Bath is an elegant English city that sits in the bucolic depths of the Avon Valley in Somerset. It’s invariably known as a bustling university hub, for its accomplished rugby team, and for its grand history. But is Bath worth visiting if you have limited time in the UK?
We’d go as far as to say that Bath is actually one of the bucket-list draws of the South West. It might not have the beaches of Cornwall or the riviera towns of Dorset or the landmarks of the Big Smoke. What it does have is some of the most fascinating ancient history in England, eye-wateringly lovely architecture, a buzzy shopping scene – the list goes on.
So, if you find yourself asking ‘is Bath worth visiting?’, be sure to read on. This guide has you covered with five top reasons to justify a trip to the erstwhile Roman spa center and its handsome location on the edge of the Cotswolds.
Table of Contents
The ancient and medieval history
If there’s one aspect of Bath that really stands out, it’s surely the history. Founded way back in 60AD after the Roman invasion of Britain, it was once known as Aquae Sulis and prized for its natural hot springs. The remains of the city’s great spa complex can still be visited. They’re called, simply, the Roman Baths, and showcase a whole wellness facility built over several hundred years between the 1st century and the 5th century.
You’ll learn how the Romans made cold rooms, lukewarm saunas, and baths of varying temperatures using an elaborate underfloor heating and irrigation systems. All very impressive stuff if you ask us!
But the history of Bath doesn’t end with the Romans. The fortunes of the town took another turn with the foundation of Bath Abbey sometime in the 600s AD. That turned it into a major religious center and even a place of pilgrimage. The town underwent major urban replanning during the reign of King Alfred in the 9th century, too, giving the downtown on the north and west banks of the River Avon the same medieval layout you’ll walk today.
Then you get the much later but no less impressive relics of the Georgian era and the Enlightenment. They’re hard to miss – the great crescents and colonnades are one of the most striking features of the town. They’re joined by a particularly intriguing museum that’s dedicated to the life and work of William Herschel (the astronomer who discovered Uranus) and the Holburne Museum (home to over 4,000 artifacts and paintings collected during the age of the British Empire).
To put it simply, history buffs have PLENTY to be getting on with!
The grand architecture
Bath might just be the single prettiest city in England. That’s a big claim, but just wait until you lay eyes on it. The whole place has grown from a ramshackle medieval town into a handsome Georgian masterwork. That means the old, winding lanes are still intact, but the buildings that line them are all honey-hued façades with Neo-Classical columns and carved porticoes. Architecture lovers will have stacks to look at as they stroll around, that’s for sure.
A lot of the beauty of Bath is down to the strict use of Bath Stone. It’s a distinctly yellowed limestone that was originally quarried at nearby Combe Down, Somerset. Today, it fronts almost every building in the main city, giving a warm and regal look to the place. Some buildings really stand out from the crowd, so be sure to plot a tour that includes:
- Bath Abbey – A Norman cathedral that was built on the site of an older church dating back to the 7th century, this one’s often hailed as the finest example of Gothic architecture in the West Country.
- Theatre Royal – This 1805 construction is a masterwork of Georgian theatre design that also includes a very old pub, Garrick’s Head, that’s riddled with its own architectural nuances.
- Guildhall – Another Grade I-listed spot in the center of Bath that’s topped by a huge dome.
- Queen Square – A hint of Palladian architecture reveals how old this row of very lovely houses is.
- Royal Crescent – One of the most iconic sites in Bath, the Royal Crescent forms a big C of perfectly aligned Georgian rowhouses all made from Bath Stone.
The Museum of Bath Architecture is a top spot to go if building work is your jazz. It’s got an immersive exhibition that chronicles the groundbreaking Georgian era of the city and all the fabulous constructions that went with it.
Bath’s a shopping mecca
Even if you’re not taken by the incredible Roman history, the grandiose Georgian rowhouses, and the stunning outline of Bath Abbey, Bath still has plenty up its sleeve. Top of the list for many are the endless shopping opportunities. From boutique concept stores to souvenir outlets, bespoke bakers to artisan chocolatiers, this city really has it all. And that’s not even mentioning the abundance of modern shopping malls and out-of-town retail precincts. Let’s break it down…
Firstly, central bath is a haven for seeking out unique goodies and delectable West Country produce. Mark York Street is on the map for sure. It’s got old Georgian teahouses for all your leaf-brewing paraphernalia, right next to gin distilleries that sell altogether more potent tipples.
