Lonely Planet review
Ever since the Romans arrived in Bath, life in the city has revolved around the three geothermal springs that bubble up near the abbey. In typically ostentatious style, the Romans constructed a glorious complex of bathhouses above these thermal waters to take advantage of their natural temperature, which emerge at a constant 46°C. Situated alongside an important temple dedicated to the healing goddess Sulis Minerva, the baths are believed to have attracted tourists from right across the Empire, and now form one of the best-preserved ancient Roman spas in the world.
The heart of the complex is the Great Bath , a large lead-lined pool filled with steaming, geothermally-heated water from the so-called 'Sacred Spring' to a depth of 1.6m. Though it's now open to the air, the bath would originally have been covered by a vast 45m-high barrel-vaulted roof. Further bathing pools and changing rooms are situated to the east and west, with excavated sections revealing the hypocaust system that would have kept the bathing rooms balmy.
One of the most picturesque corners of the complex is the 12th-century King's Bath , built around the original sacred spring; 1.5 million litres of hot water still pour into the pool every day. Beneath the Pump Room are the remains of the Temple of Sulis-Minerva ; look out for the famous gilded head of Minerva herself and the engraved Haruspex stone on which the statue would originally have stood.
Even though the baths are off-limits to modern-day bathers, they remain a fascinating window into everyday Roman life, and unsurprisingly get very busy. You can usually avoid the worst crowds by buying tickets in advance online, visiting early on a midweek morning, and by avoiding July and August. Admission includes an audioguide in a choice of eight languages, featuring a special commentary by the bestselling author Bill Bryson.