With its famous 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 has so many historic buildings the entire city has been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But although you might have to dodge a few tour groups, its still more than worth it to explore the sights of one of England’s most beautiful and historic cities. So here’s my guide on how to spend 48 hours in Bath.
More weekend guides: Oxford, Cardiff, Cheltenham, Canterbury, Rye, York, Glasgow
If you fancy splashing out, head to the city’s most desirable address at the Royal Crescent Hotel. Two 18th-century Georgian townhouses have been merged to create a five-star hotel and spa. It has lots of period features, a hidden garden and stunning views. Double rooms start from £200 a night.
Or if you’re on a budget, one of the best deals is Bath University’s student residences. There’s greatest availability in summer when the students are away and single rooms with a communal bathroom start from £21. Or the rest of the year they have double, twin and single rooms with en suites from £60 B&B. The campus is a mile from the town centre but buses run between them. Then head to Green Park Brasserie & Bar for dinner – a converted railway station booking hall with live jazz that serves modern British food.
Start the day with a walk around the Royal Crescent, one of Bath’s most famous landmarks. This curved terrace of Georgian townhouses arcs 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. Entry costs £9 for adults (£7 for students/seniors and £4 for children).
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 type of limestone that was first used by the Romans and later for churches, bridges and houses all around Bath. Take a walk past The Circle for more curved buildings then on to Bath’s Gothic Abbey. It’s free to go inside, but you can also take a guided tower tour for £6 that takes you up 212 spiral steps to the abbey roof for a panoramic city view. Back on ground level try a Bath classic at Sally Lunns, the oldest house in Bath. The ‘Sally Lunn bun’ is a kind of brioche spread with butter or cream, whose recipe was allegedly brought over by a 17th century French emigrant.
Head down to the water to Pulteney Bridge. This covered bridge was built in the 18th century 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 which has shops built into the sides and the facade is still very well preserved. Though if you look around the back it’s a bit more DIY as extra windows and extensions have been added over the years.
To get a good view of the bridge, take a boat trip along the River Avon. The trips run every hour and 20 minutes between April to October and take about an hour. They start just below the bridge and cost £8 per adult (£6 for seniors/students and £4 for children). The boat travels under Pulteney Bridge, out past the edge of the city and on out into the countryside as far as the pretty little village of Bathampton before returning to Bath. Head back towards the Royal Crescent for dinner at The Circus, a family-run restaurant in a Georgian building, which serves local and seasonal food like Wiltshire lamb and Devon crab.
Bath has long been famous as a spa – it’s even in the name – with some of the UK’s warmest geothermal springs. Try them out at the Thermae Bath Spa, a huge spa complex in a modern glass building which opened in 2006, way over time and over budget. The spring waters flow into the ground floor Minerva thermal baths and there are circular glass steam rooms and a wide range of spa treatments. But the star attraction is the rooftop pool, where you can soak in steaming water with spectacular views across Bath.
Spa entry costs £35 for a two-hour session, including towel, robe and slippers. You can have lunch at their Springs Café Restaurant, with a mixture of sandwiches, salads and smoothies (and wine if that’s too healthy) – and the extra time gets added to your spa session so you don’t miss out.
To compare the modern spa experience with the Roman version, visit the city’s Roman Baths. The first baths were built here in 70AD and over a million litres of 46°C water still flows into them every day. You can take a tour around the ruins of the Great Bath and the temple of Sulis Minerva. Don’t try the pools yourself though – if the bright green colour of the water doesn’t put you off, tales of bacteria and radioactive lead pipes might. Entry costs £14 for adults (£12.25 for seniors/students and £9 for children).
Then finish off your weekend with a Bath institution – afternoon tea at the Pump Rooms. You can indulge yourself with a Champagne afternoon tea for £30, with scones and thick clotted cream, sandwiches and dainty cakes, all served in opulent splendour under the chandeliers. And while you’re there, don’t forget to taste the spa waters from the King’s Fountain. With 43 different minerals it’s apparently the cure for all sorts of ills, though with its metallic tang it’s a bit of an acquired taste.
Have you visited Bath? Do you have any tips to add on what to see, do and eat?