Once a retreat for the Romans and the English aristocracy, Netflix’s bodice-ripping “Bridgerton” series has encouraged a renewed interest in Bath, England, and we’re not surprised. UNESCO recognised its astonishing history and architecture way back in 1987 when it designated the entire city as a World Heritage Site.
It’s time to follow the Duchess and the Duke of Hastings’ lead to Bath and you’ll find all the Georgian style that inspired Jane Austen and, more recently “Bridgerton’s” Julia Quinn, the author of the books the series is based on, plus a thriving dining scene that showcases the best Somerset has to offer. Bonnets at the ready, here’s what you can see and do in Bath this season.
With so many award-winning producers on its doorstep (Somerset is home to more producers than any other county), it’s no surprise that Bath has several award-winning restaurants itself. Olive Tree, part of the Queensberry Hotel on Russell Street, tops the bill as the only Michelin star restaurant in the city. Head chef Chris Cleghorn has taken the time to build relationships with local suppliers and changes the menu regularly to pay respect to the quality ingredients they provide. It’s also complemented by an award-winning wine list.
Equal parts restaurant, wine bar and shop, Corkage on Chapel Row, off stately Queen Square, also knows its way around a wine list. You’ll find more than 50 options available by the glass and served alongside small plates such as red lentil dahl and wild mushroom and walnut arancini.
For the pick of the county’s produce, head to Green Park Station. Beneath the grand roof of the former train station, Bath Farmers’ Market, the first of its kind in the United Kingdom, takes place every Saturday between 9 a.m.-4 p.m. It’s also a platform for flourishing independent cafes and restaurants and where you can grab an affordable goulash and wine.
As the Romans discovered, there’s something in the water here and so many things to do in Bath. No trip to Bath would be complete without visiting the site of Britain’s only hot spring and the Roman Baths that inspired the city’s name. One of the best-preserved Roman spas in the world, there’s 2,000 years of history, architecture and engineering on display across four main areas (the Sacred Spring, the Roman Temple, the Roman Bath House and finds from Roman Bath) as well as interactive exhibits and CGI reconstructions.
Grab your free personal audio guide and head to the terrace for the best overview of the Great Bath. It is lined with Victorian statues of Roman emperors and governors of Britain that date back to 1894, as they were carved in preparation of the grand opening of the Roman Baths in 1897. Despite the terrace’s great view, you can see less than a quarter of the entire site from here though as the baths extend beneath modern ground level and the neighboring streets. You’ll find the Sacred Spring at the heart of the site and where 240,000 gallons of naturally hot water rises daily, with a temperature of 46°C. In the past, it was believed to be the work of the ancient gods. To test its curative properties, you can also taste the spa water from a fountain in the west baths, or from the traditional fountain in the Georgian Pump Room. It contains 43 minerals and has been used in bathing and drinking for two millennia to treat a number of ailments.
Although you can’t take a dip anymore, more’s the pity, you can swim in the mineral-rich waters at the nearby Thermal Bath Spa’s open-air rooftop pool, without the need for a membership or paying joining fees. In addition to soaking up the naturally warm, mineral-rich waters, the pool offers spectacular views across the city and surrounding hills day and night (the pools close at 9 p.m. or slightly earlier during the festive period). Inside, the aptly named Minerva Bath (inspired by the Roman goddess of health and wisdom) is the largest of the thermal baths. In between some pretty grand columns, it flows around a popular whirlpool, which you can make the most of with a two-hour Thermae Welcome package that also includes access to an infrared room, ice chamber and two aroma steam rooms. A celestial relaxation room, inspired by the work of William Herschel—the Bath–based astronomer who discovered the planet Uranus—also offers five heated loungers you can relax on underneath an array of twinkling lights.
Britain’s oldest public outdoor swimming pool, the Cleveland Pools, which dates back more than 200 years, will also be reopening this summer after extensive restoration. After a 17-year campaign and being derelict for 40 years, it was awarded a £6.1 million grant to return the heritage site and community pool back to its former glory. You can expect lots of modern updates including a smaller, shallower pool for children, lounging area and heated pool water when swimmers hopefully return this year.
In addition to Roman ruins, Bath is home to more than 5,000 listed buildings and all the 18th-century architecture you could want for a Regency romance. A quick walk around the city will reveal the real-life residences that double for the on-screen homes of the Featheringtons and Lady Danbury in “Bridgerton”—No. 1 Royal Crescent, a restored Georgian townhouse museum on Bath’s most-famous crescent, and the Holburne Museum, the city’s first public gallery, which will be exhibiting David Hockney’s drawings this spring. If you want to see what life was like for 19th-century English society and Bath’s fashionable residents—both upstairs and downstairs—you’ll find the rooms at No. 1 Royal Crescent filled with historic furniture, pictures and objects and decorated as they might have been between 1776-1796. Film and sound have also been introduced to help bring the house to life and give you a very real sense of what it would have been like to live there, and then.
