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As ‘The Original Wellbeing Destination’ Bath has been a destination for fun, relaxation and pleasure since 46AD! The City of Bath was made a World Heritage site in 1987 and is best known for its Roman Built baths, from which it received its name, Aquae Sulis.
Bath is one of my favourite places to visit outside of London, it is a brilliant place to spend the day in or stay for a few days. It makes a great springboard to the many other exciting parts of the South West of England. You can get from London, Paddington by train in 90 minutes for as little as £25.00. After spending a few days there it’s easy to head south into Devon and Cornwall, west to Wales or north to Manchester and Liverpool.
The largest city in the county of Somerset, Bath has a population of about 90,000, including two universities, which add to the city’s special energy and sense of fun! Baths compact streets and bustling centre overflow with restaurants and cafes for refreshment and makes it a perfect place to wander around its many museums, galleries and sites of interest. It really is the place to eat, drink and be merry!
You don’t have to wait until the summer to visit, there are festivals in the city throughout the year so it’s always a good idea to check what special events are planned when you visit.
Constructed almost entirely of local, biscuit-coloured sandstone (referred to as Bath Stone or Cotswold Stone) and nestled between rolling hills, Bath has been brilliantly described as ‘a drop of honey in a sea of green.’ It lies at the centre of The Cotswolds, which consists of five counties boasting some of the most beautiful countryside and quintessentially English villages the UK can offer. The word ‘Cotswold’ means ‘sheep enclosed in rolling hillsides’ a reference to the area’s high dependency since the Medieval period on the woollen trade and farming in general since before the Romans arrived. It even has its own breed of sheep – the Cotswold Lion!
There is an excellent choice of independent shops around the city. Bath Aqua Glass (bathaquaglass.com) is one of my favourites. It produces its own blue tinged glass, creating bespoke items of glassware, jewellery and stained glass. I’ve bought several pieces in the past, it’s perfect for those tricky to buy for gifts. You can watch the crafts people in action as they demonstrate their amazing skills or even book a practical glassblowing experience!
Independent Spirit of Bath (shop.independentspiritofbath.co.uk) sells an amazing range of artisan gin, single malt whiskies and some of the best UK and world craft beers. I highly recommend the local Mead or ‘honey wine’. Given as a gift since the 1300s to newly married couples who would celebrate their nuptials during the first month of marriage with a nip of the wine each evening to get to know each other a little better….it’s where the term ‘Honeymoon’ comes from, making it an ideal wedding or anniversary gift, just remember to buy yourself a bottle too!
The Georgian architecture gives the city a very distinctive feel and you really do feel as if you have stepped into a Jane Austin novel! Several free tours, sponsored by the local council start from outside the Baths and bring the literary legacy of the city alive – Charles Dickens wrote some of The Pickwick Papers in Bath and Mary Shelley completed her gothic novel, Frankenstein, there. Buildings where these authors stayed are just a few minutes from the Baths as is the welcoming Jane Austin Centre which chronicles the life of the fascinating writer, surely the inventor of ‘Girl Power’! They also boast a wonderful TeaRoom which recently achieved a Tea Guild ‘Award of Excellence’ so you know you’re in for a great cuppa, the Brits favourite brew!
Examples of Palladian architecture are seen all over the city, this style became very popular in London, one example of this style is the facade of Buckingham Palace. The Classical references of symmetry with columns, pillars, pilasters and cornices are just a few architectural features you will become very familiar with in Bath but most striking are the large number of windows the design allows. London visitors would jealously comment the extra light Bath residents enjoyed. Three places that best show the splendour of Bath architecture are Queen Square, The Circus and The Royal Crescent itself. They are all within 15-20 minutes walk and well worth exploring.
The Architects John Wood the Elder and his son (also called John Wood!) were responsible for the architecture of all three.
Queen Square is the first of the three elements that make up the sequence of some of Baths most amazing architecture. Each of the four sides contains several apartments and were designed to represent a palace with wings and a forecourt when viewed from any side. An Obelisk dedicated to Fredrick, Prince of Wales is worth taking a look at in the centre of the garden.
