Easily my second favorite city in England is Bath. Bath is located a quick 90 minute train ride, or 2.5 hr car ride, directly west of London, in Somerset. It is a charming, peaceful city and has one of the most relaxed vibes I have seen abroad, due to close proximity to Bristol and the coast. Its history goes back to Roman times, and it’s still today known for the Roman baths as well as the gorgeous Georgian architecture. You can easily see a good deal of Bath in a day trip, but to really enjoy it, I say give Bath at least 2 days. There are also Grayline Bus tours to Bath from London, which I have also taken, and really enjoy, if you’re pinched for time (and you can see Stonhenge or Stratford to boot!). My last visit to England I was doing a study abroad for my masters class, making a comparative study of the education systems of the US and Britain. One of the experiences I chose was to visit the American Museum in Bath, so as to get a peak at their education programs. I found this wonderful B and B Henrietta House. It was located just near Pulteney Bridge, which is a gorgeous covered bridge built in 1774 and a must see in Bath!
From the bridge you have a great view of the city and the River Avon. Its a smallish city without feeling so small, as there is plenty to do!
First, the Roman Baths are certainly the most important historical point of interest here. This is a fascinating hot springs bathing pool first used by the Romans not only as a bathing complex but a sacred temple. In Georgian times many who suffered from gout, arthritis and other maladies would come to Bath to relax and take in the warm waters. Today it has been restored, though you do not bathe in it as there is a high amount of lead due to the pipes and the smell of sulfur is pungent. You can’t miss it in the center of town, near the Abbey.
Next, be sure to see the Bath Abbey. This goes back to the Norman invasion and William the Conqueror. It’s high vaulted ceilings and Gothic architecture are really impressive.
The American Museum in Britain is really a unique treasure here in Bath. It is housed in an old manor estate, and the grounds are truly fantastic. It came about in the 1960s and was the brainchild of two friends, American psychiatrist Dr. Dallas Pratt and British antiques dealer John Judkyn. They wanted to encourage friendly American/British relations so the museum was born. It houses the largest 19th century American quilt and textiles collection outside of the US. In the first rooms you see a history of colonial America, discussing the Jamestown settlement, etc. I worked with the education director when I visited there, due to my course work, and got to accompany her as she gave a special tour to a small group of girls who were about 9 years old. These girls were on like a sort of special interests focus week where they got to focus on a certain thing and for these girls it was sewing and textiles, so they were primarily interested in the quilt collection, but they listened and participated intently through the entire thing. It was funny that the director kept looking over to me for confirmation whenever she would give some bit of information, but really, she knew the history just as well as I did, as an American history teacher. Afterwards, they got to do some hands on activities. Other exhibits rotate throughout, and at the time there was a cool one on American mobsters like Al Capone, etc. Definitely a must see! Its a hike up the hill from city center to get there, so there is a free convenient tram that takes you up and down, plus the Hop On/Hop Off drops you off near it as well.
Another thing I recommend, as a Jane Austen fanatic, is the Jane Austen Centre. Jane Austen spent a bit of time towards the end of her life here, as he father wanted to come for health reasons to escape the bitter cold of Basingstoke, Hampshire where his Steventon rectory was (he was a minister). Bath features prominently in some of Austen’s novels, particularly Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. Every year there is a festival honoring Austen and the centre is housed in one of the Georgian homes that Austen may have stayed in during her time in Bath. It won’t take you long to go through it, but if you love all things Jane the tea room and gift shop are nice! Plus there is a great wax sculpture of her right outside the door, so you can’t miss it!
The Hop-On/Hop Off can take you round to all the all the other must sees, like the Royal Crescent and the Circus (not what you are thinking!). Both fantastic examples of Bath’s Georgian architecture.
One last culinary must in Bath is to have a “Bath bun”. This is very typical, sweet yeast bun and you can’t leave England without having one. There are two types actually, the “Bath Bun” and “Sally Lunn Bunn”. The “Bath buns” are smaller and sweeter, whereas the “Sally Lunn Bunns” are larger and plainer. There is actually a Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House, which I tried to get into last I was there, but the wait was just too long. In retrospect I should have waited because I have yet to taste a “Sally Lunn Bunn”. Its one of the coulda, woulda, shoulda’s, like the time I went to Paris and didn’t go up the Eiffel Tower because I was afraid of heights! What was I thinking? Sally Lunn wasn’t a real persons name, by the way, but legend has it it was the name taken on by a French Huguenot refugee in the 17th century names Solange Luyon. If you want to read up more on the Bath buns this is a great article from the Smithsonian!
Hands down, you definitely want to make time in your travels for Bath!
Buen viajes, gnomies!
Ever been to Bath? Let the gnome know what you thought, or if you have any other recommendations for the next time! Cause there will be a next time! 🙂