The Georgian elite used to flock to Bath for the weekend. I’m definitely not high society stock, but who’s to say we can’t all indulge in a little luxury once in a while? Bath is a shopping, dining and cultural haven, filled with architectural gems, hotels that make you feel like royalty and sights that date back to the Romans. But with culture still thriving here, there are plenty of modern attractions too. I compare the classic with the contemporary, so you can cover every corner of this fascinating city.
City break in Bath | the grand Georgian city with a Bohemian heart
The museum trail to the comedy trail
From a grand cathedral to a bohemian artisan quarter, the classic and contemporary thrive in Bath.
Bath Abbey is one of Bath’s great classic sights. Its soaring spires jut into the city sky like a mini Westminster Abbey, and inside is as beautiful as you’d expect. Look up to take in the glorious fan-vaulted ceiling and chandeliers, and take the Tower Tour to venture above the ceiling and take in the view from the Bell Tower and roof.
Bath is also packed with a great collection of museums. There’s the Holburne Museum, a grand old manor filled with fine art, No. 1 Royal Crescent, which presides over the iconic Royal Crescent and is set up just like an 18th century home, and the Fashion Museum, where you can wander through time in fashion haze, spying everything from fine Georgian gowns to modern dresses worn by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor. But Bath, of course, is Jane Austin territory, so no visit would be complete without seeing the Jane Austen Centre. Not only did I get to learn about her life here, but I also tried on an Austen inspired dress, honed my quill skills and tried some perfume from the era.
That said, The Roman Baths Museum has got to be my favourite classic Bath sight. If not for the fact you can walk in the footsteps of the Romans past the steaming courtyard bath but for the spectacular interiors across the museum. I was also pretty enamoured by the Roman-inspired busts to buy in the gift shop!
Head to London Road and Walcot Street and you’ll find Bath’s Artisan Quarter. This bohemian enclave is my favourite place to browse in Bath. It is filled with antique shops, unique independent stores, galleries stuffed with local art, artisan eateries and lots of street art on the walls.
When I first heard about Bizarre Bath, I knew I had to try it. It’s a comedic take on the traditional walking tour, putting the hysterical in the historical, perhaps taking liberties with the truth and definitely bringing something different to the tourist trail. You’ll be regaled with random anecdotes and facts, with a few magic tricks along the way. Beware though, my face ached after going on this one… especially when someone tried to sneakily join the tour and got a sarcastic ribbing from our host.
Classic countryside manors to modern city pads
The Georgians knew all about luxury, and my favourite hotels in Bath certainly know how to treat a guest.
Bringing the countryside to the city
Pamper yourself like a Georgian royal at the Macdonald Bath Spa. Driving up to this hotel feels as though you’re arriving at a country estate. It’s set slightly on the edge of Bath, but near enough for a wander through Sydney Gardens and into town. You’ll find high-class decor inside, with four-poster beds, plush damasks and silks in the old wing rooms, or chic muted tones and grey marble bathrooms in the newer rooms. The spa is the real draw here though, with an indoor to outdoor pool that is perfectly heated so you can enjoy it whatever the weather.
The Georgian townhouse
Blending Bath’s history with a bit of luxury, the Frances Hotel sprawls across seven Georgian townhouses in the heart of Bath. It stays true to its heritage with playful, neo-Regency decor, think bright furnishings and floors and statement wallpaper. Upstairs, the walls transform as you pass through each townhouse, with blue plaques to tell you about former residents. Bedrooms have statement pieces like ceiling murals of the old city, and bathroom murals of the nearby Roman Baths.
The modern art marvel
It is set in one of Bath’s glorious Georgian townhouses but No 15 Great Pulteney is anything but ancient. This hotel is stuffed with modern art (I loved seeing pieces in the bedrooms from local artists) but there are also interesting artsy features across the hotel, from a chandelier made of dangly earrings to a mini doll’s house that hides your in-room tea service. Each room is uniquely decorated, mine had a table filled with curiosities ranging from old gin miniatures to ink bottles, but there are also modern comforts like a Dyson hairdryer and a Nespresso coffee machine.
The best spa in Bath
The Gainsborough is one of those treat yourself and you won’t regret it kind of places. It’s plush at every turn, with beautiful neo-Georgian rooms painted in calming shades of grey and blue. Upgraded rooms have huge tall windows and high ceilings, pillow menus, Roberts radios, complimentary beer and Nespresso coffee makers. But the real prize here is the Romanesque Spa Village, one of only two places in Bath where you can laze in the healing thermal spa waters. A mighty fine experience it is too, with a setting of grand Roman-style columns, a mosaic floor and glass rooftop.
Foodies flock to Bath
Bath is filled with beautiful buildings that make even the most basic restaurant look fancy. So I’ve tried and tested a few so you know where to head to.
The White Heart
There are some great classic Bath pubs that serve up a relaxed atmosphere alongside some seriously impressive food. The White Heart specialises in healthy dishes and healthy portions, so you can expect plenty of nourishment for a post-meal stroll around town. It also has a beautiful walled garden that’s great for beer sipping in the summer. The Chequers has been a Bath staple since the 1700s, but it’s certainly not about the staple pub grub here. Go for their seven-course tasting menu, I challenge you not to fall in love with the purple broccoli gnocchi and the delicious rum baba. Meanwhile, Malborough Tavern is a Royal Crescent local that serves a great Sunday roast, just make sure you book in advance.
