London’s pollution and stress getting to you? Take the waters in Bath! Just ninety minutes away by train, this well-preserved Georgian-era resort makes for a relaxing day trip or, even better, a weekend getaway.
Bath is famous for its natural hot springs that supposedly have medicinal qualities. The Thermae Bath Spa offers you a chance to soak, but for old-school elegance you’ll want to visit The Roman Baths Museum and Pump Room. Here you’ll see where the ancients came to get healed by the hot mineral springs. The lower parts of the once-giant complex are still remarkably preserved. As you walk around the dim halls and central pool you’ll feel like the Romans left 15 years ago, not 1,500.
After the Romans abandoned their province of Britannia in 410 A.D. the baths fell into disuse. They didn’t come into national prominence again until Queen Anne stopped by in 1702 to cure her gout. The British love of imitating royalty kicked in and Bath was on the map again. An entire city appeared in the 18th century to take care of wealthy visitors, who often stayed an entire year or more. The Pump Room was the central meeting place, an elegant hall where you can still drink some of the healing water. It tastes very heavy in minerals and is served warm.
Bath’s most famous resident was Jane Austen, who penned sharp-witted novels about its residents and their pretensions. Fans won’t want to miss the Jane Austen Centre. Guides in period costume explain what it was like to live here in Austen’s day and trace the history of high society in this first of English resorts. A Regency-style tea room offers refreshment.
There’s lots of period architecture in Bath, but the two jewels that shine the brightest are No. 1 Royal Crescent and the Bath Abbey and Heritage Vaults. Restored and furnished as it was in Georgian times, the Crescent is part of a great sweep of townhouses that are collectively a World Heritage Building. When completed in 1774 they became the swankiest address in the city. In fact, it still is. In 2006 a house in the Crescent sold for £4.5 million, or $7.3 million. The elegant interior of No. 1 is faithfully restored with period furnishings and conveys an excellent idea of what it was like to be ridiculously wealthy more than 200 years ago.
%Gallery-83685%Bath Abbey’s Gothic spires loom over the city’s skyline. Begun in 1499, this is the last of the great Gothic cathedrals built in England and in many ways a culmination of the style. Its great clear windows on the north and south soak the interior with light, while the intricate stained glass on the west and east are breathtakingly beautiful. When lit up at night it looks like a glowing tiara, and locals have dubbed it “The Lantern”. The Heritage Vaults in the cellar trace the history of Christian worship on this site from the 7th century to the present.
The one off note with Bath is the number of visitors. It’s far more crowded than St. Albans or even Canterbury, so you might want to consider visiting outside of the tourist season. Since most of the visitors are day trippers, staying overnight will give you a chance to walk the historic streets in relative peace and see the Abey lit up. There are no shortage of hotel options. If you want to splash out try the Royal Crescent Hotel and live like you’re in a Jane Austen novel. To save your budget after all those spa treatments, eat at Yak Yeti Yak, a cheap and filling Nepali restaurant.