Soaking Up History in Bath, England

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I definitely have preconceived notions when I hear the phrase “spa town.” I think fancy upscale hotels, plush bath robes, insanely expensive food, and lots of treatments that involve mud.

What I don't necessarily think of is this:

Bath Abbey
Bath Abbey
Pulteney Bridge in Bath
Pulteney Bridge

Bath, England

But Bath, a small town in the southwest of England, IS technically a spa town.

It's just a spa town that was a spa town before health spa breaks were even a thing.

Bath, England

The history of Bath

Bath as a city has a long history that stretches back nearly 2,000 years. Around the year 60 AD, the Romans (who had come to Britain in 43 AD) built the first settlement in the area, known as Aquae Sulis (“the waters of Sulis”).

It was built around a natural hot spring, which had probably been known and used as a shrine to the gods long before the Romans came along.

Because of the naturally-flowing hot water under the ground, it's no surprise that the Romans built a large bath complex here. And it's that complex that helped make the town so desirable.

Roman Baths

Today, Bath is much more than just a spa town, though. People visit because of its parks, its theater scene, and the fact that its Georgian streets earned it a UNESCO World Heritage Site recognition in 1987.

But the Roman Baths in Bath are still the major draw of the city — just for historical reasons instead of practical ones these days.

Visiting the Roman baths in Bath

No visit to Bath can be complete without a visit to said bath complex. It might sound kind of boring from the outside, but it's actually fascinating on the inside. Get an audio guide, and I dare you to spend less than 2 hours exploring.

The bathing complex contained the usual “spa”-type things — hot and cold baths, saunas, etc. But it also included a temple. The temple was actually built first (between 60 and 70 AD), and the rest of the bath complex was gradually built up around it over the next 300 years. (Yes, these are old baths.)

Roman Baths

Today, a visit to the Roman Baths in Bath consists of four main things to see: the Sacred Spring (from which the naturally hot water still bubbles), the Roman Temple, the Roman Bath House, and a museum that holds things that have been found in the complex.

Really cool things to see inside include:

The statues of Roman Emperors that line the upper level of the bath complex.

Roman Baths

A Gorgon's head. (Still not entirely sure why this is so important, but it had a whole room to itself, and DOES look pretty cool.)

Roman Baths

The ancient drain inside the complex (seriously, how amazing were ancient Roman engineers?).

Roman Baths

Curse tablets that have been found — these would be used to (usually) report thefts, asking the goddess Minerva (the Roman equivalent of Sulis) to exact punishment.

Roman Baths

The museum also holds ancient stonework, cookware, and more than 12,000 Roman currency coins, which were probably thrown into the Sacred Spring as offerings to the goddess.

If you visit, though, just remember one thing: these baths are NOT for bathing anymore! The water is a noxious sort of green, and definitely not healthy to touch anymore, let alone bathe in. But it sure does look cool, doesn't it?

Roman Baths

Roman Baths

Other things to do in Bath

While the Bath's are the city's #1 tourist draw, they are far from the only thing to see in Bath.

Other things to do in Bath include:

  • Take in the architecture – Bath's beautiful Georgian architecture earned it a designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Things you definitely need to see include the Royal Crescent, Pulteney Bridge, The Circus, and Bath Abbey. You can also climb the 212 steps to the top of the abbey's tower for some great views out over Bath.

Bath, England

  • Get your Jane Austen on – Bath is also home to The Jane Austen Centre, where exhibits and costumed characters tell the story of Austen's 5 years living in Bath from 1801-06.
  • Eat a famous Sally Lunn bun – These massive, head-sized buns can only be found here in Bath.
  • Enjoy some baths – While you can't soak in the Roman baths any longer, you CAN still “take the waters” in Bath. Check out the Thermae Bath Spa, which is fed by the same natural hot springs that fed the original Roman baths.

Bath tours

Bath is a popular day trip from London, often combined with visits to other famous sites. Some Bath tours to check out include:

Have YOU ever visited Bath? If not, would you like to?

 

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Top things to see in Bath, England

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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17 Comments on “Soaking Up History in Bath, England

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  1. Nice bit of history but a shame the baths can’t be used any more.

      Yeah, you definitely wouldn’t want to jump in that water now! There are all sorts of parasites and nasties in it…

      But there IS another bath/spa nearby that draws from similar thermal water.

    Great pics. The architecture is surprisingly great there. I also highly recommend the park at the top of the hill even though it triggered my allergies. Definitely worth the train trip from London.

      I definitely agree that it’s worth the trip from London. It was much prettier than I expected!

    We were in Bath in July but we never visited the “baths” this visit. We had a hard time justifying the price that they wanted. My mother lived in a village not to far away so I have visited there before many years ago. It is a pretty city but it was way to crowed for our liking. Here is the post from our day there.
    http://www.travelwithkevinandruth.com/2012/07/went-to-bath-and-had-shower.html

      Well if you’re ever back there, you should consider visiting the baths! They are actually really interesting.

    Gorgeous pictures! Bath Abbey is stunning! Coincidentally, I visited Bath in high school after finishing a history project on the Roman Baths, so I spent hours exploring and getting excited over “technical” terms that I recognized like “tepidarium”.

      Haha, I can totally understand getting excited about visiting if you’d just done a history project on the place!

    […] There, I went to the Olympics, caught up with some blogging friends, took day trips to places like Bath and Oxford and Stonehenge, and gave in to my geeky tendencies and went hunting for Harry Potter. It […]

    […] Roman baths that are easily its top tourist attraction (and they ARE truly fascinating), but there’s more to see in Bath than just baths. Roman […]

    I visited Bath in May 2010 and really enjoyed it, although being a Bank Holiday weekend the great British weather was against me! The Roman Baths are definitely worth a visit and I agree that it’s easy to spend hours exploring. I chose the Bill Bryson version of the audio guide because he’s my favourite travel writer. The best part of the baths is how much Roman engineering is still in tact. They really were very advanced people.

      Very advanced indeed – it was amazing to learn about!

    This is my home! I’m glad you enjoyed your visit here.

      Bath is so lovely – must be a nice place to call home!

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