Beckford Bottle Shop
If you’re a fellow cheese fiend and you don’t like having to wait until Christmas for some cheese board action, your first stop in Bath should be the Beckford Bottle Shop. Newly opened but classic in its design, it boasts 250 wines (just ask for a recommendation if, like me, you’re a terrible decision maker) and some very fancy cheese boards filled with figs, nuts and cured meats. There’s also a choice of refined small plates like oysters and black pudding, and a collection of craft ales. Head to the back of the shop to lounge on the huge bright red Chesterfield seating, you’ll want to stay all day.
Clayton’s Kitchen takes on the classics and gives them some oomph. There’s comfort food like venison burgers and posh sausage and mash, or more refined dishes like chicken with truffle risotto and crispy goat’s cheese.
The Scallop Shell
A fresh take on fish and chips comes courtesy of The Scallop Shell. You can order a shellfish plate brimming with lobster, oysters, clams and crabs, or you can delight in garlicky scallops, fresh-out-of-the-sea fish fillets and homemade mushy peas.
When The Ivy cropped up in Bath I knew I had to go and visit. Inside is packed with personality, the decor is colourful, there’s artwork on the walls, tufted leather booths, gold mirrors, and lots of modern Georgian inspired luxuries. Make sure you look up at the ceiling, try the truffle & parmesan chips, and take some time to sit back, listen to the jazz and sip on an Ivy Royale.
Supper clubs are thriving in Bath, The Good Bear and Second Breakfast Club set the tone for some really special events for foodies.
Classic pints to classy wine bars
Traditional Bath boozers are great for a relaxed pint, or you can learn a thing or two about wine in some of the city’s cutting edge bars.
The Star Inn
Quaint and cosy old pub The Star Inn serves oversized jugs of local beer. Each holds four pints, so you’ll definitely be acquainted with the native ale after just one of these. The Bell Inn is another traditional pub that’s popular with the locals, and it’s a great place to catch some live music. Expect to hear everything from jazz and blues to swing and country played here.
The Canary Gin Bar
Gin might be having a modern renaissance, but it’s all about the classic gin bar vibe at The Canary Gin Bar. Tucked down a cobbled street in an old Georgian building, it sits on the ground floor of the distillery that makes the famous Bath Gin. The bar’s Gin Austen menu features delightful cocktails such as the champagne and lychee laden Mrs Peacock, and the refreshing cucumber and green tea infused Reverend Green.
Barton Street Wine Bar
Wine bars are aplenty in Bath, there are almost too many to choose from… Try the Barton Street Wine Bar for a glass of wine and a great breadboard, visit at the end of the week to hear the live jazz pianist. Corkage in Chapel Row is another of my favourites, not only for the wine but the delectable dishes that the staff will help pair with your choice bottle. We gorged on a wild garlic and chorizo infused cod dish, and burrata with wild garlic and ruby jewel tomatoes – the plates here are colourful and yummy.
Walcot House is as swish as they come for a real night out on the town. Open Friday and Saturday nights, they do big room clubbing with a DJ and live music, but there’s also a retro RnB room if, like me, you’re a 90s kid that might’ve listened to a bit too much Usher back in the day…
Make sure you apply for the guest list if you're planning on visiting Walcot House, you don't want to be left outside in the cold as it does get quite popular.
Soaking up the spa waters and soaking up the culture
Who knew you could swim on a rooftop in Bath in October?
Thermae Bath Spa
I was treated to an afternoon at the Thermae Bath Spa for my birthday last year. It was October, you might think that’s not the best time for a trip to an outdoor pool, but you’d be wrong. This steamy natural thermal spa is perfect whatever the weather – there’s nothing like kicking off your terry dressing gown and slippers at lightning speed, rushing through the cold air and landing in a hot pool of healing waters. Make sure you swim to the edge to get the best city views from this rooftop gem. Inside, there’s a series of relaxation rooms, from a Georgian steam room and a Roman steam room to an infrared room, an ice chamber (don’t ask me about that, I wasn’t brave enough) and a Celestial Relaxation Room with twinkling lights. There’s the option to plump for massages and treatments too.
Next up was some more indulgence and a slight sugar rush at the glorious Pump Room. Next to the Roman Baths Museum, it’s a beautiful dining room with a high ceiling, it serves the best cream tea in town and you can eat it while serenaded by the Pump Room trio, a string trio that has been in residence since Georgian times (obviously with a few new members along the way!).
It is perfectly possible to shop until you drop in Bath. It has all the usual high street faves, but I’ve also found some great independent shops here that see me spending all my money and my minutes. Magalleria is a little magazine shop stuffed with indie mags (I’m a serial reader and I always find something new and interesting here). Hay is the reason I first started to get serious and a bit Scandi with my own interiors, and Found is filled with menswear, womenswear and homeware that you won’t find anywhere else in Europe. I can never resist a trip to Anthropologie either, I’m forever buying from them online, but their store in Bath is just dreamy.
See a show for a fraction of the price with a standby ticket. They're on sale from midday at the Theatre Royal.
It's not just the honey-coloured houses that make Bath golden. Every time I go back there's a new restaurant to try, a new bar to drink in and a grand street I've not yet stumbled upon. Go, get lost, find something new, and have your own little love affair with this elegant city.