One very cool thing about the city of Bath is its size and how compact it is. Many people visiting London will take a day trip over to Bath and are able to see everything in the city in under two hours. (Crazy, right?)
Of course, when I say see, I mean walk to all the major sites, snap a picture, and move on. It’s not how I prefer to travel, I’m just saying it can be done.
Free Walking Tour in Bath
If you’re visiting Bath and you’ve only got two hours to spare, let me recommend how you should spend it. There are several walking tours you can take, but a lot of visitors don’t realize there is actually a free walking tour in Bath. How often does that happen? The free walking tours are provided by the Mayor’s Corps of Honorary Guides and they will accept no compensation, not even a small tip. These guys are happy to volunteer their time simply because they love the city and love being able to share it with others.
The tours start in the courtyard in front of Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths (pictured above). Our particular tour group gathered over by the Pump Room where Cory and I were, by far, the youngest. That’s okay – we were perfectly happy to represent the 0-60 age group!
Things You’ll See on a Walking Tour in Bath
John, our guide, started the tour off by telling us the history behind the Roman Baths and the significance of the architecture of Bath Abbey. I’ll spare you all those details now since I intend on posting about each of them separately later this week. I did, however, learn not even thirty seconds after instagramming a photo of Bath Abbey with the caption “cathedral love” that an abbey is indeed not a cathedral. Oops.
The Royal Crescent
Next up on our walking tour in Bath was the Royal Crescent, a set of thirty homes laid out in a majestic crescent-shape, famous for both its design and the notable residents who’ve lived there since the late 1700’s.
If you haven’t noticed yet, all of the buildings in Bath are pretty much the same color. They’re made out of golden-colored limestone called Bath Stone. Their uniformity in color is far from dull, however. It’s like the whole city has been dipped in honey!
Bath has a lot of old world charm, mostly due to the Georgian architecture that was so popular in the 18th and 19th centuries in England. Both Cory and I agreed that cars seem out of place here. In my opinion, everyone in Bath should still be getting around in fancy horse-drawn carriages with drivers wearing top hats.
Three crescent-shaped buildings placed in a circle around a central green round-about make up the Circus in Bath. The Circus and the Royal Crescent are actually quite similar in appearance, if not size, and this is due in part to the father-son team that designed and built them both. The Circus was designed by John Wood The Elder and built after his death by his son, John Wood The Younger. The Royal Crescent was John Wood The Younger’s project. (Their names make me smile. These days, they’d just be John Wood, Sr and John Wood, Jr. This way is much more fun.) Hollywood fact: Nicolas Cage used to live here!
From my camera’s point of view, both the Circus and the Royal Crescent were nearly impossible to photograph. I couldn’t fit the entire span of the Royal Crescent into the frame, and there was no chance of getting more than a piece at a time of the Circus without taking an aerial shot. (Go, go gadget jet pack!) Suffice it to say, both were much more magnificent in person.
My favorite part of our walking tour in Bath was when we headed over to Pulteney Bridge on the River Avon. Pulteney Bridge is famous for being one of the only bridges in the world with shops lining the length of the bridge on both sides, but my favorite part about this place was just standing on the overlook and watching the ducks play in the water below the bridge. There are cruises you can take down the River Avon, but since we had just done something similar in Amsterdam, we chose to walk a good length of the river instead. The further you walk down the river, the better view you’ll get of Pulteney Bridge, too. Up close it is nearly impossible to capture all three tunnels under the bridge in a picture without the overlook getting in the way.
Bath’s Hidden Gems
Besides the main attractions, our walking tour in Bath also took us around various side streets to see some of the neat older buildings that aren’t necessarily famous. This is when we got to hear some of Bath’s most interesting stories as well. For instance, we learned why so many of the windows in Bath’s homes are closed in with bricks and other materials. In 1696, the town imposed a “window tax” on homeowners that forced them to pay a certain amount of money per window. In response, homeowners began bricking in their windows to avoid paying extra money. The law has since been repealed, but many of the windows remain filled in today.
I’ve never been in a city with history dating back as far as that of Bath’s. Due to its age and uniqueness, not just a single landmark, but the entire city has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site. (I’m having fun marking these off my list!) Bath is so full of history and stories that we wouldn’t have known about if we hadn’t taken this tour. If you’re visiting Bath, you can certainly see all of these places without joining a tour, but you’ll be missing out on all the quirky facts and funny commentary the Mayor’s Corps of Honorary Guides are dishing out for free!
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