One of the country’s most quintessential cities, Bath sees millions of visitors every year. It’s actually the second most visited city outside of London. It’s easy to see why; the city is absolutely bursting from history from Roman times to modern day. The buildings are beautiful, and there are plenty of places to eat, drink and relax after a long day of history.
I lived in Bath for a year, so I know my way around. The city centre is tiny, and it’s fairly easy to see in one day – it’s a great day trip from Bristol – but it’s also worth spending a couple of days in Bath to really soak it all in.
The city centre is easily walkable, but taxis and buses are also available throughout the city and surrounds. I would recommend timing your trip for a weekday out of school holidays if possible; it gets busy here. Read my how to get to Bath post for more information!
Things to do in Bath: the full list
The Roman Baths are where it all began. Romans arrived in Bath between 44AD and 47AD, where the local tribe – the Donbunni – quickly succumbed to them. The Romans made an interesting discovery – Bath was home to hot springs, a one of a kind phenomenon for the UK.
The Romans quite liked this, so they created a bathing and socialising complex on the site. What remains are some of the country’s best preserved ancient Roman ruins, along with a visitor’s centre that explains the Roman presence in this region.
The Roman Baths are potentially the biggest attraction in Bath, so they can get very busy – visit on a weekday if you can.
Cost: Tickets cost £21.00 on a weekday and £23.00 on a weekend for one adult. Discounts apply for children, and family tickets are available. Bath residents can get free entry with a BANES card.
After the Romans left in around 400 AD, the Anglo Saxons took over much of Britain – and the first mention of a church in Bath Abbey’s location was in 675 AD. In fact, there have been three churches on the site of Bath Abbey: a Saxon Convent, a Norman Monastery, and the Abbey that stands today.
Bath Abbey’s most notable achievement is perhaps when Edgar, the first King of all of England, was crowned there in 973. Before this year, England was ruled in sections, so it was a significant milestone in the monarchy of the country! There’s a plaque on one of the outer walls of Bath Abbey commemorating this, but it’s quite easy to miss – so do look out for it when there!
The modern Abbey started being built in 1499, when Bishop Oliver King ordered it to be built after a dream about angels travelling to earth via on Olive Tree – he took this as a sign that he should be the one to rebuild the church, and quite literally worked to make his dream come true.
Construction halted quite soon after though, due to Henry VIII changing an entire country’s religion to marry the woman he wanted (if you think that’s dramatic, he chopped off that same woman’s head a few years later). The Dissolution of the Monasteries meant that all Catholic churches were shut and the official religion changed to protestant.
Shortly after, it was given to the city as a parish church and when Henry VIII’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, was on the throne she gave permission for a collection to be held to raise money for the restoration of the church (awfully generous of her) and it was slowly restored to a grander scale than ever before. Outside the abbey, you can see engravings of ladders, angels and olive trees – these represent Bishop Oliver King’s dream.
This is mostly the Abbey that you’ll see today. Bath was badly bombed in World War Two; the Abbey wasn’t hit, but a nearby bomb damaged the Great East Window and some of the northern-facing windows.
Take a walk around the Abbey and see some of the amazing engravings; it’s sometimes known as ‘The Lantern of the West’ because 67% of its walls are covered in stained glass windows. Do also make sure you spend some time enjoying the Abbey from outside, and if you are there at the right time, you can take a Tower Tour up one of the towers to learn about the inner workings of the building. You’ll finish at the top of the tower, with a great view over the city.
Cost: Entry to the Abbey is donation only. Tower tours are £8.00 for adults and £4.00 for children. They run every weekday from 10am-4pm on the hour, or Saturdays every half hour.
Pulteney Bridge and the Weir
Designed in 1769 by Robert Adam, this bridge has the prestigious title of being the only bridge that’s covered in shops in the country, and one of only three in Europe.
It was built due to a certain William Johnstone Pulteney, who had great ambitions to build a city to rival Bath on the other side of the horseshoe-shaped Weir. This wild plan required a way to get over the river, thus a bridge was commissioned. It was actually named after Frances Pulteney, William’s wife (although it could just as easily have been named after William himself)…
The bridge ended up costing £10,000 – a few million in today’s money – and ol’ William never really succeeded in creating his rival city. Still, it’s pretty fun to walk across the bridge and check out the shops and cafes, especially if you’re into Bath Rugby merch (the rugby pitch is just across the bridge, in William’s would-be city!).
Visiting: Pulteney Bridge is at the east of the city centre, just south of Waitrose.
See the circus
Not a performing circus! You might have noticed that Bath is full of Georgian architecture. The majority of the buildings were constructed in this period, when the Roman Baths were restored and it gained popularity as a spa town.
This meant that buildings needed to be constructed, quickly. The Circus is the brainchild of John Wood the Elder, who was fascinated by prehistoric stone circles and wanted to create something that mirrored the Colosseum in Rome. Thus we have the perfectly circular road; which consists of 33 houses all looking out over a green space in the middle.
Construction of the Circus finished in 1768, which was sadly 14 years after John Wood the Elder passed away; so he never got to see his masterpiece.
Visiting information: The Circus is technically just a road, so it’s free to visit. You can reach it by walking north up Gay Street from Queen’s Square.
Royal crescent house
The constructors of The Circus had such a great time, that they thought they’d create another similar building a few minutes walk away. Thus we have The Crescent; a crescent-shaped (could you guess?!) row of Georgian houses facing Royal Victoria Park.
