Bath’s historical highlights are well known, but dig a little deeper in the Somerset city and discover a string of lesser-known museums, hidden drinking dens and activities on the water.
It’s the history that draws most visitors to Bath — be it the city’s Roman origins or the golden-hued neoclassical buildings that sprang up in the Georgian era. But if you’ve seen the Roman Baths, Bath Abbey and the Jane Austen Centre and had a soak in the Thermae Bath Spa, or if you’re after a different Bathonian experience, it pays to spend time outside the main attractions. Bath is special, not only because it’s the only city in the UK to be a designated World Heritage Site in its entirety, but also on account of its proudly independent shops, quality food produce and the way it draws in the surrounding hills and countryside. And, thanks to its river and canal, it’s a city that offers waterborne pleasures, too.
A saunter through Bath’s lesser-known attractions might start in the city’s Botanical Gardens, created in 1887. Here, The little Coffee Cart sells refreshments between outstretched magnolia boughs. Next to the gardens, in the northwest corner of Royal Victoria Park, the Great Dell has a walkway among large redwoods and conifers. Nearby, behind the sweeping arc of the Royal Crescent, Margaret’s Buildings a quaint shopping parade that’s worth a potter: browse Gallery Nine for jewellery, ceramics and art, then step back in time at Berdoulat, which sells wine, tea, spices and furniture. The 19th-century wooden shop counters have been splendidly restored by the interior designer owners. Also worth investigating is the majestic sweep of adjacent Camden Cresent and Lansdown Cresent, which has commanding views across the city.
Walcot Street, meanwhile, is where you’ll find a host of local artisans. Take a calligraphy class at Meticulous Ink, try on scarves at Katherine Fraser — handwoven on the shop’s loom — then stop for a craft beer at Brewed Boy. Nearby, Landrace Bakery uses organic, stone-ground flour for its baked treats and also in the pasta dishes served at its relaxed upstairs dining space.
A number of Bath’s museums focus on Georgian life and fashion but its smaller museums are also worth a look. Few people know that William Herschel discovered Uranus from a Bath garden in 1781; the Herschel Museum of Astronomy displays his telescopes, globes and workshops in his former home. Just outside the city, the American Museum and Gardens at Claverton Manor, meanwhile, tells stories from US history through its folk and decorative objects. The gardens, grotto and valley views are well worth setting aside a couple of hours for. Alternatively, visit The Cider Barn at Dick Willows, a traditional cider maker, for similar views accompanied by cloudy cider, street food and chilled tunes.
There’s fine art and decorative art on display at the Holburne Museum, and from here you can drop down onto the Kennet and Avon Canal for a stroll past a series of locks. Most visitors are used to a different aquatic experience when in Bath, but the city is well set up for adventures on the canal or River Avon. Options include hiring a punt, canoe or skiff at Bath Boating Station, or a standup paddleboard from Original Wild. Alternatively, the canal can be explored in a canoe or on a bicycle, hired from Bath Narrowboats.
Pub lunches and a great walk go hand in hand, and the golden-stone hilltop village of South Stoke, just south of Bath, offers both. A roudntrip walk from The Packhorse passes overgrown trenches that were once the Somerset Coal Canal, and the pub itself offers seasonal dishes and a picturesque garden. On the same hill, Castle Farm looks like a barn but inside is a hip restaurant and supper club. Don’t miss its roti canai — a brunch favourite.
The Elder is an elegant, wood-panelled restaurant, whose menu focuses on game and traditional English cuisine.
For dinner in the city centre, Corkage has a top-notch wine list, as well as small plates that range from roast pigeon breast with lentils and sherry vinegar to rhubarb choux buns with crème anglaise. Offering something more substantial, The Elder is an elegant, wood-panelled affair, focusing on game and traditional English cuisine, headed up by renowned wild food chef Mike Robinson.
Joyful taco bar Dos Dedos brings slightly more far-flung flavours, alongside more than 100 mezcals and tequilas, but you’ll find Bath’s best atmosphere for drinks at underground bar The Hideout, a former highwayman’s den with a bold menu that goes big on world whiskies.
Need to rest your head? The Yard in Bath is a stylish boutique hotel with a courtyard wine bar showcasing organic tipples from Wolf Wines, which also has its own saloon bar on the Lower Bristol Road. The best of The Yard’s bedrooms comes with its own roof terrace. Alternatively, No 15 Great Pulteney has 37 stylish rooms and lies on one of Bath’s prettiest streets, just minutes from the famous Pulteney Bridge. Don’t miss the small basement spa, with its round copper bath, built for two.
Breakfast is served up at No 15 Great Pulteney.PHOTOGRAPH BY TOBY MITCHELL
A local’s guide to Bath
Richard Bertinet’s favourite Bath pit-stops
1. Walcot House
This restaurant, dance club and gym is my go-to place for breakfast. The friendly staff are excellent, and the place makes its own smoked salmon, which I love. I look for a nice, big table where I can put down my newspaper and look out the window.
2. Cafe Lucca
This restaurant is just around the corner from my cookery school, and there’s plenty of outdoor seating, which reminds me of the kerbside terraces in Paris. I love its coffee and it does a great salad, too.
It might be on the tourist trail, but Framptons does the classics well, like waffles or avocado on toast. There’s a nice vibe and the service is great. Try and grab a window seat to enjoy the views of the weir and Pulteney Bridge.
It’s in a part of town most tourists don’t really venture to — they walk right past en route to the Royal Crescent. But what a beautiful place! There’s a great chef in the kitchen and it’s a lovely, family-run cafe.