The city of Bath and its glorious Roman and Georgian culture is why most people come to Somerset.
And Bath is as good a reason as any, but the county has many more feathers in its cap, at captivating old cities and towns like Wells and Frome and the many cute country villages.
The Somerset countryside is steeped in folklore and history, extending to the very roots of England as a nation: The Somerset Levels are the supposed home of Avalon from Arthurian legend, while King Alfred the Great escaped to the Levels 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 hills that rise to 500 metres.
Lets explore the best places to visit in Somerset:
If the Romans discovered Bath it was the Georgians who perfected it when they turned this city into the luxury resort of choice in the 1700s.
Yet for all the magnificent architecture from this time the prime attraction in Bath is the Roman bathing complex established some 1,800 years before.
The Roman Baths are one of the things people travel to England to see, and for a Roman site the level of preservation is rare in Britain and helped by Victorian reconstructions.
The museum at the complex is a treasure chest of wonderful artefacts.
The second period of glory came in the 18th century when the resplendent Royal Crescent was just one of many grand designs.
Jane Austen set Northanger Abbey and parts of Persuasion in Bath after visiting at the turn of the 19th century.
England’s smallest city may also be one of its loveliest, as Wells has some major sights for a place with just 10,000 residents.
The undoubted pinnacle is Wells Cathedral, a building of unrivalled historical significance and beauty.
Work began in the 12th century, and unlike other churches from the same period Wells Cathedral has no traces of Norman romanesque design, so is the first completely gothic building, not just in England but possibly the world.
All of the cathedral’s ecclesiastical buildings survive, so you can see the imperious 13th-century Bishop’s Palace and the historic Vicar’s Close, remarkable for being a planned residential street unaltered since the 1300s.
Most of Exmoor National Park is inside Somerset’s lines, and makes up a great deal of the western part of the county.
In the north the hills arrive at the Bristol Channel in dramatic fashion, forming the highest sea cliffs in the country, brutal dark sandstone walls.
The interior is tall hills clad with heather plunging to sheltered valleys that harbour ancient woodland.
There are little medieval villages and hamlets with pubs, and between these are huge uninhabited spaces, where sheep and semi-wild Exmoor ponies graze on hillsides and large red deer are a common sight.
On the Bristol Channel, Weston-super-Mare is an archetypal Victorian seaside resort.
Its virtues now are the same as they were more than 100 years ago: There’s the sea, a gigantic beach that goes out for miles at low tide and two old piers, one of which (the Grand Pier) has just been refurbished after a fire in 2008. Sunny summer days are when Weston-super-Mare’s allure will be most obvious, and littler tourists will be pleased with the amusements, donkey rides and the timeless fun of building sandcastles on the beach.
At other times it’s good for an invigorating dose of sea air and to see the Victorian architecture, composed of a creamy limestone quarried at the village of Uphill close by.
For 51 weeks of the year Glastonbury is a likeable old village with some exceptional history close by.
Glastonbury Tor is a monumental sandstone hill with the 15th-century St Michael’s Tower at its crest, which is the last vestige of a long ruined church.
Glastonbury Abbey is rooted in the 7th century and was suppressed in the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century.
And as for the final abbot, well he was hanged, drawn and quartered on Glastonbury Tor in 1539. On the lighter side, that other week of the year is in June when one of the world’s essential performing arts events unfolds at the dairy farm of Michael Eavis.
On the southern side of the Mendip Hills, Cheddar is a village amid strawberry fields with one of Britain’s natural wonders in its backyard.
The Cheddar Gorge is the largest in the country, descending almost 140 metres at its deepest points.
The limestone is riddled with caves and ancient quarries that you can visit, and it was here that Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton was found, dating back 9,000 years.
We’ve come this far without mentioning cheddar cheese, which originates in this village and is traditionally stored in the caves to mature.
The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company is a must, and sells the only cheddar still made in Cheddar!
Exploring the historic streets of Frome can be pretty addictive: There are more than 500 listed buildings in the town, some as old as the 15th century.
Catherine Hill should be the first place on your itinerary, a steep hill that winds up from the old centre, with locally-owned shops and cafes on each side, all set in lovely stone buildings.
In the 17th-century wool and cloth were the local business, and there are several streets of cottages built for mill-workers in the Trinity area, which is some of England’s oldest industrial housing.
Ten minutes southwest of Frome are the striking ruins of Nunney Castle, damaged and abandoned during the English Civil War but with an exciting amount of detail still intact and still encircled by a moat.
