Until we have the luxury of traveling around the world for weeks or months at a time (you know, when we win the lottery) L and I are content making the most of the trips we are able to take. Of course this means pesky things like budgets and vacation time from our jobs come in to play so we are always planning and working around them. We are very fortunate in that we both have more than the standard 10 days many Americans get, but when you love to travel as much as we do even our 20 days (me) and 25 days (L) seems like not quite enough sometimes to see everything we want to see. So what do we do then? We make the most of our weekends of course!
In addition to now taking more quick weekends away with the kiddo, L and I have also taken to doing the same, either when he’s in town (and I still have to work), or when I’m in Europe on business trips and L can join me. Hands down it has been these business trips I’ve been able to take that have really enabled me to see so much more than I ever would have been able to and I encourage everyone who wants to see more, and gets sent out of town for work (no matter where), to take advantage of this too. Sometimes I’m using these weekends as the chance to get a little taste of a city to see if I’d like to come back for more, and sometimes a weekend is all you really need in a particular place. The point is to stay the extra day or two, instead of rushing home Friday night, and then get out of the hotel and see what you can see. Guarantee you’ll be glad you did.
So with all this said, in kind of a long winded way, I’d like to introduce a new series on my blog called One Weekend at a Time. Yes, I suppose a weekend getaway still counts as a “trip” and qualifies as One Trip at a Time but, well, I love a good little series and I love a little weekend away, so One Weekend at a Time it is. And first up in my new series I’d like to take you with us to Bath, UK.
Even if it hadn’t been Valentine’s weekend at the end of my last trip to the UK for work, most likely you would have found L and I out making the most of the weekend. And with Monday, February 16th being a company holiday for me, it was even more favourable for planning a weekend get-away. We considered several options, including Bruges (that we seem to keep missing but remains firmly on our list), and in the end decided on Bath. It was close enough to drive to and looked like it had just the right amount of things to see and do to keep us busy, but not so busy we wouldn’t have time to just relax and stroll leisurely through the streets.
The written history of Bath starts about 2000 years ago with the arrival of the Romans but many artifacts have been found near the hot springs that confirm the presence of people back to around 5,500 BC. In addition to this there are also signs of pre-historic activity in the countryside around Bath, like nearby Stonehenge, that gives us clues about the pre-Roman inhabitants of the area. Basically Bath, and its nearby surrounding areas, offer an amazing history lesson.
The Roman Baths are easily the most recognizable attraction of Bath and these natural hot springs have been luring people there since the 1st century AD. Next door to the Roman Baths is also the site of the beautiful Bath Abbey which is the third Christian church that has been on that spot since the 8th century.
During the first half of the 18th century the spas, and their claims of healing waters, really upped Bath’s status on the social scene and it became THE place to see and be seen for the wealthy of English society. Also during this time the Georgian style of architecture took center stage creating places like the Royal Crescent and the Circus, which only increased its appeal to the rich and famous.
Today modern Bath still attracts countless visitors a year who come to see and experience all these things, and more. It is an easily walkable city (in fact I would encourage you to leave the car at your hotel) with many of the top places to see all within a very compact city center. Today I’ll give you some ideas of how you can plan your time in Bath, and then over the next few posts I’ll go in to more detail about each of the things we did and where we stayed. By then end I have no doubt you’ll put this lovely city on your list of places to visit, if it’s not there already.
If you’re like us and coming from London you likely won’t arrive until later in the evening due to all the traffic en route. Perhaps you’ll have time to enjoy a leisurely dinner and maybe a night out at one of their clubs, pubs, or bars. I won’t be able to recommend much in that department as we opted for a little picnic dinner in our room, along with watching some ‘8 out of 10 Cats does Countdown‘ (such a fun show to watch) and called it an early night. We had a lot to see and wanted to be well rested in the morning.
Now where I lack in recommendations for pubs and night clubs, I’m going to make up for it with my first suggestion to kick off a weekend in Bath- taking one of the free walking tours offered by the Mayor of Bath’s Corps of Honorary Guides. Let me tell you, they may be free and they do not accept any tips, but L and I both agreed we would have happily paid for one of their tours and tipped them to boot! They are SO good and the guide’s love for their city really shines through.
Established over 80 years ago, the Honorary Guides are a group of 65 volunteers who turn up every day, sometimes twice a day, to lead a group around the city and pour out all their stories and history of the city. The groups meet in the courtyard in front of the Roman Baths and for two hours are recounted the history of Bath from way, way back in Roman times all the way up to present day and shown all the top sites of the city, along with some lesser known and tucked away places. It is the perfect start to a day in Bath and will definitely help you get your bearings for your further strolls through the city.
