The city of BATH is harmonious, compact, leisurely and complacent. Its elegant crescents and Georgian buildings are studded with plaques naming Bath's eminent inhabitants from its heyday as a spa resort; it was here that Jane Austen set Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, and where Gainsborough established himself as a portraitist and landscape painter. Nowadays Bath ranks as one of Britain's top tourist cities, yet the place has never lost the exclusive air those names evoke.
Although Bath could easily be seen on a day-trip from Bristol, it really deserves a stay of a couple of days. The city is chock-full of museums, but some of the greatest enjoyment comes simply from wandering the streets, with their pale gold architecture and sweeping vistas. Certainly no visit is complete without admiring the city's two most famous and elegant crescents: the grand, refined Royal Crescent, designed by the younger John Wood, and the elder John Wood's masterpiece, the Circus, which consists of three crescents arranged in a tight circle of three-storey houses, with a carved frieze running round the entire circle.
Bath owes its name and fame to its hot springs – the only ones in the country – which made it a place of reverence for the local Celtic population, though it had to wait for Roman technology to create a fully fledged bathing establishment. The baths fell into decline with the departure of the Romans, but the town later regained its importance under the Saxons, its abbey seeing the coronation of the first king of all England, Edgar, in 973. A new bathing complex was built in the sixteenth century, popularized by the visit of Elizabeth I in 1574, and the city reached its fashionable zenith in the eighteenth century, when Beau Nash ruled the town's social scene. It was at this time that Bath acquired its ranks of Palladian mansions and Regency townhouses, all of them built in the local Bath stone, which is still the city's leitmotif today.
Named for the hot springs which percolate up into the heart of the city, Bath has attracted visitors to the curative waters since Roman times. The Avon River runs around the centre and has formed an important part of the landscape and old industry with its network of canals. Bath has been named a World Heritage Centre, and her history and culture are a magnet for tourists from all around the globe.
City Centre Rarely can you find so much to see and do in such a small geographical area as in Bath Centre. World class museums, including the Roman Baths and the internationally renowned Museum of Costume , are so numerous that little gems such as the Postal Museum are easily overlooked. An important site of historical and cultural origins, the centre is home to Bath Abbey , site of 1600+ years of religious activity, and the Theatre Royal is home to pre-London tours and local productions alike. Music, literature and Shakespeare Festivals highlight the busy diary of activities, and pubs, clubs and various music and comedy venues (and buskers!) are plentiful. Around every corner you can find excellent dining options, and if you're bent on shopping, you can't go wrong; Bath has all the big names as well as a complete range of independent merchants, all within easy walking distance of one another. Both train and bus stations provide easy access to all the city has to offer.
City Suburbs So you've arrived in the city unannounced and to your dismay every hotel in the city centre is full to bursting. Don't despair - there is still hope. The city suburbs are the perfect place to stay when visiting the city, offering all the peace of the countryside yet only minutes from the city centre on foot. The best place to start looking is Newbridge where every other establishment is a hotel. Take a flat walk from the city along the beautiful winding canal path and be thankful that you were foolish enough not to book ahead!
Lansdown Privileged living and private houses are Lansdown trademarks. Beckford's Tower, Lansdown Horse Racing Course and spacious playing fields are prominent sites, as well as a Ministry of Defence property. The Kingswood School and Preparatory School, and the Royal High School are popular sites for the education of ministers-to-be and antique shops litter the streets. Lansdown Park-and-Ride offers easy access alternatives into the centre.
Larkhall Old village life thrives here, a short walk from the centre. Everything you could need from delicatessen to hardware shop to the corner butcher is here, and the best part is, it's off the main road! The housing is a mixture of old and new and ranges across income levels, and a church-community run coffee shop is a local meeting place. Several pubs and the Rondo Theatre keep the night alive and takeaway food options abound.
