When we were considering where to book for the next of our 12 Trips, my friends were shocked to discover that I had never been to Bath. One of them summed it up when she said: “How have you never been to Bath? It’s your perfect place – full of old lady teashops!”
That nugget of information alone would be worth booking the trip for, but obviously I knew there was a lot more to Bath than just the fabulous teashops, so we planned a weekend to explore. One of the many great things about our 12 Trip Challenge is that it has helped us to realise that you really don’t need to travel far to have a great new experience.
There is so much to see and do in Bath that we only really scraped the surface, but here are some of my recommendations of what to do with 48 hours in the city:
Bath is located in the south west of England and is an hour and a half’s drive from Reading, where we live. It can also be reached from London Paddington Station in around the same amount of time.
We decided to stay at Apple Tree Guest House after a recommendation from fellow blogger On the Luce (another thing I love about the travel community!) The guest house is located on a quiet street just a short walk from the city centre and is run by a lovely lady called Ling. Her Chinese roots and former career as an antiques collector means that the guest house is decorated with a unique blend of English and Asian artwork.
We arrived at around 5pm and headed straight to the Thermae Bath Spa (top tip, if you are staying in an independent guest house like Apple Tree you can borrow a Bath Reward Card which gives you a number of discounts and offers at other businesses across the city. This includes three hours for the price of two at the Thermae Bath Spa – only available Monday-Friday though.)
The spa gives visitors the chance to bathe in Britain’s only naturally warm, mineral-rich waters. We’d been warned that it is very popular, especially at weekends, but there was only a small queue when we arrived. As we were short on time, we decided just to enjoy the bathing experience, although it is possible to book treatments as well.
The Thermae Spa was a great way to begin our weekend. It has a pool and Jacuzzi on the ground floor and a number of steam rooms with different aromas on another floor. But it is the open-air rooftop pool which steals the show, providing views right across the city. The pool does get very busy, with lots of hen dos and holiday makers, but we found it quietened down after 8pm (closing is at 9pm).
After a relaxing start to our visit we headed to Clayton’s Kitchen at The Porter for dinner. We were pretty hungry after the spa and this restaurant, which serves modern British dishes with a Mediterranean twist, did not disappoint. The menu is filled with fresh, seasonal dishes and we were totally spoilt for choice. After much deliberation, I opted for a salmon mousse starter, duck main course and salted caramel and peanut butter ice cream dessert. Heaven!
The main highlight of visiting Bath is, obviously, The Roman Baths. We headed straight there after an amazing Apple Tree breakfast (I have never seen so many options on a guest house menu!) As we’d expected, The Roman Baths were very busy. Plans are underway to almost double the size of the current site and it was easy to see why. The visit was absolutely fascinating though; from the initial story of how The Roman Baths were discovered, to learning about the important role they played in the community at that time. Visitors to the Baths are given a recorded audio guide to follow on the way around the ruins and there’s an adults’ version and a kids’ one, as well as some funny extra observations by writer Bill Bryson. There is also an informative hourly tour you can go on with a guide.
As well as seeing the Great Bath and the Sacred Spring, there is also the opportunity to wander through other connecting rooms within the Baths and to see remains of the Temple which was part of the complex. I was surprised to learn that at the time all of the stonework would have been painted in bright, vibrant, colours, as I’d always imagined anything built by the Romans was made with plain stone.
We spent a good few hours wandering around The Roman Baths and it was so easy to imagine what they must have been like as a busy, bustling, venue. It was the place to come and meet friends, gossip, do business and say prayers to the gods. People also came to ask the gods to take revenge on someone who had wronged them and I loved reading all of the little curses which have been found at the site.
At the end of the Baths there is also the chance to sample some of the famous water, which was believed to cure many illnesses. If you follow me on Snapchat (@grownupgapyear) you’ll know what I thought of that!
There is a beautiful tearoom at The Roman Baths and we were very tempted by the afternoon tea. However, as we had dinner reservations for the evening, we headed to Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House instead, another place which everyone on Twitter had recommended to me! The tea house is one of the oldest buildings in Bath and was used by Sally Lunn to create the first Bath bun in Georgian England.
Sally Lunn’s is now as famous for the queues to get in as it is for its traditional Bath buns. However we must have hit it lucky, as we managed to bag the last free table and then got down to the important decision of choosing what to have. Bath buns are similar to brioche buns, a nod to Sally Lunn’s French heritage, although the exact recipe is kept a closely guarded secret. They can be eaten either sweet or savoury and in the end I decided to go for the cinnamon sugar option, while Mr A chose a Welsh rarebit.
The Bath buns looked huge when they arrived, but were so light and soft. The cinnamon sugar melted on my tongue and Mr A highly rated his choice too.
From Sally Lunn’s we took a stroll to see one of Bath’s most famous views – the Royal Crescent. The street of 30 terraced houses, which was designed by architect John Wood, really is beautiful, with views across the city. It was easy to imagine the houses filled with grand families in the heyday of Jane Austen. (It is possible to visit No 1 Royal Crescent which has been decorated and furnished as it might have been during the period 1776-1796.)
In typical British fashion, the weather changed from beautiful sunshine to heavy rain in a matter of minutes, and our relaxing walk turned into a bit of a run. Will we ever learn to carry umbrellas with us?
There are a number of traditional pubs throughout the city and for anyone interested in architecture it’s possible to pick up a Beer and Buildings map which provides an exploration of Bath’s historic buildings and pub history. Mr A loves the old traditions of public houses and really enjoyed the atmospheres of the Coeur De Lion, The Old Green Tree and The Star Inn.
We ventured slightly out of the city centre for dinner to Aqua. The atmosphere at the Italian restaurant was really lively and we were served by the friendliest staff, even when we were the last people left in the restaurant (due to my extraordinarily slow eating) they didn’t rush us. I selected a tuna steak salad and the portions were huge!
We walked part of the way back to our B&B along the river. It’s so beautiful to see the city at night when it is a bit quieter. It was also funny to see small groups of people scurrying through the streets wearing Jane Austen style clothing after attending one of the balls held in the city.
I wasn’t sure I would be able to convince Mr A to go to the Fashion Museum with me, but somehow I got him to agree (maybe it was the promise of cake later on!). However I think we were both actually amazed at how much he enjoyed it.
The exhibition we saw was A History of Fashion in 100 Objects. It was so interesting to see how the fashions had changed over the years, sometimes subtly and other times drastically; often due to what was going on politically at the time.
After the busyness of the Royal Baths the previous day, we had the museum pretty much to ourselves and also went on a really informative tour.
As well as the outfits on display, there is a chance to have a peek at the Fashion Museum’s stores, which includes thousands of items from over the years, including one of Queen Victoria’s famous black dresses.
For children (and the young at heart) there’s a dressing up room, which I may have got involved with. I could totally have hung out with Jane Austen…
After getting our fashion-fix we headed to Bath Artisan Market, a bi-monthly market which takes place in Green Park Station.
Stalls offer vintage and handmade goods, as well as locally sourced food. I love getting to meet local artists and there were so many unusual things for sale. After making a couple of purchases it was sadly time for us to head home. But I think it’s safe to say, we’ll definitely be back!
I received complimentary tickets to The Roman Baths and Bath Fashion Museum. However all views are my own.