For a classically English short-break, filled with culture, cuisine and history, look no further than the ancient town of Bath Spa. Originally settled around the year AD60 when Romans discovered hot springs under the terrain, the petite city had a resurgence to fashion during the late 1800s Regency period, when ‘taking to the waters’ became all the rage. Built specifically as a wellbeing destination, Bath has always been about pleasure and relaxation. From the ancient Roman Baths to the strikingly modern Thermae Spa, the city continues to this day to be a draw for hedonists, and its beautiful and diverse shopping streets are ideal for a little retail therapy as well.
Located just outside the very southern edge of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Bath has a distinctly rural, small town feel and gives visitors easy access to both quaint urban pursuits and the beautiful fields and woodland that surround the city. The skyline of steeples and spires is beautiful, unique and quintessentially English and its rich history and careful preservation means the city centre was awarded as a World Heritage Site in 1987. Enticing well over a million visitors every year, the town’s main attractions are among the most photographed sites in the world.
The city has strong links to the arts, and public showpieces can be seen all over town. In 2016-17, Southgate Street became the country’s ‘most Instagrammed street’ due to the installation of brightly coloured brollies overhead. This summer however they have been replaced with 40,000 strings of wisteria in 44 purple and cream arches over the shopping street, and the cameraphones are going snap-happy like never before.
When to go
Bath is well worth a visit any time of the year. Its top attractions still welcome throngs of happy travellers despite cold and wet weather, and the city’s plethora of cosy cafés and cheerful pubs are a great place to warm up after exploring the streets. Bath’s Christmas market is one of the most popular in the UK, and the city’s stunning squares become even more magical when lit up with the festivities and with the scents of fragrant foods coming from every direction. Autumn is a beautiful time, and the changing colours are complemented with the Great Bath Feast which runs through October, providing a whole host of delicious foodie events.
Summer is of course the most popular time, and festivals, fêtes and events abound during the warmer months. The multi-arts Bath Festival runs for two weeks in summer, hosting musical, theatrical and artistic performances at locations all over the town centre. Beyond the city, several colourful and electrifying festivals take place in the picture-perfect Cotswolds and Bath is less than an hour away from the renowned Glastonbury Festival, making the town an ideal place to rinse off the mud!
What to do
With sumptuous architecture to admire, pretty parks in which to picnic and fascinating ancient history to absorb, ‘bored’ is something you will not be in beautiful Bath. The Royal Crescent and The Circus are the city’s (and possibly the country’s) most impressive examples of Georgian architecture.
The imposing frontages in distinctively honey-coloured bath stone, decorated with tall and slender Ionic columns and hundreds of unique and quirky friezes, are timelessly elegant and icons of British design and architecture.
The striking Bath Abbey has seen many different configurations since its original building that was founded in the 7th century, but the current building is one of the largest examples of Gothic architecture in the West Country. Grade I listed, it has a magnificently ornate fanned vaulting of the nave ceiling and hundreds of intricate sculpted figures on its exterior.
Fans of the great novelist will delight at the Jane Austen Centre; a small museum chronicling her life which includes a dainty teashop where afternoon tea is an absolute must. A little further out of the main drag of town you’ll find The Holburne Museum on the edge of the enchanting Sydney Gardens. Housing a surprisingly fine collection of artwork, sculpture, furniture and artefacts from many of the old masters, an amble around this museum is a perfect way to spend a cultured afternoon.
Back in town, take a stroll to the charming Pulteney Bridge, a covered bridge that contains tiny shops and coffee houses and spans the River Avon, right behind its iconic V-shaped weir. The pretty Parade Gardens is a fabulous spot for picturesque photo opportunities in front of the bridge, with the magnificent Abbey in the background.
But the ultimate attraction in this remarkable city is The Roman Baths. When the Romans came to England in 55BC, they brought with them their vast knowledge of science, flare for architecture and taste for indulgent wellbeing. Discovering natural hot springs in this area meant the settlement of Aquae Sulis soon sprang up, and the original pools that the Romans built are still in existence today. Now the town is known as Bath Spa, and while the pools might not be open for the 1.5 million annual guests to dip their toes into, the site offers educational tours, an interactive museum and even the opportunity to taste some of the mineral-rich water.
