Paid collaboration with National Express. Thanks to Visit Bath and the attractions mentioned below for inviting us to visit in exchange for an honest review; to Bath Boutique Stays for accommodating us during our stay; and to The Oven for inviting us to dine with them. All opinions expressed are honest and my own.
The Somerset city of Bath was where I went for my hen do 12 years ago, Cardiff Daddy’s 30th birthday 10 years ago, and another hen do nine years ago.
I love the beautiful sand-coloured uniformly-sized Bath stone buildings, the thermal waters of the city’s spa, the refined afternoon tea venues, the chic clothing boutiques and the river-side restaurants.
I’ve always seen it as a sophisticated and sociable city, easily accessible from Cardiff, and the perfect destination for a special weekend away. It’s quite a fitting impression, given that the Bath we know today emerged in the 18th century when the Georgian aristocracy and elite would descend on the city to socialise. They loved the city because of the health properties of its thermal spa waters, which is still a major draw for visitors today.
A family city break to Bath
But what’s it like for a city break with children? National Express commissioned us to take a three-day city break, travelling on their coach service from Cardiff. Bath Boutique Stays kindly invited us to stay in their beautiful town house property Mr Darcy’s Abode (read the full review here); Visit Bath invited us to visit the city’s key attractions; and The Oven invited us to sample their wood-fired pizzas.
Our visit coincided with Minerva’s Owls of Bath – an outdoor art trail featuring more than 80 large owl statues each painted differently. I have a full post coming on that soon.
Journeying with National Express from Cardiff to Bath
We departed Cardiff at 7.50am on a Wednesday ready for three days and two nights in the city. There’s no direct National Express route to Bath unfortunately and with a change at Bristol I was a little worried as to how I’d cope with three children on two buses on my own. (Cardiff Daddy joined us that evening and left early Friday morning – but it was just me and our three children aged 8, 6 and 4 for two full days and all the travelling). I needn’t have worried because the journey was fine and actually quite relaxing.
Our coach departed bang on time and was busy but not overly-crowded. We journeyed over the M4 and the bridge pretty easily and arrived in Bristol in just over an hour and a few minutes ahead of schedule. I was expecting a bit of a wait until our connecting bus from Bristol to Bath. But actually the service we were booked onto is a partner service run by First Bus service which departs every 15 minutes. There was one already at the station and so we hopped on board and journeyed to Bath on the top of a double decker bus, where we arrived around an hour later.
The return journey was just as hassle-free. We had a slight delay at Bristol due to an accident on the M4 but after three days of walking around Bath I was grateful not to be driving in the early evening rush hour traffic and to relax with my children. We read books and played Eye Spy. Both my boys fell asleep and my daughter Miss E was engrossed in a children’s version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (more on that later) meaning I even got to read a couple of chapters of my current book.
Both journeys passed more quickly than I’d expected. Each of my children had sticker books, a reading book and a couple of toys which kept them entertained. Not driving also meant I was able to read to my littlest and enjoy this bonus time with them without having to concentrate on the road.
The seats were comfortable and spacious with ‘comfort-fit’ seat belts. Booster seats can be provided on board most coaches for children between four and 11 or up to 150cm. Or you can bring your own car seat on most services. (If it is not possible to use child car seats on your journey National Express will tell you during your booking.) There’s a toilet at the back of the coach which is always useful when travelling with children although for those with younger children there’s not much room for nappy changing.
Handily for someone who works in social media and for whom phone battery life is always a concern, there were plug sockets on every double seat meaning I could charge my iPhone while we travelled.
For more information on services to Bath from Cardiff and other UK destinations visit the National Express website here.
Luxury but affordable accommodation with Bath Boutique Stays
We absolutely loved Mr Darcy’s Abode. The Georgian town house we stayed in as guests of Bath Boutique Stays is slightly out of the city centre but still only a 15-20 minute walk from all the major attractions and the bus and train station. The five-floored property is beautifully and luxuriously decorated with spacious rooms and plenty of character, with nods to the famous Jane Austen character all over the house.
