Beyond London: A guide to summer in Bath

Pulteney weir, Bath © Billy Stock / Shutterstock

Pulteney weir, Bath © Billy Stock / Shutterstock

Home to Roman bathhouses and sweeping Georgian crescents, stately Bath is arguably the most beautiful small city in Britain. An easy side trip from London, it’s the site of the country’s only hot springs, and has retained its position as a fashionable spa town for hundreds of years.

Summer is the perfect time to visit Bath. The days are long, opening times are extended, and the splendid honey-hued skyline positively glimmers in the late evening sun. Spend your time exploring the pale gold streets and leafy parks, cycling the canal path, or puttering along the Avon in search of the ultimate riverside pub. Whether you’re here for a few hours or a few days, our guide to summer in Bath will help you discover the best things to see and do.

City highlights

Georgian architecture, Bath © kudrik / Shutterstock

Georgian architecture, Bath © kudrik / Shutterstock

The compelling mix of Roman history and Georgian elegance make up much of Bath’s appeal. All of the major highlights lie in close proximity to one another, so it’s easy to explore this compact city on foot, by public transport or on a guided tour. Even on the shortest of trips, you should be able to squeeze in all the major highlights below.

  • The Roman Baths: This World Heritage Site is one of the UK’s premier tourist attractions at any time of year, but during the summer its special Torchlight Evenings are not to be missed. Every night until 31 August, flaming torches illuminate the ancient stone walkways surrounding the Great Bath, casting the entire spa complex in a magical amber glow. Alternatively, visit during the daytime for some extra curricular family activities on offer throughout the school summer holidays. Next door is the Pump Room, a capacious dining salon once the premier gathering place of polite Georgian society. Visit in the morning for a cup of tea and traditional Bath bun.
  • Georgian grandeur: The simplest way to experience Bath’s impressive 18th-century architecture is by taking a self-guided walking tour of all the central highlights, from the golden terraced townhouses of Royal Crescent and the Circus to Queen Square, Guildhall, Pulteney Bridge and the Assembly Rooms. Several companies provide themed guided tours for different interests, or you can take an open top bus tour for a different perspective.
  • Jane Austen’s Bath: Home of the author from 1801–1806, Jane Austen set two of her novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, in Bath. This year marks the 200th anniversary of her death, and her place in Bath’s history is celebrated each year at the annual Jane Austen Festival (8-17 September). This summer’s highlights include acclaimed 20-minute performances of Pride and Prejudice by the Aadvark Theatre Company and a Regency costumed masked ball at the Roman Baths. You can also visit the Jane Austen Centre for an insight into the author’s time in Bath and the Regency lifestyle that inspired her work.
  • Thermae Bath Spa: Since opening in 2006, Thermae Bath Spa has become one of the city’s most popular attractions. The only hot springs spa in the UK features an open-air rooftop pool with panoramic views; the curving, indoor Minerva Pool, and – new for this summer – a wellness suite offering different sensory experiences, including an ice chamber, two steam rooms, and an infrared sauna.

Green spaces and parks

Royal Crescent, Bath © chrisdorney / Shutterstock

Royal Crescent, Bath © chrisdorney / Shutterstock

This summer, celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Royal Crescent with a bring-your-own picnic on the lower lawn. This free family event on Saturday 29 July offers a rare opportunity to enjoy the view without any cars, along with Georgian ice creams, costumed characters and performances from the Natural Theatre Company. Combine with a visit to the No.1 Royal Crescent museum, where you can explore what life was like in a grand Georgian house.

Featuring a packed calendar of events all summer long, Royal Victoria Park is Bath’s most popular green space and is home to several family friendly attractions including duck ponds, a play area, a skate park, BBQ areas, crazy golf and the Great Dell Aerial Walkway. Floating above the Great Dell sunken woodland area, this elevated walkway provides scenic views of the surrounding area, and is moments from the Botanical Gardens.

