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Bath, England, has been near the top of my bucket list for most of my life. As a kid at summer camp, I met a young woman from Bath. She told me stories about a beautiful town in the southwest of England that had hot springs and looked like it was right out of a movie set. Nearly three decades later, we visited Bath to see for ourselves. It turns out she wasn’t lying. It’s a welcoming, charming city, and there are lots of fun things to do in Bath for a long weekend.
Bath’s small population of less than 90,000 welcomes more than 4 million visitors every year to this UNESCO World Heritage City. Being roughly 100 miles west of London, it’s possible to visit Bath as a day trip from the capital, but spending a night or a weekend in Bath is an even better choice to give yourself more time to explore. We’ve been back to Bath three times, and there’s always more to discover.
The town’s history goes back thousands of years–it was actually the Roman outpost of Aquae Sulis. Founded on the banks of the Avon River where hot springs bubble up to the surface, the springs gave birth to the town. Traders and religious pilgrims would bathe in the waters. These days, the pilgrims are the tourists and spa goers who seek out the healing waters.
Things to do in Bath
See the Roman Baths
One of the major Bath tourist attractions, the Roman Baths date back as far as 60 AD when the original temple was constructed and the natural hot springs were channeled inside. There have been many phases of development and destruction over the centuries, providing lots for visitors to see today.
Among the fascinating sites at the Roman Baths is the Great Bath (the surrounding statues were added in Victorian times), the sacred spring, and the remains of the Temple to Sulis Minerva. The first-rate museum and entertaining audioguide explain the importance of the site and its preservation.
Because seeing the site is one of the top things to do in Bath, it can get quite crowded, especially with tour and school groups. We recommend going early or late to avoid the lines, if you can, and leaving at least two hours for a proper visit.
Soak in the Thermae Bath Spa
If you actually want to dip into the water, you need to head two blocks down the street from the Roman Baths to the Thermae Bath Spa.
This amazing, modern spa complex quickly became one of our favorite places to visit in Bath. Thermae Bath Spa has a stunning open-air rooftop pool to look out on the city and a giant relaxation pool. With the additional steam rooms, spa treatment rooms, and on-site restaurant, a visitor could spend hours pampering themselves in the waters.
Shop on Pulteney Bridge
Take a little stroll along the River Avon to the Pulteney Bridge. This 18th-century construction is one of the most photographed things to see in Bath.
With classic Georgian elements like pilasters and pediments and tiny, leaded domes at both ends, the bridge was funded by landowner William Pulteney as part of an effort to create a “new town” including land across the river. The tiny stores that span both sides of the bridge include cute cafes, charming flower shops, and more. If you’re lucky, you can get a prime spot looking out over the river while enjoying a cup of tea inside.
Stop for a sip (or bottle) of gin
If there’s a local distillery nearby, you can guarantee it will be on our list of places to visit, so stopping by the Canary Gin Bar was one of our mandatory Bath activities. If the detailed menu isn’t enough, the helpful bartenders will walk you through the different notes and flavors of any one of their 230 gins, and you can sample their small-batch Bath Gin Company gins, too.
In the cellar below the bar, you can see the copper still and botanicals used for flavoring the Bath Gin. And, if the infused-spirit moves you, consider taking a gin-making class in the Distiller’s Bar, which you’ll leave with your own custom gin.
If you’re spending more time in the area, don’t miss the Oxford Artisan Distillery in Oxford just an hour away.
Eat a Sally Lunn bun
We didn’t quite get the idea of the bun until we tried it. Situated in Bath’s oldest house is Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House. They claim to be “one of the world’s most famous eating houses.” That’s a lot of hype, but Sally Lunn’s actually delivers. The focus is the bun: a massive teacake. The warm buns are served as a half bun, with the tops served with sweet delights and the bottoms served with savory goodness.
Whether you get a half or a whole, the buns were amazing! Our favorite was the cinnamon butter, which was like a giant cinnamon roll. They were so good that we brought some back to the US with us from the UK.
See a show
Bath is full of entertainment from great theater performances to more casual experiences. One of the top options is the Theatre Royal, which offers a year-round program of theater, comedy, and opera. Around the Christmas holidays, they also put on pantomimes—musical comedy productions for the whole family. The Egg is their special theater for young people, featuring puppet shows, classic works, and other performances designed to appeal to children as young as 2 years old.
If you’re looking for something completely different, consider a magic show. Each weekend, Krowd Keepers features renowned professional magicians entertaining in an intimate 35-seat theaters over the Ale House Pub. A night here will leave you impressed and entertained.
Gaze upon Bath Abbey
Day or night, the skyline of Bath is dominated by the beautiful Bath Abbey. During the day, its 161-foot bell tower is visible from all around the city, and the bells ring out. At night, the illuminated facade seems mystical, and the details of its Gothic exterior are somehow even more prominent.
Tracing its roots back to the year 757, the current Bath Abbey was constructed in 1500. Inside, you’ll find richly colored stained glass, fan vaulting on the ceilings, and hundreds of wall memorials and floor stones. Visiting the Abbey is free, and behind-the-scenes tower tours are available for £8 every day except Sunday for those wanting a closer look, so it’s definitely worth at least a quick visit during your weekend in Bath.
Note: Bath Abbey is undergoing a significant renovation project to restore the collapsing Abbey floor and make other improvements to the building, including using Bath’s original hot spring as a source of heating and modernizing certain facilities. The project is intended to last through at least 2021, but the Abbey remains open as normal.
