Somerset is a county full of hidden gems; ancient landscapes, caves and grottoes, rich folklore, undulating hills, and spectacular coastlines are all encompassed within its boundaries. You will find ancient history, pagan sites, holy springs, castles, and the breathtaking wilderness of Exmoor. A perfect county for al fresco exploration, architectural landmarks, and bustling market towns, here are 15 of my favourite best and most beautiful places to visit in Somerset to get you started…
Corton Hill Beacon – the most beautiful places to visit in Somerset
If you enjoy a good walk and a spectacular view then try one of the many circular walks near the village of Denham in South Somerset that take you up Corton Hill to the Beacon. This breathtaking medieval landscape gives you clear views over the Somerset Levels as far as Glastonbury Tor on a good day.
It is also the excavated site of Cadbury Hill Fort which some believe was King Arthur’s Camelot, this opinion has been contested many times but whether it’s true or not does not diminish the impressiveness of the site itself. A good option is to park at Cadbury and begin your walk there, heading up to the beacon and then back through the tiny Denham Village to the starting point.
Frome – once voted the prettiest village in England
Over the years Frome has cultivated a reputation as a haven for artists and craftspeople and a draw for anyone who seeks a bit of an alternative lifestyle….like Totnes in Devon or Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire. It has previously been voted Prettiest Village in England and 6th best place to live in the UK. It deserves the accolades!
The quaint little market town is packed with historical buildings and the wonderful cobbled Catherine Hill is lined with a fine array of quirky independent shops and cafes that specialise in local food and craftsmanship. The Market is still thriving for 3 days a week and on the first Sunday of every month the curated Independent Market arrives.
This is perfect for seekers of more unusual gifts and items from vintage collectibles to locally crafted products. Once a year in July Frome hosts an Arts Festival and the whole town comes alive with performance, music and colour.
Cheddar Gorge – one of the most famous beauty spots in Somerset
Cheese Lovers beware, there are ample opportunities for sampling the beloved cheese that took its name from this stunning little village in the Mendips, perhaps most popularly The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company up on The Cliffs. Dairy goods aside Cheddar Gorge was named the second greatest natural wonder in Britain by BBC’s viewers in 2005 and it deserves it.
Literally carved into the hills the limestone gorge is full of spectacular caves and grottos packed with eerily beautiful stalagmites and stalactites. The Cheddar Man, Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton which is estimated to be 9000 years old can also be seen here. Many of the caves have been scheduled as Ancient Monuments and have inspired artists and writers, most notably J.R.R Tolkien who used them as inspiration for Helms Deep in The Lord Of The Rings.
Bath – one of the most stunning cities to explore in England
If you haven’t yet visited this beautiful historic city then make time! Folks have been flocking here to bathe in the healing waters since Roman times and the stunningly intact Roman Baths are still a big draw for visitors. For those who actually want to bathe head for Thermae Bath Spa, and enjoy Britain’s only natural thermal springs.
It wasn’t just the Romans who loved this place, the Georgian Gentry would flock here too, including Jane Austen who not only used the city as inspiration for Persuasion and Northanger Abbey but also lived here between 1801 and 1806. There is now a small museum dedicated to the Author that literature lovers can visit. She wasn’t the only one who loved the city, it also inspired Charles Dickens, Mary Shelley, Anna Sewell, and Henry Fielding… others too found beauty and elegance worthy of the pen in the scale and artistry of Bath’s streets and buildings. Be sure to check out the wonderful Georgian architecture by John Wood the Elder and his son; Queen Square, The Circus and The Royal Crescent are probably the most recognisable but also the very infrastructure from parks to promenades was built to entice the most fashionable of society.
History aside but strangely in keeping with the past Bath is now considered a great spot for independent shopping and dining. Be sure to drop by and see an old friend of mine at http://www.theconnies.co.uk/ (The Connies Tea Room) if you get a hankering for afternoon tea!
Mendip Hills – an area of outstanding beauty and one of England’s most special places
The rolling green hills of the Mendips are an AONB that stretch for 76 square miles across three counties, but the bulk of them are in Somerset. This ancient and breathtaking landscape encompasses many wonderful caves and grottoes including Wookey Hole Caves, where legend has it a wicked witch was turned to stone by a monk from Glastonbury, her petrified statue can be seen in the show cave.
