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If you're wondering what to do in Bath and the surrounding areas, why not pop into the best-preserved Roman thermae in the UK? The Roman Baths are a landmark of the local area, and of course, the origin of Bath's name, attracting over a million visitors every year. At the baths, you can see the place Romans used to relax, swim and socialise, in a variety of hot and cool pools filled with water from the nearby Mendip Hills. While you, unfortunately, can't swim in the Roman Baths any more for hygiene reasons, they are still an amazing place to visit. If you do feel like bathing as the Romans did, the Thermae Bath Spa located just a two-minute walk away uses the same natural thermal waters to create a relaxing and safe bathing experience.
The Roman Baths history dates back thousands of years, to the first century (around 60-70AD), when a temple as part of the Aquae Sulis settlement was built on the site. Aquae Sulis was a small town that formed the foundations of what we now know as the city of Bath and is even recorded as the location of hot springs in Ptolemy's work. The thermal springs, originally dedicated by the Celtic peoples to their goddess Sulis, were then aligned with the Roman goddess Minerva when the Romans arrived in the area. After the decline of the Roman empire, the hot springs were still used and were the subject of many legends throughout the years. After being rediscovered in the 1700s, the Roman Baths quickly became a marvel. With modern archaeology, we have been able to excavate not only the baths but also thousands of Roman coins, the temple courtyard and lots of artefacts such as stone sculptures. Due to its Roman Baths, hot springs and 18th century architecture, the city of Bath is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Now, there are four different areas to explore in the Roman Baths, comprising a combination of pools and historical locations. On your visit, you'll have the chance to explore the Roman Bath House, the Roman Temple, the Sacred Spring itself which was dedicated to the goddesses Sulis and Minerva, and the museum. It's recommended you put aside around 1.5-2 hours for your visit, depending on how much time you spend exploring each area.
The Sacred Spring can be found right in the centre of the site, and is the origin of the Roman Baths and indeed, the city of Bath. Originally the Temple would have stood by the Spring, and the hot 46°C water rises here from the natural spring. Back in Roman times, nobody understood the geological reasons for why this happened, which is why the hot spring was attributed to the goddess Sulis Minerva. Because so many people threw in objects to the Spring as an offering to the goddess, there is now a huge collection of Roman items from this time.
The Great Bath is one of the largest pools that is preserved just how the Romans used it. The hot bath is 1.6 metres deep, and was once indoors, in a hall that was 20 metres tall. Nowadays, it is open to the air, and you can wander around and experience the calm serenity of the space and the blue-green spring water. Plus, if you happen to be around in the evening, you'll see the fire torches being lit from 6pm in the summer and 4pm in the winter, to add that extra historical touch. Plus, if you're lucky, you might even see a costumed Roman relaxing around the bath.
Another key element of the historic Roman Baths is the Temple Courtyard, which was created next to the sacred spring of Minerva. While all that remains now is the site of part of the temple area that can be accessed via a suspended walkway, if you look at the computer reconstruction, you will be able to situate yourself back in the Temple Courtyard as it would have stood thousands of years ago. Here, sacrifices would have been made at the altar, and some inscriptions and stones date back to the Roman times. One of the most famous artefacts dating from Roman Britain, a bronze statue of Minerva's head was also found here and would have been the head of a statue of the goddess which stood inside the Temple. The ornamental Temple pediment is also one of the most significant archaeological findings at the Roman Baths and would have been erected as the front of the Temple. With just a few stones remaining that have been reassembled, on the pediment, you can see the stone-carved Gorgon's Head, the symbol of Sulis Minerva. This pediment would originally have sat on top of four columns, and at 15 feet high, would have dominated the Temple. Among other important objects in the collection are the curse tablets, which are part of the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. These tablets were curses or prayers written on a sheet of pewter or lead, then rolled up and tossed into the hot spring.
As you wander through the Roman Baths, make sure to take a look at the Heated Rooms and the Plunge Pools, which includes a sequence of rooms that would have been heated using the Roman hypocaust system. There is also a cold plunge pool that would have been used to cool off with a chilly dip! You can also see projections on the walls that demonstrate how these areas would have been used back in the Roman days.
There are plenty of things to do at the Roman Baths for kids, with lots of things to learn and see. There are special audio guides made just for kids, to help them learn as they walk around these amazing pools. There are also activity trails, where kids can follow Hoot the Owl and complete various tasks. Plus, the tours are led by costumed guides, who make you feel like you're really experiencing the Roman Baths as people did 2,000 years ago. There are also often Roman Baths events on for families all year round, with crafts and opportunities to dress up, as well as adventure trails. To continue with their learning, you can also download a children's app that is all about the Roman Baths, or set them up with some online games that are available on the Roman Baths website.
The Roman Baths collection and museum is also a key place to learn more about the history of Aquae Sulis and the Roman Baths in a hands-on way. Here you can see sculptures, household items and other artefacts that help show what day-to-day life was like for the Romans in Bath.
While it may be so tempting to touch or taste the hot water as you walk around the Roman Baths, it is actually unlike any water we now use and is completely untreated. This means it is unsafe to use, and people haven't been able to swim in the pools since 1978. Now, the baths have a greenish tinge due to the algae that grow in it. Back in Roman times, the baths could have been covered so there would have been no light to help the algae grow, but now it has altered the colour of the water.
Once you've explored the beautiful and historic baths, you might be in the mood for something to eat. The Pump Room restaurant, located on site at the Roman Baths, is a great place to enjoy a meal or a spot of afternoon tea. The Pump room also has special children's teas for mini guests. Here you can also try some Bath buns, accompanied by tea or coffee. Next door you'll also find the Roman Baths Kitchen, where you can enjoy a traditional meal of fish 'n' chips, or some more tasty local food. The city of Bath is also home to lots of great cafes and restaurants if you'd like to venture further afield, and you'll also be able to find plenty of scenic spots if you'd prefer a picnic.
If you enjoyed taking in the historic Roman Baths, why not check out some more history at the beautiful Wells Cathedral? Or, for a day filled with excitement and adventure, head to the prehistoric Wookey Hole Caves that have been around for millions of years.
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