Last updated on April 15th, 2016
Bath, England, has the ability to charm you from the very second you arrive and engulf you with its vast history, so that you never want to leave. However, limited vacation time and the desire to see as much of south west England as possible will likely have you skipping in and out of this terrific city in a short 2 days. That’s okay, because we’ve got a plan for how to spend 2 days in Bath wisely to get the most out of your time in the city.
How to get there
Driving from one of the nearby airports is the most convenient way to get to Bath. We rented a car at Heathrow. It’s less than a 2-hour drive from there. There’s also an International airport in Bristol, which is within 30-minutes drive of Bath. Parking is available in a number of public lots around the city, though during the busiest times of the year, it might be difficult to find a spot.
If you’d rather not drive, there are direct trains that run from London and nearby cities into Bath (some involve switching trains in Bristol). From Paddington Station to Bath Spa station, the journey is only an hour and a half.
Tip: Pick up Bath’s Official Visitor Card for #3 and take advantage of discounts and offers (like 10-15% off and two-for-one deals) at a number of area businesses, including restaurants, activities and shopping.
Day One – Arrive by 10am
The Roman Baths – 1.5 – 2 hrs
I’ve seen dozens of pictures of The Roman Baths and have always wanted to see it in person, so the very first thing to do is take a self-guided tour through The Roman Baths. It’s not as important during the low season to arrive first thing, but during the busy summer months (June-August), it’s imperative to avoid the queue). Once you purchase your ticket, you’ll be given a headset, which is very informative and easy to use. All along the way there are numbers posted on the wall that indicate when information is available. You press the number into the headset and listen. This leaves it up to you how much time to spend seeing the baths. You could easily spend four hours if you listened to everything. We spent about two hours, skipping around and only listening to about half of the commentary along the way.
The Pump Room – 1+ hr
The experience at the Roman Baths are not complete without visiting The Pump Room, next door, for lunch or afternoon tea. Because of this fact, there is always a line to get in and reservations are an absolute must – however, they only take them Monday-Friday. The Pump Room, built in the 18th century, was originally used as a social gathering place and meeting room. It’s a large Victorian building with an open dining space, always filled with tables of guests enjoying a meal.
Afternoon tea is a specialty at The Pump Room. All of the expected delights of afternoon tea are included – scones with clotted cream and jam, mini sandwiches, and a really impressive array of cakes and pastries for dessert. They have an extensive menu of teas to choose from, as well. While it seems like just a typical afternoon tea, it’s so much more than that given the historical significance of the building. You can almost transport yourself back in time and feel how it must have been in the 18th century.
City Walking Tour – 2 hrs
Our first priority is to get the lay of the land. In Bath, we accomplished this by booking a private walking tour of the city with Sulis Guides. They provide tailor-made car and walking tours of the city and surrounding areas, and can put together just about any kind of tour you might be interested in. On their website, you’ll find a listing of what they specialize in. Our guide, Nick, was extremely knowledgeable about the city and filled us up with historical information, as well as pointing out where to eat and drink. The city is very walkable, so a 2-hour tour is the perfect way to get oriented.
Tip: There is a package deal you can buy that gives entry in to The Roman Baths, a 2-hour session at the Thermae Bath Spa and lunch or afternoon tea at The Pump Room for a discounted price.
Time For Beer – 2 beers, 1 hr
Now that you’ve been walking around for a few hours, it’s time for a liquid break, and a chance to try some of the local beers and ciders. A local brewery, Bath Ales, owns a number of pubs in Bath and Bristol, one of which is located just off Queen Square, called The Salamander. The pub is cozy, with wooden floors and bench seating. Get there during happy hour or later and you might find standing-room only, but it’s worth it for the atmosphere and the beer. If you’re hungry, there’s also an upstairs restaurant that serves a fantastic plate of fish and chips, big bowls of steamy mussels and one incredible looking burger.
On tap were a number of Bath Ales beers, as well as a few others, and a cider or two. The only difficult decision is which to order first. I had a stout called Dark Side, which is a dark beer with a smooth roasted barley taste. Nick had an IPA from Beerd Brewery – not as hoppy as the beers we’re used to from the Pacific Northwest (hops country), but a good beer, nonetheless. One of their most popular beers is Gem, a hoppy, malty beer.
Bath Street – 1 hr
After your beer, you’ll probably want to walk around a bit to burn off some energy (aka calories). Bath Street is the perfect remedy. It’s a pedestrian street full of big name stores and local shops. Even if you’re not interested in doing any shopping, it’s a fun walk and a great way to see a bit of the scene going on in Bath.
Dinner at The Circus – 1.5 hr
Last stop of the day is dinner at a charming, local favorite, The Circus Restaurant, located in a Victorian building, between The Circus and The Royal Crescent. Reservations are required here due to its stature as one of Bath’s most beloved family-owned restaurants. The main level space is small and cozy, with bench seats in the windows and a table next to the fireplace. The menu focuses on seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients, with so many great options that it’s hard to decide what to order. Whatever you choose is a good decision.
