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Weekending: Spa-ing in Bath

Balloons over Bath

Famous for Georgian terraces, thermal spa waters, cream teas and Jane Austen, you can’t say Bath isn’t on the UK tourist trail. Its quintessentially English charms pull in visitors from around the world and it’s got so many historic buildings that the entire city has been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But although you might have to dodge a few tour groups on a visit to the city, its still more than worth it. Bath is set on seven hills and perfect for a bit of aimless wandering, where you’re likely to come across a hidden park, café or viewpoint away from the crowds for a minute and soak up the history and scenery around you. It’s a great weekend spot whether you’re a history and architecture buff, more interested in boutique hotels, spa treatments and designer shops, or just want to stuff yourself on tea and cake.

The Royal Crescent in Bath

Bath’s famous Royal Crescent

Bath’s Royal Crescent is one of the city’s most iconic sights – a curving terrace of Georgian townhouses arcing around a perfectly manicured lawn. Built in the 1770s, they haven’t changed much since then, on the outside at least. Most are private residences, when they’re not being used by film crews for period dramas, but Number 1 Royal Crescent has been turned into as a museum. You can go back in time to the 18th century inside and see how the Georgians lived, complete with authentic furniture and decoration. The Royal Crescent is one of the many buildings made from the distinctive honey-coloured Bath Stone. Quarried out from the hills around the city, it’s a form of limestone that was first used by the Romans and later for churches, bridges and houses around Bath. If you want to find out more about the Crescent and the city’s other historic buildings, the Mayor of Bath’s guides run a two-hour free walking tour. Tours run every day at 10.30am and 2pm (except Saturdays) and the two-mile circuit takes in Bath Abbey, the Roman Baths, Assembly Rooms and Pump Rooms among others.

No 1 Royal Crescent and Bath Abbey

No 1 Royal Crescent and Bath Abbey

Another famous city landmark is the covered Pulteney Bridge. It was built for William Pulteney to connect Bath to land on the other side of the River Avon to drive up land prices. It’s one of few bridges to have shops built into it and still has a well-preserved facade, though the back is a bit more DIY as extra windows and extensions have been added over the years. A good way to get a closer look at the bridge is with a boat trip, which sails beneath it and along the Avon out of the city. Within minutes you leave Bath behind and are surrounded by fields and trees, before ending up at Bathampton Mill. The trips run between April and October, with the return journey taking about an hour and costing £8 for adults.

Pulteney Bridge in Bath

The covered Pulteney Bridge

Bath has long been famous as a spa – it’s even in the name – and some of the warmest geothermal springs in the UK have been attracting spa-goers since the Romans. You can see how they did it back then in the city’s Roman Baths, where Roman visitors alternated between the caldarium (hot bath), tepidarium (warm bath) and frigidarium (cold bath). You can look round the site but I don’t recommend trying the pools yourself now. If the bright green colour of the water doesn’t put you off, then the tales of bacteria and radioactivity from the lead pipes might. If you want to take the waters yourself, a better bet is the Thermae Bath Spa. Opened in 2006, way over time and over budget, this huge spa complex sits in a modern glass building near the old Roman Baths. The spring water are put to use in the Minerva thermal baths on the ground floor, and there are circular glass steam rooms and a wide range of spa treatments available. But the star attraction is the rooftop pool, where you can soak in steaming, mineral-rich water while getting a spectacular view of the Abbey and across the whole city of Bath.

Rooftop pool at the Thermae Bath Spa

The rooftop pool at the Thermae Bath Spa – photo credit UK Pictures

The details

Map of the region around Bath in EnglandGetting there… Bath is in the south-west of England and easy to get to from around the UK by train – it’s around 1.5 hours from London, and you can get advance tickets from £9.50 each way. If you’re travelling from further afield, the nearest airport is Bristol, where airlines like Easyjet, Ryanair and Flybe fly to mostly European destinations. Once you get to Bath, the city centre is fairly small and it’s easy to get around on foot.