My children loved their top floor bedroom with a bunk bed and twin beds, as well as the basement living room area with its huge SmartTV… although they didn’t watch it too much because they were mostly playing hide and seek. Who could blame them with such a big house to explore?
With seven bedrooms sleeping up to 20 and five bathrooms, the house is perfect for larger groups. But because you pay per person rather than having to hire the whole property, it’s also a good choice for smaller groups too particularly mid-week including school holidays. The house is really well-equipped with more than enough crockery and cutlery and even cake stands, china cups and plates for afternoon tea. There’s a large dining table in the kitchen and Morrison’s is a five minute walk away, making self-catering really easy. Bed linen and towels are provided and there’s complimentary Cowshed products in all the bathrooms. We thought the house was beautiful and such a great base for our stay.
You can read our full review here.
A city of culture and history
With its Roman and Georgian heritage Bath has so much to discover.
The natural thermal waters made it a significant Roman spa town and the Roman Baths are one of the region’s biggest attractions, with more than a million visitors a year.
The Georgian buildings built from Bath stone – the pale honey-coloured and smooth-surfaced local limestone – gives Bath its unique look and exudes an ever-present sense of history and culture. Most of these buildings were built in the 18th century when upper society flocked to the city to socialise. The uniformly-sized and coloured buildings means the city still retains much of its period charm and you can’t help but imagine the finely-dressed Georgian men and women walking around the streets. Jane Austen lived here for several years and there are many tributes to her across the city.
It’s considered such a culturally-important city due to its Roman remains and 18th century architecture that in 1987 UNESCO named the city as a World Heritage Site.
Here’s what we did during our three day/two night stay in Bath.
The Roman Baths
We arrived in Bath at around 12pm, checked in to our accommodation, grabbed some lunch from the Morrison’s just around the corner, and then walked into the city centre to explore.
My children are fascinated by the Romans and so The Roman Baths were our natural first port of call. They are incredibly well-preserved and give a real sense of what they would have looked like in their hey-day.
Visitors can walk around the Roman Temple, the Roman Bath House, the Sacred Spring, and the museum area housing ancient artefacts. Audio guides are included in the entry price as standard and give a fascinating insight into the history of the site. My eldest two children loved listening to the different stories, although my four year old was probably a bit young and lost interest quite quickly.
The tour took us over an hour and we learned such a lot. The tour allows visitors to see the Baths from different viewing points on different levels before walking directly around the main bathing area. It’s filled with water although sadly it’s not safe to enter. During school holidays the Roman Baths arranges family activities and my three enjoyed making Roman helmets out of card.
The Roman Baths, Abbey Church Yard, Bath, BA1 1LZ. Visit the website.
Adults £14.50; children 6-16 £10.25; family (2 adults and up to 4 children) £48. Under 5s are free. Pushchairs are not permitted on site and can be exchanged at the entrance for courtesy child carriers. If you’d also like to visit the Fashion Museum and Victoria Art Gallery you can also buy an online Saver Ticket giving entry to the three sites saving an average of £7 ).
After the Abbey we explored the city a little more before heading back to our house. We cooked tea in time for Cardiff Daddy to arrive after work and then enjoyed a family film thanks to the complimentary Netflix on the Smart-TV!
It’s impossible not to notice Bath Abbey while walking around the city centre. Its exterior is incredibly ornate with numerous windows and a turreted-tower. Inside is just as beautiful, in particular its Gothic fan vaulting ceiling and intricate stained glass windows.
The present day abbey was built in 1499 on the site of the Norman ruins which in turn were built on the site of a Christian convent. It has seen various additions and renovations across the centuries including the current £19.3m Abbey Footprint Project which will see better accessibility improved worship places repairs to the Abbey floor the building of a discovery centre to tell the building’s story as well as the installation of energy-efficient lighting and a new heating system using energy from the natural hot springs.
Services of worship run at various times Monday to Friday and on Sunday but visitors are also welcome to appreciate the impressive architecture.