For dinner, we ordered the Wiltshire lamb and a steak with a delicious Cafe de Paris butter that I felt I could spoon directly into my mouth without reserve. Everything we ate was fantastic, but for me the star of the meal was dessert. Because of my fascination with the ingredients, I ordered a black olive chocolate mousse with a rosemary cracker. It was incredible.
No. 1 Royal Crescent – 1 hr
The first stop of the day is No. 1 Royal Crescent. It’s a museum, but it’s actually a house – the first house to be built in the Royal Crescent, which contains 30 such houses ans was designed by John Wood, a famous architect of the area, with a Palladian design. It showcases what the place would have looked like in the late 1700s, with historic furniture, paintings and household objects. The entry cost is only £10 to explore 9 rooms of the house and the outdoor courtyard. It’s a great way to spend an hour in the morning. They open at 10:30am, except on Mondays, when they open instead at noon. Last entry is at 4:30pm.
Tip: If you’re planning to visit the museums, grab a Museum Saver ticket, which includes the Fashion Museum, Roman Baths and Victoria Art Gallery and visit three great museums during your stay. Tickets are valid for 14 days.
Victoria Art Gallery & Fashion Museum – 1 hr
Next is a stop at The Victoria Art Gallery. We typically don’t spend much time at art galleries, so it’s understandable if you skip this stop, but entrance is free (£4 to visit the large exhibits) and it’s a good place to step in to warm up or cool down (depending on the season). The gallery features new and old works from famous artists, ceramics and glass artworks. There’s also a gift shop to browse and a cafe located in the back where you can grab a coffee and relax for a moment. While you’re there, you can also browse the 18th-century Assembly rooms.
Attached to the Victoria Art Gallery is the Fashion Museum. This museum displays fashion and dress, both modern and historical. There are even hands-on activities where you can dress up in period attire.
Jamie’s Italian – 1.5 hr
You can grab a quick lunch if you want to pack in as much as possible, but I recommend sitting down for a satisfying lunch at Jamie’s Italian bistro in Milsom Place, owned by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. It opens at noon and has a rustic Italian menu with an antipasto bar and a rooftop terrace. They even have a lunch special that’s pretty hard to beat.
The bonus is that Milsom Place is a great little shopping center, with interesting little cafes, bars and shops to explore. One cafe there also brews their own line of beers and has about 6 on tap to try. It’s called Colonna & Hunter. Definitely worth a stop before or after lunch.
Pulteney Bridge and Bath Market – 1.5 hr
One of the most famous icons of the city of Bath is Pulteney Bridge, which crosses the River Avon. All along the bridge are shops and cafes to explore. It can be a very busy spot in the summer months. Just across the street from the bridge is a collection of shops, called Bath Markets. Inside, you’ll find some food vendors, like Nibbles Cheese – a tiny shop packed full of gourmet cheese and wine – plus a few other food stalls, along with crafts and local products.
Thermae Bath Spa – 3 hrs
You’ve been walking around the city center for two days now, so you’ve obviously noticed the Thermae Bath Spa, situated in the center, just a few steps from The Roman Baths. There is a rooftop thermal pool surrounded by glass that is hard not to notice, as the steam rises into the space around it. This is a fantastic way to unwind and give yourself a break from walking and exploring. Thermae Bath Spa operates in 2-hour increments, so you buy a session and can explore the two thermal pools, the saunas, and the cafe. You can also book a treatment, like a massage or a body wrap. Soaking in the warm water on the rooftop during a chilly day cannot be surpassed. There is just nothing else I’d rather be doing with my time. (3 hrs)
Where to Stay
There are a number of great affordable luxury options in the city, so finding what suits your preference shouldn’t be difficult.
I highly recommend the laidback and friendly Brooks Guesthouse, located very near to The Royal Crescent, and only a short walk to the center of the city.
Bath is relatively compact, so getting around on foot. Brooks Guesthouse has everything you’ll need, including access to an honor-system minibar stocked with liquor, beer and soda, free wi-fi, breakfast included, and a comfortable living room space to relax in after a day of sightseeing. The room is small, but is designed well with upscale decor and bathroom fixtures. What I liked most of all was the feeling of coming home instead of to a hotel. It’s warm and cozy.
On the other side of the city is Francis Hotel, a lovely Regency-style townhouse hotel in the MGallery by Sofitel collection. Another option, if you’re leaning more toward the luxury side of the equation is The Royal Crescent Hotel, located in the very center of the famous Royal Crescent, which is currently filled with really expensive private homes. The building is Victorian and really stunning.
If You Have a Few More Days
There are so many more places we want to recommend, but that would really only be feasible if you have a few extra days to spend. I won’t go into detail on these, but will list them out in case you have time.
Things to Do:
- The Bertinet Kitchen Cookery School
- Margaret’s Buildings shopping street
Where to Eat:
- Marlborough Tavern – relaxed pub with good food
- Woods Restaurant
- The Raven – Good beer list!
- The Scallop Shell – Best fish & chips in the city
- The Stable – casual pizza place with many beers and ciders.
(As always, all thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are my own honest reflection on our travel experiences.)