For your visit you need about a day to discover the town at a pleasantly unhurried pace; a trip to Stonehenge and/or Salisbury will require a separate day. (London-based tour companies offer a day-trip that covers Bath and Stonehenge in addition to the Windsor Castle, but as one might expect, you spend more time on the bus than doing the actual sightseeing, and that at a very brisk highlights-only pace.)
Distances are walkable in all cases.
Love its sandy-colored look.
Don’t miss: A moment of quiet relaxation in the Parade Gardens.
Worthy attractions: Roman Baths (and you can brave drinking the waters at the on-site restaurant); The Royal Crescent and the house at No.1; Parade Gardens; Pulteney Bridge.
Left for another visit: Bath Abbey [did not tour inside]; Fashion Museum.
Nearby destinations: Stonehenge; Salisbury [did not visit]; Cheddar Gorge [did not visit]; Stourhead [did not visit]; Lacock.
Last visit: September 2007.
Bath owns its prominence to the hot springs on which it resides. The Romans built their baths there in the first century. In the 18th century, the town gained unparalleled fame as a spa resort. During that time, as rich and famous descended en masse, the place assumed its magnificent Georgian townscape, which it retains today.
The center of the city is fairly small and compact, and pedestrianized in its core, so you can easily walk pretty much all of it in just a couple of hours. While unfortunately overrun with tourist crowds, the lively city holds quite a number of attractions, with honey-colored houses providing an elegant backdrop.
Things to See
The Roman Baths ♥♥♥ are the number one attraction. While there is little left from the time of their origin, they are nonetheless an infinitely interesting place to see. The water in the main pool – called Great Bath – is fed by the hot spring at a constant temperature of 115°F. You have to use your imagination to envision how the baths looked in ancient times, but you can see numerous fragments of Roman ornamentation throughout the exhibition. The audio-guide is somewhat drawn out and pompous, but there is a brilliant children version accessible via the same handset.
The Bath Abbey is closed for services on Sunday mornings, which prevented us from visiting it, but it is more interesting on the outside, from what we gather. The west front of the cathedral, looking out on a small square that acts as the central point in town, has interesting carvings commemorating the legend of God dictating the form of the church to a bishop in 15th century.
No.1 Royal Crescent ♥♥ is one of the Palladian-style houses on the arched street that is often hailed as the most majestic in Britain. The house magnificently showcases what life was like for 18th-century aristocrats, with very detailed furniture and accessories. Every room has an extensive information sheet, and docents often provide colorful commentary.
Pulteney Bridge ♥, akin to Florentine Ponte Vecchio, is lined with shops. It is quite charming, but also quite underwhelming, since when you are on it, there is no indication at all that you are actually on a bridge.
Parade Gardens ♥♥ is an inviting little park by the river Avon, where lovers of ages past used to steal away for their amorous liaisons. There is a small charge for entry, but it is likely worth it.
There are other museums and attractions in Bath, but we eschewed them in favor of walking around town. The only other point of interest, erstwhile Museum of Costume, has recently been recast into Fashion Museum, and we decided against checking it out.
One can make Bath a destination for a day trip from London. There are, however, a number of interesting places around Bath, and it makes a pretty good base for other excursions, to places such as Bristol, Cheddar Gorge, Wells, Stourhead, Averbury,and Salisbury (we did not manage to visit any of these, unfortunately; something to look forward to).
And, of course, Stonehenge ♥♥♥.
For just a pile of rocks, it is a formidable and mysterious monument. The closest you can get to it is a few dozen meters to one side, but even at that distance, it is an awesome sight to behold. Even with modern machinery, positioning these rocks the way they are would unlikely be a trivial exercise. Imagine the task of doing it with nothing but mules and muscles. The audio-guide provides a quite enlightening lecture, but it is almost enough to just hang around and take in the view.
We also briefly visited the tiny picturesque village of Lacock ♥, which on more than one occasion doubled as a cinematic locale. It is truly remarkably maintained in its pristine state. Harry Potter aficionados will undoubtedly want to take a picture by the house that appeared in flashbacks in the very first movie as the home of the infant Harry and his parents. One big drawback of the village is the automotive transport. Seeing residents’ cars parked in front of a row of centuries-old buildings tends to diminish the ocular delight.
Places to Eat
All places last visited in Fall 2007.
Raphael ♥♥ is a quite sophisticated restaurant offering modern-French cuisine. The waiters spoke French better than English, but the service was agreeable. All four of us liked mushroom soup a lot, and the rest of the dishes were pretty tasty as well. Excellent wine selection. Our damage: £100 for a meal for four, including a bottle of wine.
The Walrus and The Carpenter ♥♥ (if you read Alice in Wonderland, you should recognize the pair) is quite tiny inside, although it occupies three floors. Tables on the ground floor appear to be perpetually in the way of moving waiters. The walls are covered in photo-portraits of famous people, including Gorbachev with drawn-in mustache who presided over our dinner. The waiters are very friendly and the service is quite good. The food is of upgraded pub variety, we quite liked it. Our damage: £70 for a meal for four, including a bottle of wine.
We also had a semi-quick lunch at a place called La Croissanterie, in one of the narrow passages to the north of the Abbey between Union and High Streets. Pretty good sandwiches, relatively cheap.
In addition, we had a hot chocolate break in a specialized café ♥ right next to the cathedral.
Haydon House ♥♥♥ is a bed & breakfast that is located in the upper part of the town on a very quiet street. The attractive mansion sits in a beautiful garden, and the house itself is pleasantly decorated in an understated way, with many nice paintings throughout common areas and stairway landings.
The family room (#5) on the upper floor is spacious. The main double bed is located in a semi-private alcove – no door, but also no direct line of sight from the area where the other two beds – singles – are situated. Uncommonly large – by hotel standards – full bathroom is separated from the room by a wall of glazed windows decorated with accessories.
The breakfast is adequate. You are asked to select your main dish from the menu the night before (selection ranges from full English breakfast to scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on toast), and there are several help-yourself or freely provided foodstuffs, including tea, coffee, juice, cereal, toast and fruit.
You can walk to the town center in about 15 minutes (or drive in about 3, but then spend some time figuring out where to park and maneuvering around parking lot). Since the return trip is uphill almost all the way, taking a taxi is highly recommended, costing about £6 for the trip. Last stay: 2007.