The Circus is a ring of houses just a short walk away which has three entrances, each showing a classical facade. Its dimensions are based on the nearby monument of Stonehenge as the architect believed Bath was a centre of Druid activity. Take a moment or two to look at some of the 525 triglyphs (symbols) which represent science and nature, serpents of myth and nautical imagery, etc adorning the frieze that runs all the way around the Circus. Nicholas Cage has a house on the Circus (I won’t tell which but you might notice the one door without a number that is his!)
The Royal Crescent is the creme de la creme of Bath’s architecture, with 30 terraced houses, all Grade I listed, it boasts 114 Ionic columns and was the very first crescent of terraced houses in England. The view from the top of the terrace is wonderful stretching over Victoria Park.
Once you have had a good look around The Royal Crescent and maybe grabbed a bite to eat on your way back into the centre of the city there are still loads of great places to explore.
The most obvious being The Roman Baths themselves – 1.3 million visitors a year can’t be wrong!
The Roman baths were built over the site of a Celt temple, known by the Romans as Aqua Sulis (Latin for Waters of Sulis). Bath quickly became a very important centre in their rule over the English (this was because of the importance of farming in the Cotswolds, remember the sheep – Cotswold Lions?!) The baths themselves are some of the best preserved in the world, containing the Sacred Spring, the Roman Temple, the Roman Bath House together with a museum of artefacts from the Roman City Aqua Sulis.
The baths are now enclosed in a 19th Century building and, sadly, it’s no longer possible to bathe in the waters due to health and safety regulations although the water is drinkable once treated with ultraviolet light to stop you suffering any tummy troubles! Many believe that ‘taking the waters’ is of great benefit to your health due to its special properties- it contains many vitamins and minerals, there is a Grand Pump Room where you can do this. Some people stay for a cup of tea in the tea room but personally I’d just pop in, walk to the back if the tea room and sample a glass or two of the special water from the free drinking fountain – there must be some truth in it’s mystical properties because I’ll be 259 in November!
Just next to the Baths themselves is my favourite place to visit, Bath Abbey. It is free to visit (although they do ask for a donation) and if you time it right you can have a guided visit of the tower. It is a beautiful building bursting with history and the wonderful volunteers are full of amazing stories and about the Abbey. A place of worship has been on the site from before the rule of Oliver Cromwell in 1066. After many rebuilds and restorations its present exterior is one of the largest Perpendicular Gothic design buildings in England with a similar architectural design to Westmister Abbey in London.
My favourite parts of the abbey date from the late 15th / 16th century when Bishop Oliver King visited, he describes that the monks there lacked discipline, were idle and “all too eager to succumb to the temptations of the flesh.” However he had a dream in which he “saw the Heavenly Host on high with angels ascending and descending by ladder” and commanded that a new building be constructed, from then on, much of the Abbey’s income was dedicated to creating a new cathedral. On either side of the Western front door is a Jacob’s Ladder to represent his dream, look out for the ‘Fallen Angel’ on either side. Above the door is a statue of Henry VII, father of notorious Henry VIII. The building is one of few religious buildings to survive Henry VIII’s quarrel with the Catholic church and development of the Church of England – I bet he saw his dad up there and decided that he better not touch the building!
Henry VII refused to allow Bishop Oliver King to have his own name or a statue added to the building for which he was very proud, however, look closely on each side of the North Door and you’ll see a strange carving of a mitre (a Bishop’s hat), above an Olive tree (Oliver), encircled by a crown (king) – a clever workaround by the sneaky Bishop who added his name in this way not once but twice!
These are just a few of the places I love in Bath – a place to eat, drink and be merry, and keep anyone entertained – I hope to see you there soon!
Other attractions in Bath that I will mention in a Blog of their own soon include – Pultney Bridge, Therme Bath Spa, Holburne Museum, the Fashion Museum, Sally Lunn’s Tea House, The Herschel Museum of Astronomy Theatre Royal, American Museum, Victoria Art Gallery Bath Postal Museum, Museum of Bath at Work, and No. 1 Royal Crescent.
There are daily coach tours departing from London that also visit Stonehenge and other attractions in the South West and we operate daily small group tours departing from Bath and organise private guided sighseeing tours for families and small groups. We also offer transfer tours starting at London, Salisbury, Southampton and Bath.
The U.K Small Group Touring Company