The Best Things To Do In Somerset

Montacute House Somerset
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Rolling hills, historic towns and cities, seaside resorts, and ancient history. This is Somerset, home to England’s biggest music festival and to the country’s smallest city. Where you will find country houses, mysterious places and – just possibly – the home of the legendary King Arthur. Whether your interest is in history, countryside or family days out, here are some of the best things to do in Somerset.

Why Visit Somerset?

Somerset is a large county in the southwest of England. It stretches from Gloucestershire and the Cotswold Hills in the north to Devon and Dorset in the south. And it is bounded by the Bristol Channel and the sea to the west and Wiltshire in the east. This gives it an enormous diversity, with hills, coastline, caves, and a national park, all of which offer a variety of landscape for nature lovers, hikers and sports enthusiasts.

You will find small villages, market towns and the cities of Bath and Wells. There are castles, historic sites, and museums. Some of the country’s oldest pubs, pilgrimage sites, and even some prehistoric stone circles…

Towns And Cities Of Somerset

Bath

The best known city is Bath, in the north east of Somerset. The whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognised for its Roman history and Georgian architecture, and for its beautiful natural setting.

You could spend many days just exploring Bath. Have a look at this post for inspiration – What To See And Do In Bath: A World Heritage Site.

Raised platform standing on columns with buildings on either side. The far building has tall arched windows.
The Georgian city of Bath

Wells

Wells is the smallest city in England but that doesn’t mean there is nothing to see! It boasts the oldest residential street in Europe, a fine cathedral and the impressive Bishop’s Palace and Gardens. And the medieval centre is full of old shops and pubs.

Read more about How To Spend A Day In Wells.

Frome

Sometimes overlooked by tourists, Frome is a charming small town with a medieval centre and a market that has existed since the Middle Ages. Today the market runs every Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, and the lively Frome Independent Market operates on the first Sunday of each month.

At other times you can discover some of Frome’s 370 historic buildings, including St John’s Church, which has an unusual Via Crucis (“way of the cross”) in its church yard. Not to be missed is the medieval Catherine Hill with its many independent shops.

Steps leading up to a church. On one side of the steps are carved stone arches and statues of saints and Jesus with the cross.
The Via Crucis at St John’s Church in Frome

Weston-Super-Mare

Weston-super-Mare may not be for everyone, but as a traditional seaside resort it can’t be beaten. The famous Grand Pier is a destination in itself, with numerous rides, amusements and cafés. Then there are donkeys on the beach, crazy golf, and many other indoor and outdoor attractions.

But there is more to the town than just seaside entertainment. This is one of the best places in the West Country for street art: the Weston Wallz festival takes place here each year, leaving a legacy of amazing murals to be discovered as you walk around. And the award-winning Helicopter Museum is the largest museum of its kind in Europe.

Glastonbury

Glastonbury may be better known today for its summer festival, but it was once an important pilgrimage site. You will find an ancient abbey, the mysterious Glastonbury Tor, and numerous historic buildings. Reputed to be the site of the Isle of Avalon, the town has a magical air, with the tombs of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, the entrance to the underworld, and several shops where you can stock up with spells should you need them!

Read more about Visiting Glastonbury And Its History, Myths And Legends.

Historic Places Of Somerset

Somerset’s history stretches back to prehistoric times and you’ll find a wealth of historic sites wherever you go. These are just a few of them.

Museum Of Somerset

If you want to know more about Somerset and its history make a start at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton. Alongside the Somerset Military Museum, it is housed in Taunton Castle, a Norman fortress with Anglo Saxon origins that was later used as a priory and as a prison. The museum itself occupies what was once the Great Hall.

The museum explores every aspect of the county’s history from the earliest times, covering landscape and culture and the people who shaped the area. Entrance is free.

Stanton Drew

Stanton Drew is the third largest complex of ancient standing stones in England, but much lesser known than others of a similar age at Stonehenge or Avebury. It consists of three circles, including the 113m wide Great Circle with 26 remaining stones. There is also a group of stones known as “The Cove” in the garden of the Druids Arms pub in Stanton Drew. These were possibly once used for ritual purposes.

Four large standing stones in a field with trees and tall hill in the background.
The stones of Stanton Drew

Cadbury Castle

Cadbury Castle is an Iron Age hillfort with Stone Age origins which was used as a military stronghold for more than 4,000 years. Local tradition maintains that this was the location of King Arthur’s 6th century court at Camelot.

No buildings now remain but you can park at the bottom and climb up the extensive ramparts. You will be rewarded with spectacular views across the Somerset Levels and towards Glastonbury Tor.

Farleigh Hungerford Castle

A small castle in a beautiful setting not far from Bath, Farleigh Hungerford is full of hidden treasures. It was once the home of the Hungerford family and has a rather gruesome history which you can explore if you so wish. But the most impressive thing is the chapel which has some wall paintings (including lots of heraldic crests) and some painted tombs. And in the crypt you will find a collection of human-shaped lead coffins.

Large rectangular chest tomb with carved decorations and painted surfaces. On the wall behind the tomb painted shields can be seen.
A painted tomb in Farleigh Hungerford Castle

Around 3 km from Farleigh Hungerford is the George Inn in Norton St Philip, built in the 14th century. This makes it the oldest pub in Somerset, and possibly in the whole of England.