Oldfield Park and Bear Flat A diverse area of Bath and just a short walk from the centre, Oldfield Park has a wide range of housing, from terraced housing at the lower end of Oldfield Road up through semi-detached to the houses and private properties which figure prominently on the upper road. Moorland Road is the main shopping area in Oldfield Park and is bedecked with flowers during the summer. The Bear Pub, with the polar bear on the roof is an easy landmark among the Bear Flat shops, and the Real Meat Company offers an excellent selection of organic and humanely raised meat.
Weston and Newbridge West of the city centre is an area of middle-income housing and suburban shops - check out Chelsea Road for hairdressers aplenty and the best bakery in Bath. Locksbrook Cemetery is an integral part of the landscape, as is Victoria Park , a huge, safe play area for hordes of energetic children. Pubs and eateries, including the award winning Dolphin Inn , and the Michelin-starred Lettonie can be found in this area. Also located here is the Royal United Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in the Avon region.
Outside the City Bath's and North East Somerset's (B&NES) main geographical feature is the river Avon which, with the Kennet and Avon canal , has formed a historically important base for industry as it curls through the hills on its way to the mouth of the Severn at Bristol. Bath is the centerpiece for visitors, though many opportunities in more rural settings lie waiting to be discovered. The county is also home to Newton St. Loe, a quaint old village with properties and lands owned and maintained by the Prince of Wales.
Bradford-on-Avon This one-time home to wool, cloth, and rubber industries, eight miles from Bath, Bradford-on-Avon's central landmark is the ancient bridge over the Avon. The Saxon town is bordered by the Kennet and Avon Canal and is packed with listed buildings, including a well-preserved Saxon church. Industrial works are still an important feature, as are large recreation grounds and several golf courses. Opportunities to visit small historical houses and sites are plentiful. The town is certainly worthy of further exploration.
Corsham Located in the county of Wiltshire and about six miles northeast of Bath, Corsham is a historic market town with a quaint pedestrian shopping area including some specialty shops such as Elegance Bridal Wear. Housing is varied with some new developments. Pubs include the Northey Arms on the outskirts, and the Hare and Hounds in the centre; the Methuen Arms Hotel provides central accommodation. The town is bordered by Pickwick Lodge farm and a military training base. By all means stop to see historic Corsham Court , a Royal Manor in the days of Saxon Kings and surrounded by extensive landscapes cultivated by Capability Brown.
Keynsham Bustling with small town energy, Keynsham is ideally positioned between Bristol and Bath. High street shops, health and garden centres serve local families and retirees. Off the high street are middle-income houses in a suburban setting; the lifestyle is relaxed. There are a number of hotels in the area suitable for those who want a quiet holiday, but for good night life, head to Bath or Bristol.
Midsomer Norton A surprisingly large and lively town centre, Midsomer Norton boasts good shopping opportunities, including the Holly Court Arcade and other high street shops. The Mallards Pub is frequented by locals, while the Old Priory Hotel allows the visitor to experience luxury outside Bath. New housing and industrial units testify to development of the area, while old industry is represented by the Somerset and Dorset Railway Trackbed Trust.
Norton Radstock This old mining town between Bath and Wells has a large shopping district and lively centre. The Radstock Museum offers a glimpse into local history and industry.
Whether you choose to stay within the city itself, or choose a base in a more rural location, you can be assured of a warm welcome and the kind of hospitality that has become a trademark of the West Country.
Anyone who can't find food or drink in Bath to suit their pocket, appetite, or style, either isn't trying or has received bad advice. Ranging from the pair of Michelin starred restaurants; Lettonie with two stars and accommodation on the Kelston Road, and the rather less formal single starred Moody Goose in Kingsmead Square, the choice runs all the way to a myriad of fast food joints. Schwartz Bros takeaway in Walcot Street features funky music and the best burgers in Bath (Bath Chronicle survey). Try their garlic & mayo.
