The Do’s and Don’ts for planning a day trip to Bath
Just 98 miles out from London in the County of Somerset, lies the city of Bath – UK’s only UNESCO World Heritage City (there are only 3 in the world!). It’s been a definite contender on my ‘must see’ list since I arrived in the UK, mainly because of the pictures I’d seen of the Roman baths, and was pleased to find out it was close enough to fit into a day trip from London. Although I only had a few hours, it far exceeded my expectations. So whether you’re new to England or not, I highly recommend taking a day to go on an adventure back in history and enjoy the lovely green countryside along the way. If, like me, you don’t have time or funds for an overnight stay, here’s my recommended do’s and don’ts to make the most of this historic city in a day.
DO – plan ahead for the best prices on transport.
When I found out I had a spare day to myself I thought it would be a great opportunity to get out of London and tick another item of my UK destination wish list. The only problem was that I only had a few days to plan and by that time the train prices were exorberant (£130 or higher to travel at ‘peak times’ – and that’s even with a rail discount card!!). However the train only takes about an hour and half, so if you’re able to book far enough ahead or to travel ‘off peak’ I would recommend you do so. You should expect to pay at least around £40 return. There is much to see, so squeeze as much time into the trip as possible.
DON’T – go by bus if you have limited time.
I decided to go the ‘cheapo’ way, booking on the National Express bus for a mere £24 return. The downside being that it takes approximately 3 hours as opposed to the 1.5 hours you’d save taking the train. The bus itself was fine and a comfortable enough journey, the problem was the traffic. What was supposed to be a 3 hour trip ended up 4.5 hours, cutting into my precious exploration time. Not to mention the cabin fever you start to get when you’re confined on a bus that’s hardly moving and the pedestrians are moving faster than you! However, if you plan to make a weekend trip out of it, the bus would be a great cheap alternative since you have more time to spare if there are problems on the road. However, I ended up spending around 8 hours of the day in transit and probably less than 4 hours in Bath itself. Sadface for Jude.
DO – visit Colonna & Small’s for THE best coffee.
Oh my goodness, I have to say this actually was the best coffee I’ve had so far in the UK. Australians are super coffee snobs – it’s a well known fact. So believe me when I say this was good coffee. I could not believe the complex flavours in that mere little cup of black gold. The barristers at this shop are truly artists. I’m tempted to go back to Bath just for the coffee. Seriously.
DON’T – be put off by the queues at the roman baths.
This is of course the main attraction of the city, but for good reason. It’s absolutely fascinating. Not to mention great value. An adult ticket is £15, and this included full access to the baths and the amazing museum, a portable audio tour, and the opportunity to join a free guided tour every hour on the hour (I recommend traversing through the museum first before joining a free tour). There was no need to book in advance either, they’ve got themselves organised to manage the constant tour groups as well as random visitors so I wasn’t waiting in line very long to buy my ticket in reception. You can easily spend an entire afternoon exploring the complex and soaking in all the history. Make sure you taste the water from the spring on your way out!
DO – ensure you listen to Bill Bryson’s commentary.
I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the audio tour included snippets from the great and talented travel writer Bill Bryson (who also happens to be my favourite travel writer) sharing his reflections along the way. As I made my way through the baths I found it best to just listen to his commentary whenever I could. While the normal commentary is very much about the facts and information, his commentary felt like I had a friend along with me experiencing things at the same time, pointing out subtle details and sharing their perceptions and feelings about what we were seeing and the atmosphere of the place. It was absolutely perfect for a lone traveller like me, and such a great idea I think most places should incorporate something like this for us solo travellers.
DON’T – forget to have afternoon tea.
We all know its quintessentially English, and Bath is one of the oldest cities in England. So it comes at no surprise that they have some great cosy little ‘cream tea’ (tea with scones, jam and cream) spots, and plenty of them! Especially at the historic ‘Abbey Quarter’, where you can overlook the ancient architecture and feel all ‘ye olde’ English while having your scones and tea. Just don’t cause a faux pas by topping your scone with jam before the cream or you’ll get scorn looks from the locals!
Do – the free walking tour of the city.
Don’t forget this is one of only three World Heritage Cities in the world, and for a reason. It’s got plenty of 18th and 19th century architecture and retains most of its urban planning from that time. It is also quite well known as where the author Jane Austen lived and wrote at least two of her books and drew a lot of inspiration from the magnificent and romantic city around her. The Mayor of Bath Honorary Guides do free walking tours twice a day, most days of the week. It lasts around 2 hours and no bookings are necessary. Other entrepreneurs also run free walking tours, so it’s worth a quick google check beforehand to see which tour you would like to join and the initial meeting details – although most of them start near the Pump Rooms in the Abbey Churchyards (which is the entrance to the Roman Baths). I started going along with one of these tours and learned a lot in just the first 10 minutes! However I realised I was too short on time to complete it, and prioritised the tour of the Roman Baths instead.
Don’t – just stick to the city.
Cross the Pulteney Bridge and head over to the Prior Park Landscape Gardens for an easy to moderate walk amongst the 18th century landscape gardens. It also features a well-photographed attraction, the Palladian Bridge, which arches across a picturesque lake with sweeping views of the city of Bath behind it.
Again, due to the traffic delays earlier in the day, I didn’t get time to reach this place which I was really disappointed about. If you can fit it in though, I think it would be well worth the walk, if only to burn off those cream scones! It is managed by the National Trust, so expect an entry fee.
Do – get a photo at the Pulteney Bridge.
Another key historical sight in the city, it was originally completed in 1774 and crosses the River Avon. What makes it exceptional is that it has little shops built right in it, not much unlike the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy. It’s great for photos due to the wonderful crescent weir that lies in front of it, giving it added movement and romance.
Don’t – go home without some fudge from the Fudge Kitchen.
Hands down, some the best fudge I’ve ever had. Even the experienced fudge connoisseurs and grateful recipients of this great travel gift, my niece and nephews, agreed with me! Very creamy, and excellent soft texture. I highly recommend the dark chocolate and sea salt flavour.
Finally – DO be prepared for a long but eventful day.
As you can see, there is plenty to do and see and eat! So try not to waste time getting there, take a backpack to take home lots of goodies, and an extra phone battery for all the photo’s you’ll be taking, for it’s an amazing day out. Especially if you manage to do those things I didn’t manage to do!