Read More: A Historical Walking Tour of Bath
After our tour we decided it was a good time to take a little break to refuel with some lunch. The tour ends back behind the Bath Abbey and there are really no end to the little restaurants you could choose to have lunch in, either right in that area, or if you stroll through any of the countless little alleys off the main streets. As we were eager to visit some of the places we’d seen on our tour in depth, we opted for a quick lunch at the M&S café where we had baked potatoes with a side salad. They were pretty tasty and even though we were in a department store we still had views of the city as we sat at a table by the window.
We had planned to tour the Roman Baths right after lunch but when we returned quite a queue had built up so we decided to head off to the Royal Crescent instead.
Designed by the architect John Wood the Younger (which you will learn all about on the guided tour) and built between 1767 and 1774, the Royal Crescent is considered to be among the greatest examples of Georgian architecture found in the United Kingdom. While most of the 30 Georgian houses that make up the Royal Crescent are still private homes, one has been converted into a hotel and No 1 is historic house museum that illustrates how the wealthy owners would have furnished and lived in the home in the late 18th century. In addition to touring the home, I’d recommend spending a little time just strolling around the expansive lawn and some of the little paths along the grounds.
After our very pleasant tour of No 1 Royal Crescent we headed back in to the main part of town to see if perhaps the queue to the Roman Baths had let up a little. When we saw that it hadn’t we decided to wander around the Pulteney Bridge and see a little more of the original East Gate of the city, that we’d come by on our tour earlier. We also popped in to the church called St. Michael’s Without- so named because it was originally outside of the city wall of Bath.
About this time it’ll be perfect to make another little stop for afternoon tea. We opted for one of my favourite places called Patisserie Valerie for hot chocolate and scones with clotted cream and raspberry jam. Mmmm…so delicious.
After tea it was back to the Bath Abbey courtyard thinking we’d take a tour of the church but when we returned this time we noticed the queue had decreased dramatically for the Roman Baths (due to it being about 90 minutes before closing time) so we decided to head on in to see what we’d been trying to see all day.
Included in the price of admission are some audio guides but we mainly just wandered and read the informational signs by each artifact and exhibit. If you were to listen to the guide and really see everything in the accompanying museum I’d say you could easily spend a couple of hours here. We did our own ‘highlight’s’ tour and spent a little over an hour there instead.
Read More: Bathing Like the Romans in Bath
After our tour of the Roman Baths it was time for us to head back to our hotel to rest up (yes, I took a little nap) and freshen up for dinner. There are lots of restaurants to choose from, even including a Mexican restaurant! For our Valentine’s dinner L surprised me by making dinner reservations at Brown’s. We’ve been to Brown’s a few times in London so we knew it was delicious and they didn’t disappoint for this dinner either.
After dinner we found there was hardly anyone out strolling the streets like there had been earlier in the day. Where did all the people go?? No matter, it just makes it all the more perfect for walking along the river and the courtyard of the Abbey while it’s all lit up.
Even more than Saturday evenings, Sunday mornings seem made for quiet walks around Bath. We started back in the Abbey courtyard and then just wandered around some of the narrow cobblestone streets, into a little bookshop, and then across the bridge for views of the Pulteney Bridge and the river. We then wandered along the opposite side of the river from the Abbey and just took in the pretty views of the town and enjoyed the peaceful stroll.
At the Pulteney Bridge we came back up to street level and made our way across the bridge down to the round-about at Laura Place along Great Pulteney Street. Considered one of Bath’s finest streets, Great Pulteney Street is long and wide and lined with properties dating back to the 18th century.
We were then going to tour the inside of Bath Abbey but, alas, it was closed to visitors until 1:00 due to Sunday morning church services. We did get a moment to peek in and it is every bit as grand as it looks like it would be from the outside. If we had been staying a little longer in Bath we would have returned later in the afternoon to visit the Abbey but we had tickets to stop at Stonehenge on the way home so the Abbey will have to wait for another visit.
Our final stop in Bath was the Assembly Rooms. Once regarded as Bath’s most fashionable meeting place, the elegant rooms in this building were used by the aristocracy and other wealthy members of society in the 18th century for playing cards, dancing, and drinking tea. Today it houses the Fashion Museum which gets good reviews, however that bit didn’t really interest us so we didn’t visit those exhibits. Instead we roamed through the grand rooms, while I tried (with no success) to get L to dance across the great ballroom floors with me. Truth be told, if he’d have agreed I likely would have chickened out because I so can’t dance, despite doing my best to channel my inner Jane Austen heroines all weekend.
Bath definitely has it all- culture, history, and many modern amenities like the Thermae Bath Spa. In 1987, the entire city was even declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and I think with one visit it’ll be clear why. Before we visited we talked to many people we knew that had been there before and they all said the same thing- you’re going to LOVE it. With so much praise we started to worry that it might not live up to the hype. We shouldn’t have worried though. We did love it and I look forward to another visit one day soon.