48 hours in: Bath
The Roman Baths are at the heart of this Unesco World Heritage city, which also boasts genteel parks and a boutique shopping area. Charlotte Hindle dips her toes into its cultural waters
Saturday 20 June 2009
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WHY GO NOW?
The heroine of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey says: "Oh, who can ever be tired of Bath?" She was right; there's always something happening in this Unesco World Heritage city. Throughout July and August, the Roman Baths (1) (01225 477785; romanbaths. co.uk), the city's hottest tourist attraction, will stay open until 10pm (last admission 9pm). Visitors are invited to tread its 2,000-year-old pavements by torch light.
Driving and parking in Bath is complicated and frustrating. Direct trains run to Bath Spa station (2) from London Paddington, London Waterloo, the south coast, western England and south Wales. From many other stations, you can change at Bristol Temple Meads, Didcot Parkway or Reading; call 08457 484950 or nationalrail.co.uk for schedules and fares
Bristol is the nearest airport, with flights from Aberdeen, Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Leeds-Bradford, Manchester, Newcastle, Newquay and Plymouth. Buses run from the airport to Bristol Temple Meads train station, where you can connect with trains to Bath Spa.
GET YOUR BEARINGS
The station (2) marks the southern end of the city centre. A short walk north along Manvers Street brings you to the Abbey (3), whose towers dominate the skyline. The tourist information centre (4) (0906 7112000; visitbath.co.uk) is just south; in summer, it opens from 9.30am-6pm daily, except Sundays (10am-4pm). Just to the west are the Roman Baths (1) and Pump Room (5)
To the west, the main shopping street goes under a series of names – Southgate, Stall Street, Union Street and Milsom Street – as it threads northward to the top of town. A short way further west is Bath's expansive Royal Victoria Park and the Georgian masterpieces of the Circus (6) and Royal Crescent (7).
For a taste of Georgian splendour, The Royal Crescent Hotel (7) (01225 823333; royalcrescent.co.uk) charges between £195 and £330 for a double room, including breakfast and use of the spa. Closer to the city is another Georgian option: the Travelodge (8) at 1 York Buildings, George Street (0871 9846219; travelodge. co.uk) costs between £60 and £95 room-only. In a leafy square in the centre of Bath, the Three Abbey Green guest house (9) (01225 428558; threeabbey green.co.uk) has double rooms for between £105 and £135, including breakfast.
TAKE A VIEW
Bath is surrounded by seven hills – which apparently made the Romans feel homesick. To see all seven, plus unrivalled panoramic views of the city, climb Bath Abbey's tower (3). Guided tours run on the hour every hour from Monday to Friday 10am-4pm (10am-5pm on Saturdays) and cost £5. There are 212 steps, and at the top you can see the Abbey's 10 bells and sit inside its clock face.
TAKE A HIKE
From the tourist information centre (4), walk east along North Parade Passage towards the open space known indelicately as Bog Island, with Parade Gardens (10) adjacent. Go east across North Parade Bridge (11), taking in the chocolate-box image to your left of Bath weir and Pulteney Bridge (12) – inspired by the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. On the far side of the bridge, go down the steps inside the north tower and walk along the river past the rugby ground. You won't get lost in the Beazer Garden Maze (13) because it is marked out in paving and has no hedges, but you can see a mosaic of the sun god, Sul, in the middle.
Beside the Riverside Café (14), climb another set of steps to Pulteney Bridge (12). Pause to enjoy the majestic thoroughfare of Great Pulteney Street towards the Holburne Museum (15); then turn left to walk over the bridge. At the end turn right, before taking the left-hand fork up Broad Street between the old Post Office (now a branch of Jigsaw) and the church. At number 8 is the Bath Postal Museum (16) (01225 460333; bathpostal museum.co.uk), where the first postage stamps were dispatched in 1840; it opens 11am-5pm daily except Sunday, admission £3.50. At the top of Broad Street, turn left on to George Street and cross at the lights to walk up Bartlett Street, passing antique shops. Turn left into Alfred Street to visit the Assembly Rooms (17), which includes the Fashion Museum. It opens 10.30am-6pm daily in summer, admission £7 to the museum – or £14.50 if you buy a combined ticket with the Roman Baths.