Nearby the baths, the glaringly contemporary Thermae Spa imitates the original bathing experience by pumping the thermal water – naturally heated to around 46c – to its fabulous rooftop pool. Open all year round the experience is made all the more ethereal in winter when the hot water steams up into the cold air. Make like the original Romans or their Regency imitators by checking into the spa and indulging in one of the many packages on offer for the ultimate wellbeing break.
When the sun shines, why not grab a bike from one of the many self-service bike rental stands and have a leisurely cycle along the scenic Kennet and Avon Canal or head out of the city along the Two Tunnels circuit which takes cyclists through a couple of former railway tunnels – Bath is filled with endearing little surprises! While the city centre parks are pretty and full of fellow urbanistas, the parklands outside of the town are particularly special. Prior Park landscape garden with its rolling hills, glimmering ponds and Palladian bridge were designed by the celebrated Capability Brown, and is a spectacular place to spend a balmy afternoon.
What to eat
Bath’s historical and cultural draw mean that a diverse and creative population call this place home, and the city’s brilliance is emphasised by its culinary offerings. One of the most popular spots in town is Sotto Sotto, an enchanting Italian restaurant in the vaulted cellars of a row of classic Georgian houses. The menu is a contemporary twist on classic Italian staples, using quality ingredients, artistically served and enjoyed by candlelight among bare stone walls giving a warm, romantic atmosphere.
A little way out of town, Menu Gordon Jones takes delicious pan-European influences and serves up contemporary haute cuisine. Mr Jones’ tasting menu changes as and when different ingredients become available to him, meaning only the freshest fare is used. Guests come to Gordon Jones without really knowing what could be on the menu, but guaranteed something delectable and artistic will be presented, and paired perfectly with fine wines from around the globe. Advance booking is essential at this headline-making establishment.
In keeping with the strong Regency theme that this town possesses, authentic Indian cuisine in Bath is best enjoyed at the dazzling The Eastern Eye. Its narrow doorway could be easy to walk right by on the street, but don’t be fooled – the interior of the restaurant is grand and Georgian. Decorated with beautiful murals of regal Indian scenes, thick curtains, ornate lighting and a huge multi-domed ceiling, the dining hall is something to behold. The restaurant has won several awards for its top-quality traditional Bengali cuisine.
For more traditional, the cosy King William pub is a tantalising place to stop and take the weight off after exploring the town. The award-winning upstairs dining hall serves a modern take on British cuisine, using exclusively West Country ingredients and the bar stocks over 30 craft beers and ales. Alternatively, the superb Olive Tree Restaurant at The Queensberry Hotel serves fantastically artistic and top-quality British cuisine. Try a tasting menu of up to 7 courses paired with excellent wines for a truly memorable culinary experience.
Where to sleep
This is an impressively luxurious and forward-thinking boutique hotel hidden behind an imposing Grade I listed Georgian façade on Bath’s grandest street. Owners Ian and Christa Taylor have designed award-winning No.15 with an awareness of Bath’s heritage as the original trendy getaway, but an imaginative approach to these traditions will captivate the contemporary chic set as well. Visually stunning in so many ways, we love the rich array of modern artworks on display and the stunning spa.
Stop by Bar 15 for the perfect aperitif before enjoying dinner in Cafe 15 (if you’ve got a sweet tooth you’ll love the dark chocolate delice, salted popcorn, banana ice cream). Here the focus is on the best local ingredients and an enticing all-day menu including brunch on Sundays.
Check availability and rates for No.15 Great Pulteney here
The Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa is a sumptuous, award-winning luxury hotel in the heart of the World Heritage City of Bath. Sitting right in the middle of the world’s finest crescent the Grade I listed buildings that were designed by the famous Georgian Architect, John Wood the Younger and were first occupied in 1775.
Check availability and rates here
The city of Bath Spa is easily accessible from London, less than 3 hours by car (185 km) or 1 hour and 30 minutes by train from London Paddington. The nearby city of Bristol is only a 40-minute drive or 15-minute train journey, and Bristol Airport is 50-minute drive (32 km).