Located just a 2 hours train ride from London is the quaint city of Bath. This ancient city has ties all the way back to the Romans when they established the baths around 60 AD. But that is just a layer in the history you will find here. Everything from evidence of a medieval battle led by King Arthur himself to a quaint Elizabethan abbey to the beautiful Georgian homes and gardens. With the train station centrally located, this city is easily explored on foot which makes it a wonderful option for a day trip.
The Roman Bath
The star of Bath is definitely the Roman Baths. I went in not expecting very much but was absolutely blown away by this World Heritage site.
Included in the price of your ticket is an audioguide (digital player and headset) that comes in English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. What I liked even more is that had audioguides specifically for children or ones that were recorded by famous Britains. In my case I chose my audioguide to be Bill Bryson (comedic author of ‘A Walk in the Woods’ and ‘Notes from a Small Island’ – both books I highly recommend).
The first area you enter is the Terrace that overlooks the one of the main pools. From here you will get a great view of the city and walk among the statues of Roman emporers and governors of Britain. These statues were not part of the original site but added on during the Victorian era. The day I visited there was a wedding party along the pool. Those had to be stunning photos.
From the Terrace you enter into the museum section of the site. Here you will find a displays of roman antiquities and a model of the baths complex as it would have been in Roman times. You will then wander deeper into the baths and visit temple courtyard where the worshiped the goddess Sulis Minerva, the intimate plunge pools, and the changing rooms with saunas. At the sauna display stop a moment to appreciate the engineering the Romans did to take advantage of these heated pools. It was hard to imagine they did this in 60 AD.
Finally you will find your way Great Bath. Costumed actors will be wandering along the sides of the pool to give you an understanding of how these would have been during Roman times. This area is perfect for photos so take your time to get that perfect shot. On your way out you can even try the spa water. It contains 43 minerals and does have a slight taste to it.
Overall, the tour took about an hour and a half. Go there right at opening when the crowds are low to get the best experience. And afterwards head next door to the Georgian Pump Room for tea and scones.
The baths may look like they would not be wheel chair friendly, but that is not true as 90% of the site is accessible. Note that disabled visitors pay the normal price for admission and the accompanying carer goes free.
After visiting the Roman Bath and the refueling at the Georgian Pump Room it is a quick walk across the courtyard to the Bath Abbey. For a small donation you can explore this religious site that dates back to 675 AD. The church has had undergone many transformation and the current structure only dates back to 1611 with additional changes in 1833.
One of the more interesting (and slightly unsettling) things about this abbey are the angel carving. Inside the church are some beautiful angels that look down on you. But on either side of the church entrance you will see angles climbing, struggling and falling from Jacob’s Ladder. I still do not know what I think about it.
Coming from the young country of America I was amazed at all of the graves along the floor of the church and the 635 remembrances along the walls. It is just not something you see in the American churches and it is mesmerizing to think of the centuries of families that walked within the church.
I only had time for a short visit, but there are tours offered if you want to know more about the very long history of this church. We also found that there are regular (hourly?) non-denominational services held that you can participate in. These only last around 5 minutes so feel free to sit down and participate.
Other Things to Do
The Roman Baths and the Bath Abbey are definitely the highlights of Bath but there is much more to do while you are there. But before we started more sightseeing we needed a rest. So we stopped for at one of the many local pubs, Lamb & Lion, for a pint. Even in the middle of summer they had the windows open so we could have our beer and people watch while enjoying a slight breeze.
Back on foot we traveled along the River Anon to one of the many museums. In this case we chose a free Museum, Victoria Art Gallery, for the air conditioning along with it’s display. This is a little museum but it has a quite interesting display of Victorian paintings, sculptures and pottery. It will only take you a half hour to visit but it will give you a reprieve from the elements.
We continued our walking tour by visiting Royal Crescent Park and the American Museum and Garden’s. We did not enter into the museum but we did enjoy the free garden. This Georgian inspired garden is stunning and work a quick visit.
Before heading to dinner at one of the many local establishments (we chose Tapas Revolution and love every bite) we did take a moment to relax at the Royal Victoria Park. There is a small fee to enter (and they only take cash) but it is worth it to explore these tree lined paths and well maintained gardens. There is plenty of seating and the perfect spot for people watching. Many of the locals come here to make a day of it so you will see kids playing football (soccer for us Americans), picnicking families, people enjoying a good book. There is also a small cafe on site if you would like to grab a tea or small bite.
After dinner it was time on got on my return train to London. On my ride back I had a chance to think about my day in Bath. It was a day filled with history, good food and even some time for relaxation. And even though it is a tourist destination it never felt too crowded. I definitely thinking getting in early contributed to the relaxed feel. Seeing the top tourist destinations before they filled up made everything easier and less stressful. In the end I would recommend a Bath day trip to anyone.