As one of the sunniest and most rural counties in the UK (situated in South West England), there’s plenty in Somerset to make a summer break totally memorable (and it’s still amazing picturesque no matter the season when you visit!). And when you do visit one of our luxury holiday homes and cottages in Somerset, you’ll want to make sure you’re visiting all the places and trying all the stuff that really makes the region unique. To that end, we’ve put together this brilliant Somerset travel guide – whether you’ve already booked or you’re just browsing, it’s full of handy info and indispensable tips!
Though it’s less than three hours from London and just an hour south of Bristol, Somerset couldn’t feel further removed from the urban hustle and bustle. This bucolic English county is prime chocolate-box territory and a real rural delight – all quiet corkscrew lanes, green pastures, cider orchards, gentle hills and dinky villages. Sleepy and slow-paced, Somerset is a popular go-to escape for stressed city dwellers hoping to find some solace. And who could blame them? Hiking across the misty hills, beachcombing along wild stretches of sand, cycling through the lanes, cosying up in a log fire pubs and gorging on cheddar and cider make an effective antidote for the strains and stresses of the gruelling daily grind.
Top places to visit in Somerset
- Exmoor National Park – Lace up your hiking boots for a trek along the mist-swirled moors.
- Wells Cathedral – Inspect the intricate details of this monumental Gothic church.
- Glastonbury Tor – Rise early to catch sunrise at this mystical landmark.
- Coleridge Cottage – Visit the unassuming 17th-century home of a leading Romantic poet.
- The Roman Baths – Drink the free spa water in the 18th-century Pump Room.
- Quantock Hills – Go wildlife-spotting in this unspoiled Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
When to visit?
England’s climate isn’t necessarily its strong point; precipitation levels are rather high and a downpour is always a possibility, no matter what the time of year. But it isn’t all doom and gloom. The summer months in Somerset, in particular June, July and August, are – for the most part – ideal for sunbathing and swimming: the sun shows its face more often than not and temperatures often hit the high 20s.
In spring, particularly March and April, showers are frequent, while autumn welcomes slightly heavier deluges. In winter, the days shorten and temperatures drop, but it’s by no means extreme. Yes, you’ll need a coat, but with average daily temperatures hitting a low of 7 degrees Celsius, you’ll rarely have to don the long johns.
The good news is that Brits are accustomed to a bit of rain, and they don’t let it get in the way of a good time. Take the attitude of the free-spirited, welly-clad festivalgoers who attend Somerset’s famous annual festival, Glastonbury: they take the rain in their stride. If you’re too lily-livered to embrace the rain, there are other options. Somerset has plenty of snug gastropubs and indoor attractions to hide out in until it passes.
Somerset travel: Getting around
- Airports: Bristol Airport is the closest airport and has also quite a few international flights, Exeter airport’s not far away. You can also consider London Heathrow and Birmingham International, both easily reachable by rail or road.
- Public transport: Somerset is well-served by rail and coach, with First Great Western trains calling at all principle cities and towns such as Bath, Bridgwater, Castle Cary, Taunton, Weston-Super-Mare and Yeovil. Coach companies, such as Megabus and National Express offer even cheaper cross-county travel options, while First Group run local services in Bath, Wells and North Somerset.
- By bike: With rural, light-traffic roads, Somerset is well-suited to cycling. Popular scenic routes include the 14.5-kilometre route from Wells to Glastonbury, the 61.2-kilometre Cheddar Burnham Loop and the 65.7-kilometre Axbridge Weston-Super-Mare Loop. Download one of Somerset County Council cycling maps before you set off.
- Hiring a car: The advantage to driving in Somerset is the freedom it affords. You can visit all those hidden-away nooks and crannies where public transport doesn’t go. Pick up a car from Avis, Hertz, Budget, National, Enterprise or Europcar at Bristol Airport or arrange a pick-up from one of the larger Somerset centres, such as Bath, Taunton or Wells.
