There’s no mystery about how the English city of Bath got its name. The Romans may have known the town they founded as Aquae Sulis, using the name of the Celtic goddess Sulis the ancient Britons worshiped at the area’s thermal springs. But when Anglo-Saxons replaced the Roman rulers and found the monumental baths their predecessors had built in this town, the most obvious name seemed the best option. The town has been known as Bath because of its thermal baths ever since.
Because it was so important to the Romans, Bath is one of the most historic towns in the whole of the UK. Reachable by train from London Paddington Station in not much more than an hour or a drive of around two hours, Bath is a great place to add to a trip to the UK capital, but its rich history means it also deserves a special trip.
Plus, Bath offers great access to the Somerset countryside, so if you’re looking for a break from the city, Bath makes the perfect place to unwind and relax.
Drop off your unneeded bags at a convenient luggage storage in Bath, and you’ll be perfectly placed to take advantage of everything this underrated city has to offer.
Things to do
Naturally, the Roman baths are one of the top attractions in the city, just as they were almost 2000 years ago when what is now England was part of the Roman province of Britannia. The first Roman structure here was a temple to the goddess Sulis who was considered to hold sway over the healing waters, built around 60 A.D. Over the next three centuries, the bath complex continued to grow. However, the withdrawal of Roman forces from Britain in the fifth century, combined with rising water levels, meant the baths were all but forgotten in later years.
Still, the hot springs remained, and in the post-Roman and medieval periods, offered the rare indulgence of a hot bath without having to heat the water yourself. In 1180, one of the oldest almshouses in England was built at the site of the baths to take advantage of the therapeutic properties of the thermal water.
In 1676, a chemistry student at Oxford published research into the positive health effects of the hot springs. That began an interest among aristocrats in visiting Bath and taking advantage of the waters. The baths continued to grow in popularity in subsequent centuries, with the complex entirely renovated and improved in the 18th century.
Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to swim at the baths. Instead, they serve as a museum both of Roman Britain and of the recreational life of the city in the 18th and 19th centuries. Plus, there is a commercial spa nearby that uses the same waters from the ancient spring, so you can bathe there.
First constructed in the seventh century, this impressive church was rebuilt in the 12th to become the medieval structure it remains today. Built of the famous Bath stone with its distinctive yellow color, this Gothic church is a great place to appreciate both medieval architecture and the 19th-century additions that were made when the church was renovated.
Inside the church, you’ll find memorials to some surprising people, including a US Senator and the first Governor of New South Wales in Australia.
A testament to the popularity of Bath as a resort town during the Georgian era, this beautiful theater was built in 1805. Almost destroyed by fire in 1862, it was rapidly rebuilt and has served as a center of the city’s cultural life ever since.
The theater is still used for its original purpose of staging shows, so check the schedule to see if you can get to a performance while you’re in town. If not, the theater offers guided tours that are almost as entertaining as any show you might see there, full of tales of actors, producers, and ghosts who are said to haunt the theater.
The Jane Austen Center
Despite the fact she died in 1817, Jane Austen remains one of the world’s most popular authors. Her influence on literature continues to this day, with her books remade into films and TV series on a regular basis and bringing her writing to a whole new audience.
Austen spent time in Bath, and this small but interesting museum located in a Regency townhouse tells more about how the city inspired the author and her work. There’s also a tearoom where you can enjoy afternoon tea in true British style as you reflect on the history of this famous city.
The city of Bath is full of intriguing attractions, but it also provides the perfect gateway to the English countryside. Just outside the city, you’ll find this designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which is where the springs that feed the baths have their source.
With endless hiking trails to explore through the rolling hills and incredible views of the countryside, this area is the perfect place to come if you want to enjoy the English countryside on your trip to Bath
Bath and beyond
The town of Bath has some of the richest and most interesting history of any city in the UK. And the museum at the baths themselves will tell you more about the Roman occupation of Britain, along with the Regency, Georgian, and Victorian eras of Bath’s history.
But there’s more on offer here than just the past. With quaint streets to explore, some great restaurants, and almost limitless countryside beyond the city itself, Bath really does offer something for everyone to enjoy.