With more eateries here than you can shake a baguette at, and the attractive River Avon winding through town, visitors and residents alike are amazed that it's almost impossible to eat or drink by the riverside other than at the small Riverside Cafe to the side of Pulteney Bridge. Vegetarian and licensed to serve alcohol, there are outside tables here with good views but no evening opening. If you can find your way to Forester Road in Bathwick the unpretentious Bathwick Boatman serves straightforward food at reasonable prices. Set above the Victorian boathouse this is an ideal spot where you can watch inexperienced trippers try their hand on punts and skiffs while you dine safely ashore. Schemes to develop the riverside crop up as regularly as tourist buses but as the Sunday Times commented last year (with reference to Bath Rugby's plans to rebuild the riverbank stand to include a restaurant and bar), "In Bath it usually takes three years to get permission to erect a deck chair, so don't hold your breath."
Lunch, as ever, is the time to find value for money at the top end of the market as many restaurant prices are cut to approaching half of the evening cost. However, so many restaurants around means that prices are invariably competitive, though Tilley's , just below the Abbey, keeps costs down and quality up by only serving starter portions and house wines. Most bars and pubs serve food too but for anyone who really appreciates their tipple Bath is unusually bountiful. Real ales abound, especially if you ignore the obvious gin palaces in the city centre. As those mirrored monstrosities with dress codes, colored lights, and bouncers are easy to find I'll point you in the direction of the real pubs, with real character, frequented by real people.
Starting in the centre, Bath's smallest pub, the cosy Coeur de Lyon (pictured above) is definitely worth a visit, as is its sister pub the Old Green Tree - a paneled hideaway near to the Post Office. Both serve imaginative beers and snacks but keep evenings food free. If you enjoy music whilst imbibing there's not a night in the week when free music isn't supplied somewhere. The best source of information on pub music is listed under 'Gigs' in the Bath Chronicle - up to a dozen pubs are featured on Saturday nights, and if quiet drinking is your scene this will indicate places to avoid. Although it's basically a good class restaurant, the cosmopolitan Moon and Sixpence has a comfortable bar area, some seriously good wines by the glass, and what one of its aficionados describes as, "wall to wall crumpet". What on earth can he mean? Behind the Theatre Royal is the small but select Raincheck Bar, which has its adherents among the cognoscenti of Bath, of whom I'm not one, but the regulars assure me that they are all terribly nice people. Serious real ale drinkers will welcome the good news that Bath's best-preserved pub, The Star , opposite the Paragon Crescent, has just been taken over by the boss of Abbey Ales. Alan Morgan, who started Bath's first brewery in 40 years, has bought the much-loved pub, which will now sell Abbey Ales as well as the Bass beer for which it was renowned. Late night drinkers are catered to by The Huntsman on Bog Island which somehow has wrangled a late night licence until 2a every morning. If this hasn't pointed you in the right direction then just take a few steps beyond the obvious city centre bars and you'll find a wealth of good pubs and good people. Try it. You'll probably like it and want to stay longer, like the rest of us.
No visitor to Bath can fail to notice the variety of tour buses circling the city, pointing out the main sights to the crowds. These run regularly from Orange Grove and the bus station and, for those with mobility problems, are a sensible and affordable way to learn more about the history of the city. But Bath was made for walking, and if you take the time to explore on foot, you will more easily appreciate the riches that the city has to offer. There are numerous walking tours available, from the sublime ' Mayors Guides Walk ' that leaves the Abbey twice daily and is free, to the ridiculous ' Bizarre Bath ' that will leave you in stitches. If you prefer to enjoy a pint in the city's finest pubs, check out The Great Bath Pub Crawl. If you prefer to explore alone, then the tourist information office has leaflets with well defined routes that will take you past the main attractions and beyond.
Stroll along the canal for the short walk into the city centre and visit the beautiful gothic Abbey and courtyard before nipping around the corner for a 'Sally Lunn' bun and popping beneath the tearooms for a look around the Sally Lunn Museum and the medieval remains: £1.80. Back into the courtyard for a seat in the square and a chance to listen to classical musicians playing. Drop a few coins into the hat, and then book tickets for tonight's performance at the Theatre Royal. Make your way to the graceful Royal Crescent Restaurant for lunch. You've pre-booked the 'FT' lunch at £10 per person, and treat yourselves to a bottle of house wine at £9.