- While the bucket-and-spade brigade enjoy donkey rides and paddling at the seaside resorts of Burnham-on-Sea and Minehead, fossil-hunters prefer to head to Somerset’s wilder, less-populated Jurassic Coast. This isn’t a place for a paddle and a lie-out; it’s more suited for rock pool probing and surveying the shoreline for fossilised ammonites. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes and check the tide times before departing.
- For those who want to tap into their spiritual side, but can’t face the crowds at Glastonbury Tor, there is an alternative. Just a few miles west stands Glastonbury Tor’s mini-me: Burrow Mump. It’s a dead ringer for the famous Glastonbury peak and even includes its very own ruined St. Michael’s church at the top.
- Somerset is famed for its authentic market towns and ancient villages, but few have felt the impact of modernity as little as Dunster. This medieval enclave is wonderfully picturesque and history seems to seep from every orifice. More than 200 listed buildings, including a priory, dovecote, mill and even a castle, are still standing.
- One of the leading forces in the Arts and Crafts movement, Sir Edward Burne-Jones made stained-glass masterpieces for several churches in England. This little-known number at Mary’s Church in Huish Episcopi, depicts the Nativity of Jesus and is one of the artist’s finest.
- Somerset’s Coleridge Way is an 82-kilometre footpath that cuts through the windswept, heather-clad moorland of the Quantock and Brendon hills, as well as Exmoor. Ramblers who embark on this idyllic, little-populated route will be following in the footsteps of one of Britain’s greatest Romantic poets, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who used to stroll here with his pal, William Wordsworth.
Somerset’s family-friendly credentials ensure that travelling here with a brood is a breeze. If you are already based in the UK, you can avoid flying with little folk and all the pitfalls that brings, and enjoy a hassle-free journey by car or rail. Once you arrive in Somerset, well, things become even easier.First, take a look at our list of Somerset properties; we’ve got lots of baby-friendly boltholes up for grabs and even a castle to house your miniature queens and kings. Some of our properties are also pet-friendly so you can bring the whole family along. Once you’ve found the perfect place to stay, it’s time to plan some activities to keep the clan occupied. Stave off boredom with days out at beaches, zoos, farms, parks, railways and themed centres and – should the heavens open – find weather-proof options at indoor soft play areas, museums and leisure centres.
Best family activities in Somerset
- Is there anything more quintessentially British than a train ride? There are plenty of classic railways that run through Somerset, so grab a ticket, take the ride, and enjoy the scenery.
- The West Somerset Railway runs between Minehead and Bishops Lydeard, and the Rover ticket lets you hop off whenever you like and explore!
- The natural landscape of Somerset shouldn’t be seen solely through the windows of a train though! There’s loads of natural and geological wonders to explore, from caves to crags and wonderful beaches.
- The kids will absolutely love Wookey Hole too! There’s not only a hugely impressive set of caves to explore, but extra activities and playgrounds to keep the little ones entertained.
- And if you’re getting out and about, why not bring a whole new dimension to a family walk? Treasure Trails turns an ordinary ramble into a spy mission, treasure hunt or murder mystery that’ll keep the whole family on their toes.
- There are plenty of other attractions built especially for kids too, and everyone’s sure to take some happy memories away with them after a day at a theme or adventure park! The only trouble is deciding on which one to go to!
- Puxton Park might settle those arguments – there’s a play barn, electric tractors to play on and even a petting zoo so the kids can make some new furry friends.
For more fun family tips, read our post on the top 7 family holiday activities in Somerset.
Adrenaline-fuelled activities in Somerset
- A trip away with your friends might be the perfect time to pick up a new hobby – and with the county’s beautiful landscape, climbing, abseiling and even surfing are all great options.
- Or if you’re after something totally unusual, why not try a spot of bauble-blowing at Bath Aqua Glass? You can even take your own-blown decoration home for you (perfect for this year’s Christmas tree!)
- And it’s not just above ground that you can get a bit of a thrill from adventuring in the south-west. Somerset has a particularly interesting and diverse range of caves just ready to be explored, whether you’re looking for a guided wander or some serious spelunking.