The more energetic can climb the 212-steps spiral staircases to the top of the tower and spectacular views across Bath as part a 45-minute guided tour. This takes in the ringing chamber and bell chamber, allows visitors to stand on top of the Abbey’s fan vaulted ceiling, and even sit behind the clock face.
Bath Abbey BA1 1LT. Visit the website.
Free to visit although suggested donations of £4 per adult and £2 per child are welcome.
The Tower Tour costs £8 per adult and £4 for children 5-15. Under 5s are not permitted.
Citysightseeing Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours
Although Bath is an easy city to walk around (especially this summer with the Minerva’s Owls of Bath outdoor art trail to motivate children – full post coming soon!) we loved using City Sightseeing bus tours to get around on the second and third days of our stay. The red open-topped double decker buses offer a 50-minute journey around the city, taking in key landmarks and providing visitors with headphones to plug into an audio commentary guide which gives a fascinating history of the city.
We didn’t do the whole tour in its entirety preferring instead to hop on and hop off at the destinations we wanted to visit. We never had to wait very long for a bus to come and we found the drivers very friendly and approachable.
The route begins outside the Abbey and we used it to travel to the Royal Crescent, Royal Victoria Park, The Jane Austen Centre, and The Assembly Rooms and Fashion Museum.
City Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours depart every 6-12 minutes during the summer season between 9.40am and 6.30pm. See website for details for the rest of the year. Visit the website here.
Adults £15.50, children £9.50, family £44. Tickets valid for 24 hours.
Tickets also give discounted admission at various attractions including Roman Baths Jane Austen Centre Fashion Museum No1 Royal Crescent and the American Museum.
Royal Crescent plus No1 Royal Crescent Museum
The Royal Crescent in one of Bath’s most famous landmarks and one of the most significant sites of Georgian architecture in the UK. The 500-foot long row of 30 terraced town houses in a striking crescent shape is a Grade I listed building. It was built between 1767 and 1774, designed by the architect John Wood, the Younger who along with his father John Wood, the Elder was responsible for much of Bath’s development.
With 115 iconic columns the crescent is a sight worth seeing in itself and when we arrived on our CitySightseeing bus the crescent and the grass verge below was nicely busy. We had a picnic lunch here.
While many of the houses are fully occupied by Bath residents, number 16 is a hotel and number 1 Royal Crescent has been turned into a museum depicting how it would have looked between 1776 and 1796.
On arrival at the museum children were given an explorer pack which included a magnifying glass and various toys and activities to guide them around the house. On the ground floor we visited rooms including the parlour, the dining room and the gentleman’s retreat where my children found it hilarious that while socialising men wouldn’t leave the room to go to the toilet but would rather use a chamber pot behind a screen.
We then headed up the stairs to the bedrooms and the withdrawing room used by ladies after dinner parties. The housekeeper’s room, servant’s hall and kitchen showed the difference in living standards between the house’s residents in their decadent rooms and their servants. The staff at the museum were so knowledgeable in telling us more about what life was like and the customs of the day.
For families visiting it’s worth noting that prams and buggies cannot be taken around the house due to its historic nature. However visitors can borrow a baby carrier at no charge and buggy parking is available.
No 1 Royal Crescent, Bath, BA1 2LS is open 10am-4pm. Visit the website here.
Adults £10.30; children 6-16 £5.10; family (2 adults plus up to 4 children) £25.40.
Royal Victoria Park
It’s just a short walk from the museum to Royal Victoria Park which was opened in 1830 by Princess Victoria – before she became queen – aged just 11 years old. Sadly she was never to return to Bath due to a supposed disparaging comment from a Bath resident about the thickness of her ankles.
The 57-acre park is home to botanical gardens and the Great Dell Aerial Walkway. However we didn’t see any of that – because we spent all of our time in the playground. Royal Victoria Park is home to a huge play area with so much to do for children. It has several different play areas featuring climbing frames swings and slides a zip wire and more. We were there for around an hour and a half – and my children were so disappointed to have to leave.