Royal Victoria Park
After a leisurely lunch, you leave the hotel, strolling back into the city through Royal Victoria Park . Just enough time for a quick visit to the Guildhall Market and a spot of bargain hunting. Then wander across Pulteney Bridge and into Beazers Garden for a cup of tea and splendid views of the weir: £5. What could be more romantic than a French restaurant? Candles adorn the tables at Tilleys and the food is beautiful. Rather than offering the traditional starter, mains, dessert option, Tilleys offers starters only! So those with a bigger appetite can order as many or as few as is required: £25.
Museum of East Asian Art
No self-respecting parent should be allowed to leave the city until their children have had the chance to experience the adventure playground at Victoria Park. This playground is the largest in the South West and is designed for children aged two to twenty. Young ones love the crane, sand pits and train station. Older ones play on the ropes, tubes and slides. Teenagers bring bikes, skateboards and rollerblades and spend hours perfecting jumps on the half-pipes and ramps in the specially designed area. If rain stops play, then follow the Upper Bristol Road back into the heart of the city and stop at the Museum of East Asian Art . It's very child-friendly too, and often run competitions during the summer holidays and weekends that keep the little ones motivated and interested. Open-top tour buses will allow you to see most of the sights and children enjoy the ride too. Older ones who are not too exhausted at the end of the day will love Bizarre Bath , a comedy walk that leaves the centrally located Huntsman pub at 8p. Finally, don't forget to take a few minutes in the centre to watch the buskers, many of which have performed on television. The standard is high, and the price, a few coins.
Shopping in Bath is a real pleasure. The city has all the major High Street fashion stores, from French Connection and Karen Millen to Dorothy Perkins and Topshop . It also has a wealth of independent clothing retailers and second hand shops that offer the best in service and style. Serious shoppers should start from the top of Milsom Street and work their way down to Southgate. Without stopping at any shops, this route will take about four minutes. If you stop, then expect it to take four hours! The real joy here is that as you work your way down, the shops get progressively cheaper, almost by design. All your favorite High Street names run along this route, as well as a few independent shops. If you are looking for something a little more out of the ordinary, then avoid the pedestrianised area, and take a left towards the Podium, then left again into Walcot Street. This bohemian centre has everything you require for your new look. Check out Jack 'n' Danny's , a retro-fashion store where a fashion designer will create a pair of jeans to your own design for the ultimate in individuality.
Jane Austen Center
Take a tour of the city that Jane Austen called her home. This Jane Austen Tour takes you off the beaten path and strolls you around the sites in Bath that Austen wrote about and encountered on a daily basis throughout her life.
Be sure to check out one of the various walking tours, as the guides can fill in the blanks to your questions about the ins and outs of Bath. If there is time, you may want to venture out-of-town, where the tours will leave you wishing you could extend your stay in Bath.
Ghost Walks of Bath ( +44 0 1225 350512 / http://visitbath.co.uk/site/tours/guided-walking-tours/ghost-walks-of-bath-p42931 ) Bath Parade Guides ( +44 0 1225 337111/ http://visitbath.co.uk/site/tours/bath-parade-guides-p47221 ) Sulis Guides ( +44 0 1225 852722/ http://visitbath.co.uk/site/tours/sulis-guides-p43041 )
City Sightseeing Tour ( +44 0 1225 330444/ http://visitbath.co.uk/site/tours/tours-round-up/city-sightseeing-tour-p47251 )
Bath Narrowboats ( +44 0 1225 447276/ http://visitbath.co.uk/site/tours/bath-narrowboats-p46361 ) Bath City Boat Trips ( +44 0 7974 560197/ http://www.bathcityboattrips.com/ )
Mobility Aid Tours
Ceredigion Shopmobility ( +44 0 1970 630060/ http://www.ceredigionshopmobility.org.uk/ )
Outside the City
Mad Max Tours ( +44 0 7990 505970/ http://www.madmax.abel.co.uk/ )