- Of course, the world famous Cheddar Gorge is a great place to start, and offers both relaxing and gentle walks and more challenging caving experiences.
More laid-back things to do
- There are many spa towns in Somerset, and if you feel the need for a bit of deep relaxation many still carry on their venerable tradition of treatments and massages to make you feel marvellous.
- Thermae Bath Spa is Britain’s only natural bath spa and offers a range of treatments and packages – but a dip in their warm, healing waters is a must.
- As we’ve mentioned, getting out and about among those hills and byways is a great way to experience Somerset, and with such a huge range of landscapes the variety of walks means you’ll never get bored.
- If you want a bit more of a personal introduction, Mad Max Tours offer guided excursions where you’ll learn all about Somerset’s history and spend some time in its most memorable cities and attractions.
- There’s also a great range of museums and galleries both in Somerset’s larger cities and smaller towns – and Banksy’s recent (and massively popular) Dismaland exhibition in Weston-Super-Mare has proved that the county still packs a cultural punch.
- Hauser & Wirth is a perfect example of this, showcasing the very best of contemporary art in a converted barn in Bruton.
- Finally, if you like nothing more than a spot of time on the links then Somerset’s golfing pedigree is surprisingly impressive – and all that rolling countryside makes for a fantastic backdrop to the greens too.
- The prestigious Burnham and Berrow course offers both 9 and 18 hole courses, so you can plan your day according to how much golf you fancy.
When it comes to food and drink, Somerset is primarily famous for two products: Cheddar, which originally comes from the Somerset village of the same name, and cider. Of course, cider and Cheddar cheese are just the county’s poster foods; there are shedloads of other appetizing Somerset edibles that fly under the radar, including Whortleberry jam (made from wild Exmoor bilberries), premium meats, farm-fresh dairy and even a handful of West County wines.
Somerset, for the foodies
Local markets are one of the best places to pick up gourmet supplies, but if you’d rather not get the kitchen dirty, you’ll find lots of restaurants and tea shops willing to do the hard work for you. One of the joys of dining in Somerset is the prevalence of quality gastropubs, whose hearty West County fare will have you waddling to bed. To help you make the most of your time here, we’ve put together our very own Somerset good food guide.
Best restaurants in Somerset
- We’ve made multiple references throughout our guide to the beautiful Somerset coast, and that doesn’t just mean you’ve got a nice beach for a walk or a family picnic. Try the very best of Somersets’s seafood at Brown and Forrest in Langport, which even smokes its own fish.
- If you’re looking for award-winning food served in truly beautiful surroundings, The Ethicurean in Wrington is set a converted orangery with beautiful views out to the gardens. Their menu is something to be savoured too, with local ingredients and simple preparation taking centre stage.
- The Pony & Trap in Chew Magna isn’t just a pub, though you can certainly sit down and enjoy a pint, as well as a meal or two. But if you really want to see what’s up chef Josh Eggleton’s sleeve, order the tasting menu and prepare to be amazed.
- And for a bit of a change, go veggie. Bath’s Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen regularly switches its menu around, so you can get the best seasonal veggies cooked in bold and brilliant new ways.
Local Somerset dishes that aren’t to be missed
- Not (strictly speaking) a dish, but it’d be remiss not to mention Somerset’s wonderful cider. Perfect on a hot summer day, a pint of scrumpy is about as Somerset as you can get – but it’s pretty potent stuff, so be on your guard!
- They don’t name the gorge after it for nothing! Cheddar is arguably the world’s most popular cheese, and make sure you try it at its most authentic while you’re exploring Somerset. You can even find cave-aged cheese to take its authenticity to the next level!
- A Bath Chap is a sort of breaded pig’s cheek not unlike bacon, and makes for a great snack or sandwich filling.
- The region’s crab is often cited as being some of the best in the UK – try a traditional crab salad to make sure the tasty crustacean is at the heart of your meal.
Interested in finding out about some of the best foodie experiences in Somerset? Then check out our blog dedicated to these delectable days out!