Somerset is a rural county, with a patchworked landscape of green fields and woodland – making it a popular destination for a relaxing UK break. The land is largely undisturbed, punctuated occasionally with a manor house or historical building.
Whilst there are plenty of areas of countryside to explore, Somerset also has a wide range of heritage sites, art galleries, and cultural attractions to keep you entertained as well.
Country Homes & Historical Houses
Forde Abbey & Gardens
Forde Abbey is a huge Grade I listed house in Chard, so if you are interested in history it is the ideal place to explore. A former Monastery, it has been well preserved, and you can still see the Monks’ Quarters. Today it is one of England’s oldest inhabited stately homes, with the Kennard family continuing the monks’ tradition of farming on the estate. Depending upon the time of year you visit, you may be able to pick your own fruit at the Forde Abbey Fruit Farm.
As well as the impressive external façade, the interior is highly decorated. Walls are lined with large paintings, and floors are furnished with rugs decorated with intricate patterns. Even basic functional items such as chairs incorporate elaborate swirling design features and are padded with lavish velvet fabrics.
After exploring the main house, take a break in the Tearoom, where you will find a range of teas, coffees, cakes, and light lunches made using fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Afterwards, if the weather is good, you can head outside to enjoy the gardens.
The formal gardens are best visited in the summer months, where you can spend time relaxing in the walled garden or the rockery. On hot days, cool yourself by the Centenary Fountain. The highest powered fountain in England, it reaches up to 160 feet. And if you look carefully, you may even be able to see a rainbow at the top of the fountain.
Montacute House is a Grade I listed Elizabethan house in South Somerset.
From the outside, the building is a beautiful example of Elizabethan Renaissance architecture, built using locally quarried ham stone. Inside, solid, dark wood dressers furnish the many bedrooms, and a mixture of strong, geometric lines and bold, deliberate flourishes adorn every item of furniture and design feature.
The Long Gallery is the longest in the UK, and this alone is reason enough to visit. Filled with incredible examples of Tudor and Elizabethan portraits on loan from the National Portrait Gallery, it provides an opportunity to see pieces of fine art in the domestic environment that they were originally created for. The portraits are quite mesmerising, and whether you have any artistic talents or not, you will be amazed by the level of skill used in these paintings.
Featured in the 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility, it is well worth taking a free guided tour to learn more about the history of the house itself, as well as the beautiful furniture and textiles that provided the authentic backdrop for filming.
The city of Bath in Somerset takes its name from the hot springs that occur naturally in the area. In AD 43, the Romans built a series of reservoirs and baths around these hot springs, which you can still visit today.
The Roman Baths make a very interesting day out. Pools of mineral rich hot water from the thermal springs are surrounded by the remains of Roman columns, statues, and crumbling walls. Included in the entry price is an audioguide and a public guided tour. Whilst it is not safe to bathe in the Roman Baths, the nearby Thermae Bath Spa uses the same water, but treats it to make it safe for bathing.
There are two different souvenir shops at the Roman Baths, both of which sell jewellery, gifts, and local crafts. When it is time for lunch, you can either head to the Roman Baths Kitchen, which is set in a Georgian town house opposite the main entrance to the baths, or relax and enjoy a hot drink, afternoon tea, or a full lunch in the 18th century Pump Room Restaurant.
Thermae Bath Spa
The hot springs in Bath have long been associated with health and wellbeing.
The word ‘Spa’ comes from the Latin phrase ‘Salus Per Aquam’, meaning ‘health through water’. So after visiting the Roman Baths to learn about the history, the Thermae Bath Spa is the perfect place to relax and experience the hot springs for yourself.
If your partner is more interested in History than beauty treatments, then a visit to the Roman Baths, followed by the Thermae Bath Spa gives you the perfect excuse to trick them into going on a Spa day with you.
Dunster Castle is set on the top of a wooded hill, near Somerset’s coast.
The interior boasts several historical collections, including paintings, silver, and porcelain. The Leather Gallery contains rare painted leather hangings – forming the only collection of its type in the UK.
The Grand Staircase was built in 1680, and it easily lives up to its name. Decorated with a series of panels adorned with carvings, each panel is carved from a single piece of elm, and depicts a different scene, concept, or design.
Tour the castle before heading outside to explore the gardens. In the grounds there is a fully restored, working 18th century watermill. Opposite this is the Watermill Tearoom, which serves seasonal, locally sourced food. Take some time to relax as you sip a cup of tea in the tea garden.
Holburne Art Museum
The Holburne Art Museum in Bath home to artwork collected by Sir William Holburne (1793 – 1874) on his travels around Europe, Italy, the Alps, and the Netherlands. The collection reflects his areas of interest, including silver, porcelain, bronze sculptures, and Dutch landscapes. Entry to the main collection is free, and there are regular events and workshops throughout the year for both adults and children.
Victoria Art Gallery
The Victoria Art Gallery in Bath has both temporary and permanent exhibitions. The permanent collection spans two rooms on the first floor, and covers a range of media including paintings, sculpture, and decorative art. Temporary exhibitions take place on the ground floor and cover a range of themes, which change every few months.
The Atkinson Gallery in Street, Somerset, showcases modern art, and works to promote younger artists. Past exhibitors include Andy Warhol, Dame Elisabeth Frink, and Albert Irvin OBE. With over 100 acres of Parkland, the Atkinson Gallery also has its own sculpture garden, so you can enjoy the sculptures in an outdoor environment.
West Somerset Railway
A good way to see Somerset’s countryside is with a steam train journey from the West Somerset Heritage Railway in Minehead. Take in a tour of the picturesque landscape whilst you enjoy fish and chips, afternoon tea, or a cheese and cider tasting experience. Along the way, you can stop off at some of the local villages to get a feel for the area or explore the Quantock Hills for a dose of fresh air.
The West Somerset Railway also has events for children. Meet & Greet events allow children to meet their favourite characters and get involved in activities such as crafts and face painting.
If you only have time for one day out in Somerset, make sure you spend it at Cheddar Gorge. Towering limestone cliffs make up Britain’s largest gorge, and they provide a dramatic backdrop that will give you some incredible photos of your trip.
At the Information Centre you can pick up a free copy of a four-mile walk which will guide you along both sides of the gorge, finishing up in the town where you can buy souvenirs and gifts, such as cider, cheese, and locally produced food.