The city of Bath and its splendid Roman and Georgian culture is why most people come to Somerset.
Bath is a good reason, but the county has more advantages, in charming old towns and towns such as Wells and Frome, and lots of lovely countryside.
The Somerset countryside is steeped in folklore and history that stretches down to the very roots of England as a nation: Somerset Level was the home of Avalon in Arthurian legend, while Alfred the Great fled to Level in the 9th century , to plot his counterattack against the invading Vikings.
Exmoor in the west is a national park of heather, meadows and ancient woodland on 500m high hills.
Let’s explore some of the best attractions in Somerset:
If the Romans discovered Bath, it was the Georgians who perfected it in the 1700s when they turned the city into a luxury resort of choice.
However, for all the grand architecture of the time, Bath’s main attraction is the Roman Baths, built around 1800 years ago.
The Roman Baths are one of the attractions people visit in England, and for a Roman site, the level of preservation is rare in the UK and has benefited from a Victorian reconstruction.
The complex’s museum is a treasure trove of fine artefacts.
The second glorious period came in the 18th century, when the splendid Royal Crescent was just one of many grand designs.
Jane Austen set Northanger Abbey and part of Persuasion in Bath after a visit at the turn of the 19th century.
England’s smallest city may also be one of its loveliest, as Wells has some major attractions in a place of just 10,000 inhabitants.
The undoubted pinnacle is Wells Cathedral, a building of unparalleled historical significance and beauty.
Work began in the 12th century, and unlike other churches of the same period, Wells Cathedral has no traces of Norman Romanesque design and is therefore the first fully Gothic building, not only in England, but probably around the world .
All of the cathedral’s ecclesiastical buildings have survived, so you can see the imposing 13th century Bishop’s Palace and historic Vicar’s Close, a planned residential street that hasn’t changed since the 1300s.
Much of Exmoor National Park is within the boundaries of Somerset and occupies much of the western part of the county.
To the north, the hills reach the Bristol Channel in dramatic fashion, forming the country’s tallest sea cliffs, brutally dark sandstone walls.
Inside are tall hills, covered in heather, leading down into secluded valleys with ancient woodlands.
There are medieval hamlets and hamlets with pubs, huge uninhabited spaces between them, sheep and semi-wild Exmoor ponies grazing on the hillsides, and large red deer are a common sight.
Weston-super-Mare is a quintessential Victorian seaside resort on the Bristol Channel.
Now it has the same advantages as it did more than 100 years ago: there is the sea, a huge beach that stretches for miles at low tide and two old piers, one of which (the big pier) was just renovated in 2008 after a fire. Sunny summer days are when the charm of Weston-super-Mare is most evident, and young visitors will enjoy the entertainment of sandcastles, donkey rides and timeless fun on the beach.
At other times, you can breathe in the fresh sea air and admire the Victorian architecture, which is made of milky limestone quarried in the nearby village of Uphill.
For 51 weeks of the year, Glastonbury is a lovely old village with some remarkable history nearby.
Glastonbury Gate is a massive sandstone hill topped by the 15th century St Michael’s Tower, the last remnant of a long ruined church.
Glastonbury Abbey has its roots in the 7th century and was suppressed in the dissolution of the monastery in the 16th century.
As for the last abbot, he was hanged, pulled and stationed on Glastonbury Hill in 1539. On the lighter side, another week of the year is June when one of the most important performing arts events in the world will be at Michael Evis.
On the south side of the Mendip Hills, Cheddar is a village in a strawberry field whose backyard is one of Britain’s natural wonders.
Cheddar Gorge is the largest canyon in the country, dropping nearly 140 meters at its deepest point.
Limestone is littered with caves and ancient quarries that you can visit, where the oldest complete human skeleton in the UK has been found, dating back 9,000 years.
We’ve come this far without mentioning cheddar cheese, which originated in this village and is traditionally stored and matured in caves.
Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company is a must and sells the only cheddar still made in Cheddar!
Exploring the historic streets of Frome is addictive: there are more than 500 listed buildings in the town, some dating back to the 15th century.
Mount Katherine should be the first place on your itinerary, the steep hill that winds up from the old center and is lined on either side with locally owned shops and cafes, all set in lovely stone buildings.
In the 17th century, wool and cloth were a local business, and in Trinity, several streets were huts for factory workers, one of the oldest industrial dwellings in England.
10 minutes southwest of Frome is the striking ruins of Nani Castle, damaged and abandoned during the English Civil War, but with exciting details still intact and still surrounded by a moat.