Royal Victoria Park, Marlborough Lane, Bath, BA1 2NQ. Visit the website here.
Bath Postal Museum
The UK’s first letter with a postage stamp was sent from Bath to London so it’s only fitting the city should have a postal museum – and this was our next stop. Housed underneath an actual post office this is a small but informative look at the history of the postal service.
It’s really interactive for children with old-fashioned stamping machines they can use, post boxes they can put letters in, and replica post offices. The information boards are full of fascinating facts (yes… it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds!). We were here for less than an hour but definitely learned a lot.
Bath Postal Museum, 27 Northgate Street, Bath, BA1 1AJ. Open Monday and Tuesday 11am-5pm and Wednesday-Saturday 2pm-5pm.
Adults £4.50; children over 6 £1.50 under 6s free. Visit the website here.
A river boat cruise with Pulteney Cruisers
City breaks can be fast-paced and tiring for both the legs and the brain with so much to see and explore so we were thrilled to join Pulteney Cruisers on an hour-long journey down the River Avon. Sitting on the top deck of the twin-decked open-topped boat and slowly sailing down the river was relaxing and tranquil and introduced us to a different side of Bath and the Avon Valley.
The luscious green riverside scenery was so picturesque with groups canoeing up and down the river and families living and staying in riverside houses where the garden steps lead directly down to the river. We saw one girl peacefully bobbing about in an inflatable pink flamingo.
You can depart the boat at Bathampton where a lovely-looking pub called the Old Mill awaits or stay on-board for the return journey as we did. Our captain gave us an interesting commentary about the river, the historic Pulteney bridge, and the wildlife. We didn’t see any of the herons, kingfishers or otters which are regularly spotted in the waters but a blue dragonfly landed on Miss E’s leg and stayed there for a good five minutes which my children thought was incredible.
Pulteney Cruisers Adults £9; children 5-15 £7 return. Boats leave every 40 minutes from 10am-5.20pm during peak season. See the website here.
After two solid days of exploring we were so grateful to The Oven for inviting us to dine with them. The independent family-run business is well-known in Bath for its wood-fired Neopolitan artisan pizzas which cook in 90 seconds.
The staff were friendly, the place had plenty of atmosphere with the full-length windows at the front wide open and upbeat music playing at just the right level – and the food was amazing.
They don’t do children’s-sized pizzas because the dough is pre-made and raised for 36-40 hours so in hindsight one each was too much for our children (although the left-overs came in handy for a picnic lunch the following day).
We had some green olives to start (£3) – large succulent and full of flavour – and then on to our main course of pizza. Gluten-free bases are available, as is vegan/dairy free cheese. I had a lovely combination of Roman artichokes, mixed peppers and mushrooms (£11); Cardiff Daddy opted for Calabrian sausage, pepperoni and ham (£12.50); both our sons had pineapple and cotto ham (£12.50); while Miss E kept it simple with margherita (£8). The children had fruit juices (£3 each); I had a glass of pinot grigio (£5.50) and Cardiff Daddy had a bottle of Peroni (£4.50).
The Oven, 3-4 Saw Close, Bath, BA1 1EY. Visit the website here.
After breakfast in our house bought from the local Morrison’s, Cardiff Daddy had to leave to head back to work. The children and I packed up, checked out and headed back on the bus to explore The Jane Austen Centre and the Fashion Museum, which is located inside The Assembly Rooms.
The Jane Austen Centre
Jane Austen is Bath’s most famous resident. The author paid two long visits to the city towards the end of the 18th century and lived there from 1801 to 1806. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion are set in Bath and it features in other novels, as well as the collection of letters she wrote to her sister Cassandra.
My children didn’t know much about her so I wasn’t sure what they would make of the Jane Austen Centre, one of the city’s most popular attractions. However I love her books and the film and TV adaptations and it was somewhere I really wanted to visit so we decided to give it a go. It’s a small exhibition but it packs a lot in and thankfully there were lots of interactive elements that kept my children engaged.