There is also a Victorian penny arcade which blew my mind as a child and the oldest extant paper mill nearby. Walkers can enjoy many long and short distance treks that encompass the best natural and historic sites that the Mendips have to offer, including no less than 286 examples of round barrows dating back to the Neolithic period and numerous other ancient monuments such as Cadbury Castle and Stanton Drew Stone Circle.
Wells and Wells Cathedral – a gorgeous medieval city to explore in Somerset
The little city of Wells on the edge of the Mendips holds a fond place in my heart as I visited many times with my late mother and grandmother, both of whom loved the splendid architecture of the Cathedral and the quaint cobbled streets of the city.
The Cathedral is quite unique for many reasons, it is the oldest surviving example of a Gothic Cathedral in England and was built between 1175 and 1490, anything that took over 300 years to build must be worth a visit eh? Inside you’ll find wonderful stained glass including the Jesse window and the amazing ‘scissor arches’, also fine medieval sculpture, a beautiful chapter house, and the second oldest clock mechanism in Britain.
Adjoining the cathedral is Vicars Close which comprises 27 grade 1 listed buildings including an iconic chimney. You’ll also find the 800-year-old Bishops Palace and the magnificent surrounding gardens and, just outside the walls, Milton Lodge Gardens; a fairytale landscape with a wonderful view of the city. You can enjoy food and drinks in one of the many traditional pubs or pavement cafes and lighten the wallet a little in a fine choice of independent retailers!
Porlock Weir and Common – a tranquil nook and a gorgeous place to explore in Somerset
It is fairly impossible to get any quainter than Porlock Weir, this small fishing village in West Somerset has existed in one form or another for over a thousand years and has a rich and varied history.
The 17th century Gibraltar Cottages, a row of tiny thatched and whitewashed houses, have been designated English Heritage. It’s an idyllic setting where boats bob peacefully in the harbour and you have easy access to the North West Coastal Path and Exmoor. Exmoor adventures are based in Porlock Weir and thrill-seekers can book a number of water sports through them as well as coasteering, mountain biking, and rock climbing.
Walkers can enjoy a stunning hike up to Porlock Common a stretch of purple heathered heathland at the top of Exmoor with breathtaking views of the channel and South Wales, or take in some of the gorgeous coastline along the South West Coastal Path, wild, beautiful, and unmissable for anyone who loves nature as I do!
Glastonbury – possibly the quirkiest town in England
It’s not just a festival you know! Glastonbury village is thought to sit on some pretty powerful ley lines and its springs, stone tor and abbey were a draw for seekers of all kinds of spirituality and healing long before rock and roll was invented. Let’s start with the Tor, a stone tower up on a high hill above the town with amazing views across the Somerset Levels.
Many myths and legends are associated with the place but my favourite is that it is home of Gwyn Ap Nudd, king of the fairies and that when you walk through its archway you momentarily cross into another realm, leaving the place lifted and invigorated by fae spirits! The healing springs can be found at the ancient Chalice Well and the Red Spring, or the more subdued White Spring. Other ancient landmarks in ‘The Isle of Avalon’ as Glastonbury was known back in the day, are the archaic oak trees Gog and Magog, although sadly Gog was set afire in 2017!
And last but not least the beautiful ruined abbey where legend says King Arthur himself was laid to rest. Many people make the contemporary pilgrimage to Glastonbury to find some sense of spirituality and connection with the ancient world and this is reflected in the businesses on offer there. Pagan and Wicca suppliers, bookshops, crystals, wind chimes, and fairy garlands rub shoulders with organic supermarkets, vegan cafes, and fortune-tellers…go with an open mind and you won’t be disappointed!
Allerford – a small pretty village surrounded by beautiful Somerset scenery
Allerford is like the uber-quaint of Somerset villages…. it brings to mind many episodes of Midsomer Murders! It is most known for its picturesque Packhorse Bridge, built in 15th Century to cross the Aller Brook.
The village is bursting at the seams with gorgeous period buildings thatched and otherwise and a beautiful Victorian Schoolroom. Those who want to dig deeper into the history can visit the Rural Life Museum situated here. If museums are not your cup of tea then how about an actual cuppa at the traditional Kitnors Tea Room? Or perhaps some bird action at the Owl and Falconry Centre.
If you need to walk off your Scones then stroll to the coastal hamlet of Bossington and walk out onto the pebbly beach for fine views of Hurlstone Point.
