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Ancient Rome in Georgian Clothing

Planning a visit to Bath, England

When Queen Anne relaxed at the natural hot springs here in 1702, she made the village of Bath fashionable again, but she wasn't exactly blazing new territory. The Romans built the first town here in AD 75, a small spa village centered around a temple to Sulis Minerva—only those wacky Romans would deify a spa experience, mixing the Latin goddess of knowledge Minerva with Sulis, the local Celtic water goddess.

When the Georgians were laying out Britain's most unified cityscape in the 18th century with the help of architects John Wood Sr. and Jr., they also excavated Britain's best-preserved Roman ruins here.

Bath today is a genteel foray into the Georgian world. The highlights include having high tea in the 18th-century Pump Room, perusing Roman remains, and admiring the honey-colored stone architecture that drew in its heyday the likes of Dickens, Thackery, Nelson, Pitt, and Jane Austen. These luminaries enjoyed the fashionable pleasures of a city whose real leader was not a politician but rather the dandy impresario and socialite Beau Nash.

Although doable as a day trip from London, Bath's charms really come out after the day-trippers leave, and savvy travelers plan to stay the night and next morning. Trains to Bath leave from London's Paddington Station at least every hour; the trip takes about 1.5 hours.

The Tourist Information Centre (tel. 0844/847-5257, and is on York Street in the center of town in the Abbey Chambers, on a square off the lower flank of Bath Abbey.

The best introduction to town is to take the free two-hour guided walking tours that leave from outside the Pump Room Sunday to Friday at 10:30am and 2pm (Saturdays just at 10:30am). From May through September there are also walks at 7pm on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday.

What to see in Bath

Bath's top attractions are clustered together on the main square. A spin through the Roman Baths Museum (tel. 01225/477-785, with your digital audio guide in hand will give you an overview of the hot springs from their Celto-Roman inception (the head of Minerva is a highlight) to the 17th/18th-century spa built over them. (A few years ago, the Thermae Bath Spa opened, a brand-new spa that takes advantage of the local waters and offers spa services once again; a two-hour pass costs £22; tel. 01225-331-234

You can't swim in the classically scenic and steaming main pool anymore, but you can drink a cup of its waters (taste: blech!) upstairs in the elegant Pump Room (tel. 01225/444-477). This cafe-restaurant offers one of England's classic afternoon tea services (£15.50), but you can also get a good lunch here, all to the musical accompaniment of a live trio or solo pianist. Lunch is served from noon to 2:30pm, and tea is served from 2:30 to 4:30pm. The museum is open daily, October to March 9:30am to 5pm, April to September 9am to 6pm (9:30pm in August).

While you're waiting for your seating in the Pump Room, head out to the square to examine Bath Abbey (tel. 01225-422-462,, the focal point of Bath's medieval incarnation as a religious center. The 16th-century church is renowned both for the fantastic, scalloped fan vaulting of its ceilings and the odd, carved Jacob's ladders flanking the facade, which were inspired by a dream of the bishop who rebuilt this church on the site of an earlier one. It's open April 13 to October 24 Monday to Saturday 9am to 6pm (4:30pm in winter), Sunday 1 to 2:30pm and 4:30 to 5:30pm. Around to the right you can enter the Heritage Vaults, whose meager displays trace the history both of the abbey, which in some form dates back to the 6th century, and of the city itself.

Aside from its major attractions, Bath in and of itself is a sight. Visit especially the architectural triumphs of The Circus and the Royal Crescent, both up on the north end of town. The latter has a highly recommended Museum of Georgian Life at no. 1 (tel. 01225/428-126,, where the guides will answer all your questions on life during Bath's glory days.

Dining in Bath

One of Bath's best restaurants is The Hole in the Wall (tel. 01225/425-242; closed Sunday,, 16 George St., where the quiet, elegant rooms are reminiscent of a country inn, and the food is a superb variant of Modern British cuisine.

More touristy but better on a budget is the forcibly quaint Sally Lunn's (tel. 01225/461-634,, where the monstrous brioche-like Bath bun was invented in the 17th century. You'll find it at 4 North Parade Passage, reputedly the oldest house in Bath. It's closed Monday at dinner.

Where to stay in Bath

If you can swing the £320-and-up per-double price tag, the place to stay in Bath is bang in the middle of one of the city's architectural triumphs at the Royal Crescent Hotel (16 Royal Crescent; tel. in the United States 888/295-4710, in the United Kingdom toll-free 0800/980-0987 or 01225/823-333, For the admittedly high prices, you do get to live in that restrained Georgian splendor for a few days with a private boat and hot air balloon at your disposal.

Otherwise, the Palladian-style Duke's Hotel (53-54 Great Pulteney St.; tel. 01225/463-512, has a lot more elegance than its £167 to £189 price tag per double lets on.

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This article was last updated in May 2007. All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2010 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.