Bath, England is pretty much everything an American visitor would want from a English town, at least as far as I'm concerned. So beautiful that the entire town is registered as a World Heritage Site, Bath oozes the romance of a regal, extremely picturesque, decidedly European city with a Roman ruin and a Gothic Cathedral smack in the middle of town. While in London you may ogle royalty from afar, in Bath you can submerge yourself in a real-life Masterpiece Theatre experience.
While all that certainly seemed appealing to me, I wasn't sure exactly what my kids would find interesting there. So I was pleasantly surprised when Bath turned out to be a favorite for everyone in our family; even my 10 year old son begged for more time there. Here are the don't-miss experiences for enjoying Bath with your family.
Roman Baths - This ancient site is actually much more than a Roman bath. A temple and other buildings stood on the site and, as you walk through the museum, you'll learn all about life in Roman England. A free children's audio tour is included with admission and I recommend the free guided tours on the bath level. They're entertaining, educational and kids can ask the guides questions. Make sure to sample the spa water before you leave. It's supposed to have healing qualities, or at least gives you insight into what "taking the waters" was all about. Tip: During the summer, the Roman Baths stay open until 8pm, lit by torches. Visiting during evening hours can minimize lines and also helps you pack more into your day in Bath.
No 1 Royal Crescent - Peek back to life in Regency Bath at this Georgian townhouse turned museum. Part of the famous Royal Crescent of Bath, the museum just completed a restoration project which added the service quarters to the museum for the full upstairs/downstairs experience. Walk through the fully appointed rooms of the house to see how the family lived (there's plenty to interest kids, including period cartoons on the walls) and then head to the scullery where children can dress up in period costumes. Each room has a guide who can answer questions and tell you more about the objects on display. There's also a discovery backpack available for free from the front desk to help small children engage with the museum.
Royal Victoria Park - This 57 acre oasis is a beautiful place to rest, picnic or play. Walk through it on your way to the Royal Crescent or spend and afternoon frolicking. There's an incredible playground with imaginative play equipment that may be hard to pull the kids away from. An 18 hole adventure golf course sits within view of the Royal Crescent. There's also an aviary, a model boating pond, ducks and a Botanic Garden. In the winter there is an ice skating rink. A great field in front of the Royal Crescent is a favorite place to picnic or play. Note the ha-ha ( a ditch separating the main part of the field from the upper part closer to the crescent. This was created to keep both grazing sheep and the hoi polloi in their place, as the upper field is for Royal Crescent residents only.
Afternoon Tea - You'll want to indulge in an over-the-top afternoon tea at least once during your stay in England. Bath is a perfect place to do it, where enjoying a grand tea will enhance your Regency time travel experience. At the elegant Pump Room Restaurant it's not hard to imagine you are a character in a Jane Austen novel as you sip your tea, since her characters actually did so. The luxurious tea is not outrageously expensive, especially if you get the Afternoon Tea Menu for adults and just order a la carte for children (there will be plenty to eat). You can also order a glass of Spa water for 50p here.
The Royal Crescent Hotel at Bath's most prestigious address serves afternoon tea in their gardens during the summer. It's a bit more expensive, but locals prefer it to the touristy Pump Room, and the outdoor setting might be easier for those with little children. Both destinations are very popular so book a few days in advance if possible. Of course, there are adorable tea shops everywhere you turn in Bath. I think I could spend a week just trying them all.
Fashion Museum - Our family split up for this stop, but it was a highlight for us girls. My teenage daughter loved the eclectic collection of fashion through the ages and I loved seeing all the period pieces. We both enjoyed trying on the corsets and crinolines in the little dress up area with sizes for adults and kids (make sure you have your camera handy). Peek into the gorgeous Assembly Rooms and take a moment to imagine stepping in for a night of dancing at a ball. The chandeliers are so elaborate and expensive they have their own charity fund to care for them.
Bath Abbey Buskers - This gorgeous gothic cathedral may not hold kids' attention for long, but the plazas around the cathedral are the heart of Bath. It's a good place to rest little feet while buskers entertain and, if you're there on the hour, you'll hear the impressive chimes of the church bells as well.
Try a Bath Bun - I think England and I think scones, but in Bath it's the Bath Bun that rules, often served with your afternoon tea or breakfast. We went to Sally Lunn's which serves its own variation of the Bath Bun with sweet and savory toppings. I had one with cinnamon butter which was as devilishly delicious as a Cinnabon, but they were equally good heaped with stew or buttered and served with soup. Sally Lunn's is definitely a tourist destination so book ahead or you'll have to wait for a table. You can also buy the buns to carry out from the shop downstairs.
Walking and Window Shopping - Bath is just a gorgeous town to walk around and the plethora of beautiful, independent shops makes it even more fun. Simply strolling Bath was actually my 10 year old's favorite activity. The Guildhall Market has been serving Bath for centuries. Pick up local cheeses and artisanal breads for a picnic or just browse the novelties. We hit the Jane Austen Centre shop to pick up some fan girl gear. But just amble through the small, windy streets and see what you discover.
Eat Like Royalty - Part of the experience of Bath is enjoying the upper crustiness of it, so this is where I would splurge and enjoy a fine meal and lodging. We ate one of our best meals in England at The Olive Tree, which is the acclaimed restaurant at the Queensberry Hotel. The food features local produce and meats excellently prepared. While not a budget restaurant by an means, a similar dining experience in NYC or London would cost much more. Well behaved children are welcome and a children's menu is available if you ask.
Stay in a Regency Townhouse - Finding affordable family accommodations is the only hitch to a stay in Bath. Most of the hotels do not offer family rooms, which may mean getting two rooms for a family of four or more. The Bath Hilton has a few family rooms or, if you have small children, ask if a cot or crib can be provided. To have the full Bath experience, try to stay at one of the elegant Bath hotels like the Queensberry which is a boutique hotel housed in a row of actual Georgian townhouses. The rooms are gorgeous and luxuriously comfortable. The Queensberry Hotel is the type of place where your hotel becomes part of the wonderful experience of the city.
You will need at least two days to fully enjoy Bath. We would have loved even more time. There were many things we didn't get to do and I would have been happy just soaking in more Bath for a few additional days. Bath has a unique American Museum, the only museum dedicated to American folk art outside of the United States. Near the picturesque Pulteney Bridge is the fun Beazer Maze that kids can puzzle their way through. And Bath has many festivals throughout the year, including the Bath Children's Festival of Literature.
Bath is also conveniently situated as a hub for visiting the Cotswolds, Stonehenge and many wonderful manor houses, but it's popularity and elegance means finding reasonable family accommodation might be challenging. Budget travelers may be better off enjoying Bath for a few days and moving on or staying in nearby Bristol.
Disclosure: Mommy Poppins Travel worked with Visit Bath to research this article. We were provided with some entry to local attractions, meals and accommodations. We planned our own itinerary and all opinions are based on our experiences.