The reason why the majority of visitors come to Bath is to visit its famous Roman Baths and we were all really excited to visit during our trip to this beautiful city.
We explained to the girls before we left on our journey to Bath that we were going to be transported back to Roman Britain and that we would be visiting what the Romans would call a modern day swimming pool.
Once we had checked in at the Apex City of Bath Hotel (read our review here), we were eager to explore the city starting at Bath’s number one attraction (rated by Trip Advisor and Visit Bath) – its 2,000 year old Roman Baths located in the heart of the city.
Although it is advisable to arrive early, especially during weekends, I would recommend arriving just before dusk as you get to see the baths lit up and the added bonus of the queues being quieter.
On entering the Roman Baths via the reception hall our first impressions were just how grand the building was. Here we were warmly welcomed by staff as we collected our tickets and audio guides to help us to self explore the attraction. We learnt that the actual Roman Baths were four metres below the current street level.
What we thought was a great idea for families with younger children was that here you could exchange your child’s push-chair (as the attraction is not pushchair friendly) for a courtesy child carrier to explore the attraction.
The reason why the Romans settled in Aquae Sulis (modern day Bath) was because the city lies on natural hot springs. Because of this unique feature the Romans constructed this magnificent bathing complex centred around the springs which are one of the best preserved Roman spas in the world.
Before starting our self-guided tour, we each received an audio handset, which was our guide to transport us back 2,000 years as we explored the baths. What was great was that the girls loved getting their own handset with an audio tour specially tailored for children.
They were fascinated as the children’s guides are based on characters who lived and worked at Aquae Sulis 2,000 years ago and it really kept them interested as we explored this ancient attraction.
Each area of the Baths that you explore is clearly marked by colour and number, with a brief description of what you will see and a number point guide on the audio handset, which was really child friendly. Along with a children’s audio guide there were also children’s trails to collect, one for under 7s called the Roman Baths trail and for older children there was a Meet the Romans trail.
As our eldest daughter has just recently studied the Roman era at school she was very excited and inquisitive about what life would have been like in this period. Having all of these interactive and engaging elements of the tour made it more exciting for the children to explore and learn.
The experience starts at the inner and outer terraces, which offer unique and spectacular vantage points of Bath Abbey. During wet weather the outdoor terrace may be closed, but we were lucky enough to catch a break from the rain at the end of our tour to explore.
From the terraces amongst the life-size Victorian statues of Roman emperors and governors of Britain you catch your first glimpse of the steaming water of the Great Bath below.
The bright green water of the magnificent great Bath certainly made an impact on the girls as they told us that they couldn’t believe that the Romans would bathe in such disgusting water.
This is as a result of it now being opened to the elements and natural algae growth in the sunlight. It wasn’t always like this, back in Roman times the water would have been much more inviting with a 20m high roof spanning the water below.
It was fascinating to learn that this was just a quarter of the site as the majority of the Roman Baths extends beneath the modern day streets of Bath.
Because of this the majority of the museum is set below street level the first exhibition “Meet the Romans” which showcased what life was like in Bath 2,000 years ago as a Roman is accessed via the staircase. With lots of clever film projections and audio to interpret scenes of Roman life it really did feel as though we had been transported back in time.
The girls loved looking through each area of the museum. We stopped for a seat to take in front of the magnificent temple which was known as Life and Death in Aquae Sulis and one of only two classical temples from Roman Britain that remain. They kept asking questions as we explored and the skeleton within a glass case caught my younger child’s attention.
There were many artefacts that could be touched and feeling the different textures and surfaces prompted many interesting questions. It really does give a good insight on what it was like being a Roman.
As the tour continued it took us on a wonderful interactive journey, walking over a suspended glass and steel walkway above the ancient temple courtyard. It was here that we saw one of the best known objects from Roman Britain – the gilt bronze head of Minerva which was found in 1727.
En-route to the great baths was the sacred spring, where 46 °C hot water naturally rises here every day like it has been doing for thousands of years. The spring overflow offered a surreal feeling as we could feel the heat rising from the water from the hot spring and into the original Roman drains.
As you see the craftsmanship of the ancient plumbing and sewerage systems and architecture it really did highlight how advanced the Roman civilisation was. There were some realistic smells too, as the whiff of sulphur made the girls giggle.
Walking past the Sacred Spring and you will find the Kings Bath on your right. There were lots of activities for the girls to take part in and during our visit and one of their favourites was trying to move Bath stone.
The lure of some Roman Bath ducks drew the girls into the gift shop which was located midway around the museum with some lovely Roman inspired gifts such as bath salts, handmade soaps etc. There is also a large gift shop at the end of the tour.
The highlight for all visitors to the Roman Baths is the Great Bath, the magnificent centrepiece of the Roman bathing complex. The sheer size of this massive pool was awe inspiring, with its steamy murky green waters it made a fantastic photo spot especially at dusk when the torches are lit.
We even came across a Roman soldier at the side of the baths, who told the girls stories about what life was like which really helped bring history to life for them.
Unfortunately, the water is no longer clean so you are unable to touch or take a swim (but for adults there is the Thermae Spa not far from here where you can take a bath like the Romans did – or in our case we spent the afternoon in the fab health club and swimming pool at our hotel the Apex City of Bath).
Around the perimeter of the Great Bath are more rooms to explore deep beneath the streets of Bath including the Roman temple courtyard and East and West Baths. Once more the experience felt so authentic with clever use of projections, soundscapes and CGI reconstructions giving you a good appreciation of how the baths were used in Roman times. The sight of semi naked Romans caused a chuckle with the girls.
Seeing the scale of the Roman Baths was incredible and its facilities including saunas, plunge pools and steam rooms would rival modern day health spas and gymnasiums.
The West Baths showcases the Circular Bath and the King’s Bath.
There are thousands of coins in the Circular Bath and the girls loved adding to its history and felt moved to throw a coin into the water making their own wish for the future.
The tour ends at the famous spa water fountain, containing 43 minerals which have attracted visitors to Bath to try this famous water for curative purposes. My daughter and I were brave enough to taste this famous water which was definitely an acquired taste as the warm salty water was horrible.
Why I would recommend:
The tour takes you on a wonderful interactive journey about Roman history and their life at the Baths 2,000 years ago. It’s surprising just how big the baths were as you cannot see the scale of the attraction from the streets of modern day Bath.
There were so many opportunities for the children to learn about the Roman Baths through sight, sound, smell and touch during our 2 hour visit.
We had a wonderful time exploring the Roman Baths and one which I would recommend as a must visit attraction whilst in Bath. It was a fun, educational, family friendly venue and a great day out
Rather watch than read?
The Roman Baths are open every day, except 25 and 26 December. The opening times vary throughout the year, and include special late evening entry during mid- June, July and August. Check their website for the current opening schedule.
The Roman Baths
Abbey Churchyard, Bath BA1 1LZ
01225 477 785
We were guests of Visit Bath during our visit to the city