Visiting the Roman Baths in Bath

By Nomadic Matt | Published July 31st, 2008

Roman bath in Bath on a sunny summer dayBuilt centuries ago by the Romans, Bath is one of the most beautiful, historic, and visited cities in England.

The Romans came here when they invaded Britain because of the hot springs that bubble up from the earth. The local people thought this place had spiritual significance, and when the Romans came, they felt the same and dedicated this site to Minerva, the goddess of wisdom. Despite being on the edge of the frontier, the city grew to become a major religious and cultural center. People came from all around to pray to Minerva and use the baths, which they believed had special healing powers.

After the Roman Empire crumbled, so too did the baths of Bath. Over the centuries, the Roman structure collapsed and the city was built over them. Medieval leaders eventually constructed their own baths, and pilgrims came to the hot springs in order to be healed of various ailments. Time and construction hid the original Roman structure, a new spa was constructed nearby, and life in Bath went on.

In the early 19th century, the owners of the house on top of the original baths hired a crew to find the source of water leaks and stumbled upon the ancient structure. Subsequent digging revealed the whole complex, and soon excavations were underway to unearth this historic treasure. Today, most of the structure has been unearthed, though archaeologists suspect there are still a few more buildings in the area.

The arches doorways of the Roman Baths with green water

The ancient Roman baths are inspiring. Since the city is built on top of them, you enter from street level, where a terrace lets you look down into the baths, which are over six feet below the ground. The preservation techniques employed here are excellent, and this is one of the best-preserved Roman sites I’ve ever seen.

People eating in the town of BathThe audio tour, which is narrated by famed travel writer Bill Bryson, gives an amazing level of detail and information. The displays do a wonderful job of explaining the history of Bath, the Roman occupation, the significance behind all the artifacts, and the excavation process. I always hate walking away from historic sites with questions, but Bath’s displays and audio tour are so complete that I had none.

I’m always amazed by Roman engineering, especially their sewer and aqueduct system. It’s amazing that a people primitive in so many ways could build piping, heating, and sewer systems that were so complex. The history geek in me finds it all fascinating.

The city’s allure isn’t just the Roman baths, though, but also the historic abbey, where famed philosopher Thomas Malthus is entombed. Plus, the town is beautiful, and most of the buildings are as they appeared a few centuries ago. I don’t know what architectural style they’re built in, but if I had to guess, I’d say “pretty.”

One of the real highlights for me was the river in town. Parks line the Avon River, and people lounge out with picnics as the famous Pulteney Bridge overlooks a little cascade in the river. The bridge is covered with shops and reminded me of the covered bridges in Florence.

Black and white photo of the Bath Bridge in England

Salisbury is still the most beautiful city I’ve seen in England, but Bath is a close runner-up.

All over England, people kept telling me, “Ohh, you’ll like Bath. It’s really nice.” They were right. The only thing I didn’t like was my camera battery dying halfway through my trip, leaving me far short of all the pictures I would have taken. Bath is a real gem.

For more information on traveling in England, visit my page on backpacking Europe or my guide to England.

comments 14 Comments

Bath is indeed beautiful – and the architectural style that dominates is Georgian (i.e. built during the reigns of Kings George I-IV, from 1740 to 1820) – and yes, it is some of the finest British architecture

Love the picture on the homepage! But enough with England already and how great it is. You’re making me want to go, and it’s not on my current list of places I need to go/get back to!

I spent a weekend in that area and loved it and the bonus was it didn’t rain!

Beautiful photos as well!

Aahh…my favourite British city and a great description of its superb baths. I think the architecture is called Georgian (18th century) but most impressive is that hasn’t really been compromised to create such a “pretty” architecture.

Great piece. The history geek in me wants to see it. You’re giving me great ideas for my 2009 UK Trip.

wow..I feel like the old English novels are coming alive..I can imagine all the characters I have grown up reading..my reason to visit UK among other things is to do a literary tour ..

Alina Popescu

These are actually the first photos of Bath I see. I read about it in fictions books and in tourism books, but I actually never got to see what it looked like. It’s nice to read a genuine atmosphere description for a change :)

romans are really fascinating they build great structures that we admire today…

Debo Hobo

You have been to so many wonderful places! Great photos:)

I always enjoy stopping by here. Either I learn about a place I haven’t yet visited or I get to take a trip through my own memories.

I once spent a day in Bath visiting a friend who lives there. I wish I’d been able to stay longer and explore more.

I didn’t realize Bill Bryson narrated the audio tour. Perhaps they’ve changed it since we were there, or else we were trying to do the audio tour so quickly that we didn’t notice who was narrating.

Wonderful description and great photos. :)

NomadicMatt

@geoff: thanks for the info!!

@theresa: thanks! :) You should go to the UK

@quickroute: awesome!

@lola: thanks!

@mark: it is very nice!

@alison: glad you enjoyed

@steve: I’m a history geek too

@lakshimi: glad i can help!

@tp: they sure did! I am fascinated by them wherever I go.

@debo: thank you for the kind compliment!

@robin: thanks for the kind words. The audio tour gives you a reason to go back!

Hey if you’re headed to Florence or Berlin (plus more to come) you might want to check out the audio tours at noambit.com. Mp3 tours are a great way to save money and avoid the limitations a guided tour can bring.

I LOOVED Bath, and though I went to Salisbury as well and Stonehenge and many other little towns in England outside London…Bath ended up being my favorite because of the fusion of English and Roman culture and architecture. I adored the feel of the city and it very much appealed to the history geek in me as well!!

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