fancy a massage after all that walking).
After power-walking through Bath all day on a bad foot (I thought I’d give running a go earlier in the week and wasn’t quite the athlete I’d hoped) the spa couldn’t have been more welcome. I floated about quietly on my own, listening to the sound of clinking china and birds coming from the beautiful gardens outside.
If you don’t fancy leaving the hotel (and who could blame you), The Priory also offers its very own Michelin starred restaurant, with views over the landscaped lawns.
We stayed in a newer wing of the house, in the beautiful ‘Lilac’ room. Complete with living room area, enormous bed and a balcony overlooking the rose-filled garden, it was one of the nicest rooms I’ve stayed in. I’m not sorry to say that rather than go out for dinner, we ordered room service and sat in our beautiful room, smug as smug can be.
The Bath Priory is an exceptional hotel and a fantastic place to stay: the cherry on top of any 24 hour trip to Bath!
We’d love to hear your recommendations for a trip to Bath. Let us know in the comments below if you have any other tips!