Then there’s Walcot Street. That runs parallel to the River Avon, unfolding in a medley of creative home furnishings like Graham & Green and designer lighting stores like Enlighten of Bath. For clothes and high-street fashion labels, along with department stores and art supplies, be sure to check out Milsom Street a little to the southeast of that.
If you’re more into shopping complexes that have everything under one roof, then Bath can also oblige. Consider a spot of retail therapy at:
- The Corridor Arcade – A central Bath gem, with some of the best independent shops in the city, including soap ateliers, jewelers, and outdoors clothes outfitters.
- SouthGate – The biggest modern shopping mall in central Bath, offering all sorts of well-known brand outlets, family dining, and electronics stores.
- Green Park Station – This old train station has been converted into a funky market with flea-chic vibes. Come to shop for whittled wooden sculptures, sourdough pizza, and vintage vinyl.
The nightlife isn’t bad, either
Is Bath worth visiting for the nightlife alone? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean that this city doesn’t have its rowdy side. It’s just that we’d say the next-door neighbor of Bristol is better, and so is happening Cardiff, which is just a little down the M4 from here. The good news is that Bath has a pretty hefty student population. They bring energy and fuel the bars and the clubs throughout the main university term that lasts from September to June, with a big break for Christmas and Easter in the middle.
To join those, the best place to go is Oldfield Park. It’s on the western edge of town but not too long from the historic center in a taxi. On Friday night, it has hearty English pubs that come alive with student chatter. The best of them are the Green Park Tavern just off the A6 and The Moorfields, which is on the southern side of the district. Even the students won’t stick around there for too long, though. It’s primarily pre-drinking territory before the move over to the heart of the town…
Back in the center of the city and there’s all sorts to look forward to on the nightlife front. We especially love the range of old taverns that hearken back to the days when this was a medieval settlement. There’s The Raven, a Georgian-era drinkery that’s got tight-knit seating booths and traditional pies on the menu. You’ve also got The Salamander, a charming gastropub with some flower-strewn outdoor seating. Oh, and don’t miss the Bath Brew House, which has some of the West Country’s finest independent beer labels on tap.
Later on, parties will shift to the smattering of clubs that await. There aren’t too many, but that helps to concentrate the crowd. Check out Komedia Bath for alt music gigs and late-night dancing. Or head to Club Walcot for something a bit more noir that includes regular live DJs.
Bath is surrounded by stunning countryside
Last but most certainly not least is all about where bath is located. Yep, this town sits smack dab on the cusp of the West Country and the Cotswolds. The latter is a designated area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) and boy does it deserve the title. This is rustic England at its finest. We’re talking rolling hills dotted with hay bales, babbling brooks enfolded by oak woods, wildflower meadows that host ponies – you get the idea. There are walking paths all over the region, along with uber-handsome villages like Bourton-on-the-Water and Chedworth. They’re a bit of a drive away but the drive itself is part of the fun!
Go in the other direction towards the South Coast and Salisbury and you can hit another of England’s most iconic sites: Stonehenge. It’s a mere hour’s drive away, offering a glimpse at the mystical pre-history of the country. Then there’s Longleat, which is both a great manor house and a safari park with lions and monkeys and more.
If you’re willing to drive about two hours then there’s also a taste of the sea on offer. That comes courtesy of the North Devon coastline. It’s rocky, rugged, and wild, beset by high cliffs and beautiful beaches like Combe Martin and Wild Pear. Go further and you can even catch some surf at Woolacombe and Croyde, which are two of the most reliable beach breaks in England.
Is Bath worth visiting for the day trips you can do? Well, there are so many of them and such diversity that we’d say that it probably is. Just be sure to set aside enough time to explore the city itself to the full before you leave!
So, is Bath worth visiting?
Is Bath worth visiting? We totally think so. It’s a city that will certainly impress the history buffs. There are Roman ruins next to some of England’s grandest Georgian churches and homes. There’s also a buzzy nightlife that’s powered by a hefty student population, along with cozy pubs serving proper English grub and top shopping districts where you can push the credit card to the limit. Oh yea, and Bath is a fantastic place to launch expeditions into the Cotswolds AONB, Somerset’s backcountry, and even to the famous beaches of the South West Coast Path. What’s not to love?