Try your hand at glass blowing
There are lots of fun things to see and do in Bath, but one of the most unique is to make your own glass creation. At Bath Aqua Glass, you can take one of their informative workshops designed for any skill level—from beginner to advanced—and walk out with a creative souvenir like an ornament or paperweight. Seeing a custom item you make come to life is a great way to remember a trip to Bath. If you don’t have time to make your own, you can also pop into the glassblowing studio to watch the professionals at work.
During certain special events like Bath’s famous Christmas market, you might find their special mobile glass blowing trailer around town. If you’re lucky, you can sign up to make a bauble on the spot.
Be a hopeless romantic at the Jane Austen Center
Bath’s most famous resident was the novelist Jane Austen. Austen was already an accomplished writer when her family moved to the city, however, Austen didn’t write much during her time here. Bath did provide deep inspiration for elements that would later be included in her two most famous works: Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. At the Jane Austen Center, you can experience a bit of Austen’s life in Bath.
Stop by SouthGate
Just a few steps from the train station, you’ll find the massive shopping and restaurant complex known as SouthGate. With over 50 shops and 20 restaurants, it has a little bit of everything.
One of our favorite stops at SouthGate is Hotel Chocolat, a British chocolatier and cocoa grower. In addition to truffles and expected treats, they also have ice cream and specialty items like cocoa gin. You’ll even find vegan options there.
See The Royal Crescent
The Royal Crescent is one of the most famous streets in England and one of Bath’s most famous landmarks. This curving row of 30 uniform Georgian townhouses, built in the 1770s, looks much like they did when they were constructed 250 years ago.
Most of the townhouses in the Royal Crescent are private homes, but Number 1 Royal Crescent has been turned into a museum. Furnished with authentic decorations and period furniture, the museum shows how Bath’s most fashionable Georgians lived in the late 18th century.
Shop and snack at the market
Just opposite the Pulteney Bridge, the Bath Guildhall Market is the oldest shopping venue in the city. A stop here satisfied our need for caffeine and our compulsion to always visit markets whenever we travel. With about 20 cute shops and cafes, the market is the perfect place for a little browsing and a little snacking when you visit Bath.
Enjoy the culinary scene
Bath has a robust culinary scene. Check out Sotto Sotto for Mediterranean fare served in the beautiful setting of a candlelit stone cellar. For something less formal, The Raven is a traditional English pub serving excellent pies and cask ales. For a lighter menu (or a late-night dessert), head to Bill’s, which has a broad menu and a kitschy ambiance. The tough-to-find Sub 13 lounge is our pick for amazing cocktails and first-rate mixology.
Visit the Fashion Museum
Bath’s Fashion Museum tells the story of fashion over the last 300 years. From Georgian silk shoes and dresses that look like they were made for royals to creations by Tom Ford and Alexander McQueen, the Fashion Museum is the place to go if you have a love of beautiful things.
The Fashion Museum offers audioguides in 12 languages. If they’re not in use, make sure to stop into the Assembly Rooms after your museum visit.
Play a round of mini golf
In Royal Victoria Park not far from the Royal Crescent, you’ll find something that’s not on the main tourist path of places to go in Bath—Victoria Falls Adventure Golf.
Most of the year, the mini golf course provides a fun outing with family or friends during the day. But, in the winter, things get even more interesting at night. From mid-November through early January, the golf course and the balls glow in the dark at night. Check out the 18-hole course and navigate the obstacles like waterfalls and bridges lit up in the colors of the rainbow.
Visit Bath Christmas Market
The Christmas market in Bath is often listed as one of the best Christmas markets in England. The squares and streets near Bath Abbey and beyond become a giant holiday festival to the point that the whole city center feels like it’s joined in on Christmas.
The Bath Christmas market has more than 150 chalets, and most of them are local from Bath and the surrounding area. That means that much of the merchandise and food you find for sale here is unique, handcrafted, or artisan, which truly makes the market in Bath a standout.
In addition to the shopping and food, you’ll find musical entertainment in the streets, in theaters, and at Bath Abbey during the market season. There’s also ice skating in Royal Victoria Park and other festive activities around the city.
Where to Stay in Bath
The Gainsborough Bath Spa – Just a few feet from the Roman Baths, The Gainsborough Bath Spa is the only hotel with access to the city’s natural thermal waters, which are used in the spa. One of the Leading Hotels of the World, it offers five-star accommodations and service.
The Francis Hotel – This Regency-style townhouse hotel is comfortable and close to some of the best bars and restaurants in the city. The Francis Hotel has individually decorated rooms—many with four-poster beds and views over Bath—and an on-site bar/lounge. Guests rave about the service.
Abbey Hotel– Centrally-located, the AA 4-star Abbey Hotel is built within three Georgian townhouses dating back to the 1740s. Guests can enjoy drinks in the ArtBar or on the terrace, which offers al fresco dining in the summer and transforms into a pop-up ski bar in the winter.
The Halcyon Hotel Apartments, Henry Street – These four spacious apartments are centrally located 4 minutes from Bath Abbey. With city views and free wifi, they’re a great option in the heart of the city.
When to Visit Bath
English weather can be unpredictable, but, luckily, Bath is full of fun things to do any time of the year. Winter brings the festive Christmas market and a city dripping with beautiful lights. In the spring, gardens are in bloom and the city parks are full. May brings the Bath Festival, a 9-day celebration of music and books, and the Bath Fringe Festival.
The summer brings warmer temperatures and lots of outside events and concerts, winding down with the popular Jane Austen Festival in mid-September. In the fall, the city is full of food and drink festivals to keep you busy (and full!).
On our first visit to Bath, we were the guests of the Thermae Bath Spa. All opinions of the beautiful, delicious, and relaxing are our own. All photos are our own unless otherwise noted.