If you’re planning a summer trip to London, you can’t go wrong with a day trip to Bath. Only an hour and a half out of Paddington station, Bath is a UNESCO World Heritage site for a reason. The natural hot springs were the site of a Celtic shrine before the Romans built their temple and the baths over them. A visit to the Roman baths should be at the top of your list of things to see in the city. Make sure you get there early to avoid the queues. You won’t want to spend all of your time just queuing as there’s plenty more to enjoy in the city. For the price of a ticket you’ll get an audio guide to talk you through the 43 AD foundations of the temple site of Aquae Solis, Bath’s Roman name, the Sacred spring and the original sites of hot and cold baths that were excavated in the 20th century. If you look carefully at the surface of the water in the protected hot springs area, you’ll see it punctuated by water bubbling up at 46 degrees centigrade, from the limestone aquifers deep under.
Of course, it does take more than that for an entire city to get on the World Heritage list. You’ll see why as you amble through the city streets revelling in spectacular Georgian architecture reflecting the mellow sand coloured hues and tones of the stones from local quarries. Sunshine reflected off the beige buildings gives the city a welcoming warmth and energy that will brighten up any visit. The entire city forms a perfectly preserved example of Georgian architecture in Britain today.
This leads me to the second must-see on your list. The Royal Crescent – a visually impressive semi-circle of thirty residential houses atop a hill. Visit house No.1 which is open to the public as a museum exhibiting Georgian-style rooms, interiors and objets d’art. Its lesser relative, The Circus, is only a stone’s throw away. It isn’t as impressive but is equally worth a visit if you have time.
For the price of a traditional English Afternoon tea of cucumber sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and mouth-watering pastries at The Pump Room, you can relax in surroundings immortalised in Jane Austen’s novels Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. Let your mind drift away to imagine high society sitting in the Pump room all abuzz with gossip, discussing the latest fashion and eyeing up eligible men as they walked through the entrance.
The Assembly Rooms are another exquisite example of Georgian period style, also made famous by Austen. Visit the ballroom where the five original crystal chandeliers still dangling from the ceiling would have scattered little rainbows of light against the powder-blue walls as one thousand of Georgian high society danced to an orchestra. British period art fans will spot Thomas Gainsborough’s paintings in the Great Octagon Room.
A visit to Bath Abbey, just across from the Roman baths exit, is another must see if only for its unusually stunning ‘fan vaulting’ on the ceiling, which bears a light contrast to the ornate perpendicular Gothic facade. Italian-looking Pulteney Bridge over the river Avon is another ambitious project by Robert Adam, characteristic of the 18th century city’s momentum to convert Bath into a showcase of period splendour. Stroll down Grand Parade and take in the sounds of the river streaming over Pulteney weir.
Pop into the Jane Austen Centre only if you’re a hard-core fan. For the value of the over-priced ticket, you’ll get a brief talk about Austen’s family tree and background, see the only portrait that exists of her and see an exhibit of furniture and fashion of the time. There is next to nothing that actually belonged to Austen and the museum is housed in a house that is the exact replica to Number 25 up the street, where she actually lived and is now a dentist’s. There is a lovely letter hand-written by the actress Emma Thompson when she sent memorabilia to the Jane Austen Centre after the filming of Sense and Sensibility.
If history, architecture and period interiors are your thing, you may want to spend more than just a day in Bath. It’s full of themed museums to cater to all tastes and interests and 2011 is the year of the Museums in Bath. If an overview of the main city sights is all you are looking for, the mayor of Bath offers free, two-hour walking tours at 10.30am and 2pm daily from Sunday to Friday and at 10.30 on Saturdays. Tours begin in front of The Pump Room.
Shopping: For gifts for loved ones back home or for that special little something that you just must have, wander the lanes around Bartlett and Brock Street, check out the Guildhall Market or for something more upmarket – visit Milsom Place.
Food: Bath is filled with gastro-pubs, cafes and restaurants, but if you’re looking for something trendy sample the Wild Truffle Tagliatelle followed by a to-die-for Tiramisu dessert at Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant. TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Canteen whips up a succulent Crab and chilli tart that will leave you begging for more.
Bed and Breakfast: The Henry guest house located in the city centre has comfortable rooms to lay your head while getting a taste of family-owned B&Bs (prices start at 47.50 pounds per night) or for a cheaper option try Bath YMCA (twin private room with a shared bathroom is 27 pounds per person per night).
(First published May 28th, 2011 in TimesCrest edition)