Timeless beauty in the Avon Valley
Bath is a real head-turner – just walking its World Heritage streets can lift your spirits. The photogenic Georgian architecture has a warm, sunny glow, while the sweeping crescents and terraced Circus make your head spin. Its biggest draw, the Roman Baths complex, cleverly makes the most of the city’s ancient foundations, while the words of former resident Jane Austen bring more recent history to life.
Today, Bath remains a centre for wellness, with a modern, multi-level thermal spa that taps into its underground vein of rich mineral waters. Such beautiful surroundings attract creative types and there is a wealth of independent shops, markets and eateries. The surrounding countryside bears quality produce in abundance, so Bath is brimming with semi-rural farm shops, artisanal coffee houses, vegan and vegetarian bistros, contemporary brasseries and gourmet restaurants. In fact, it is one of Britain’s leafiest cities, ringed by wooded hills and split by the River Avon and Kennet & Avon canal.
Hot right now . . .
Natalie Paris, our resident expert, offers her top tips on the hottest things to eat and drink this season.
Cheese-lovers are celebrating the arrival of Comptoir + Cuisine (5 George Street; 0 1225 684733), a French concept store, bistro, café and charcuterie, with a champagne and cocktail den downstairs. This raffish but sumptuous bar is the Bath outpost of London’s Champagne + Fromage. Book a table for classic cocktails, baked camembert and more than 50 types of champagne.
You should also try one of the city's most recent additions to the supper club scene, such as those hosted by Masterchef winner Ping Coombes at the Good Bear Cafe (firstname.lastname@example.org) or perhaps The Second Breakfast Club (email@example.com), which launched at The Curfew pub and offers truly special brunches, including dishes such as gooseberry-cured hake gravadlax.
The ex-Soho House team behind Wiltshire’s The Beckford Arms has opened a branch of Beckford Bottle Shop on Saville Row, which includes a restaurant and lounge. Stocking more than 250 wines, plus beers and spirits, the candlelit tasting rooms also serve small plates and brunch on Sundays. The cheeses and cured meats from the charcuterie counter are all British.
48 hours in . . . Bath
Go early (at 9am or 9.30am in winter) to avoid the crowds when visiting the superb Roman Baths (Stall Street; 01225 477785) and the adjacent remains of the Temple to Sulis Minerva. It’s an interactive experience, with films of actors having a dip or a massage projected onto the walls at various points, plus an audio commentary from Bill Bryson. The view across to the Abbey from above the Great Bath is architecturally splendid.
You can take a closer look at the gothic masterpiece afterwards with a tour up the tower of the Abbey (01225 422462); they take place on the hour and last 50 minutes. Then settle down to lunch at Corkage (5 Chapel Row; 01225 423417), a short walk north of here. An affable, casually-attired sommelier will chat through your wine preferences and pair something delicious with the delectable small plates on offer, such as Dorset crab on toast.
Delight at Bath’s Georgian marvels by approaching (and photographing) the majestic Royal Crescent from Royal Victoria Parkjust beneath it. The museum at No.1 Royal Crescent (01225 428126) takes you back to how the interiors might have looked in a fashionable Bath home in the late 18th-century.
After a look inside, walk to the nearby Circus, with its ring of houses and intriguing stone motifs. The grand Assembly Rooms (Bennett Street) around the corner were favoured by high society. Dance a quick waltz in the ballroom, while listening to a passage from Austen’s Northanger Abbey on the audioguide. Afterwards, dine at the Michelin-starred Olive Tree (4-7 Russel Street; 01225 447928), a smart restaurant in The Queensberry Hotel, serving modern British food crafted from seasonal, local ingredients. Picture the likes of pasta with Hungarian honey truffle or a delicate but delicious plate of Orkney scallops with pink grapefruit granita.
Move on to The Star Inn (23 Vineyards; 01225 425072), an atmospheric old pub a few minutes walk away. Beer here is still served by the jug; one holds four pints of locally brewed Bellringer and costs £15.20. For live music and dancing, take the narrow steps nearby down to Walcot House (90b Walcot Street; 01225 314938), a bar and club open on Friday and Saturdays only, with table service followed by DJs until 3am.
For something more rough and ready midweek, see what’s on at The Bell Inn (103 Walcot Street; 01225 460426), a much-loved stalwart of the city’s music scene that plays everything from blues, to swing and folk, slightly further up the street.
Start the day at one of Bath's many great cafés, such as Darcy's News Café (34 Gay Street; 01225 425308) – a newsagent served sunny side up. Well stocked with reading material, it also offers tempting all-day breakfasts such as eggs on sourdough or French toast, alongside Lavazza coffee and loose leaf teas.
Then strike out from Pulteney Weir across Pulteney Bridge (popping into the odd boutique shop along the way, such as Found, for funky homeware, and The Antique Map Shop) to the Holburne Museum (Great Pulteney Street; 01225 388569), which backs onto Sydney Gardens. The museum houses old masters, porcelain and ornaments. Temporary exhibitions change regularly; next up is a retrospective on George Shaw (Feb 8 - May 6).
If the weather is fine you could cut short your visit and set off along the canal that cuts through Sydney Gardens for an easy, hour-long walk up to Bathwick Fields and back, for views of the city's smartly-laid out terraces and spires. These meadows are part of the National Trust’s Walk to the View and Skyline walks. The circular walk drops back down to the canal and re-enters the city further south.
