School’s out for summer! And what better time to escape for a twin break to two of the UK’s most vibrant cities. Here’s where to eat, sleep and visit en famille for a fun-filled 48 hours
Bath is filled with the most incredible architecture, so what better excuse to move the family into one of the city’s stunning Georgian townhouses for the weekend? Bath Boutique Stays’ Mr Darcy’s Abode is a five-storey property located just a 10-minute walk from the hustle, bustle and crowds of tourists; a cornucopia of curiosities including mismatched furniture, quirky lighting and a rustic-inspired kitchen that looks like it could be part of a rural French farmhouse. The long dining table is simply made for busy breakfast times, while the five luxury bathrooms house complimentary Cowshed products, walk-in showers and a period bath tub. The property is booked on an exclusive-use basis, which means the kids can take their pick from any of the seven bedrooms featuring everything from super king-size beds to bunk beds.
Groups from £299 per night, sleeps up to 18
If there was ever a place to sack off your Oyster Card and just walk, Bath is the place to do it, with sights to marvel at, at every turn. The Roman Baths are one of Britain’s most famous historical attractions, and not only is the Great Bath itself fascinating for visitors of all ages, but the ancient remains that surround it are full of lots of interesting finds. The audio guides are particularly excellent, with special commentary for children. The museum even has live actors playing out merchants, soldiers and priests – before you know it, you’ve spent two hours here already. If history and museums are your thing, there are more than a dozen in the city. The American Museum in Britain offers regular crafts and activities for little ones, including a Bugsy Malone-inspired afternoon coming up on Thursday 24 August (think flapper headbands, fedoras and films), while the Assembly Rooms & Fashion Museum is another masterpiece. And, of course, a wander around the city isn’t complete without a visit to Bath’s famous Royal Crescent. It’s 30 houses are now mostly divided up into apartments and are said to be owned by numerous celebs, including John Cleese and Johnny Depp. Plus, the adjoining Royal Victoria Park is the perfect place to stop for a picnic – you can even watch hot air balloons taking off from the park on selected summer evenings.
And, finally, when little legs inevitably get tired, wander over to Pulteney Bridge for one of the city’s serene river cruises. We kicked back with Pulteney Cruisers, enjoying the sights to Bathampton Village and back. Top deck – naturally – ice-cold beer in hand.
By day, gaze wistfully at the array of incredible cakes in the window of Jacob’s Coffee House (the vegan chocolate and banana bread is all kinds of snack goals), or head to the institution that is Sally Lunn’s for one of its famous buns. With a variety of cosy pubs and sophisticated cafés, you’re definitely spoilt for choice when it comes to heading out for dinner, but for hearty helpings, book into The Clifton Sausage for bangers and mash with a difference. As the name suggests, sausages are at the core of its menu, but you can also get everything from steak to the fish of the day. The Bath restaurant is housed in a beautiful Grade II listed building with the most incredible views over the city. Sit out on the terrace if you can, but even the inside is light and spacious, with chunky pine furniture, floor-to-ceiling windows and stone floors. Naturally, the sausage tasting plate is a must-try, all served with generous helpings of mustard mash or ‘champ’. The restaurant is serious about its wine, too.
Come morning, well-rested and hungry again, we popped into Rosarios for boiled eggs and Marmite soldiers before meandering back to the station for the next leg of our trip…
In order to explore the many wonderful corners of Bristol, you’ll be hard pushed to find somewhere more central than the Mercure Grand Hotel on Broad Street. Having recently undergone a major refurbishment, the hotel has swapped its traditional Victorian look for a more contemporary street art vibe that’s synonymous with the city. The rooms boast all the mod cons you could need for your stay – super-soft bathrobes, Nespresso machines and flat-screen TVs, with suites and interconnecting rooms available for families, and downstairs there’s a spa, swimming pool and fitness centre to be enjoyed. Breakfast is served in the modern Keepers Kitchen & Bar, where little hands can help themselves to pastries, fruits, cereals and juices, as well as homegrown honey that’s sourced from the hives on top of the hotel’s roof.
Rooms from £79 per night, including breakfast
Bristol is so much larger than you’ll ever imagine, with so many different sides to it, but the harbour is probably the best place to start. It’s filled with family favourites, like the Bristol Aquarium, boat yards and the brilliantly interactive At-Bristol Science Centre. Pop in for hands-on exhibits, live science shows and the chance to show off your animation skills. The striking silver orb that is the museum’s planetarium has become an iconic part of Millennium Square, too. Across the water, you’ll also spot M Shed, a free museum that tells the story of Bristol’s heritage, with interactive exhibits (think steam trains and old working tug boats) and a family-friendly café.
While the harbour is a bustling hub of activity, nearby Clifton is somewhat quieter but utterly beautiful. Just a short bus or taxi ride away (or half an hour of hill strolling if you need to stretch little legs even more), this leafy suburb boasts a wealth of cosy cafés and some of the most beautiful homes and architecture you’ll ever see, not to mention some iconic attractions. Bristol Zoo Gardens will be a hit with kids and adults alike, with stunning gardens, animals galore and plenty of fun facilities to keep the littlest family members entertained, while a visit to the Clifton Suspension Bridge in the Avon Gorge is simply one of those must-be-seen-to-be-believed attractions. It really is quite something.
When it comes to shopping, Bristol has it all. St Nicholas Market in the Old City (just moments from the Mercure Grand Hotel) is one of Bristol’s oldest, dating back to 1743, and here you’ll find everything from gifts and art to handcrafted bags and street food outlets, while on Gloucester Road and Stokes Croft you’ll find a wealth of independent retailers. And don’t forget to Banksy-spot; this is where you’ll find some of the world’s most incredible street art, too.
From cosy brasseries to bustling markets, you won’t find a wider array of colourful cuisine elsewhere. The harbour is lined with eateries – from chain favourites to independent restaurants, and fairly new to the harbourside is Cargo at Wapping Wharf, a hub of traders based in repurposed shipping containers on Gaol Ferry Steps. For fish and chips by the water, head to chef Josh Eggleton’s Salt & Malt, while Small St Espresso – which already has its popular café in the Old City – has opened its second outlet here and is a must-visit for cake and sandwiches.
Further out, London favourite The Ivy Clifton Brasserie overlooks The Mall Gardens, and is opened all day for breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, while back on the harbour, Bristol’s waterside restaurant Glassboat offers classic British dishes using locally sourced ingredients. But if you’re after something with more of a kick, Urban Tandoor on Small Street offers an exceptional chicken malabar and the service is, quite simply, second to none.
Getting there: Get a direct train to Bath from London Paddington in 1 hour, 30 minutes from £33.10 per person. Visit nationalrail.co.uk. Travel the 12 miles from Bath to Bristol in just 10 minutes with Great Western Railway
Words: Danielle Wilkins
Photography: Gary Newman; Visit England; Morgane Bigault