> SlowTrav > United Kingdom & Ireland > Travel Notes

Bath - Things to Do and See, Practical Tips

Pauline Kenny

Bath was a popular town in Roman times, because of the natural hot springs, but most of what we recognize as Bath (the upper town) was built in Georgian times (1714 - 1836). In the 1700s, Bath became a popular spa destination and houses were built to accommodate the visitors. They came not to bathe in the natural hot springs, but to drink the water.

The main tourist information office is near Bath Abbey in the center of Bath. Go there first to get a city map and tourist guide.

There are many hotels, B&Bs and vacation rentals in the center of Bath. Also good restaurants and a large shopping area. The train station (Bath Spa) is in the center of town. The River Avon passes through Bath and the Kennet and Avon Canal (which connects the River Avon with the River Thames) starts in Bath.

The Royal Crescent in Bath, Georgian Houses built in the 1700s

The Royal Crescent in Bath, Georgian Houses built in the 1700s

Arrival

Bath makes a good first stop when flying into England. You can have a car service pick you up from Gatwick or Heathrow airports or you can take a train or bus from the airport to Bath. If driving, it is about 2.5 hours from Gatwick; 2 hours from Heathrow. If you are staying in London, you can take the train directly to Bath (1.5 hrs).

This is important: the train station for Bath is called "Bath Spa".

If you are driving into Bath for the day, you will find large paid parking lots at the edges of the historic center of the city but do not expect to find free on-street parking.

It is best not to have a car if you are staying in Bath, unless your hotel or vacation rental provides parking. Parking can be difficult. We had a car for a few days on a recent stay and parked in the large tourist lots near Royal Victoria Park where you paid by the hour (at a parking machine). You could pay for 24 hours at a time with some effort and cost, but parking spots were always available (we were there in September).

Bath Spa, the Natural Hot Springs

The natural hot springs in the center of Bath were used for bathing in Roman times (2,000 years ago). In the Georgian period (mid 1700s to 1800s) Bath became a spa town where people came to spend a few months and "take the waters" (which means they drank the water each day, they did not bathe in it). You can still drink the Bath water at the fountain in the Pump Room, part of the Roman Baths, and you can tour the Roman ruins (well worth a visit). The new Thermae Bath Spa uses these hot springs.

The Roman Baths: www.romanbaths.co.uk
This is the main tourist site in Bath and can be a bit crowded, but it is worth seeing the remains of the Roman baths in the center of Bath. Have morning coffee, lunch or afternoon tea at the Pump Room, part of the Roman Baths. This is an elegant room which has been a meeting place since it opened in 1796.

Thermae Bath Spa: www.thermaebathspa.com
A few years ago, the Thermae Bath Spa was built, the only place in England where you can bathe in natural hot springs. Sadly it closed soon after it opened because of problems with the building. It has reopened and looks like a fabulous spa with an open air hot pool on the roof and other treatment areas.

Things to Do and See in Bath

Georgian Bath

An easy six block walk will take you through the heart of Georgian Bath. All the streets in this area are interesting to walk. The Assembly Rooms are also in this area (just off the Circus). At the end of the walk, go back to the center of town via the Royal Victoria Park.

  • Queen Square: A beautiful square of Georgian row houses built by John Wood the Elder in 1728 - 1736.
  • The Circus: Two blocks along Gay Street, up the hill from Queen Square, is the Circus, a circle of row houses with three intersecting streets and a beautiful lawn and trees in the center. Started by John Wood the Elder and finished by his son, John Wood the Younger in 1767.
  • Royal Crescent: Two blocks from the Circus, along Brock Street, and you come to the Royal Crescent, a semi-circle of 30 row houses built on a hill overlooking a large lawn and the Royal Victoria Park, built in 1767 - 1775 by John Wood the Younger. You can tour Number 1 Royal Crescent.

The Significant Buildings

From the book "Pevsner Architectural Guides - Bath" by Michael Forsyth, these are the buildings and streets to see in Bath.

  • Bath Abbey
  • The Grand Pump Room and Roman Baths
  • The Guildhall and the Victoria Art Gallery
  • Pulteney Bridge
  • The Cross Bath, Hot Bath and New Royal Bath
  • Assembly Rooms
  • Bath Spa Railway Station
  • Prior Park

The Main Sights

Bath Abbey: www.bathabbey.org
Bath Abbey is located in the heart of Bath, near the Pump Room and the Roman Baths. The current building was started in 1499 and is the last of the great medieval churches of England. It is not designated as a "cathedral" because the nearby Wells Cathedral covers Bath and Wells.

The Grand Pump Room and Roman Baths: www.romanbaths.co.uk
This is the main tourist site in Bath and can be a bit crowded, but it is worth seeing the remains of the Roman baths in the center of Bath. Have morning coffee, lunch or afternoon tea at the Pump Room, part of the Roman Baths. This is an elegant room which has been a meeting place since it opened in 1796. We had morning coffee here in May 2006 and while it was fun, the coffee and food was expensive and not that great and the service was a bit "over the top". It is probably best to stop here for afternoon tea.

Number 1 Royal Crescent: www.bath-preservation-trust.org.uk/museums/no1/
Tour a Georgian house on the Royal Crescent. We visited this museum in 2004 and thought it was a great chance to see what life was like in the 1700s. The house is beautifully preserved and there are people throughout the museum who will talk to you about the house and history.

The Assembly Rooms and Museum of Costume: www.museumofcostume.co.uk
This museum is in the Assembly Rooms, where the visitors in Jane Austen's time came to have tea and play cards. You can tour the Assembly Rooms and then go to the Museum of Costume in the basement.