For higher altitude views, walk from Bath Spa railway station via Jacob’s Ladder steps to Alexandra Park which lies above Beechen Cliff to the south. It’s a bit of a climb, but well worth it. Further north, Sydney Gardens are one of the country’s last remaining 18th-century pleasure gardens and a great spot for a picnic beside the Kennet and Avon Canal, which runs through the park.

Active outdoor adventures

The Kennet and Avon Canal towpath © 1000 Words / Shutterstock

The Kennet and Avon Canal towpath © 1000 Words / Shutterstock

Nothing says summer like the sight of a hot air balloon drifting across a cloudless blue sky. Several companies operate balloon flights from the launch site in Royal Victoria Park, offering bird’s eye views of the city’s Georgian core, as well as the surrounding Somerset and Wiltshire countryside and the idyllic villages of Lacock and Castle Combe.

Hiring a bike is one of the best ways to explore Bath in the summer. While the city itself is surrounded by hills, the entirely flat routes of the Kennet and Avon Canal towpath, the Two Tunnels Greenway and the Bristol to Bath Cycle Path make cycling a breeze. Sign up to Nextbike and pick up your bike from one of the 14 docking stations around the city.

With both a river and a canal, Bath locals are unsurprisingly keen on boating. If you want to join in, you’ve a number of options including narrowboat hire for day trips; daily river cruises departing from Broad Quay or Pulteney weir, or a selection of sedate vessels at Bath Boating Station, including skiffs, punts and canoes.

For a high octane adventure, head slightly further afield to Castle Combe Circuit where you can enjoy an adrenaline-soaked driving experience in a Lotus Elise or sit beside a professional racing driver for a white knuckle ride in a Ferrari 360. If you’d rather be out on the open roads, Vintage Classics in nearby Melksham rent out a range of retro classic cars, including Aston Martins, E-type Jaguars, Triumph Stags, and a convertible Morris Minor.

Al fresco dining and drinking

Bath is so attractive, it almost feels wrong to spend any time indoors, especially in summer. Fortunately, the city is littered with al fresco eating and drinking spots, so you can still soak up its mellow Georgian vibe in your downtime.

Set in a former auction house, stylish gastropub Hall & Woodhouse features the city’s only rooftop bar. Offering intimate views of tall sash windows and chimney pots, it’s the ideal hangout for an early evening Aperol spritz or a pint of the homegrown Badger ale. Just around the corner on George Street is trendy cocktail cellar bar Sub13, whose new Perrier-Jouët Champagne bar forms part of their already lovely courtyard. Alternatively, head to one of Bath’s cracking pub gardens and make the most of the long summer evenings. Try the always bustling Boater beside Pulteney Bridge; the city centre Bath Brew House with its large bunting-bedecked terrace, or the lush riverside garden of Bathampton Mill, a 40-minute walk away along the Kennet and Avon Canal towpath.

For a memorable dining experience, bag yourself a balcony table at Bathwick Boatman Riverside, whose location above the old boating station can’t be beat. A 15-minute stroll from the city centre, on the opposite bank of the River Avon, the casual restaurant serves a down to earth, raved-about menu defined by its commitment to farm-reared, free-range and locally grown ingredients. Alternatively, central al fresco options for coffee, light bites and casual lunches include the colonnaded Roman Baths Kitchen, and the various eateries within the cobbled courtyard of Milsom Place; a high-end shopping and dining destination in the heart of the city.

Finally, for something truly grand, book afternoon tea on the terrace at the 18th-century Ston Easton Park hotel. Set 10 miles southwest of the city centre, this Palladian country house is set in 36 acres of landscaped parkland and offers fine views for miles around.

Essentials

The historic city of Bath lies around 115 miles due west of London, and is easily reached via a 90-minute train journey from London Paddington or a straightforward two and a half hour drive along the M4 motorway. It’s surrounded by quintessentially English countryside, including the southern Cotswolds and the Mendip Hills, both designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. For more information, visit the official tourism website at Visit Bath.

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