Is Thermae Bath Spa at the top of your list of things to do in Bath? The dreamy rooftop swimming pool would be reason enough in itself to pay the only naturally heated thermal bath in the UK a visit, but Thermae offers so much more.
Read on for everything you need to know about visiting the Thermae thermal spa in Bath with tips for your visit.
The hot springs in Bath
The World Heritage City of Bath is famous for its hot springs. 250,000 litres of warm, mineral-rich water come to the surface every day through Bath’s three main hot springs. Officially, the city was founded by the Romans but there’s another legend of how the hot springs were discovered which is a little less glamorous.
According to Bath legend, Prince Bladud, who was King Lear’s father, was the first person to bathe in Bath’s waters, but his herd of pigs got there first. Bladud had been banished from the kingdom due to his incurable leprosy, which he had passed to his pigs.
While wandering around the area that would become Bath, Bladud found a steaming patch of mud where a hot spring came to the surface. His pigs jumped straight in, and miraculously, their leprosy was cured by the warm, mineral-rich mud. Bladud tried the mud on his own skin, and he was cured as well. He was able to return to his kingdom and founded the city of Bath on the muddy patch of ground where his fortunes changed.
The Roman Baths
The Romans built the city of Aquae Sulis around the springs, with a large bathing, recreation and temple complex at the heart of the settlement. The Roman Baths were rediscovered in 1878 and today are one of the top things to do in Bath.
Can you go in the thermal baths in Bath?
You can’t go in the water at the Roman Baths, but there are three places where visitors to the city can bathe in Bath’s hot springs:
- Thermae Bath Spa, which is the most popular place to experience Bath’s hot springs. Thermae has two large pools with thermal water, including the iconic rooftop pool, plus a large swimming pool in the basement. There’s also a wellness suite with steam rooms, a sauna and other relaxing and rejuvenating experiences. Read on for more about what it’s like to visit Thermae Bath Spa.
- The historic Cross Bath, which is now part of Thermae and can be rented for 1.5 hour sessions or for private functions.
- The Gainsborough Bath Spa Hotel, which has a luxurious thermal spa for hotel guests.
You can also “take the waters” in Bath by drinking the thermal water at either the Roman Baths or the Pump Room.
Visiting Thermae Bath Spa
Thermae Bath Spa is one of the top things to do in Bath, and the best way to experience Bath’s hot springs for most visitors to the city.
What to expect on a visit to Thermae Bath Spa
Arriving and getting changed
When you arrive at Thermae Bath Spa, you pay your entry fee and in return you’re given a white seersucker robe, some Thermae branded flip flops, a towel and a smart, electronic wristband. You’ll use the wristband to scan yourself through the entrance gate, then you’ll go up a few steps to the large, gender neutral changing room.
In the changing room, there are little changing cabins to get into your swimming gear and put your robe and flip-flops on, then when you’re ready, you can put your stuff in a locker and use your wristband against a scanner to lock it. There are two different sizes of lockers – the larger ones would be big enough for carry-on sized luggage. It’s best to leave your towel in your locker so it stays nice and dry.
Mobile phones and cameras at Thermae
You might also want to leave your phone in your locker as you can’t take any photos at Thermae. (I was able to get some pictures on a press tour before the spa opened.) The changing room is the only place at Thermae with lockers so I’d recommend leaving any valuables in your locker. If you do try to take photos, expect to be swiftly reminded of the no photos policy by one of Thermae’s staff!
Starting your thermal bath experience – showers
Before you go into one of the pools or the wellbeing suite, you’re asked to take a quick shower. It isn’t checked up on, unlike the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. The showers are on the level below the changing room, next to the Minerva pool, and are also unisex. Shampoo, shower gel and conditioner are all provided.
The rooftop pool
Most visitors to Thermae head straight to the roof and the spa’s lovely open air swimming pool. The pool uses the naturally heated water from the Kings Spring, the Hetling Spring and the Cross Spring. The water comes out of the ground at 45 degrees celsius but that’s a bit hot for bathing, so Thermae cool it down to between 33.5 and 35.5 degrees, the perfect temperature for relaxing.
Thermae’s rooftop pool has fantastic views over Bath and the rolling hills outside the city. It was a lovely sunny day when I visited and Bath Abbey was looking beautiful. If you also visit Thermae on a sunny day, then consider bringing sunglasses with you as the light reflecting off the water can make everything very bright.
On cold days the warm water creates steam which looks pretty magical. There are steps to get down into the water on both sides of the pool, and seats where you can relax in warm bubbly jets of water.
Some reviews online say that the rooftop pool can be really busy, but we got to the pool around 10 minutes after opening time and there was only one other couple there. At its busiest, there were only around 15-20 people in there. There were a couple of people swimming some relaxed lengths but there was plenty of space for everyone.
When you get up to the rooftop pool, there are racks where you can leave your robe, flip-flops and anything else that you don’t want to take in the pool. At the other thermal experiences at Thermae, such as the Minerva pool or the steam rooms there are hooks to hang your robe on. It’s worth saying that all the robes and flip-flops look much the same and it could be easy to pick up someone else’s by accident – another reason to leave your phone and valuables in your locker!
The Wellness Suite
The rooftop pool is just one of the experiences available at Thermae. The Wellness Suite has six hot and cold experiences. There are two steam rooms, one with a Roman theme and one with a Georgian theme, to celebrate Bath’s history – something that you’ll see throughout the spa. I love a good steam room, and while the Roman room wasn’t open when I visited, the Georgian one was fantastic, with steam so dense you couldn’t see much at all and a delicious tea rose scent.