Stop for lunch on the corner here, at The Green Rocket (1 Pierrepont Street; 01225 420084), a café serving warming, wholesome vegetarian food, such as fried polenta with a tomato and lentil ragu.
Give yourself the afternoon off and indulge, as the Romans once did, in the UK’s only naturally hot spa. Thermae Bath Spa (Hot Bath Street; 01225 331234), a short walk south, has two steam rooms, an ice room, an infra-red sauna and a steaming, show-stopping rooftop pool with views across spires and chimneys to the hills beyond. Try to come midweek when it’s quieter and bring sunglasses if it’s sunny. Spa treatments are also available, including a Watsu water treatment.
Float to dinner afterwards at The Scallop Shell (22 Monmouth Place; 01225 420928), nearby. This upmarket fish and chip restaurant has a buzz about it and offers high-quality seafood alongside the very best catches of the day.
Around the corner is Barton Street Wine Bar (28 Barton Street; 01225 315122) where you can get a cheese board along with some very good wine. A jazz pianist often plays at the end of the week. If the night still feels young, round things off at the Dark Horse (7a Kingsmead Square; 01225 282477), a sultry, subterranean cocktail den, generally open until at least 12.30pm. It serves not one but two Somerset cider brandy cocktails. The Eden, for example, is like biting into a slightly tart apple.
Where to stay . . .
The Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa encompasses two townhouses in Bath's showpiece Georgian crescent, plus a large and beautiful garden and further buildings to the rear. The elegant tone is set by curvaceous staircases overseen by classical busts, lounges with chandeliers and oil paintings, and extravagant suites with elaborate stuccoed ceilings.
Doubles from £236. 16 Royal Crescent; 01225 823333
The owners of No.15 Great Pulteney have blended the original fittings and features of this hotel with some quirky, idiosyncratic and creative touches, from artworks by students at Bath Spa University to hand-blown glass lights, chandeliers made out of earrings and collections of kaleidoscopes.
15 Great Pulteney Street; 01225 807015
Henrietta House is a lovely b&b that occupies a handsome, double-fronted Georgian townhouse. Its bedrooms are furnished with a sprinkling of art and antiques, and have an elegant simplicity that allows the character of the property to sing through. At breakfast, you can look forward to homemade granola, jams, cake, a juice of the day, fruit salad, croissants and an extensive cooked menu.
33 Henrietta Street; 01225 632632
What to bring home . . .
Make your own mothers’ ruin at the Canary Gin Bar (3 Queen Street; 01225 462457). In one of the two-hour masterclasses, you'll create a bespoke bottle after sampling and experimenting with different flavours; reservations are essential. Or just pop in and buy various infusions of Bath Gin.
You can watch glass being blown at the Walcot Street branch of Bath Aqua Glass (105-107 Walcot Street; 01225 428146) and buy a vase, some simple pale blue tumblers or a piece of jewellery afterwards. Glass-blowing and paperweight-making classes are available too.
When to go . . .
If you heed just one piece of advice from this guide, let it be this: stay in Bath Sundays to Thursdays. On those nights, accommodation tends to be much cheaper than on Fridays and Saturdays, and there should be no problem securing a single-night booking – most Bath hotels and b&bs insist on a two-night minimum stay at weekends.
Sunday to Thursday nights are also much quieter – drunken trouble is an all too common issue in the centre of Bath on weekend nights. And lastly, major attractions such as the Roman Baths and Thermae Bath Spa are much less busy on weekdays.
If you do plan to come at a weekend, you may want to avoid a date when Bath Rugby is playing at home (unless, of course, you want to attend a match): the pubs are very busy on match days, though not in a rowdy way. (See fixtures at bathrugby.com.)
In terms of seasons, there’s no bad time. If it’s warm, there are lots of outdoorsy attractions, such as parks, the National Trust’s very enjoyable Bath Skyline walk, river trips, canal strolls and hot air balloon rides. If it’s cold and wet, a good array of museums awaits, along with plenty of snug pubs and cafés to hole up in.
Know before you go . . .
Tourist information: visitbath.co.uk – lots of ideas and deals, and a good 'What’s on' section. The Bath Visitor Information Centre is at Bridgwater House, 2 Terrace Walk, Bath BA1 1LN; open 9.30am-5.30pm Mon-Sat, 10am-4pm Sun.
Where to go
Bath is wonderfully compact. Within the city centre, or a short walk from it, are the must-visit sights and attractions; the Roman Baths, Thermae Bath Spa and the big Georgian set pieces of The Royal Crescent and The Circus. Also in the centre are all of Bath's main shopping areas, a wealth of restaurants, cafés and pubs, and lots of engaging museums. Further afield, the main enticements are other Georgian crescents and, on Bath's southern fringes, walks with fantastic views at Prior Park Landscape Garden and the Bath Skyline Walk.
Since moving to bath, Natalie has spent her time supping coffee in honey-hued cafes, boating on the river and strolling between village pubs – confident to have found the perfect combination of city and country.
Experience Bath with The Telegraph
Telegraph Travel's best hotels, tours and holidays in Bath, tried, tested and recommended by our Bath experts.