Originally built centuries ago by the Romans as a spa / bath retreat, Bath is still 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. (I tested this theory. They don’t!)
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 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.
The 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.” There’s also a museum that contains 600 oil paintings and over 5,000 pieces of art of other mediums. (And, like all national museums in England, entrance is free though it costs 4 GBP to see the large exhibitions!)
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.
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.
How to get to Bath
For a day trip, trains run from London take around 90 minutes and all day, every day. Round trip fare starts at 57.50 GBP. Buses take about 2 1/2 hours or so and cost between 7-21 GBP. Take the bus. It’s super cheap, especially when you book far in advance. If you are coming from Bath TO London, take the train as traffic into the city is a pain the butt and not worth the extra savings! You’re going to get stuck and delayed!
How to visit the Roman Baths in Bath
The Roman Baths are right in the center of Bath on Stall street. The entrance is in Abbey Church Yard. Opening hours are from 9:30-5pm (January 1-February 28 and November 1-December 31), 9am-5pm (March 1-June 15 and September 1-October 31), 9am-9pm (June 16-August 31). It costs 16.50 GBP for adults. Go during the morning before all the tour groups arrive!
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Note: This article was originally published in 2008.