Sleeping… You can stay in the city’s most desirable address at the Royal Crescent Hotel, where the two Georgian houses in the centre of the Crescent have been merged to form a five-star hotel and spa. It’s a little bit faded glamour, but more than makes up for it with period features, a hidden garden and stunning views. Double rooms from around £200 a night. Or for a more budget friendly stay, Bath University rents out rooms in its student residences, with double, twin and single rooms complete with TV and en suite bathrooms from £50 throughout the year. There’s more availability in summer when the students are away, when you can bag a single room with communal bathroom from £21. The campus is a miles or so from the town centre but there are plenty of buses between the two.

Eating and drinking… Tea at the Pump Rooms is a Bath institution. You can indulge yourself with a Champagne afternoon tea for £33, with scones and thick, buttery clotted cream, sandwiches and dainty cakes, all served in opulent splendour under the chandeliers. While you’re there, you can taste the hot spa water from the King’s Fountain. With 43 minerals it’s apparently a cure for all sorts of ills, though you do have to get past the not-so-appetising metallic taste. Or you can try a Bath tea-time classic at Sally Lunns, the oldest house in Bath. The ‘Sally Lunn bun’ is a kind of brioche whose recipe was allegedly brought over by a French emigrant in the 17th century. Today it’s served cut in half and spread with butter or cream.

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22 Comments Post a comment
  1. A nice introduction to the city which could well tempt me to visit. I like the blog content and the layout that you have selected!

    January 23, 2012
    • Thanks Andrew, it’s a lovely place for a weekend trip. Thanks for the blog comments too, I’m still learning but enjoying it so far!

      January 24, 2012
  2. Thanks Luce – love the info – have heard so many good things about the area! Champagne afternoon tea may be just what the doctor ordered!!!

    January 23, 2012
    • Its definitely worth a visit – especially in spring or autumn when it’s quieter – and you can’t beat a champagne afternoon tea as a good start to the weekend!

      January 24, 2012
  3. I am sold! Sounds like heaven for all things literary and spa induced!

    January 23, 2012
    • Throw in the cake too and its my perfect weekend!

      January 24, 2012
  4. Cressida Howard #

    Champagne afternoon tea? I think I’ve just discovered what I want to do on my birthday this year 🙂 Nice post.

    January 23, 2012
    • Always good to have an excuse for drinking champagne!

      January 24, 2012
    • Cressida Howard #

      yay sister!

      January 24, 2012
  5. I remember visiting Bath every year with my family and I always disliked it. Then, as I was growing up, I suddenly saw it with new eyes and completely fell in love with it. Haven’t been back for a long while now but hope to go back soon for a weekend (and I’ve fancied trying out the spa for a while now too).
    Lovely post.

    January 23, 2012
    • Yes its probably one of those places you don’t really appreciate as a child! The spa is great, hope you make it back there soon.

      January 24, 2012
  6. nuresma #

    Wow! It looks really amazing! Thank you for all this helpful information!

    January 24, 2012
    • Thanks, it’s a lovely place, hope you manage a visit there someday!

      January 24, 2012
  7. Reblogged this on Susieqtravelstheworld's Blog.

    January 24, 2012
  8. It’s been a while since I visited Bath – around 25 years in fact! Time to re-visit I think. Lovely post Lucy.

    January 24, 2012
    • With all those historic buildings you’ll probably find it doesn’t look much different! Worth going back for the new spa though and those views!

      January 27, 2012
  9. Bernadette #

    Visited Bath about twelve years ago with my daughter who was twelve the time, she and I both loved it, must go back sometime soon! Nice post.

    January 26, 2012
    • Thanks, its a lovely place, lots of interesting things to see hidden away too – definitely a good place to get lost in!

      January 27, 2012
  10. Hi Lucy, i have been planning a day trip to Bath last week. But the rain God had different plans, yet i am determined to go, with few day left for my stay in UK that i will miss. Good write up and pictures…..

    July 11, 2012
    • What a shame, the rain God is very busy in the UK unfortunately, especially at the moment! Hope you manage to make the trip to Bath some other time though.

      July 11, 2012

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  1. Top 10 things to do in Bath, England

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