The exquisite city of Bath, home to ancient Roman baths and graceful Palladian architecture, is a perfect day-trip from London. We’ve prepared a little primer for you on how to get there, what to see there — and the mysteries of pronouncing its plain-Jane name.
What on earth are we on about? Well, try saying the name of the place out aloud. Ready now: ‘Bath’… How did it sound when it left your lips? Most Americans are like people from northern England: they’ll pronounce it flatly and simply with one ‘a’ in the middle, just the way it’s spelt.
Nothing wrong with that, but Londoners are more likely to pronounce it with an ‘ah’ in the middle, to rhyme with ‘calf’; while people from the town itself and the rest of England’s West Country say it with an ‘aaa’ – to rhyme with, well, a sheep.
Rest assured, however you enunciate its name, words may fail you when you first look upon Bath. You can experience this Georgian gem on a leisurely but progressively jaw-dropping full-day coach-trip from London, having also seen Windsor Castle and Stonehenge along the way.
The symmetry of Bath accounts in part for its stunning beauty. Preservation counts as well. Bath is period-drama beautiful and the real deal: a UNESCO World Heritage Site of delightful crescents and adorable architecture. Upon arrival our guided walking tour takes you to Pulteney Bridge, as lovely as Florence’s Ponte Vecchio and similarly studded with little shops, then the sweeping Royal Crescent completed in 1775 – recognise it from the Keira Knightley movie The Duchess, among other Academy Award-winners?
You’ll find something familiar at the nearby Circus. This circular arrangement of townhouses is meant to recall prehistoric monuments like the one that took your breath away 30 miles back down the road. Stonehenge isn’t the only ancient history in Somerset, as you’ll find when you visit the city’s Roman Baths, built around natural hot springs 2,000 years ago. Once home to a great temple, it’s one of the best-preserved Roman ruins anywhere. Incredible antiquities are on display now, showcasing the objects Roman citizens threw into the sacred spring (including curses, inscribed on pewter!) and marvels of ancient engineering.
Bath’s warm, creamy stone and graceful lines give it both elegance and charm, two things not every city can pull off. The same can’t be said for the hot mineral water that drew people here for thousands of years. “Its very hot and tastes like the water that boyles eggs,” wrote Celia Fiennes in 1678. Obviously, you’ll still want to try it, for historic research purposes. Bath’s mineral water is available to taste at the west baths, part of The Roman Baths historic site, or from the traditional fountain in the Pump Room, the elegant Georgian space built to accommodate all the visitors flooding to Bath to take the waters.
Perhaps, though, it’s the Jane Austen Centre which will leave the most enchanting, enduring impression. Jane lived in Bath for a while and it’s the setting for two of her novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Situated in an original Georgian building, the Centre is a permanent exhibition with costumed ‘character’ guides, a waxwork of Jane herself and a Regency Tea-room specialising in light lunches, cakes and drinks and – wait for it – champagne afternoon tea. Which still leaves time for a spot of shopping before the smooth ride back to London.
A full-day excursion to Bath, Stonehenge and Windsor (whose sprawling castle has been occupied by successive monarchs for over 900 years) is part of the itinerary on several Virgin Vacations City Stay vacation packages, and often available to add onto your London vacation package.
It’s also available on several escorted Virgin Vacations tours of the United Kingdom. Book before you go to save time, money and hassle, and let the links below take you to the trip that suits you best. As Ms Austen herself might say, one would be intolerably stupid not to.