While I always head straight for the steam room, the other experiences in the Wellness Suite are really enjoyable. There’s an infrared therapy room, which gives a warming experience a bit like a very modern sauna. The celestial relaxation room is space themed, celebrating the Bath-based astronomer who discovered the planet Uranus. It has warm loungers, twinkly walls and ceilings to make you feel like you’re in space and a large screen showing relaxing films of the cosmos, although I did find the volume a bit too loud.
I didn’t expect to enjoy the ice chamber room quite as much as I did! It’s much cooler in here than elsewhere in the spa (even the changing rooms are warm!) and nice and refreshing. There’s a big trough of fresh ice chips that you can rub all over your body to cool down and have a bit of a scrub. While there’s no recommended order for the thermal experiences at Thermae as there is at some other thermal baths, it’s really nice to alternate the warmth of the pools, steam rooms or infrared room with the cold of the ice chamber room.
When you’ve tried all the other rooms in the Wellness Suite, try the experience showers, which combine coloured lights, music and fragrance to help refresh and relax you.
The Minerva pool
The Minerva pool is named after the Roman goddess of wisdom, who has a special connection with Bath. The Roman baths and temple complex in Bath were dedicated to Sulis Minerva, which is a combination of the Celtic goddess Sulis with the Roman Minerva.
The basement Minerva pool is larger than the rooftop pool and has more of a resort style, with curvy edges, loungers and palm trees. At one end of the pool there’s a jacuzzi section while around the outside of the jacuzzi there’s a lazy river.
The Minerva pool was way quieter than Thermae’s rooftop pool when I visited – I think I only saw one other couple in there during our whole visit. That might be different if the weather’s bad outside, but there’s plenty of space in there.
When you’re in the Minerva pool, take a look at the wall display, which has some interesting facts about Thermae and the history of Bath. You can also see the Grade II* listed Hot Bath building, which dates back to 1777 and was sensitively incorporated into the new Thermae Bath Spa buildings. The Hot Bath is used for water shiatsu treatments by medical providers including the NHS.
The Cross Bath
Visiting the Cross Bath isn’t included in the standard Thermae experience, but I was lucky enough to get a peek inside. The Cross Bath is just across the road from Thermae reception and sits in its own small historic Georgian building, built on the site of a medieval thermal bath and standing on the original Roman cistern. The Cross Bath is recognised as a sacred site and people still come here to pray.
The Cross Bath just has one small open-air pool, but it’s very special and intimate. There are palm trees, flowers and a bubbling fountain where you can see the thermal waters of the Cross Spring rising to the surface.
You can book a 90-minute session in the Cross Bath on weekday mornings for £30 per person, including a robe, towel and slippers. Exclusive use for up to 10 people including Champagne and snacks costs £800 Monday to Friday and £1000 at weekends – if there’s a group of you visiting Bath, going to the Cross Bath could be a wonderful treat!
Even if you haven’t booked the Cross Bath, make sure you have a look through the glass pane to see the pool and fountain inside.
How long do you spend at Thermae Bath Spa?
A standard “Thermae Welcome” session lasts 2 hours, with an extra 15 minutes at the end for getting changed and drying your hair. I usually spend so long in thermal baths that my fingers get all wrinkly, so I was a bit worried that 2 hours wouldn’t be long enough but it was about the right length of time – enough time for a couple of rounds in the Wellness Suite and a good long soak in both the rooftop pool and the Minerva pool.
There are clocks throughout the spa so you don’t lose track of how much time you have left.
How much does it cost to visit Thermae Bath Spa?
A 2-hour session at Thermae costs £38 per person Monday to Friday and £43 on Saturdays and Sundays. That price includes access to the rooftop pool and Minerva pool and the experiences in the Wellness Suite.
Can you book a visit to Thermae?
You can only book your visit to Thermae Bath Spa if you’re booking a package with a treatment or a Twilight package which includes a meal in the restaurant. For both spa treatments and Twilight packages you’ll need to book early – at least a month or two in advance and much more than that if you want to visit on a weekend.
Entry for the normal 2-hour visit is on a first-come, first-served basis. The spa opens at 9am and for the best chance of getting in quickly, you should aim to be there either at 9am during the week or a bit earlier at weekends.
When is the best time to visit Thermae Bath Spa?
The best time to visit Thermae Bath Spa is at opening time – 9am, Tuesday to Thursday. Weekends are much busier and Mondays and Fridays are a bit busier than midweek. If you can’t get there for 9, you could either queue and get a time to come back later, or come back later in the afternoon.
Can you eat and drink at Thermae?
Yes – there’s a cafe where you can use your wristband to buy drinks and snacks. There are also plenty of drinking fountains so you can keep yourself hydrated.
Treatments at Thermae
If you plan and book well in advance, you could have an even more relaxing experience at Thermae Bath Spa by having a massage, facial or both. The in-house treatment centre offers a range of massages including full body, hot stone, aromatherapy and bamboo. The Roman Trilogy treatment which combines a body scrub, massage and facial with Roman-inspired oils sounds particularly indulgent!
Can you swim at Thermae?
Both the Minerva pool and the rooftop pool at Thermae Bath Spa are big enough to swim in as long as they aren’t too busy and as long you’re not disturbing other people. At 33.5 to 35.5 degrees, the water is much warmer than a normal swimming pool so you wouldn’t want to do very energetic lengths.
What to wear to Thermae Bath Spa
Just swimming gear is fine – you get given a robe, towel and flip-flops when you arrive. There are hair dryers in the changing room for you to use at the end of your session.