Beautiful, elegant, cultural Bath is famously expensive. Beloved by the Romans and a fashionable Georgian watering hole, these days it’s home to a smart contemporary spa.
The city’s graceful, golden 18th century buildings frame an array of trendy boutiques, classy restaurants and gourmet shops. But while many bemoan Bath’s prices, there’s actually a wealth of free (and almost free) things to do which give you a richer slice of city life. Here’s an itinerary to see Bath on a budget.
Picnic beside a Bridgerton backdrop
As you join the crowds gazing at the gorgeous Georgian semi-circle of the Royal Crescent it may look familiar. These honey-coloured, four-story mansions feature in the Netflix blockbuster Bridgerton. Stroll along the length of the street then turn left. After a sweeping semi-circle of private lawns sits a vast swathe of grass. Here you can gaze back at the exquisite architecture and picnic with the locals – a Bridgerton backdrop of your own and a meal with the best (and free) views in town.
Discover a secret garden
Once you’ve seen No.1 Royal Crescent, look out for a pedestrian path on the right as you head back towards town. It turns left onto Gravel Walk to hug the back of walled gardens. With sunlight dappling dog walkers, and glimpses of fine buildings through the trees, it feels like this route is offering you privileged access into the real city behind those fine facades.
Eventually a door set into the wall to your left leads to the tiny Georgian Garden, with its gravel walkways and heritage plants. Again there’s a behind-the-scenes feel - you’re in what would have been the private space of a very grand, Bridgerton-esque, building.
Embark on an architectural amble
Bath’s other architectural show-stopper, The Circus, is a short stroll away. Completed in 1768, its three curving terraces of 33 mansions form an imposing circle. You’ve already seen the back of one of these grand villas – the Georgian Garden is tucked in just behind.
Bath’s unfurnished Assembly Rooms are nearby, all elaborate plaster moulding, huge oil paintings and vast chandeliers. This is where Bath’s fashionable society came to attend lavish balls in the 18th century. Bits of Bridgerton were filmed here and you get to wander around all this finery for free.
Walk (or cycle) an art-packed tunnel
You’re deep into the mile-long Combe Down cycling and walking tunnel that runs below suburban Bath. As you move through the gloom, strange glowing disks appear in alcoves in the sides. You’re about to trigger the sound and light installation Passage, by United Visual Artists and the composer Mira Calix.
Suddenly stringed instruments begin to play. As the music swirls, look ahead towards the other 19 alcoves with eerie gleaming circles. Each has a motion sensor and sparks music which creates a unique atmosphere, propelling you on your way.
Bathe on Bath’s wild side
Head to Warleigh Weir on a summer’s day along the Kennet & Avon Canal towpath. Here you'll join crowds of locals as they laugh, lounge on the grass and float in long, shallow pools that curve out from a 100m weir. As dragonflies buzz, birds flit and you gaze up at a wide blue sky from the water, you’ll see why Warleigh Weir has been a much-loved local swim spot for more than 100 years.
The weir may not be as old as the city’s Roman Baths, or as warm as the geothermal pool at swish Thermae Bath Spa but its back-to-basics bathing helps you really tap into city and its people. It’s also much more memorable and – of course – it’s free (although the landowner appreciates donations at a coin box on your way in).
Sip a pint in a proper music pub
The pints of real ale are poured, there’s a buzz of expectation in the air, the first chords of the guitar begin to play. It’s lively and loud and full of the love of music at Bath’s legendary Bell Inn. This historic, welcoming space has a real feeling that people enjoy coming together to have a good time – the pub is actually owned by some 500 of it’s customers who banded together to buy it. Catch the vibe in live music three to four times a week – and all for the price of a pint (or two).
Watch artisan glassblowers at work
As you walk up Walcot St to the Bell, there was a counter-culture feel – a refreshing change after all that Georgian grandeur. You’re in the heart of Bath’s artisan quarter, surrounded by vintage clothes shops, designer homeware stores and cool cafes.
Just up from the Bell you’ll probably spot an open doorway at the workshops of Bath Aqua Glass. A wave of heat flows from it, inside furnaces blaze, tools clank and artisans roll, blow and sculpt molten glass. It’s absorbing, rhythmical stuff, watching unformed blobs being transformed into gleaming works of art.
Take a – genuinely – free walking tour
Bath has endless narrow lanes and unexpected paths, which can be fantastic fun to explore. Sometimes though you want a guide who can really bring the place to life. But those guides cost money – right? Well, no. The Mayor of Bath’s Corps of Honorary Guides are completely free – they won’t even accept tips.
Just book a tour, meet outside the Roman Baths, then let a supremely knowledgeable, enthusiastic guide lead you to both big and lesser-known sights, sharing the stories of the people who built the city, the characters who’ve lived in it and the scandals that have occurred.
Delight in buskers & history at Kingston Parade
At the end of a day sightseeing, stand at the side of towering Bath Abbey looking towards the colonnades and statues of the Roman Baths. The compact square of Kingston Parade will be full with people, conversations in many languages swirl as they head off to find a pub. A busker plays, the notes of her violin rising above the hubbub.
There’s a regular rotation of players here (and throughout many of Bath’s key shopping streets) and the surrounding benches make a natural performance space. As you sit, people watching and enjoying these free, alfresco, mini concerts, you’re looking at buildings spanning more than two thousand years of the city’s history. Quite a show for whatever you choose to donate.
Walk to city views
Walk a mile or so from central Bath, taking just an hour to get to Bathwick Fields – a spot offering panoramic city views. As you look down on the city, you’ll see towers, spires and lines of graceful Georgian buildings. It’s a zoomed-out view of the sights you’ve seen up close.
On the way you’ve wandered across photogenic Pulteney Bridge, past the art collection in the Georgian Holburne Museum (the home of Bridgerton’s Lady Danbury), past Sydney Gardens, where the people of Bath like to relax on sunny days, and beside the Bath Canal. It’s a walk that traces the route dandies and fashionable ladies strolled in the 18th century. And visitors still adore it today.
One last tip for budget-conscious travelers: stay in nearby Bristol (where accommodation is generally less pricey) and head in and out of Bath on the train. It takes around 15 minutes, costs £8.50 return and services run until around 11pm.