Prior Park: www.nationaltrust.org.uk
The building is not open to the public, but the 18th century gardens with a Palladian Bridge are a National Trust property. No parking on site; take a bus from Bath or walk. (Closed Tuesdays) Catch the bus near the Train Station. In May 2006 we paid £1.70 each for a one way, 10 minute bus ride to the Prior Park entrance, but it saved us walking up the hill. Once you get into Prior Park, you walk back down the same hill, but in the park, and then back up again to leave. Beautiful views of Bath and lovely gardens. You can get onto the Skyline Trail from the bottom of the park (walking up a long hill to reach the trail).

The Jane Austen Center: www.janeausten.co.uk
40 Gay Street in Bath. This is not the house she lived in, but is similar. Jane lived at 25 Gay Steet, higher up the hill towards the Circus. We only went as far as the excellent gift shop and did not bother touring the house. Instead we saw the museum at the Royal Crescent to get a feel for what the houses were like when she lived there.

Victoria Art Gallery: www.victoriagal.org.uk

Theatre Royal: www.theatreroyal.org.uk
Plays and live music performances.

Walking/Hiking

Kennet and Avon Canal Walk: Walking the Kennet and Avon Canal
If you are looking for a nice walk, you can walk out from Bath along the Kennet and Avon Canal to the countryside. It is a three hour walk to Bradford-on-Avon, a delightful town with restaurants and tea rooms. From there you can take the train back to Bath (or do the reverse).

Bath Skyline Walk: www.nationaltrust.org.uk
Six mile walk on the hills around Bath that you start from Prior Park or from the Kennet and Avon Canal Walk. We did part of this walk, from Prior Park to Bathgate, on our May 2006 trip. There is a lot of up and down on the trail, but you get lovely views over Bath and the countryside. From Prior Park, get on the trail at the bottom of the park and walk up a long hill to find the trail at the top.

Cotswolds Way: www.nationaltrail.co.uk/cotswold/
Bath is the end of the Cotswolds Way, a long distance trail that goes along the western edge of the Cotswolds from Chipping Campden to Bath. There are several detailed guides to this long distance trail which show how it comes into Bath.

Practical Tips

Public Restrooms (Toilets)

In the central area there are public toilets at the entrance to the Roman Baths. You do not have to pay to get into the Baths. The restrooms are in the hall between the Pump Room and the entrance to the Baths.

You will find public restrooms in The Podium (a small enclosed mall near the Pulteney Bridge) and in the parking lots.

Shopping

Downtown Bath has a large shopping area in the central area around Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths. The shopping area continues over the Pulteney Bridge, a bridge over the River Avon with shops on it. You will find many shops, bars, restaurants, and cafes in the center of Bath.

Supermarkets

www.waitrose.com/about/findyourlocalwaitrose.asp: Waitrose store locator
Bath has a Waitrose (my favorite supermarket) in the town center, in the Podium, on NorthGate and Bridge, in the historic center, north of the Abbey, along the river.

www.sainsbury.co.uk/storelocator/: Sainsbury's store locator
Sainsbury's is in Green Park Station on Green Park Road, towards the river from Queen Square (take Charles Street).

Car Rental

AutoEurope has two locations in Bath:

  • Brass Mill Lane (National): In Bath, 3.5km from the train station (west of town, off Newbridge Road).
  • Marksbury Office, Westway Garage, 534 - 538 Wellsway (Europcar): Outside of Bath, 11km from the center of town (train station), in the town of Marksbury (on the A39).

We used the Brass Mill location to pickup our car in 2004 and 2006. It is a small office with very good service. It was not easy to find (we walked to it the first time, took a taxi the second); go to the National Car Rental website and print out the location map. It was easy to get from this location to the main roads heading out of town to the west, but if you are heading east, you have to drive back through Bath, as the main highways all go through the center of Bath.

Car Service/Taxi

www.drive-u.co.uk: Clive Nichols (Drive-U). We used this car service to drive us from Gatwick Airport to Bath, £140, 2 hour drive (M24, M4).

Resources

Slow Travel Photos: My photos of Bath from September 2004

visitbath.co.uk: Bath Tourism, accommodations, restaurants, travel information

www.bathvenues.co.uk: Bath's Heritage Buildings. Pump Room (go for afternoon tea), Assembly Rooms (the Museum of Costume is in the Assembly Rooms).

www.cityofbath.co.uk: Tourist information, accommodation and restaurant listings

Guidebooks for Bath

Pevsner Architectural Guides - Bath, Michael Forsyth, Yale University Press, 2004

A detailed guide to the architecture of Bath. Also has 11 suggested walks and  five excursions. Maps and photos. This is the book to have with you as you explore Bath in detail.

Order from Amazon

Time Out, South West England, Bath, Bristol and beyond, Time Out Publishing, 2003

Good guidebook for Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. Sections for Bath and Bristol. Descriptions of towns and sites, restaurants, accommodations. I have used this book on a couple of trips.

Order from Amazon

Back to Top

Car Rental Hotel Booking Flight Booking Train Tickets Books, Maps, Events
Europe Cell Phones Long Distance Cards Luggage, etc. Travel Insurance Classifieds

* Advertise on Slow Travel | Post your travel questions on the Slow Travel Forums

Copyright © 2000 - 2014 SlowTrav.com, unless noted otherwise. Slow Travel® is a registered trademark. Contact Slow Travel

RSS Feeds - Link to Us - Disclaimer - Privacy Policy - Currency Converter - Colophon - Sponsors - Become a Member
Home | Forums | Slow Travel? | Europe Trip Planning | Photos | Trip Reports | Search | About Us | Classifieds