The Christmas Market in Bath is one of the largest and prettiest in the UK, with 160 market stalls set in the squares and cobbled streets around Bath Abbey. For 18 days the city is taken over by local artisans, festive foods, twinkling lights and Christmas music in a celebration that draws visitors from far afield to enjoy the picturesque Georgian city. I was invited by National Express to try their coach service from Bristol, so that I could explore the market, meet up with friends and soak up some of the atmosphere of Christmas in Bath.
Bath Xmas Market – Southgate Bath shopping
After a comfortable journey to Bath with National Express, my walk from the bus station took me through SouthGate Bath, a pedestrianised area for Bath shopping that has many of the big high street brands.
In the centre of the shops at Brunel Square, they had created a Festive Forest (until 7 Jan 2019), with cosy little cabins, woodland animals and lights shooting like sparkling snowflakes from the tree. I walked through the wide Magical Wardrobe doorway and watched the kids having fun in the giant snow globe, creating the perfect photo opportunity for their parents.
The Apres Ski Bar at the Abbey Hotel in Bath
A little further was the Abbey Hotel Bath, a beautiful boutique hotel with honey stone Georgian facade. They have recently opened their new restaurant, Koffmann & Mr. White’s, the first collaboration of Pierre Koffmann and Marco Pierre White in a brasserie offering the best of British and classic French cooking. The hotel had really gone to town on the Christmas theme, with their Apres Ski Bar outside the entrance looking very cosy.
I took a peek inside and admired the Alpine ski lodge theme with fake fur throws, twinkling lights and the sort of hearty festive food that you’d look forward to, after a day on the slopes. At the end of the Apres Ski Bar lodge was a fun snow globe to stand behind and take your social media selfie – the steady queue of photo takers was a testament to the instagram effect!
Christmas Market in Bath – around Bath Abbey
Soon I reached the heart of the Bath Christmas Market, in the squares and streets around Bath Abbey. The market seems to get bigger and better each year and takes place over 18 days, running between Thursday 22 November and Sunday 9 December 2018. The stalls here tend to be by local makers and businesses, with a mixture of handmade gifts, foodie treats and good thing to eat and drink with your friends when you meet at the market.
You won’t go far without passing a stand selling mulled wine or cider, wafting the enticing alcoholic aroma of Chrismas through the air. There were sweet treats of fudge, chocolates and cakes as well as lots of local cheese producers. Throughout the different locations of Bath there are 160 different stalls and the market has expanded this year, with stalls extending up Milsom Street.
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I especially enjoyed wandering around the Abbey Church Yard, bordered by Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths, making a pretty picture with the tower of the abbey rising above the market. There was plenty of space to stand with your mulled wine by one of the barrels and entertainment as two toy soldiers on stilts strolled around, posing for photos and selfies with the crowd of shoppers.
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Bath Christmas Market – Abbey Green Bath
Another atmospheric spot was Abbey Green, surrounded by old Georgian houses and a little tucked away in the oldest quarter of Bath. Around the cobbled square, the stalls made a circle around the central plane tree, which was lit up with gently changing colours.
While I was there, a choir was setting up to sing some carols and other Christmas music, making a very festive atmosphere. These squares and the adjoining areas of Abbeygate Street and York street are the prettiest and most atmospheric areas of the market, set in narrow cobbled lane surrounded by old houses.
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Bath Abbey at Christmas
I walked through to the more open area of Stall Street, which is the start of the main shopping street of Bath, with high street shops leading up the hill to Union Street and Milsom Street. In front of Bath Abbey itself and the Roman Baths there was an enormous Christmas tree with twinkling lights. The spot in front of the Christmas tree was the pitch for an ever changing roster of street musicians performing everything from opera to jazz.
In front of the Roman Baths on Stall Street, a brass band was playing jingle bells and there seemed to be different music and entertainers in every part of the market. If you check the Bath Christmas Market website, you can find out which entertainment is taking place each day, with everything from school choirs to brass bands, rock choirs to light operatic groups.
The spot in front of The Lodge is where many of the choirs and bands assemble, where you can enjoy local beers from Bath Ales in this pop-up pub, which makes a cosy place to relax if you get a bit too chilly walking around. If you want to enjoy some food tastings, walk down Bath Street towards the Thermae Spa Baths, which were lit up in a rainbow of colours, as many of the stalls here seemed to be offering delicious things to eat and drink.
From here the market continues up the hill with further stalls on Union Street and Milsom Street, where there’s also a piano sponsored by The Piano Shop Bath, that anyone can play, to encourage spontaneous music making.
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Christmas in Bath – What else is on?
I didn’t have time to see everything festive that’s on in Bath during the run up to Christmas, but if you are visiting look out for;
The Guildhall Christmas Market – Thursday 22 November to Sunday 9 December in the historic Guildhall building at 33 High Street, with festive stalls, refreshments and live music.
