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15th July 2019 Rebecca Burns

The best things to do in Bath

This is a destination that will satisfy visitors of all ages, whether you want to relax and enjoy some pampering; throw yourself into adrenaline-fuelled outdoor activities; escape into nature; or learn about the city’s rich history. You could easily spend your whole visit simply enjoying the city centre sights, but equally there are countless places to enjoy days out within easy striking distance of Bath if you are happy to venture a bit further afield.

A city and a World Heritage Site

Since Bath is the only UK destination to have the whole city designated as a World Heritage Site, its historical attractions are a fantastic place to start your sightseeing. The very heart of Bath is packed with unmissable architecture, including famous Royal Crescent and The Circus, and is also home to some very special landmarks that have become major tourist attractions in their own right. The obvious attraction to head to first is the Roman Baths, one of the UK’s most popular heritage attractions, which welcomes about a million visitors through its doors every year. You may end up queuing to get in if you visit during peak tourist periods, but if you can get there on a weekday instead, particularly outside of July and August, it tends to be quieter – especially if you arrive early.

Spa in Bath

Rejuvenate and relax in one of Bath’s beautiful spas

Following a huge £5.5 million redevelopment, the site showcases a range of Roman bathing and leisure facilities along with part of the religious complex. Browse displays of Roman and Celtic objects found locally, and see building models and projected images of Roman characters. Tailor-made children’s audio guides help bring the attraction alive for younger visitors, while costumed characters will guide you through Roman ways of life. If you fancy treating yourself, just as the Romans did, to some serious relaxation and pampering, Thermae Bath Spa is famous for its spectacular mineral-rich bathing waters, aromatic steam rooms and pampering treatments. The main spa is the New Royal Bath, which fuses glass, stone, light and water to create a stylish contemporary space with fantastic facilities for relaxation. You can enjoy the beautiful open-air rooftop pool and refuel in the spa’s health-conscious Springs Café Restaurant.

In fact several of the spa packages available at Thermae combine use of the spa facilities and a meal in the Springs Restaurant. Nearby in the elaborate 18th-century Assembly Rooms you can get your fix of high fashion at Bath’s well-respected Fashion Museum, which houses a collection started by Doris Langley Moore and gifted to the city of Bath in 1963. Displays span several centuries, with embroidered gloves and shirts dating from about 1600 being amongst some of the oldest exhibits. More contemporary items include outfits by famous modern designers such as Mary Quant, Alexander McQueen, Donatella Versace, John Bates, Giorgio Armani, John Galliano and Ralph Lauren, amongst many others. And, while you’re there, you can have some fun dressing up in replica Victorian and Georgian costumes for a souvenir photograph.

Since Bath is the only UK destination to have the whole city designated as a World Heritage Site, its historical attractions are a fantastic place to start your sightseeing

Architectural accomplishments

Staying in the city centre, take your pick of other sights perched right on your doorstep: discover the Golden Age of British painting at the Holburne Museum; explore more of Bath’s wonderful architectural heritage at Museum of Bath Architecture; or learn about English novelist Jane Austen’s time in the city at the popular Jane Austen Centre. If the weather is fine, Royal Victoria Park is a green and pleasant picnic spot and it’s also home to the Victoria Falls Adventure Golf. Fun for all ages, this 18 hole course is played over rushing waterways and waterfalls with the stunning Royal Crescent as its backdrop. Alternatively you could wander over to famous Sally Lunn’s Eating House & Museum for your lunchtime refreshments. Housed in one of Bath’s oldest houses, this property showcases the original kitchen used by the legendary Huguenot baker Sally Lunn to create the very first “Bath bun”, which went on to become a famous regional speciality – and which you can still enjoy there today.

Bath City Centre

Just by walking the streets of Bath you will be astounded at the beautiful architecture

If you’re seeking an escape from the crowds of the city, the National Trust Bath Skyline walk offers elevated views over Bath and the Mendips along six miles of way-marked footpaths, through woodland and pretty wild flower meadows. You could stop off along the way at the American Museum & Gardens, housed in the impressive Grade 1-listed Claverton Manor. Those who are walking the National Trust Skyline Walk, or cycling to the American Museum, can have a free hot drink and cookie at the cafe as part of the admission price. Inside you can explore period rooms that showcase American history from around 1690-1860, along with annual exhibitions that cover more recent times. Venturing outdoors, the garden is currently undergoing a major transformation, so some areas may be closed – but visitors can enjoy far-reaching views over the valley of the River Avon, and the Kennet and Avon Canal.