Located on the Paret River, about 10 miles from where the tidal river enters the Bristol Channel, Bridgewater has been a hotspot for manufacturing and trade for centuries.
Bridgewater was the birthplace of Sea General Robert Black in 1598, considered one of the country’s most prominent military commanders.
The house in which he was born is a museum of his career and also depicts everyday life in this town in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Visit sights in the center, such as the 13th-century St. Mary’s Church and the 18th-century Corn Exchange, with its unusual circular portico.
It was the county seat for a short period in the 1300s and possibly the capital of the kingdom of Wessex in the 10th century.
Now it’s a town of less than 5,000 people, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more charming place to enjoy a peaceful country getaway.
Almost all of the older buildings in Somerton are constructed of blue nasturtium stone, which has a lovely rustic quality.
A 17th-century almshouse can be traced, and the roof of St. Michael’s Church is engraved with cider barrels and dragons, said to have been the work of monks in the monastery of Muhrni during the Middle Ages.
Lytes Cary is made from the same blue lily, a stunning estate with parts dating back to the 1300s.
Like many parts of Somerset, Taunton was vital to the Saxons, who built a fort here in the 8th century, where Taunton Castle now stands.
This particular landmark originated in Normandy but was remodeled in the 1700s and the hall is now home to the Somerset Museum.
Somerset’s history has some fascinating pieces, such as the outstanding Roman mosaics from the Low Ham Villa and Froome Hoard, comprising over 52,500 coins from the 3rd and 4th centuries.
Spend an afternoon at Hestercombe House, the most magnificent garden in French style, complete with flower beds and pergola.
Beginning with the village of Montacute, which consists entirely of local hamstone, a limestone with a rich yellow-grey tones.
For centuries, the stone has been mined on Mount Ham, 125 meters above sea level, where an Iron Age fort once stood at the top of the mountain.
Towering west of Montacute is St. Michael’s Hill, where ancient wine terraces were built with earthworks, topped by a romantic 18th-century castle tower.
The Elizabethan Montakt House, also made of hamstone, was one of the first mansions to be administered by the National Trust.
Inside this splendid Renaissance palace, there are period furniture and tapestries, as well as Tudor and Jacobin portraits hanging in the grand setting of the 52-meter promenade.
On the northeast corner of Bristol Channel and Exmoor, Minehead is a low-key seaside town.
In the late 1800s, industrialists from places like Bristol built magnificent properties on the seafront and on the North Hills, one of Exmoor’s last outcroppings, climbing sharply on the west side of town.
When the sun comes out in summer, Minehead starts to fill with day-trippers heading for the sandy beaches and shallow waters because the slopes are so gentle.
Children and nostalgic adults will love to ride the steam train on the West Somerset Railway, which runs along the edge of Exmoor and idyllic Quantock Hill all the way to Bishops Lydeard.
This ancient market town, which also has Saxon origins, has two historic centres; one for trade along the idyllic Paret River and the other fortified on top of the hill where the stately 15th-century All Saints Church now sits.
The elongated layout provides this rather small town with many period properties, most of them from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Longport is also located in Somerset, a large area of low elevation in central Somerset that is home to wetlands, swamps, meadows and farms.
Flooding is common in winter, but in summer you can take the Parrett River Trail into lush scenery and into scenic North Moor.
Enter the town of Wincanton, east of Somerset, and you may notice something is wrong with the signposts.
Wincanton is officially paired with Ankh-Morpork, a fictional city in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novel.
Fans can buy Discworld memorabilia at the Discworld Emporium, while Pratchett and illustrator Richard Kingston used to drink at Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
You’ll probably find plenty of references to horses on the old buildings in Wincanton, dating back to when the town was a stopover on the main road to London.
If horse racing is to your liking, Wincanton Racecourse is a national hunting (hurdle) venue with races throughout the winter.
Another old market town in Somerset, Ilminster dates back to at least the 8th century.
It has had a weekly market charter since the 11th century and is still traded today.
Elminster’s old building is made of that ornate yellow hamstone, and this is St. Mary’s Church (The Minster), a fine 15th century Gothic building containing the tombs of the noble Wadham family.
You’re really in the cider country of Ilminster, so you shouldn’t miss a visit to Perry’s Cider Mill, while Barrington Court is a fabulous Elizabethan mansion with an Arts and Crafts style garden and apples garden.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Somerset, England
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