Behind The Holburne Museum’s grand façade, you’ll also find a range of fine and decorative art, from Renaissance works to masterpieces by Gainsborough, continually changing temporary exhibitions and the collections of Sir William Holburne, who founded the museum. Holburne’s café at the back of the museum also overlooks Sydney Gardens, a favorite spot of Bath’s most-famous resident, Jane Austen, the storied author of “Pride and Prejudice,” “Emma” and “Persuasion.”
You’ll find more Austen anecdotes and even the opportunity to dress up at the new exhibition space at the city’s Jane Austen Centre, too. Expect costumed “character” guides to show you around and share insights into Regency times and how the city of Bath impacted Austen’s life and writing. You can also dress up in your very own bonnet—eat your heart out, Duchess of Hastings—try your hand at writing with a quill, and admire the rooftop views from the Regency Tea Room while enjoying a delicious cream tea.
Visit during September and you’ll find the center responsible for another one of the top things to do in Bath, the Jane Austen Festival. The 10-day programme draws more than 3,500 people from around the world and includes guided walks, costumed balls, concerts and talks. It also starts with the Regency Costumed Promenade, which sees more than 500 people take to the streets of Bath in Regency dress.
For views across the city, climb the 212 steps to the top of Bath Abbey’s Tower or head to the summit of Alexandra Park in the Bear Flat neighborhood. Time your visit right (on Thursday to Sunday between 10 a.m.-4 p.m.) and you’ll find pastry chef Orlando Partner serving choux buns from his van in the park.
Bath Abbey also promises a much-needed moment of stillness in the beating heart of the city. Founded in the seventh century, the Abbey has survived a number of major conflicts, architectural and religious reforms, and two world wars to continue to be a place of worship today.
Whether you want to join a service, light a candle, listen to music or simply take a tour to admire the architecture, there is plenty to discover here. To learn more about the Abbey’s history that spans more than 1,300 years and the stories behind its beautiful fan-vaulting and stained glass, tour the Abbey floor with one of its guides on Mondays to Saturdays (as it is a working church, there are no tours on Sundays). By joining one of its 45-60-minute Tower Tours, you can also go where only the lucky do to catch a glimpse of its clock face and ceiling from the other side, before admiring the panoramic views at the top.
No.15 is the first property of GuestHouse, a family-owned British brand focused on developing a new generation of upscale hotels that have the same warmth and character as a traditional guest house. Each property is designed to reflect the city it’s set in. For Bath that means all things Georgian, so you’ll find No.15 on Great Pulteney Street, one of the city’s grandest Georgian streets, and in a Grade I-listed building. Designer Martin Hulbert has even used Jane Austen’s favorite powder blue color to give the interiors a calming quality. The hotel also champions its surroundings in the local artists on its walls and the produce chef Matt Gillard features in his Wild British menu.
After keeping us company through the pandemic, more of us are traveling with our pets and Homewood is the perfect place to do that. Just a 15-minute taxi ride from Bath, its 10 acres of lawned grounds have earned it a spot as a dog-friendly finalist at this year’s regional Tourism Excellence Awards. When you’re not exploring the nearby Avon Valley on foot, there’s an outdoor heated pool and hot tub you can enjoy the views from. The restaurant also prides itself on using produce only from Somerset—the berries are even picked from the nearby hedgerows.
The Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa
Hotels don’t come much more historic than Bath’s five-star The Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa, located at the center of the city’s most famous crescent. Behind its Ionic columns lies more than 250 years of history and one of the only landmark buildings in the world where you can actually sleep. You’ll find historic references throughout, too, from the paintings by period artists such as Thomas Gainsborough that are dotted around the hotel to the traditional touches in the 45 guestrooms and suites—which are all completely unique and have been designed by interior designer Jane Clayton. There are plenty of personal touches to look out for as well, including your hand written name on your bedroom door to let you know which room is yours.
The hotel’s more modern updates include an award-winning Spa & Bath House, which is home to a 40-foot heated pool, Himalayan salt-infused sauna, steam room, fitness room and a spa garden where you can wander in your robe—its Taittinger name also suggests that you can enjoy a glass of bubbles or two here.