Spa-vellous! From the baths to burgers via cycling, cocktails and much more, we take a local expert’s advice on the best things to do in Bath.
1. Market: Green Park
Trains haven’t tootled into Green Park Station since 1966; these days it sees more cabbages than carriages. Every Saturday the restored Victorian terminus hosts a Farmers’ Market, where you can nibble Bath Soft Cheese, Seven Hills Handmade Chocolates, Lovett Pies and plenty more. A Vintage & Antiques Market takes over on the first and last Sunday of the month, with an Artisan Market every second Sunday.
2. Coffee: Colonna & Small’s
If the whiff of a Costabucks makes you shudder, head here. Colonna & Small’s, headed up by 2014 UK Barista Champion Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, does coffee for the connoisseur/geek. The menu looks more winelist, relaying a bevy of bean choices, their nuances poetically described. You can even book in for an Espresso Course or group coffee tasting.
3. Brunch: Wild Café
Tiny tucked-away independents are all well and good but, damn, if only Wild Café were twice the size. If you CAN bag a brightly coloured chair here, expect simple things – fairtrade and locally sourced – done lip-lickingly well: pancake stacks, scrambled eggs with Bath Pig chorizo, the city’s best bacon sandwich (three rashers!). The kitchen’s right in the café, so be prepared to sit in a state of nasally-affronted food envy while you wait for your brunch.
4. Proper pub: The Bell Inn
Walcot Street, Bath’s old artisan quarter, is still dominated by eclectic independents. And no place embodies that spirit more than The Bell Inn 103 Walcot St. When closure loomed in 2013, it was bought by a community cooperative – with support from the likes of Michael ‘Glastonbury’ Eavis and Robert Plant. It continues to be Bath’s best live music pub, hosting acts three times a week (Monday, Wednesday, Sunday), as well as serving lots of local real ales.
5. Gastro pub: The Chequers
Hidden from the main hubbub, but only a stone’s throw from the Royal Crescent, The Chequers has been serving wayfarers since 1776. The menu’s come on a bit since, but it still serves all comers. There are juicy bar staples – arguably Bath’s best burger and big, fat, Bath Ale-battered fish-n-chips. But there are more refined options too – Wiltshire pork ‘three ways’, blowtorched mackerel, a novel game pie. It’s all good, whether you’re feeling fancy or just want some (damn fine) chips.
8. Shop: Mr Bs vs Toppings
It’s too close to call – Bath has two equally excellent independent bookshops. Toppings has a fine selection; it also has real clout, attracting the literary great and the good for talks and tastings on an almost daily basis. Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights is just a lovely place to be; it even has a ‘Bibliotherapy Room’ with fireplace, armchairs and free coffee and tea.
9. Freebie: Mayor of Bath Honorary Guides
Bath’s whole centre is Unesco-listed, being deemed of Outstanding Universal Value. To get some background – on a budget – join a tour with the Mayor of Bath Honorary Guides. This daily primer (10.30am and 2pm, Sun-Fri; 10.30am only, Sat) lasts two hours and is completely free. Gratis. The guides don’t even accept tips. They just love Bath that much – and want you to, too.
10. Bike: Two Tunnels Greenway
Hilly Bath can be bike unfriendly… thankfully, the Victorians burrowed railway tunnels through the summits to the south, which have been recently reopened as a Sustrans multi-use path. The 21km Two Tunnels Greenway is a lovely loop ride or walk, incorporating a pretty canal towpath, a Georgian aqueduct, quiet country lanes and nearly two miles of subterranean cycling – with a motion-sensitive light and music installation enlivening the old stone walls.
11. Walk: Skyline
Hike the Bath Skyline and at points you forget you’re still in a city – except when the trail offers splendid urban views. Bath sits on the edge of the Cotswolds, so this 10km route takes in plenty of beech woodland and bucolic rolling green, as well as an 18th century folly, a Palladian bridge and a skirt around the hill-top University. Better, the National Trust, which looks after the landscape, reckons the walk burns off an average of 735 calories – so you can book in for that Chequers burger, guilt-free.
And one for luck…
12. Top Tip: Embrace the twilight
The Thermae Bath Spa is open until 9.30pm: arrive just before dusk so you can loll in the roof-top pool as the sun sinks down and the city starts to glitter. Also, in July and August the excellent Roman Baths Museum stays open until 10pm – it’s usually shut by 6pm – so you can see the medicinal waters twinkling under torchlight.
If you liked this article, hopefully you’ll enjoy these: