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The first time I saw the Roman Baths in the town of Bath, England, I only viewed what I now know is the King Bath, a small pool where the thermal springs first emerge from the ground. It wasn’t until my third visit to Bath when I finally explored the rest of the complex, and boy is it extensive. Two hours to explore all the rooms, and I still didn’t get a chance to read all the information displays or even take the free guided tour.
Where Are the Roman Baths?
Bath, England is a small town of 85,000 people, a mere 15-minute train ride east of Bristol or 90 minutes by train from London. The Roman Baths are located in the center of town. They span dozens of rooms in addition to a large underground exhibit. The original Roman town of Aquae Sulis, meaning the waters of the deity Sulis, goes back to 863 BC. The Roman settlement was eventually buried under several meters of silt from nearby River Avon. While the baths have been used by the English for centuries, the excavations didn’t open as an attraction until 1897.
A Visual Tour of the Roman Baths
The tour begins with walking around the upper terrace of the main bath. Bath Abbey rises up in the background just a few feet away. Statues of Roman emperors line the terrace, looking down into the pool.
A large, two-level information center has been built over the original ruins, providing hundreds of artifacts, information displays and videos detailing the life of the Romans at the baths. A massive collection of Roman coins found near the baths in 2012 are on display.
One of the more interesting displays is the curses – messages to the goddess Minerva (Sulis) that were etched into metal and thrown into the baths. Many of them request punishment on people who stole possessions such as sandals and robes worn to the baths. It appears theft has been a major problem in our society for millennia.
After the souvenir shop, you’ll come to the ground floor of the main bath. Free guided tours happen every hour on the hour to show you around and give you more information on the baths.
Next to the main bath are several more rooms. Some contain smaller baths, while others were used as saunas and changing rooms. In the 2nd century, a Roman mandate decreed that men and women would bathe separately, and new pools were built. The women had three pools – the caldarium (hot bath), tepidarium (lukewarm bath), and frigidarium (cold bath). On the men’s side, you can throw coins into the pool to support the renovations and opening of another large group of rooms recently discovered.
At the end of the tour, make sure to visit the fountain where you can drink water directly from the springs. It contains over 42 minerals, more than twice as much as San Pellegrino sparkling water. A new well was bored in 1983 to provide clean water for the fountain as well as the nearby spa.
Visiting the Roman Baths
The Roman Baths are available to visit 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with longer opening hours in the summer. Ticket prices are £15.50 for adults and £9.80 for children during the winter season. 2018 prices have yet to be posted. Make sure to bring comfortable shoes, preferably some boots which won’t slip as the stones around the pools can be slick. Book your visit here.
Bathing in the Roman Baths
While you can’t enter the waters at the Roman Baths themselves, the mineral-rich water is pumped to the Thermae Bath Spa next door. Three pools are available to swim in, as well as several other facilities including saunas, massages and relaxing showers. Read more about the Thermae Bath Spa here.
Other Activities to Do in Bath
The Roman Baths aren’t the only attractions in Bath. Jane Austen lived in Bath from 1801 to 1806. You can visit the Jane Austen Center, or take one of the Jane Austen walking tours. See the rest of the attractions from a free walking tour or the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour, and be sure to visit in December to see the beautiful Bath Christmas Market.
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