Kingsmead Square Festive Street Food Market – Thursday to Sunday during the Bath Christmas Market with locally produced street-food, live music and entertainment.
The Festive Family Artisan Market – Located in Queens Square on each of the Saturdays during the Bath Christmas Market. Activities for all the family, with Kids Cafe, festive storytelling, Christmas arts and crafts workshops, local makers and tasty street food.
Bath on Ice and Glow in the Dark Mini Golf – In Royal Victoria Park from 16 November – 6 January, an outdoor ice rink and crazy golf course illuminated with fairy lights and glow-in-the-dark golf balls.
Christmas at Bath Abbey
After meeting a friend for the evening, I popped back the next day to Bath Abbey which was founded as a Benedictine Abbey in the 7th Century, as although I’ve visited Bath many times I’d never been inside. Visits are free, although a suggested donation of £4 is encouraged and is used to support the maintenance of the building dating back to the 16th century.
I especially admired the impressive fan vaulted ceiling, a masterpiece of stone work designed to draw the eye up towards God. During the days of the Bath Christmas market, there are festive tower tours, a guided tour up the 212 steps to the top of the tower where you can enjoy views over the Christmas Market and a hot chocolate or mulled wine. (Tower tours £8)
Bath Abbey is also hosting Shoppers’ Carol concerts where they open the doors of the Abbey and invite shoppers in for an informal 20 minute service of traditional carols, with no tickets or pre-booking required. The Shoppers’ Carols take place on Saturdays 25 Nov, 2 Dec and 9 Dec 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm and 5pm.
There are many other festive concerts and carol services taking place at the Abbey including Handel’s Messiah, Family Carol Services and A Christmas Celebration featuring the Abbey’s Girls’, Boys’ and Men’s Choirs. More details of all the Christmas concerts and services are available on the Bath Abbey website.
The Roman Baths in Bath
Although my visit to Bath with National Express was short, I couldn’t leave Bath without visiting the city’s major attraction, the Roman Baths. The natural hot springs on this site encouraged the growth of the Roman town of Aque Sulis, with a temple dedicated to the Goddess Sulis Minerva, whose golden head you can see on display at the baths.
In the 18th century the curative and mineral rich properties of the spring water, made Bath a fashionable resort to come and take the waters for bathing and drinking. After your visit to the Roman Baths, you may like to have tea in The Pump Rooms which was a fashionable meeting place mentioned by Jane Austen in her novels set in Bath.
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I recommend you allow an hour or two to see the baths, exploring the different parts of the Roman Baths and the museums with archaeological finds, that bring to life how people lived in the Roman settlement of Aquae Sulis. The highlights for me were are the Great Bath with an outdoor plunge pool of still water, the sacred spring dedicated to the goddess Sulis Minerva where the warm water bubbles up from underground, and the Temple Pediment with an animation showing how it would have looked in Roman times.
I enjoyed the random conversations with costumed characters around the pool asking me whether I’d come for a facial of swan’s fat, the films that show the fashionable Roman lady with her elaborate hair style and the chance to pull a face at the metallic taste of the spring water which you can drink at the end of the visit.
The Roman Baths in Bath Website | Open Daily 9.30-5pm | Adult entry £16.50 Family Ticket £48 which includes and audioguide.
Visiting Bath by National Express coach
I visited Bath with National Express who operate coaches to Bath from Bristol, London and other destinations such as Chippenham, Street, Wells, Southsea, Swindon and Southampton.
National Express is the largest operator of scheduled coach services in the UK operating services linking 900 destinations, so it’s an ideal choice to use during the festive season to visit Christmas Markets or meet up with family and friends.
My journey from Bristol was comfortable, with leather seats, charger points, toilets, a guaranteed seat and plenty of luggage space. Prices are competitive, but the best thing is that you can leave the car at home and relax knowing that you will arrive in the centre of town, with no worries over where to park.
Book your trip to Bath and other destinations on the National Express Website.
More information about visiting Bath
Further information about the Bath Christmas Market. The market is open Thursday 22 November – Sunday 9 December 2018. Mon, Tues, Weds open 10am – 7pm. Thurs, Fri, Sat 10am – 8.30pm. Sunday 10am – 6pm
Information about visiting Bath on the Visit Bath Website
If you need a guidebook for your visit to Bath, we recommend the Rough Guide to Bath, Bristol and Somerset
Looking for a tour of Bath from London? Check out the 1 day tours from London that include Bath
Disclosure: This article is sponsored by National Express who invited me to experience the Christmas Markets in Bath and write about what I enjoyed. Some of the links in this article are affiliate links which earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you.