Bestriding the River Parrett, about ten miles from where this tidal river enters the Bristol Channel, Bridgwater’s location has made it a hotspot for manufacturing and trade for hundreds of years.
Bridgwater was the birthplace of General at Sea Robert Blake in 1598, considered one of the country’s most distinguished military commanders.
The house he was born in is a museum for his career, and also paints a picture of everyday life in the this town around the 16th and 17th centuries.
See the sights in the centre, like the 13th-century Church of St Mary, and the 18th-century Corn Exchange, which has an unusual circular portico.
This was the county town for little while in the 1300s, and may also have been the capital of the Kingdom of Wessex in the 10th century.
Now it’s a town of less than 5,000, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more charming place for a quiet rural getaway.
Nearly all the old architecture in Somerton is built with blue lias stone, which has a lovely rustic quality.
There are 17th century almshouses to track down, and the Church of St Michael has a roof with cider barrels and dragons carved into it, supposedly by the monks of Muchelney Abbey in medieval times.
Made of the same blue lias is Lytes Cary, a breathtaking manor house with parts as old as the 1300s.
As with many places in Somerset, Taunton was vital to the Saxons, who erected a fortress here in the 8th century where the present Taunton Castle stands.
This particular landmark has Norman origins, but was transformed in the 1700s, and the Great Hall now houses the Museum of Somerset.
There are some spellbinding bits of Somerset’s history, like an outstanding Roman mosaic from the Low Ham Villa and the Froome Hoard, consisting of more than 52,500 coins from the 3rd and 4th centuries.
Plan an afternoon at Hestercombe House, which has the most sublime gardens in the French style, with a parterre and pergolas.
Begin with the village in Montacute, which is entirely composed of the local hamstone, a kind of limestone with a rich yellowy-grey tone.
For many centuries this stone has been quarried at Ham Hill, which peaks at 125 metres and once had an Iron Age fort at its crest.
Soaring west of Montacute is St Michael’s Hill, with earthworks created by ancient wine terraces and a romantic 18th-century folly of a castle tower at the top.
The Elizabethan Montacute House is also made from hamstone and was one of the first stately homes to come under the care of the National Trust.
Inside this splendid renaissance palace are period furniture and tapestries, as well as Tudor and Jacobean portraits hanging in the majestic setting of the 52-metre Long Gallery.
On the Bristol Channel and also at the northeastern cusp of Exmoor, Minehead is a seaside town with an unassuming character.
In the late-1800s industrialists from places like Bristol erected grand properties on the waterfront and on North Hill, one of Exmoor’s last outcrops that climbs sharply on the west side of the town.
When the sun is out in summer Minehead starts to fill up with day-trippers who come for the sandy beach and shallow waters as the slope is so gentle.
Kids and nostalgic grown-ups will be keen on a steam train ride on the West Somerset Railway, running along the fringes of Exmoor and the idyllic Quantock Hills down to Bishops Lydeard.
This ancient market town also has Saxon origins and boasts two historic centres; one by the bucolic River Parrett for trade and another on the hilltop for defence, and where the solemn 15th-century Church of All Saints now sits.
The elongated layout lends what is quite small town a lot of period properties, most from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Langport is also right on the Somerset Levels, a vast tract of central Somerset with a low elevation, home to wetlands, moors, meadows and farms.
Flooding can be common in winter, but in summer you can stride off into the lush scenery via the Parrett River Trail and onto the scenic North Moor.
Coming into the town of Wincanton in east of Somerset you may recognise something amiss on the signs.
Wincanton is officially twinned with Ankh-Morpork, a fictional city fromTerry Pratchett’s Discworld novels.
Fans can pick up Discworld memorabilia at the Discworld Emporium, while Pratchett and illustrator Richard Kingston used to drink at the Uncle Tom’s Cabin pub.
On the old buildings in Wincanton you may find a lot of references to horses, and these date to when the town was a staging post on the main road to London.
If horseracing suits your fancy, Wincanton Racecourse is a National Hunt (hurdle) venue with races running through the winter months.
Another of Somerset’s ancient market towns, Ilminster’s history goes back at least as far as the 8th century.
It has had a charter for a weekly market since the 11th century, which still trades to this day.
Ilminster’s older buildings are made from that gorgeous yellowy hamstone, and this goes for the Church of St Mary (The Minster), an exquisite 15th-century gothic building containing the tombs of the noble Wadham family.
You’re truly in cider country in Ilminster, so you shouldn’t pass up a tour of the Perry’s Cider Mill, and Barrington Court is a fabulous Elizabethan stately home with an arts and crafts-style garden complete with apple orchards.