Bath is one of the most romantic cities in Britain. From visiting historic sites, to perusing art galleries, to shopping in local stores and boutiques, to taking in the natural landscape, there are so many things to do that you may not have enough time for them all. Let me do the planning and prioritizing for you. Here are my choices for the top six places to visit in Bath.
1. Parade Gardens
One of my favorite places in the city is Parade Gardens, which overlook the weir, or low dam, along the River Avon. The floral beds are exquisite, and three-dimensional features (like the ones in the picture) are on display in the summer months. I couldn’t resist packing myself a small picnic, gathered in a local grocery store, and sprawling out on the lawn to have lunch. As luck would have it, a band was playing in the bandstand, so I had free entertainment on my leisurely afternoon. Talking a walk or having a picnic in a local garden is a great way to take a break from the frantic pace of sightseeing and a cheap alternative to lunch or dinner in a pricey restaurant. You may even experience some free entertainment and get a chance to unwind like and with the locals. Now that’s good travel!
2. The Weir at Pulteney Bridge
One of the most romantic sites, especially in the evening, in Bath, England, is the weir, or low dam, at Pulteney Bridge. Completed in 1774, the bridge connects Bath with another nearby town across the River Avon. On the north side, the bridge contains a series of lovely shops, but the western side is the most beautiful. Against the backdrop of the Palladian-style buildings and bridge, the horse-shaped weir in the river is stunning. Stick around long enough to watch tourist boats make a u-turn at the weir, and come at sunset to see the water and buildings aglow with beautiful lighting. The location is so impressive that it was chosen as location for one of the most important scenes in the 2012 movie version of Les Miserables. Take a walk along the riverbanks and a stroll through the adjoining Paradge Gardens. I was there on a solo trip, but I highly encourage you to bring someone special. I guarantee that you won’t leave without a kiss or two and a memory that you won’t soon forget!
3. Bath Abbey
Bath Abbey (officially the Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Bath) was founded way back in the 7th century as an Anglo-Saxon monastery. A plaque on the church testifies to the fact that the first king of England, Edgar, was crowned at Bath Abbey, not Westminster, in 973. Next, the Normans constructed a cathedral on the site, but it gradually fell into disrepair. The current form of the abbey exists because of restoration work in 1610, the 1820’s, and the 1860’s. Today, visitors enter at the West Front where they marvel at stone carvings of angels ascending long ladders to heaven. While some have attributed this artwork to the visions of a former bishop, modern experts point, instead, to the story of Jacob’s ladder in the Old Testament. Artwork, such as this, was used in the past as a teaching tool to educate the often illiterate public about Bible stories and Christian theology. Next time you’re in a historic place of worship, take a look at the stained glass windows and see if you can “read” the religious stories designed on them.
The spectacular Gothic fan vaulting of the ceiling of Bath Abbey was constructed in the early 1500’s and restored between 1864 and 1875. A vault is a stone ceiling built along the same principles as an arch. The immense force of their weight pushes down the sides, making the vaults, if left to themselves, structurally weak. So the fan vaulting distributes the weight of the roof down ribs that transfer it to the flying buttresses on the outside of the church. These ribs and buttresses prevent the walls from bowing out and collapsing. Fan vaulting is unique to England where it was first developed in the mid-1300’s. Next time you’re at a Gothic cathedral, take a look at the outside to see if flying buttresses are helping to support the weight of the structure. Medieval architects were geniuses to design and build such immense structures in stone and mortar. Imagine being a medieval peasant and looking at these huge buildings. They would have been the tallest and more grandiose thing that you’ve ever seen!
Outside of Bath Abbey, I took a photo of this marble fountain thinking that it was particularly lovely. Upon closer inspection, I realized the motto “water is best” was carved into the base. After doing a bit of research, I learned the fountain is called “Rebecca” and was installed in 1861 by the Bath Temperance Association, which was a national movement that advocated abstinence from alcohol and attempted to influence the government to pass laws to regulate and even prohibit the sale of alcohol. It’s a teetotaling fountain! And here I thought it was just a girl fetching water for her family.
4. Fashion Museum
One incredible place to visit in Bath is the Fashion Museum, which features fantastic displays on the history of attire from the 18th century to the present. One of the many exhibits, at which I was amazed, was a display of mantuas, which you can see in this photo. In the mid to late 18th century, women would wear these elaborate dresses for important occasions at the royal court. The enormous skirts were meant to show off the luxurious fabrics, such as silk, the fancy embroidery, often done in gold or silver thread, and the complexly woven pattern, all of which pointed to the wealth of the woman wearing it. The fabric, alone, of the dress is likely to have cost the equivalent of £5,000 ($7,000)! Ladies, I don’t think you’re gonna find this garment at Primark.
5. The Royal Crescent
The Royal Crescent in Bath is the one of the best preserved examples of Georgian architecture in all of England. This row of 30 terraced houses was built between 1767 and 1774 in the Palladian style. The Royal Crescent is the first arc of terraced homes to be built in the “country in the city” style, with each home having a views of parkland directly opposite them. Each original owner bought a length of the facade of the building but hired his own architect to build a home behind it. So while the front appears to be uniform architecturally, with minor variations like balconies, the back is completely different. Of the 30 houses, 10 are still full-sized townhomes, 18 have been split into flats, one is a hotel, and the last is Number One Royal Crescent, a historic house museum which is worth a visit to see how people lived during Georgian times.
6. The Roman Baths
The Roman Baths in Bath, England, is one of my favorite museums in the world. The baths date all the way back to Celtic times when the hot springs were used a place of worship for the goddess Sullis, whom the Romans associated with Minerva (Athena to the Greeks). During their occupation of Britain, the Romans constructed a bathing complex, over a 300 year period, including a barrel-vaulted main bathhouse, a frigidarium (cold water bath), caldarium (hot water bath), tepidarium (warm bath), and a temple to the goddess Minerva. The site also contains 18th century neo-classical buildings, including a redecoration of the terrace around the original Roman main bath and a Grand Pump Room, where visitors can still “take the waters” by drinking it (I thought it tasted gross!), as well as enjoy a meal at the posh restaurant.
The museum hold countless artifacts from archaeological excavations at the site. Using modern lighting and visual projection techniques and actual archaeological remains, museum curators have recreated Roman bathing rooms (in their original locations) so that visitors can experience what they looked like. The museum also hires interpreters, in period costume, to interact with visitors so they can learn more about the experience of Romans and Britons at the baths. Thousands of artifacts are also on
display. Some of my favorites are the countless objects that people had thrown into the sacred spring as offerings to the goddess Minerva. They range from 12,000 coins, to metal pans for holy water, to curses written on pieces of lead or pewter, asking the goddess to harm someone who had crossed the worshiper. The Roman Baths Museum is a fascinating glimpse into everyday life in Roman Britain. It’s not to be missed! Check out their wonderful gift store too.
Locations in Bath
I’ve created a special map that includes all of the locations mentioned above. Click on the map below, and you’ll find each location marked on the map. Choose the location to get specific directions to that place.