Most of this row is now part of a hotel, but number 1 has been restored into Georgian style, so you can visit and see exactly how people lived in Bath during its heyday. The decor is supposed to represent the period from 1776-1796.
Visiting: The Crescent is free to look at and can be photographed from the green below. Entry to the museum is £10.90 for adults and £5.40 for children.
Jane Austen Museum
Jane Austen, world-famous novelist, lived in Bath from 1801-1806. I’ll let you in on a little secret – she didn’t really like it. However, she is revered as a famous Bath ex-resident, so much so that there is a museum named after her.
At the museum, you’ll get to discover more about the life and literature of this celebrated writer, as well as how Bath influenced her writings. If that’s just not enough Austen for you, then time your visit for September when the Jane Austen festival takes place, where you can become a Georgian for a day – potentially the most ‘Bath’ activity going on!
Visiting: The Jane Austen Centre is located on Gay Street, between Queen Square and The Circus. Tickets cost £10.80 for adults and £4.70 for kids if you buy them online (10% discount). You can purchase tickets here.
Bath Skyline Walk and Prior Park
Cities are often best viewed from above, and Bath is no exception. The beautiful City Skyline Walk offers spectacular vistas over the whole city centre, with a National Trust trail that spans 9.6 kilometres through the woodlands and fields above the city centre; of course, it’s possible to just do segments of this walk.
If you’re looking for things to do in Bath at the weekend, the Bath Skyline Walk is home to the 5k Bath Park Run; a weekly event where people get together to run, jog or walk five kilometres. It’s completely free and entrants get a time and place.
To get to Bath Skyline Walk, you’ll need to go through Prior Park. This 18th century landscaped garden is perfect for an afternoon stroll, and is home to one of only four Palladian Bridges on the globe. If you have no idea what a Palladian Bridge is, don’t worry, I had no idea either – it’s a certain style of architecture influenced by Andrea Palladio. You can read more about it here.
Visiting: It is walking distance from the city centre – follow maps to Bathwick Hill, where point one is located. Find detailed visiting instructions here.
Bath Thermae Spa
There’s a lot of history in Bath, but also plenty of places to kick back and relax too! Once you’ve walked around museums and historical instructions and soaked the stories of this beautiful city in, head to the spa to kick back and relax.
Bath Thermae Spa is a multi-level, multi-facility complex with thermal baths including a warm rooftop pool, a wellness suite featuring steam rooms, an ice chamber and relaxation room, as well as treatment rooms.
Visiting: The Bath Thermae Spa i sin the middle of the city centre, close to the Roman Baths. It costs £37 to visit from Monday to Friday and £42 on Saturday and Sunday. Treatments cost extra.
Royal Victoria Park
Encompassing the area around The Crescent and uphill adjacent to Lansdown Road, Royal Victoria Park is named after – you guessed it – Queen Victoria. She came to Bath when she was 11 years old, and was displeased by the city, thanks to a local resident who made a comment on her ankles while she was there… this was reason enough for Queenie to blacklist the entire city.
Within the park are the Botanical Gardens, which are worth a stroll around, the Pavilion and the Pavilion Cafe, the Romanesque Temple of Minerva, a golf course and children’s playground. It’s a lovely spot for a summer BBQ or an autumnal stroll as the leaves change colour.
Visiting: Access from Queens Square or anywhere toward the west of the city
Afternoon Tea at the Pump Room
Next to the Roman Baths is the Pump Room, a lovely location for an eloquent meal or afternoon tea. While it is connected to the Baths, it doesn’t date quite back that far; it began in the seventeenth century when people started drinking the thermal waters.
A pump was constructed to give people the chance to drink the water, and then a building was built to shelter the pump. Thus, the pump rooms was formed! It was frequented by many Bath locals and tourists as it gained popularity as a spa destination.
Jane Austen frequented the place, and nowadays it still echoes the grandeur of Georgian times. There is often live classical music, and it’s the perfect place to enjoy tea and cake, afternoon tea, or a spot of lunch!
Visiting: Reservations are recommended
Sally Lunn Tea Room
Located in one of the oldest houses in Bath and famous for being one of the world’s most prestigious places to eat, Sally Lunn’s was established in 1680 and is famous for being the place where the Bath bun was created.
Sally Lunn – original name Solange Luyon – was a French refugee who got work in the bakery that was originally on Sally Lunn’s site. She created French-inspired brioche roll, which was a roaring success with people in Bath. As more and more tourists came to the city, news of the Bath bun spread all over the country – and eventually all over the world.
Visiting: Sally Lunn’s is located on Gay Street, close to Queen’s Square. For dining in, booking is recommended. And don’t forget the Bath bun!
Bath Cycle Path
The Bath Cycle Path extends to Bristol on one side, and Bradford on Avon on the other – about 13 miles each way. It’s a pleasant cycle to either, or a fairly long hike or run. The Bradford on Avon side is really pleasant, going along the Kennett and Avon Canal. The stretch is dotted by canal boats and country pubs. It’s with going for a short return walk or cycling or hiking the entire way!
Visiting: The cycle path is just south of the river, from where you can walk both ways.
With a fascinating history and beautiful streets, Bath is a magical city to explore. It’s a must-visit for anyone who wants to know a bit more about the nation’s tales, but with also plenty of places to kick back and relax, it’s the perfect relaxing getaway.