The Roman Baths are the top attraction in Bath England. Dating back to 75 A.D., the baths are the best preserved ancient baths in Northern Europe. In 1987, they became a UNESCO heritage site.
This guide gives you an overview of the history of the Roman Baths, what to see when visiting the complex, and must know tips for visiting.
This 1st century bath complex was a meeting point for patricians who came to bathe, drink the curative waters, and socialize. The baths fell out of use with the Roman exodus from Britain. But they were rediscovered and excavated in the late 19th century.
Today, visitors can see the in situ remains. Walking through them has a time warp feel, with the matte green waters of the baths perfectly reflecting the Roman facades. You’ll feel as though you’re stepping right back into Roman Britain.
The baths receive more than a million visitors a year. People come to see its historic finds, atmospheric pools, and imaginative displays.
History Of Bath: The Romans Arrive
The Roman arrived in Britain in 43 A.D. The Roman war machine made easy work of the far flung city.
The Romans knew what a jewel they had. They had seen the steam rise from a marshy area in the water.
They knew Bath held a hot spring, the perfect spot for a bath the Romans so loved. After gaining control of the spring, they proceeded to create a complex of baths, pools, and a temple on a sacred Celtic spot. It was operational by 75 A.D.
The bathing and temple complex was surrounded with a stone wall, constructed during the 3rd Century. It encircled an area of 23 acres, although whether this was defensive is debated.
The Romans used the bath house for religious and recreational (bathing) purposes.
There were public ceremonies in the baths. They would sometimes include the sacrifice of an animal in dedication to Sulis Minerva.
But the baths were also the place to socialize. Food and drink were served in the bath, including oysters and snails. Patricians would gamble, play cards, entertain clients, and listen to musicians.
The water wasn’t really green, as it appears. It was colorless, but took on its green hue from algae growth caused by heat and daylight.
The water was revered as a cure for all sorts of ailments, like gout, rheumatism, and skin diseases.
In 480 A.D., however the Roman Empire collapsed. The Romans departed Bath and the baths fell into ruins and were eventually buried.
Inside The Roman Baths
Here’s what you can see at the Roman baths. You visit on a one way self guided tour. Definitely get the audioguide!
There are four parts of the bath complex: (1) the great bath house; (3) the Sacred Spring; (3) the Roman Temple; and (4) the museum.
The city of Bath is built on top of the baths. You enter from street level.
A long terrace lets you look down into the baths, which are over six feet below the ground. This breathtaking view is one of the highlights of the Bath complex.
The terrace is filled with sculptures of Roman emperors and generals, including Julius Caesar, Claudius, and Hadrian. You can look at them up close. You then pass from the terrace through hallways and rooms.
2. Temple of Sulis Minerva
In the series of darkish rooms inside the complex, you’ll see the in situ remains and ornate architectural fragments of what was once the magnificent open air Temple of Sulis Minerva.
She was the goddess of the thermal spring. Sulis wasn’t a Roman goddess though. She was a local Celtic deity from the Iron Age.
The Romans deduced that Sulia was the equivalent of their goddess Minerva. So they used both names.
In its heyday, the temple was a classical masterpiece worthy of Rome itself. it was set on a high podium reached by steep stairs.
Its porch was dominated by four massive Corinthian columns supporting an ornate pediment. There was a small room where priests would tend to the flames burning around a life size cult statue of Sulis Minerva.
The ornamental blocks from its front facade are one of the most important exhibits in the museum. They were excavated in 1981-83.
In the museum areas, you’ll find diagrams, dioramas, and models. There are artifacts like coins, mosaics, tombstones, religious masks, and busts. Videos and holograms are used to make the ruins come alive.
Look out for the famous gilded bronze head of Minerva and a striking carved gorgon’s head from the temple pediment.
The gilded head is one of the best known objects from Roman Britain. It was found in 1727 by workmen digging in a sewer.
You’ll even see “curse scrolls.” The Romans inscribed curses on tablets made of sheets of pewter or lead.
They threw the curses into the springs hoping to procure justice from Sulis Minerva. Archaeologists discovered the curses during excavations.
The curses are pretty funny. They reveal the petty side of human nature. They were almost like modern day tweets.
One scroll, for example, asks that the thief who stole his gloves lose his “mind and eyes.” Another person sought revenge for the theft of a bronze vessel, asking that it be “filled with the blood of the thief.”
There’s also a large scale model of the temple and the bath complex. You will get an idea of how it looked to Roman citizens.
4. Great Bath
Your downward progress ends at a beautiful smoldering pool known as the Great Bath. It’s the showstopper of the bath complex.