LUNCH ON THE RUN
Bath's oldest surviving house, built in 1482, is 4 North Parade Passage (18) – home to Sally Lunn's, a restaurant specialising in the bun of the same name, a French brioche that was all the rage in Georgian days. It opens 10am-10pm daily (Sundays from 11am). In the arch of Pulteney Bridge, overlooking Bath's multi-tiered weir, is the Riverside Café (14), with tables inside and out. A new addition is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Canteen (19) on Westgate Street, beside the live music and cabaret venue Komedia. It is open from 7.30am and is popular for breakfast too.
The city's steaming soul is the Roman Baths (1), where water heated to 46C gushes from the earth, and the Roman remains of Aquae Sulis are revealed. It opens 9am-10pm daily in July and August (until 5pm from September); admission £11 (£14.50 for a combined entry ticket to the Fashion Museum). A tour of the baths ends in the Pump Room (5), a Georgian social club, where you can buy a glass of the mineral-packed spa water. If metallic mouthwash is not to your taste, order tea and a Bath bun in the Tea Room. For more 18th-century magnificence, visit No 1 Royal Crescent (20) (01225 428126; bath-preservation-trust. org.uk), the first house built by John Wood the Younger in the crescent; open 10.30am-5pm daily except Monday, £5.
To the east of Union Street is a diverse collection of shops in a cluster of olde-worlde passages: the main one is The Corridor (21), but don't miss Northumberland Place or Union Passage. Bath's "artisan area" is Walcot Street (22) where you'll find Harvest, a vegetarian whole food shop, Walcot Reclamation Architectural Antiques, and a milliners called The British Hatter.
In the cellars under the high pavement of George Street is Sub 13 (23), serving good beer and wine plus snacks. Above ground and closer to the city centre in Queen Street is The Raven pub (24), a family-owned freehouse with a wide range of real ales and international wines.
DINING WITH THE LOCALS
For fine French cuisine, head for one of Bath's oldest restaurants, the Beaujolais Bistro Bar (25) at 5 Chapel Row (01225 423417). Beautifully sited between the Royal Crescent and the Circus is Circus Restaurant (26) at 34 Brock Street (01225 466020). Dinner for two in both costs around £75. For a slice of history, try the Italian chain-restaurant Strada (27) (01225 337753), which occupies the former house of Richard "Beau" Nash, Bath's Georgian Master of Ceremonies, in Saw Close.
SUNDAY MORNING: OUT TO BRUNCH
Jamie's Italian (28) at 10 Milsom Place, a new boutique-style shopping area, was one of the first opened by the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver (01225 510051; jamieoliver. com/italian/bath). The website gives the impression it is closed in the mornings; in fact, at weekends it opens at 9am for breakfast (also Fridays from 10am). Try the grilled Portobello mushrooms and parmesan for £4.25 or the porridge with Tuscan honey and nuts for £3.75.
A WALK IN THE PARK
One reason Jane Austen didn't like Bath was it lacked a park. That was rectified in 1830 when Royal Victoria Park opened. However, in summer the Parade Gardens (10), close to Pulteney Weir, is a fine place to sit or stroll. On summer Sundays, local bands play in its old-fashioned bandstand at 3pm. Admission is £1.
TAKE A RIDE
Adjacent to Parade Gardens (10) are the open-topped City Sightseeing buses (01225 444102; city-sightseeing.com). There are two 45-minute routes: the City Tour (9.40am-6pm, every six-12 minutes) and the Skyline Tour (10.30am-5.30pm, every 20 minutes). An £11 ticket allows you to travel on both routes, hopping on and off as you wish, in 24 hours.
SUNDAY AFTERNOON: GO TO CHURCH
The 15th-century Abbey (4) rises from the ruins of a Norman predecessor and dominates the city skyline. On Sundays, non-worshippers are allowed in from 1-2.30pm and 4.30-5.30pm. For worshippers, the main Sunday service starts at 9.15am; Monday to Saturday, you can also visit the Bath Abbey Heritage Vaults, open from 10am-3.30pm.
WRITE A POSTCARD
Even if you don't stay at the Royal Crescent Hotel (7), order a pot of tea there and relax in the manicured gardens, a Georgian haven of peace and tranquillity.
ICING ON THE CAKE
Thermae Bath Spa (29) in Bath Street (0844 888 0844; thermaebathspa.com) offers visitors the chance to emulate the Romans and Georgians by taking the waters. It opens from 9am-10pm daily; a two-hour spa session costs £22, allowing access to steam rooms, waterfall shower and the roof-top, open-air swimming pool – the ideal place to unwind.
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