Why go to Bath?
Genteel, ye olde worlde, lah-di-dah. Bath has a reputation for a being a well-to-do, classy city stuffed full of historic architecture, fashionable boutiques and high society ladies what lunch. Whilst it’s true that the World Heritage City of Bath is bursting with Georgian splendour and Roman ruins, there’s also a vibrant modern city with eclectic restaurants and a thriving arts scene underneath all that creamy Bath sandstone.
Wet, wet, wet
With a name like Bath (pronounced Barth, not Baff) it’s no surprise that the city gained its popularity thanks to the natural hot springs. The Romans were the first to enjoy them and named it Aquae Sulis in honour of the hot stuff. In the 17th century there was a real boom in visitors who believed the natural springs had health giving properties, and today tourists can head to the Thermae Bath Spa to wallow in the waters. In his guide On the spa trail in Bath Graham Spicer looks at the city’s wet side.
Bath really started taking shape in the Georgian era when architect John Wood the Elder and his imaginatively named son John Wood the Younger were tasked with creating a new city. Daddy Wood designed Prior Park, Queen Square and started the Circus, which John Jr finished off along with The Royal Crescent and the Assembly Rooms. By the time Jane Austen rocked up in the early 1800s, Bath was a bustling spa resort and looking rather lovely thanks to the Woods.
Bath tries hard to maintain the posh image that it gained as a Roman holiday resort and maintained as the place to be in Georgian Britain. There’s still a lining of luxury when it comes to a city break in Bath and it’s the kind of place one should visit on a special occasion to be spoiled at the spa, max out the credit card in boutiques, get ra-ra at the rugby and then flop in a fine hotel. Nothing racks up brownie points like a surprise weekend in the city.
Love is in the air
The romance of yesteryear makes Bath an ideal destination for couples looking for a UK city break – just strolling through the Georgian streets or going on a boat trip down the River Avon is a romantic option, or for really special occasions take a hot air balloon ride over the city as Gilly Pickup suggests in her Bath: the UK’s most romantic city guide.
Hills are alive
Compact but cool, Bath is close to bigger urban centres like Bristol, but is also surrounded by beautiful countryside. Homesick Romans settled in the city partly because the seven hills around Bath reminded them of Rome. Within 45 minutes of the city you’ll find safari parks and arboretums and the region is great for walkers. John Dunn explores the countryside in his Walks in the country: the other side of Bath guide.
Shop 'til you drop
Rising rents have pushed some smaller boutiques out, but Bath still has a high proportion of independent shops - homeware and women’s fashions are strong suits. New shops in SouthGate have given the city a boost, where there’s even a new section for independent boutiques. See Shopping in Bath for more tips.
Bath has a thriving modern British cooking scene, but also has restaurants from all corners of the globe, serving up everything from Japanese and Spanish to Indian, Thai and Nepalese cuisine. Celebrity chefs have set up home here and the region produces some excellent local vegetables, cheese, meat and juices – the Saturday Farmers' Market at Green Park Station is a great place to start any culinary journey around the South West. See Bath cafés and restaurants for my suggestions of where to eat.
Roman ruins, reconstructed Georgian houses and evidence of times gone by make Bath rich in history and it’s all especially accessible for kids who might be struggling with revision or getting into history at school. One dose of hearing about Romans eating until they threw up or the toilet habits of the Georgians and suddenly the little ones can’t wait to hit the books. Bath is also home to possibly the quirkiest collection of small museums in the UK – there’s ones for the postal service, East Asian Art and fashion if you get bored of hearing about history. See my list of Bath attractions for suggestions of places to go.
Bath might be dinky, but she knows how to party. All clubs are underground, literally that is, and Bath has a fair sprinkling of cool cocktail bars and good old-fashioned grubby pubs to whet everyone’s whistle. She’s also not short on culture, with theatres that show everything from London shows to plays for kids. See my Bath nightlife for more details.
It’s any excuse for a festival in this city – the annual Mozart, Literature, Comedy, Music, Fringe and Jane Austen festivals pull the crowds and new food festivals have been popping up including coffee and cheese ones this year. Bath’s Christmas Market is incredibly popular and even though the actual shopping there is not that great, there’s a brilliant atmosphere every Christmas time.