Nunney Castle

The 14th century Nunney Castle was ruined during the Civil War but the great tower is still very well preserved. The picturesque ruins are surrounded by a moat.

Close to the castle is the George Inn, also dating from the 14th century, an excellent stop for a drink or lunch.

Remains of a small castle surrounded by a moat.
The picturesque ruins of Nunney Castle

Muchelney Abbey

Muchelney Abbey, in the middle of the Somerset Levels, was once a wealthy Benedictine house, but was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538. Visitors can explore the remains of the abbey and part of the ornately decorated cloister. Two of the upstairs rooms have original wall paintings.

The ruins include parts of the dormitory and a reredorter (communal latrine). The nearby church has some interesting ceiling paintings, and some floor tiles from the old abbey.

Ruined monastery buildings. In front of the buildings are stones in the grass showing where the walls of more buildings once stood.
The remains of Muchelney Abbey

Countryside And Natural Attractions

As well as a beautiful coastline, Somerset has part of a national park (Exmoor) and the whole or parts of four Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (The Mendips, The Quantock Hills, Blackdown Hills and Cranborne Chase). Between these areas are the Somerset Levels, formerly marshland, but now an area of flat ground and wetlands with curious hills and mounds that were once islands rising from the sea. The Levels are a haven for birds and other wildlife.

Exmoor National Park

Covering parts of Somerset and Devon, Exmoor is one of England’s smallest national parks. But with coastline, moorland, farms and streams it offers variety and opportunities for hiking. It is also known for its dark skies, historic monuments and coastal villages. 

The highest point on Exmoor is Dunkery Beacon: if you climb to the top you will be rewarded with panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

The South West Coast Path

The South West Coast Path passes through four counties, but it starts at Minehead in Somerset. From here it follows the entire coastline of Exmoor, with cliffs and woodland, and views across to South Wales.

Cheddar Gorge

Located in the Mendip Hills, the spectacular Cheddar Gorge is Britain’s biggest gorge and the location of the caves where the 9,000 year old skeleton of “Cheddar Man” was discovered a hundred years ago. The Cheddar Show Caves are open to visitors and there is a vast amount to explore, including caverns with stalactites and stalagmites and a Museum of Prehistory. There are also opportunities for caving and rock climbing.

The area around Cheddar and the Gorge is also ideal for hikers, and includes the challenging Cheddar Gorge Trail. However, you need to be aware that this is a popular tourist area and peak holiday times are best avoided.

Looking out over a landscape of hills and chasms. In the distance is a large lake.
The spectacular countryside of Cheddar Gorge

Wookey Hole Caves

Wookey Hole is another tourist attraction in the Mendips, a series of limestone caverns full of history and legends. You can explore the caves and the old paper making mill that now houses three museums devoted to the history of the site, from the Roman use of the caves to the story of the legendary Witch of Wookey Hole. There are also numerous entertainments and activities for a great family day out. Read more – A Visit To The Whimsical Wookey Hole Caves In Somerset.

Around Wookey Hole is some spectacular countryside, and hikers can follow the Ebbor Gorge Trail. As with Cheddar Gorge, if you can avoid peak holiday periods you will miss the worst of the crowds.

West Somerset Railway

A more leisurely way to enjoy the Somerset countryside is on the West Somerset Railway, a heritage railway that runs for just over 30 km between Bishops Lydeard and Minehead. Stops along the way include Dunster (for Dunster Castle – see below).

Somerset’s Stately Homes

There are several stately homes and gardens to visit in Somerset.

Montacute House

Montacute House is an impressive Elizabethan mansion and gardens. The house – now refurnished in the Tudor style – is full of interesting artefacts including the rare 15th century Tournai Tapestry. Outside the house you will find a formal Elizabethan garden and parkland with extensive walks.

The nearby village of Montacute is full of old and well-preserved houses built from yellow stone.

Interior of a stately home, with intricate plasterwork, carved wooden furniture and paintings around the walls.
The ornate interior of Montacute House

Dunster Castle And Watermill

Dunster Castle, near Minehead, was built as a medieval fortress but became a family home in the 19th century. As well as the house, with its subtropical gardens and parkland, you can see a working watermill and an unusual Victorian reservoir.

Tyntesfield

Tyntesfield is a spectacular Victorian Gothic building with an adjoining chapel modelled on Sainte Chapelle in Paris. It is set in varied parkland with well maintained gardens including a historic orangery.

Gothic style mansion with arches and turrets. In front of the house is a formal garden with flower beds.
The Gothic exterior of Tyntesfield

Hestercombe

Hestercombe House is a historic stately home in the Quantock Hills. The gardens, with temples, lakes and formal plantings, were designed by Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens.

Barrington Court

Barrington Court is a Tudor manor house. It is currently (2024) closed for repair but the grounds, with walks, walled gardens and artisanal shops are open to visitors.

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Your Visit To Somerset

  • Trains from London run from Paddington (to Bath and Weston-super-Mare) and from Waterloo (Taunton and Yeovil).
  • There is a wide choice of accommodation available. Have a look at the recommendations on booking.com.
  • Many of the stately homes mentioned are owned by the National Trust. If you are interested in visiting several properties you might want to consider taking out National Trust membership to reduce the cost of admission.

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WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…

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