The Great Bath is an elegant hall with a rectangular swimming pool surrounded by broad paved walkways. It was the largest pool in the bathing complex.
The pool is lined with lead and filled with steaming, geothermally heated water from the so-called “Sacred Spring” to a depth of 5 feet.
The bath is open-air. Originally, it was covered by a 145+ feet barrel vaulted roof made of brick.
There are pillars, long arches, and statues of Roman generals and emperors at the top. At one time, patterned mosaics decorated the floors.
Niches around the Great Bath would have held benches for bathers and possibly small tables for drinks or snacks. A large flat slab of stone is set across the point where hot water flows into the bath. It’s known today as the diving stone.
Despite its architectural beauty, the bath couldn’t have functioned without Roman engineering to ensure the flow of water.
The Romans used lead piping and bronze sluices to ensure the supply of hot water and steam to the different bathing facilities. Brick stockeries and chimneys allowed hot air from furnaces to circulate in the treatment rooms.
5. Other Baths
But the baths don’t end there. To the east and west are more Roman pools, changing areas, hot rooms, cold plunge pools, etc.
The Romans followed a specific regimen after bathing in the Grand Bath. They would warm up in the tepidarium, sweat in the caladrium, and then jump in the cold frigidarium to close the pores. You can see the ruins of these different areas.
Excavated sections also reveal the hypocaust system that heated the bathing rooms.
6. Pump Room
The famous Pump Room is a restaurant and tea room that built by Thomas Baldwin and John Palmer. It’s a historic building in the Abbey Church Yard.
In Georgian Bath, the Pump Room was the social heart of Bath, where the rich and famous wanted to be see and be seen in Georgian Bath. The novelist Jane Austen would have patronized it.
The Pump Room is built in a Neoclassical style, complete with soaring Ionic and Corinthian columns. It’s physically in the same building as the Roman Baths.
But it has a separate entrance, very close to the entrance of the Roman Baths. From inside, you have a birds eye view of the Roman Baths from its balcony.
You can taste free samples of the thermal spring waters, to test the Victorian hypothesis that they had curative properties.
The Pump Room also has a restaurant, which serves magnificent afternoon teas. If you’re lucky, you might even have music provided by the Pump Room’s string trio.
Tickets & Tours
Admission to the Roman Baths is £ 20-25 per ticket, depending on when you go. You should book in advance. Click here to book a ticket on the website.
I was just there on a March weekend and it was fully booked. The price includes an audio guide offering plenty of interesting information. You can pick it up after you hand in your ticket.
You can also take a guided 2 hour walking tour of Bath with an entry to the Roman baths.
How To Get To The Roman Baths
It’s very easy to get to Bath by train. From London Paddington Station, it takes 1.5 hours to arrive at Bath.
If you want to drive, Bath is about 85 miles from London. The trip takes just under 2 hours, if there’s no traffic.
Many people visit on a guided tour. If you’re based in London, you can also book a guided day trip tour to both Bath and Stonehenge. You can also book a guided tour that includes Stratford-Upon-Avon, Stonehenge and Bath.
The second tour is long and packs a lot in. But if you’re short on time, it’s an ideal way to see several several marquis attractions in England.
A variant of this tour takes you on a day trip to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Bath.
How to Visit the Roman Baths in England
Here’s what you need to know to visit the Roman Baths:
Address: The Roman Baths, Abbey Church Yard, Bath, BA1 1LZ.
Hours: In July and August the Roman Baths are open until late evening.
Admission to the Roman Baths is £ 20-25 per ticket, depending on when you go. You should book in advance. The Baths are often sold out.
Click here to book a ticket on the website. Tickets must be purchased no later than midnight the day before your visit.
Admission to the Roman Baths includes an audio guide, with commentary in 12 languages. You pick it up to the left after you’ve turned in your ticket at the entrance office.
Pro Tip: The museum has a separate audioguide for children to help make the ancient site come to life. There are also costumed actors, playing Roman citizens, who will interact with visitors.
How Long To Visit: 1-2 hours
When To Visit:
The Baths can get very crowded, especially in peak summer months. The London coach tours begin arriving around lunch time and through the afternoon. If you’re visiting independently, head to the baths in the early morning or the late afternoon.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to visiting the Roman Baths in Bath. You may want to check out my one day itinerary for Bath to see what else to do in Bath. Here are some of my other other London area travel guides and resources:
- 5 Day Itinerary for London
- Harry Potter Places in London
- Tourist Traps To Skip in London
- Guide To the National Gallery of Art
- Guide To the Wallace Collection
- Guide To the Tower of London
- Free Museums in London
- Virtual Tours of London
- Guide To Free Museums in London
- Guide To Hampton Court Palace
- Guide To Hatfield House
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