As soon as you arrive you are swept into the mood of things with all the staff dressed as characters from Jane’s various books and wearing name badges. They were completely in character and all of them really friendly to my children. The visit begins with a video about Jane’s life and her connection to Bath. “Mr Willougby” from Sense and Sensibility then gave us a 10-minute talk about Jane’s life, family and early literary influences.
We then learned about different portraits which may or may not be of Jane before being free to explore the rest of the museum. Large and clear information boards detail her life and her works. There are period costumes and images of Bath. Visitors can dress up and have their photo taken with a life-size Mr Darcy waxwork. Here I am in my bonnet and dress meeting him!
You can write with a feather quill and play games popular in the era. There’s also a life-size waxwork of Jane which was developed from a forensic portrait of the author. Even the toilets had signs for Mr Darcy and Lizzie Bennett rather than the usual male and female. The gift shop is a real treasure trove for Austen fans with different versions of all her books, badges, postcards, aprons, mugs, and more.
We were in the museum for over an hour although those without young children will probably spend longer. Upstairs is the Regency Tea Rooms which offers afternoon and cream teas, a champagne afternoon tea, light lunches, cakes and drinks. The centre also hosts the annual Jane Austen Festival with over 80 events including the Grand Regency Costumed Parade through the city and the Regency Costumed Masked Ball with its drinks reception around the Roman Baths and dancing in the historic Pump Rooms.
You can read our full review of The Jane Austen Centre here.
Jane Austen Centre 40 Gay Street Bath BA1 2NT. Visit the website here.
Adults £12; children 6-16 £6.20; seniors £10.50; students £9.50; family (2 adults and up to four children) £28. Book online and visit before 12pm and save £1 per ticket and £4 on the cost of a family ticket.
Fashion Museum Bath at The Assembly Rooms
The Assembly Rooms is one of Bath’s most elegant and prestigious venues, popular for weddings, parties and business events. It has a history of high society events having opened in 1771 – another landmark building designed by John Wood, the Younger – for elite gatherings during Georgian times. We were in awe of the ornately decorated rooms and even saw two members of staff cleaning one of the chandeliers.
The Fashion Museum is on the lower ground floor with the main ongoing exhibition offering a fascinating look at how people dressed over the centuries.
A History of Fashion in 100 Objects as its name suggests celebrates fashion from the 1600s onwards with 100 objects from the museum’s collection.
Incredible period dresses and tailored coats for men give way to the big fashion houses such as Christian Dior as key looks from different eras show us how trends have changed. There’s an area of children’s outfits which my three loved – they were especially taken with the fact that boys used to wear dresses until they were around six years old. The shoe area was also interesting with the Georgian silk boots and shoes standing out for their beauty as well as their impracticality.
Currently running until 28 April 2019 is Royal Woman, a collection of dresses and outfits worn by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother; Alexandra the 19th century Princess of Wales; Princess Margaret the Queen’s sister; and Queen Mary the current Queen’s grandmother.
Some of the dresses and gowns are truly stunning. The quality of fabric the cut and the adornments making it obvious how highly tailored the fashions were.
My children also loved the dressing up area where you could try on clothing from across the centuries.
Fashion Museum, Assembly Rooms, Bennett Street, Bath BA1 2QH. Visit the website here.
Adults £9; children 6-16 £7; family one adult and up to four children £20.30; family two adults and up to four children £29. Buy an online saver ticket which saves an average of £7 and allows entry to the Fashion Museum, the Roman Baths and Victoria Art Gallery within 90 days from the date of purchase. Adults £22.50; children 6-16 £12.25; family (1+up to 4) £40.60; family (2+up to 4) £58.
The Fashion Museum was the last stop of our three-day visit to Bath. We took the Citysighttseeing bus back to the centre and walked the five minutes from the Abbey to the station for our journey back home to Cardiff.
You can read all of our family travel posts here.