Quantocks – another area of outstanding beauty with beautiful views, wilderness and tranquility
The Quantock Hills in North West Somerset are designated an Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the landscape and villages within are protected. They are a haven for nature – lovers, a peaceful wilderness of Heather swathed hills, meadows and panoramic views.
Within the Quantocks are several historic villages, perhaps the loveliest of which is Stogursey. Within this small medieval market town are more than 60 listed buildings and ancient monuments including the ruins of Stogursey Castle, owned momentarily by two of Henry lll wives, a holy well, fragments of an 11Century priory and a Norman priory church.
On the beach near Stogursey are the remains of a submerged forest that date back as far as 2500 BC and as you can imagine there is an abundance of folklore connected to the place and the surrounding area. A perfect blend of history and nature, the Quantocks are the perfect destination for lovers of both.
Dunster – a lovely village which is popular with tourists
Dunster is an impressively intact Medieval village on the edge of Exmoor National Park. Its rich history goes all the way back to the Iron Age, Tony Robinson even brought his Time Team here for a dig! The village is dominated by the breathtaking castle which sits atop the hill and protects its surroundings.
There has been a castle there since the late Anglo Saxon era and parts of the original stronghold still remain, however, the bulk of its current incarnation dates to the 17th,18th, and 19th Centuries when it was owned and expanded by the Lutrell family. It now appears more gothic and picturesque and during summer months hosts many fascinating events such as jousting. The castle is one of many unique and ancient buildings to explore. In the village, you will also find the iconic round thatched yarn market, the ruins of a Benedictine Priory, a working watermill, and Packhorse Bridge.
When you have had your fill of history just stride off into Exmoor for some beautiful country walks or head towards the beach at Minehead. Look out for the protected Exmoor ponies if you find yourself traversing the moor! Also, pixies, ghosts, and even the Devil himself if folklore of the area is to be believed!
Burnham-on-Sea – one of the most beautiful beaches in Somerset
Sitting at the Northernmost tip of Brean Beach, the second-longest sandy beach in Europe, is the traditional seaside town of Burnham-On-Sea. It sports an iconic lighthouse on stilts and the shortest pier in Britain and is a great destination for families in search of a good old fashioned seaside holiday!
It has everything you would expect from a Victorian seaside resort, fish and chips, amusement arcades, beach activities, sweet shops, and a lovely promenade. It also has Brean Down, an eye-catching 97 metre high headland that protrudes out into the water forming a natural pier and provides a great destination for walkers in search of panoramic views over the Bristol Channel and Somerset Levels.
Ebbor Gorge National Nature Reserve – one of the best places to visit in Somerset
Beautiful though they are, Cheddar and Wookey Hole can be very heavy on the tourism, so those of you who want to immerse yourself in the prehistoric landscape without the hype should head to Ebbor Gorge Nature Reserve.
This striking gorge set within a 63-hectare reserve comprising woodland walks, babbling streams perfect for a paddle, sheer rock faces and panoramic views is owned by the National Trust. Truly a hidden gem cocooned within the Mendips the Gorge it’s a great place to spend a day getting back to nature.
There are some good circular walks that take you through the narrow mossy gorge, past secret caverns and up the rocky path to capture amazing views from the top. A unique and beautiful natural wonder not to be overlooked!
Sand Bay – a great place in Somerset to visit with the family
This wild stretch of beach between Weston woods and Sand Point is the perfect spot for a contemplative windswept walk, especially as the sun is setting!
There are minimal amenities, just a car park and a couple of local shops, so it is wise to pack a picnic and set off along the coastal path where you can take in some really amazing and unspoilt views. It is a great place to take in the coastline without the distractions of the bigger towns.
You can walk up along the headline for sweeping vistas or stick to the sand and shingle beach if you want to dip your toes in…dog owners your pooch will love it!
Kilve – famed for being the Jurassic coast on the Bristol Channel
The rocky headland at Kilve Beach is really a site to behold especially if you love geology as there are plenty of amazing fossils to be found in the unusual rock formations.
Large ammonites and reptile remains can be seen as you walk along the stony beach. The jagged rocks and hidden coves made the area perfect for smugglers and in the village of Kilve itself, you’ll find the ruins of the old Chantry where barrels of illegal spirits were stored back in the 1300s!
The village is small and picturesque, a good place from which to explore the Quantock hills and gorgeous Somerset coastline.