If you love the great outdoors, it is also well worth taking a trip to spectacular Cheddar Gorge, which is just over 20 miles away from central Bath. Britain’s biggest gorge incorporates dramatic 450-foot cliffs and stalactite caverns, offering superb opportunities for rock climbing and caving. While you’re exploring this world-famous Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty look out for herds of wild goats clinging precariously to tiny rock ridges, and visit Gough’s Cave, the mysterious burial place of “Cheddar Man”, once home to horse-hunters. There you can learn about its Ice Age creation, Stone Age occupation, and the Victorian explorers who later discovered its rich past. Amongst the many other attractions at Cheddar Gorge there’s an open-top bus tour to transport you along a dried-up prehistoric riverbed, past the millponds that powered the production of grain and gunpowder until the arrival of steam.

Wookey hole

Explore the fascinating caves at Wookey Hole

Dreamhunters at Cox’s Cave immerses you in a multimedia experience replicating some of the adventures of early man. About 20 minutes’ drive from Cheddar, Wookey Hole Caves is another of the region’s favourite family attractions. It is home to the UK’s largest cave system, which visitors can explore. These impressive limestone caves have been used by humans for around 45,000 years, demonstrated by the discovery of various tools from the Palaeolithic period, along with fossilised animal remains. The attraction incorporates many other fun zones such as the Mystic Fairy Garden, a hand-made paper mill, Pirate Adventure Golf, the Magical Mirror Maze, the Victorian Penny Arcade, Valley of the Dinosaurs, circus shows, and a 4D cinema. Look out for special events throughout the year, such as seasonal Halloween and Christmas-themed parties, and – unveiled in 2018 – the Ice Age Dawn of the Dinosaurs Experience. This uses the latest 4D technology to bring alive the film’s favourite characters: Manny, Ellie and Diego – and to deliver plenty of thrills, chills, and mammoth-sized laughs along the way.

Explore more of Bath’s wonderful architectural heritage at the Museum of Bath Architecture; or learn about English novelist Jane Austen’s time in the city at the popular Jane Austen Centre

Castles and cathedrals

About a 45-minute drive from Bath is the wonderfully compact yet attraction-packed city of Wells, which is home to a lively marketplace, stunning Wells Cathedral, and the neighbouring Bishop’s Palace and Gardens. Widely considered to be one of England’s most beautiful cathedrals, Wells Cathedral incorporates striking architectural features such as the Scissor Arches and historical gems such as the famous Wells Clock, which is the second oldest clock mechanism in Britain. The Bishop’s Palace also has a long and fascinating history, having been home to the Bishops of Bath and Wells for more than 800 years, hosting a varied programme of family events throughout the year. You can explore acres of peaceful gardens, head into the Palace itself, and cross the drawbridge to enjoy a delicious, home-made bite to eat at The Bishop’s Table Café.

Or, for some culture, Cedars Hall is a state-of-the art concert and arts venue located in the beautiful grounds of Wells Cathedral School in the heart of Wells. The Hall is open all year round and hosts a variety of events including classical concerts, comedy, film, jazz and lectures. If the weather is fine and visibility is good during your stay, you can enjoy a fresh perspective on the city and the surrounding area if you book a hot air balloon flight. Check out local companies specialising in offering trips in the area, such as Bath Balloons or Bailey Balloons, and get a bird’s eye view of the gently rolling countryside all around. If, on the other hand, you’re faced with filling rainy days, you could easily bounce away some hours at Better Extreme, Bath Sports & Leisure Centre’s Extreme Trampoline Park. The venue has fun activities for all ages to enjoy, from bouncing across the main jump arena to diving into large foam pits.

