Whether you’re interested in playing 19th century aristocrat for a day or spending a week slightly off the beaten path, tourists in England will find numerous reasons to visit the Georgian town of Bath. Back in the heyday of the Regency – for you non-history buffs, that’s when King George III was declared unfit for rule and his son assumed power as the Prince Regent – Bath was a central hub of high society.
Though it’s best known for that popularity with movers and shakers of the early 1800s, Bath has decidedly Roman roots, as the massive European empire founded the city in 70 AD on the site of natural hot springs. Though admission is a bit steep at £14.50 a ticket, this site is so important to the town’s cultural heritage, it regularly tops the list of Bath’s must-see attractions. Afterward, you can get your own taste of Bath’s healing geothermal waters at the Thermae Bath Spa, just around the corner from the ancient Roman baths.
Once you’ve paid your respects to the city’s foundations, enjoy a stroll around town. Bath’s most recognizable landmark is its distinctively Georgian architecture, found everywhere but the modern shopping district in the southwest corner of the city. This visible, rich history earned the whole town a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Be sure to make stops at the Royal Crescent, the Circus, Pulteney Bridge, and Prior Park.
Bath may have seen its heyday a couple hundred years ago, but this cultural landscape has been preserved, somewhat ironically, by the enduring works of Jane Austen. Though the author herself despised the machinations of “the ton” – as the social elite was called in her day – her novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion immortalized Bath as the center of the very society she hated. Learn about her life and eight-year residency in Bath, as well as general Regency history, at the Jane Austen Centre. Later, stretch your Janeite legs on an audio tour of sights from the novels.
Like any English town, the best way to get close to the authentic Bath of the 21st century is not to visit its top billed attractions, but to grab a pint—or two or three—at its pubs. The volume and variety of Bath’s nightlife may surprise the average day tripper, but with two universities in town, the city has a large population of both students and young professionals. Laugh over locals’ stories at The Raven, show off your smarts on pub quiz night at The Pig and Fiddle, or shoot a little pool after a hearty vegetarian meal at The Porter. Live music fans will want to hang out at Mole’s or The Bell in hopes of catching a set by ‘the next big thing.’
If you’ve had your fill of pub grub, start dabbling in Britain’s colonial traditions, which have naturally left their mark on the country’s dining habits. You’ll find several excellent Indian and Thai restaurants in the center of Bath, and no trip is complete without taking high tea at an uber-fashionable spot like The Pump Room. Another city mainstay you’d be remiss to skip is Sally Lunn’s – this centuries old bakery serves up a delectable, internationally renowned bread recipe.
Bath tends to attract day visitors from London, but with such rich cultural heritage and vibrant nightlife – not to mention its close proximity to Stonehenge and the Cotswolds – you’d do well to extend your stay.