The best way to see Bath is on foot. The city’s handsome Georgian architecture was designed as a theatrical backdrop for promenading visitors and residents, and nowadays it is still a welcoming environment on a human scale, ideally suited to humans rather than vehicles. Some central streets have been pedestrian-only for decades and continual adjustments are being made to restrict traffic, restore calm and reduce pollution. This means that walking is becoming ever-more enjoyable and safe – as long as you watch out for the riders of bicycles and electric scooters who ignore road and pavement safety.
Bath grew up around a couple of river crossings on the river Avon, in a valley surrounded by low hills. The town gradually spread up the slopes of the hills, with the urban developments of the 18th and 19th centuries taking advantage of the lofty views and fresh country air of these hillsides. The city has spread further now, up and over the ‘rim’ of the hills, but the grand Georgian hillside crescents still have glorious views and one still has sheep grazing in front of it for rustic charm. And within the boundaries of the city there are green parks and even some picturesque surviving countryside, reaching almost to the city centre.
Discovering Bath on foot
Bath is easy to tour on foot, and exploring freely and aimlessly can provide a lot of pleasant surprises. You can’t go far wrong in the city centre; the historic streets cover a wide area and are almost all attractive. A tourist map as back-up can give you some guidance where necessary. But for focussed tours, ensuring you don’t miss sights of special interest, or discovering some of the city’s secrets, a guide can be helpful.
I grew up in Bath and have my own favourite spots l enjoy returning to, as well as others I’ve enjoyed rediscovering after years when they were simply not on any of my regular routes. Here I’ll share some walks I find particularly fascinating, walks that will help you to get the most from a visit to Bath, and walks with a theme that may be interesting even for those who know Bath well.
Themed walks have an appeal beyond the obvious – for example, following in the footsteps of a Jane Austen heroine isn’t just a tour of landmarks, it’s an insight into Bath in the early 1800s, the lives of the upper-class visitors who made Bath such a successful spa town, and the level of freedom that might have been experienced by women like Austen herself.
As Bath is built on a slope and spreads up steeper hillsides, few walks in the city centre are truly flat. I’ve noted where my walks include any steps or significant uphill, or where they roam out of the city centre and from pavements to rougher surfaces. Otherwise you can assume they are leisurely walks and require only comfortable footwear, weather essentials and drinking water. In the centre of Bath there are loads of independent cafés, restaurants, food shops and pubs for refreshments, as well as the usual chains.
Healthy and sustainable tourism
Walking is a healthy and sustainable form of tourism, so it’s good to think that walkers are being socially responsible as they explore. Taking a refillable bottle with tap water, minimising litter and disposing of it appropriately, and supporting local businesses will all help reduce the footprint of tourism and ‘give back’ to the Bath community.
Although at busy holiday times the centre of Bath can get busy, these walks will take you beyond the most obvious tourist streets and away from the crowds. Even so, please avoid blocking pavements while reading the walk directions, and take care crossing roads. If you see anything interesting off-route, please go and explore! My routes are suggestions, and the most important thing is for visitors to enjoy themselves in this lovely city.
Prior Park Landscape Garden and Skyline variant walk – a circular walk (2-3 hours) combining town and countryside, including rough paths, uphills, a garden visit and spectacular views of Bath. Walking shoes/boots advised.
Country walks – heading out of town into the countryside around Bath