For visitors seeking a real adrenaline rush, there are track experience days available at Castle Combe Circuit which aim to offer plenty of thrills and excitement. Less than 20 miles away from Bath, this circuit opened just 18 months after Silverstone, in the summer of 1950 – making it one of the longest-established circuits in the UK. Follow in the footsteps of scores of famous drivers such as Mike Hawthorn, Graham Hill, Jody Scheckter, Alan Jones and Nigel Mansell by getting behind the wheel of a car to embark on a Rally Drive Experience day, or one of their other popular driving experiences. If you fancy a laugh try the Bizarre Bath Comedy Walk, a 90-minute treat which mixes comedy, street theatre and improvisation.

If you’re an animal lover, the Bath area has some excellent, family-friendly attractions that appeal to all ages. A trip to Bath City Farm, where you can meet the many friendly animals, won’t cost you a penny. On a clear day the views over the city are impressive, and you can enjoy a gentle walk through surrounding meadows and woodlands, with a stop off in the woodland play area if you have children. There is also a simple on-site outdoor cafe selling drinks, snacks and basic food if you haven’t packed a picnic.

About a 45-minute drive from Bath is the wonderfully compact yet attraction-packed city of Wells, which is home to a lively marketplace and the stunning Wells Cathedral

Longleat Safari Park

If you’re looking for a full day out with a wider range of animal species, Longleat Safari Park packs in a whole host of wild attractions. On the Safari Drive-through you can brave the Monkey Mayhem and hunt for the resident wolf pack. You can also drive through Lion Country, Tiger Territory, the Deer Park, the Big Game Park, and Cheetah Kingdom. Hop out of your vehicle for a Walking Safari where you can get up close to some of the residents of the African Village. In the Main Square you can explore the Hedge Maze on foot, run wild in the Adventure Castle, see giant otters and Cuban crocodiles, and watch gorillas play. You can jump onboard the miniature railway, visit the bat cave, explore the family farmyard, and enjoy the new Little Explorer’s Garden play area, which is inspired by native wildlife. There is also a new Koala Creek planned for 2019. Longleat House itself transports you back to Elizabethan times through its fine 16th-century architecture.

Meanwhile, its grand rooms and artefacts date from the 16th century all the way through to present day. Heading outside, the immaculately-kept grounds surrounding the house include formal gardens, parkland and pleasure gardens. A shop within the house’s Victorian kitchens is Emma’s Kitchen, where Viscountess Weymouth celebrates more than 400 years of cooking and recipe creation at Longleat with her own selection of delicious treats created using the best local produce – and available for visitors to buy.

Longleat

Visit Longleat Safari Park for a fantastic day out

Stunning National Trust properties within easy reach of Bath include Prior Park Landscape Garden and Dyrham Park. Less than three miles from the city, Prior Park is an 18th-century Palladian house built in Bath Stone, designed by John Wood the Elder in the 1730s and 1740s for entrepreneur and philanthropist Ralph Allen. Perched on a hill overlooking the city, today its landscape garden and beautiful Palladian bridge are the main draw. Set in a sweeping valley, the gardens incorporate a natural play area where children can let off steam climbing trees, balancing on logs and building dens.

There are some lovely pathways to follow and in the autumn you can often spot an impressive range of different types of fungi. Slightly further afield in South Gloucestershire, Dyrham Park is a baroque 17th-century country house set in an ancient deer park near the village of Dyrham, about nine miles from Bath. There’s plenty to keep families occupied here, too, particularly during the school holidays – and you can always enjoy simple pleasures in the gardens such as picnics, hill-rolling and kite-flying. The mansion house itself is also open to the public, offering an enlightening glimpse into life in the 17th century.

With so many award-winning city centre attractions, combined with countless other exciting destinations in the surrounding area, visitors’ main difficulty during their time in Bath will be deciding which places to visit – and which to save for their next visit.


Everything you need to know about Bath

Where to eat in Bath

The best shopping in Bath

The best nightlife in Bath

Your guide to arts and culture in Bath

Image credits: ©1000 Words/Shutterstock.com; Bath Thermae Spa; David Maynard; Pecold/Adobe Stock; Pete Watson Photography/Wookey Hole

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