How the city of Bath is embracing its heritage in 2022

The Somerset city is embracing its historical pedigree this year, with new visitor centres, illuminating exhibitions and the grand reopening of the country’s oldest lido.

Bath has major bragging rights, now holding double UNESCO status as a World Heritage Site and, since 2021, one of The Great Spa Towns of Europe.

Photograph by AWL Images
By Stephanie Cavagnaro
Published 28 Mar 2022, 15:00 BST

The golden Georgian city of Bath isn’t just about good looks. It has major bragging rights, too — now holding double UNESCO status as a World Heritage Site and, since 2021, one of The Great Spa Towns of Europe. Cupped in the Avon valley with grassy hills rolling beyond, it’s no wonder Bath has also just been announced as the first of 20 National Trust ‘green corridors’, which will link its centre to the countryside and create new habitats for wildlife. Amid the city’s famous sweeping crescents and Roman ruins, a range of new spots — from a riverside lido to a World Heritage Centre — are swinging their doors open this year. A busy cultural calendar also takes in music and literature festivals, as well as diverse exhibitions featuring print, portraiture and fashion. There’s never been a better time to visit.

Making a splash this summer is Cleveland Pools, England’s oldest lido, which has been left high and dry since it closed in the 1980s. Restoration of the 200-year-old icon will revitalise its honey-hued facade, shaped like a Georgian crescent. The 25m outdoor pool flanks the River Avon, which will provide the energy to heat the pool’s waters sustainably. With a similarly green approach in mind, there’s no parking, but it’s a mere 15-minute walk from the city centre or a swift ride along the river on a standup paddleboard. 

Meanwhile, the free-to-enter World Heritage Centre is opening this spring at the Roman Baths to flaunt the city’s unique assets, including its hot springs, Roman remains and Georgian architecture. Take home a tome from Topping & Company’s new quarters in a grand, Greek revival-style listed building on York Street; the independent bookseller is a bibliophile’s dream, with multiple floors stacked with handcrafted bookcases and rolling library ladders. Even Bath’s most feted church is embracing the new: the Bath Abbey Discovery Centre will shine a light on the institution’s rich history when it opens this autumn.  

Five events in Bath not to miss in 2022

1. From Hogarth to Hodgkin: Our Best Prints, Victoria Art Gallery
Peruse the museum’s print collection, which spans 700 years, taking in everything from portraiture and landscape to portrayals of Georgian Bath. The exhibition encompasses prints from German Renaissance painters Lucas Cranach the Elder and Albrecht Dürer to contemporary works by Grayson Perry and Cornelia Parker. 5 March to 5 May. 

2. Dress to Redress: Exploring Native American Material Culture, American Museum & Gardens
Discover the bold work of Anishinaabe artist Celeste Pedri-Spade in a collection of striking wearable art pieces, photography and personal artifacts. Pedri-Spade uses fashion to explore the role of women in community, challenge male-dominated narratives and confront the history of material culture. 19 March to 3 July. 

3. The Bath Festival
The stage is set this May for the city’s annual comedy, literature and music festival. It kicks off on the first evening with Party in the City, featuring free live music in dozens of venues across town. The wider festival lineup includes Nobel Prize-winning author Abdulrazak Gurnah, comedians Phil Wang and Isy Suttie, saxophonist Jess Gillam and historian David Olusoga. Discussion topics include immigration, identity and grief, while themed walking tours and creative workshops will be available, too. 13-21 May. 

4. Love Life: David Hockney drawings, The Holburne
Pop-art icon David Hockney’s drawings are heading to The Holburne, an airy art gallery set in the 18th-century Sydney Pleasure Gardens. Drawings from the late 1960s and 1970s celebrate Hockney’s joie de vivre, and this collection demonstrates how small details — the twist of a tie or a table strewn with the aftermath of a good meal — capture life’s fleeting moments. 27 May to 18 September. 

5. The 7 Hills
Hungry hearts will find a slice of Americana at this summer music festival. It’s taking place, appropriately enough, on 4 July at the American Museum & Gardens, set in expansive grounds on the outskirts of Bath. This year’s lineup is yet to be announced, but 2021’s event featured artists including Beth Rowley, Louis Brennan, Lady Nade and Robert Vincent. 4 July. 

Creating a monster

Mary Shelley’s House of Frankenstein opened last summer in the city where, over 200 years ago, the young author wrote most of her influential novel. The immersive, multi-sensory museum explores the dark world of Shelley’s life and book, and features a cinema, escape room and basement horror experience. 

Published in the April 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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