Bath unwrapped: Where to stay, what to do and what to eat in one of Britain’s most iconic and historic cities

Emily Anderson explores the best of Bath, from the iconic Roman baths to it's eccentric comedy walking tours.

Way back in the Roman times, Bath was a bustling hub people flocked to for relaxation. Thousands of years later and Bath is still pulling in the crowds.

View of the Palladian Pulteney Bridge and weir in the World Heritage city of Bath in Somerset, UK.

The Baths and spa are still a major tourist destination but Bath has more to offer, meaning you’ll never need an excuse to visit. Because of its long list of top tourist attractions in the UK, Bath’s compact city centre is busy always busy, so it’s worth visiting during the week if you can and definitely warrants an overnight stay.

Bath Abbey from the Roman Baths, Bath, Somerset, England.

Bath Abbey from the Roman Baths, Bath, Somerset, England.

Where to stay

The Francis Hotel is part of the MGallery Collection of luxury, boutique hotels, each inspired by their own stories and picked for their unique offering of culture and history.

Francis Hotel

The Francis Hotel occupies a prime position on Queen Square in the heart of the World Heritage city of Bath, with handy valet parking around the back of the hotel, a real bonus in this tourist hotspot. With the location sorted, this Grade I listed hotel, steeped in history, has oodles of charm to entice you through its doors.

The Francis Hotel originated as seven, private, 18th century Georgian townhouses built in 1736 by John Wood the Elder on the south side of Queen Square for the gentry of Bath. In 1942, this grand terrace was blitzed, however its refurbishment over the years has retained the imposing façade and the interiors have been sympathetically decorated to reflect the hotel’s regency past. However, they seamlessly combine contemporary touches such as bright print wallpaper and modern chandeliers.

Francis Hotel

The bedrooms are all individually styled, with some quirkier than others, including pictures on the ceiling and four-poster beds. They are slowly updating each of their 98 luxurious bedrooms so that they do not disturb guests. As you move through the hallways, each of the interconnected townhouses are cleverly highlighted by marking the transition points with blue plaques celebrating post residents – look out for subtle changes to the décor. You can clearly notice the pared-back, clean and muted style in the corridor of the first set of rooms to be updated.

Their feature rooms offer period touches, more space, often with four-poster beds and overlook Queen Square and the décor is in keeping with the regency style. We stayed in one of the newly refurbished rooms at one end of the hotel overlooking the car park. They are more contemporary and less fussy, but still luxurious.

Francis Hotel

I was impressed with the size of the room, the White Company toiletries in the jazzy black and white tiled en-suite, along with another necessity – USB ports in all of the plug sockets. A Nespresso machine in the room is a staple for any luxury hotel and I was not disappointed here, but be sure to book a superior room to get these extras and a feature if you want views.

Superior Double Room at The Francis Hotel, from £149 including breakfast, parking £17.50 per night, breakfast £14.95 if ordered seperately. See more at www.francishotel.com

Things to do

The concierge is at your service, if it’s possible to get stuck on what to do, or more likely need help navigating the city. Here are my top attractions for a first visit:

  • The Roman Baths –  One of the must do attractions in Bath or indeed in the UK is to pay a visit to The Roman Baths. This site is imperative to understanding the very beginnings of the city and its wider significance in history.
  • Thermae Bath Spa – Visit the impressive Thermae Bath Spa to unwind in Britain’s only natural thermal waters. The dramatic rooftop pool has got to be anyone’s highlight on a visit to the city.

Therme Bath

  • The Royal Crescent  – One way to spend the day is admiring Bath’s glorious Georgian architecture; one of the UK’s most impressive examples of this is The Royal Crescent, a sweeping row of 30 terraced houses designed by John Wood the Younger.
  • Bath Abbey – Experience the city from a unique vantage point, a mere 212 steps up the narrow stone spiral staircase to the top of Bath Abbey. On your way up take in the ringing chamber, bells and clock.
  • Jane Austen Centre  – Visit the permanent exhibition inside a Georgian Town House to find out the secrets of Jane Austen’s time in Bath. She called Bath her home from 1801 to 1806 and it even provided the setting of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

End of a rainbow in the sky over Bath in England, UK

  • Bizarre Bath – Experience a different side to Bath with a comedy walking tour, embracing the more eccentric elements of the city. This tour, closed over winter, comes recommended by The Francis Hotel.
  • Royal Victoria Park – Enjoying some green space in the city is also easily achievable. Just a short stroll from the city is the beautiful Royal Victoria Park, opened in 1830 by the 11-year-old princess Victoria, future Queen of England. From 15th November – 5th January 2020 grab your skates and take to the open-air ice rink.

Where to eat

Emily’s Tea Room is named after Mrs. Emily Francis, the widow of a local builder who established one of the townhouses as a boarding house. Over time they expanded the business taking over adjacent residences in the square, until 1884 when seven of the houses were opened as The Francis Private Hotel.

It is hard to miss the delectable Emily’s Tea Room just off from the lobby. This regency-inspired room, over looking Queen’s Square oozes opulence, with large velvet armchairs to sink into and sparkling chandeliers. It feels particularly cosy watching folk scamper past with their brollies in the drizzly British weather.

Traditional high tea is served daily between 12pm – 5pm, £26.50pp with a glass of bubbles.

Brasserie Blanc

The Francis hotel also hosts Chef Raymond Blanc’s restaurant chain, Brasserie Blanc, accessed inside the hotel past Emily’s Tea Room, which makes for a nice entrance. Brasserie Blanc has a warm, contemporary atmosphere and a casual, friendly service. They focus on offering fresh, seasonal dishes and select the best British and local suppliers.

Brasserie Blanc

We were there for the autumn menu and I enjoyed the British pheasant with cranberry and girolle mushrooms, muscat pumpkin, dauphinoise potato with port & red wine jus. It was refreshing to try a dish that you wouldn’t normally find on a chain restaurant menu and it was executed beautifully and reasonably priced. After a decent meal in the restaurant, head across the lobby to the hotel’s No.10 bar for a nightcap.

Three-course meal from about £30 a head, plus drinks and service. www.brasserieblanc.com

If you are not ready to head back to your room just yet, Barton Street Wine Bar, only a minute saunter from the hotel, hosts live music every night from 8pm. We settled down in a cosy, candle lit room with a glass of Primitivo. The performer that evening was Lawrie Duckworth on the guitar who took requests from us and the 10 other people who were lucky enough to get a seat.

Bath Pump Room Searcys

The most iconic place to brunch or afternoon tea when in Bath is the elegant Pump Room Restaurant. It is considered the best afternoon tea in Bath and possibly one of best in England. Located in the same building as the famous Roman Baths, you can enjoy your scones accompanied by the Pump Room Trio or pianist.

Champagne afternoon tea in the Pump Room

Traditional Pump Room Afternoon tea is served from Noon, from £27pp, www.romanbaths.co.uk/pump-room-restaurant