Jackie Harding: Let Bath inspire you as it inspired everyone from Ancient Romans to Jane Austin

The Royal Crescent

If you are looking for a beautiful, manageable British city for a weekend break then the Georgian city of Bath checks all the boxes … history, architectural charm, sport, shopping, food, walking friendly and easy access to the countryside.

Jane Austen fans will be able to walk the streets that inspired the celebrated novelist and “Bridgerton” fans will love it as some of the scenes in the series were filmed here.

Bath or, as the Roman tourists of 60 AD knew it, Aqua Sulis, is a city founded on the bubbling hot mineral water that finds its way to the surface here. The Romans built a temple and some baths here and the “Georgians” in the 1700’s embraced the health giving drinking of “the waters.”

It became the ultimate trendy city mainly due to the “influencer” of the day, Beau Nash, and remains a popular destination for tourists.

Getting to Bath is easy; either a short flight from many European airports to Bristol Airport and then just a short bus or train ride away, or by train via Eurostar to London followed by 1.5 hour train ride from Paddington Station. 

To Do

Bath has so much to offer a weekend really isn’t enough, with plenty of museums, great shopping and beautiful streets to wander and explore.

The Roman Baths: The baths were built about 70 AD to utilize the hot mineral water bubbling up in Bath in and is reputedly the best preserved Roman site in the world. The visit takes around two-to-three hours and an audio guide entertains and informs as you walk around this magnificent historic place. You can almost see the Romans lounging in the hot baths through the clouds of steam.

Thermae Bath Spa: This spa is the place to unwind in hot, steamy water if the Romans have inspired you. Here you can relax in a modern environment, in the same waters the Romans so ingeniously used, in the outside pool on the roof, over looking the city and the stunning Bath Abbey, or in the indoor Minerva Pool. There are spa sessions and treatments available and the small original Cross Bath, can also be booked. 

Book ahead for a two hour session … and prepare to be relaxed.  

The author at the Fashion Museum

The Fashion Museum: This is a fabulous place to bring out your fashionista side. This small museum within the Georgian Assembly Rooms has a world class collection of fashion from the past to present day. They also give you the opportunity to dress-up in some replicas of fashions from the past. Take it from me – this is fun! 

Royal Crescent: With construction starting in 1767, this row of 30 terraced houses is one of the first developments where the rich could cluster together, pre-dating Belgravia in London by about 70 years. The Crescent is 500 feet of perfect Georgian architecture with its columns and Palladian flourishes.

Number 1 Royal Crescent is a glimpse into life in the 1700’s, a place to imagine yourself waiting for that Bridgerton duke or duchess to arrive in their carriage.

Walking around this striking city with its Georgian houses built from warm yellow local stone is a must. From the imposing curving streets and meandering smaller lanes; the many parks, such as Victoria Park, Sydney Gardens and Parade Gardens, where you can relax, away from the city hub-bub; and the River Avon and it’s surrounding hills, Bath is a walkable city, both independently or with the many guided walking tours on offer.

The American Museum and Gardens is the only Americana museum outside of the United States and has an amazing collection of “Folk Art,” quilts and rooms set up to resemble different periods of American history. If you are American and feeling homesick, or just  wanting to know more about the history of the “colonies,” then this is the place for you. The museum is not in the city but you can get there by car or bus (U1, U2 or U3) from the city centre.

Shopping in Bath offers everything you are looking fo and more. From large chains to small independent stores, Bath really delivers. If you are looking for quirky gifts, vintage clothing, art or major names it’s all here. The new pedestrian area, Southgate; the main shopping thoroughfare, Milsom Street; the interesting Corridor and its adjoining maze of little streets; the Guildhall and Green Park Station with traditional and interesting stalls; to the Upper Town at the top of Milsom Street and the “artisan” area of Walcot Street … they all offer places to browse and purchase. 

The Theatre Royal Bath is one of the oldest theatres in the UK, which still hosts some top plays and names. It is a beautiful small venue and also has two separate theatres – the smaller Ustinov, which showcases more diverse plays, and The Egg, a children’s theatre. If you have time between shopping, walking and going to museums then this is a wonderful place to catch some great plays. 

Looking for a scrum? If you are a rugby fan then you will have heard of Bath as the team plays in the English Premiership and is one of the oldest clubs in existence. Many of their players have played for England and if you like a ruck or a scrum then the club is easily accessible in the city to watch a game. If you can’t get tickets then don’t despair, most pubs cover the games and what could be better than watching a local game with a local beer in your hand.

The Kennet and Avon Canal offers a great opportunity to walk along the towpaths, take a boat tour on a traditional narrowboat or rent a boat or kayak. You can even rent for a week and really experience life on the canals. Chugging along the old waterways gives you a different perspective of the area and provides a chance to just sit back and relax. There are several companies to choose from.

To Eat and Drink

Bath is a city full of great places to eat from cheap to ouch.

The Star Inn, licensed in 1759 and Pub of the Year 2022, is a small traditional pub about 30 minutes from the hubbub of the city centre. It’s at the end of the Cotswold Way so if you are yearning for a breath of fresh air and a view of the city then this is a good place to try a local beer. Don’t expect food though, this place is great local beer and a “bag of crisps.”

The Dark Horse is frequently voted “the best bar” and offers great cocktails and a menu made from locally sourced food.

Same Same But Different is one of my favorite spots for breakfast or lunch. It’s a locals favorite and offers reasonably priced delicious English breakfasts and tapas later on in the day.

Olé Tapas serves tapas, shockingly! Delicious tastes of Spain in a charming restaurant.

Comptoir Libanais is a fabulous Lebanese restaurant with super mezze and tagines. 

Menu Gordon Jones is somewhere to go if you want to splash out. His 9-course tasting menu costs 90 pounds each. 

To Stay

Bath has many great hotels, big and small, comfy to upscale and an abundance of bed and breakfast spots. 

If you are looking to spoil yourself, The Royal Crescent Hotel and Spa comes under the heading of “upscale.” The luxury 5-star hotel is situated on the most sought-after address and the filming location for Bridgerton. If hanging out with the “ton” is not your scene or in your price range, then check out the many mid-range hotels such as the Doubletree by Hilton Bath or the Holiday Inn Express.

Bath is full of wonderful things to see, do and eat. As Jane Austen’s character Catherine Morland in “Northanger Abbey” said so perfectly, “Oh! Who can ever be tired of Bath?”

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Photographer/writer Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a long-time expat, she lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past 10 years.

Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.

Contributing to Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.

She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.

She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.

You can read more of Jackie’s work for Dispatches here

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