A polished Victorian seaside resort, Clevedon is draped over seven limestone hills next to the Bristol Channel.
The coast is rocky, with low cliffs and pebble beaches next to public walking trails like Poets’ Walk, which guides you to the church where the poet Arthur Hallam is buried.
In the late-1920s the town built a marine lake, refreshed at high tide and now restored for a new generation of bathers.
Clevedon’s crowning glory though is its Grade I pier, arguably the prettiest in the country and still a landing stage for the Waverley and Balmoral steamers in summer.
Back on the shore there’s a sequence of neat gardens tracing the water, with a bandstand and old-time delights like a miniature railway.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Clevedon:
1. Clevedon Pier
With an elegant metal frame, the Grade I Clevedon Pier was described by poet and broadcaster John Betjeman as the “most beautiful pier in England.
It was completed in 1869 as a landing point for paddle steamers, carrying passengers along the Severn Estuary from Wales and Devon.
The frame has eight steel arches, supporting a layer of wooden decking.
A stress test in the 1970s revealed the structure to be unstable, but the pier was taken apart and put together again in the 1980s.
Take a stroll along this 310-metre wonder for a look at the pavilion (1894), which has a cafe with views back to Clevedon and over to the distant Welsh shores.
On the landward end is a shiny new visitor centre and cafe, where you can go below to see the pier from underneath.
Check the timetable for the Balmoral and Waverley steamers, which still use the landing stage at the end of the pier.
2. Toll House Gallery
At the entrance to the pier the toll-master’s house has been rebranded as “Discover @ The Pier” and contains a small, interactive museum all about the lower reaches of the Severn Estuary, the history of Clevedon and the pier’s ups and downs.
The Neo-Gothic building, constructed like a Medieval castle, went up at the same time as the pier.
You can watch vessels moving along the Bristol Channel in real time, learn about the ecology of the estuary, find out about the people who shaped Clevedon and listen to a recording of John Betjeman talking about the pier.
There’s also footage of the pier’s collapse during testing in 1970.
3. Clevedon Court
An enchanting Medieval manor house in a spectacular terraced garden, the oldest parts of Clevedon Court date back to the 13th century.
For the past 310 years this has been the residence for the Elton family, while the National Trust took up ownership of the estate in 1960. The house is a bewitching jumble of styles, with an early-14th-century Great Hall, chapel block, screens passage and porches, and the kitchen is thought to belong to an older hall from the 1200s.
The house’s striking south front is Elizabethan, dating to 1570. The family collections are presented inside, where you can view portraits of generations of Eltons, Eltonware studio pottery, 18th and 19th-century glass from the Nailsea glassworks and photography from the Industrial Revolution in Somerset.
The 18th-century gardens deserve as much time as you can allow, rising on steep terraces shielded from the winds blowing off the Bristol Channel.
4. Clevedon Marine Lake
In the absence of a family-friendly sandy beach, Clevedon has what is described as the “world’s largest infinity pool”. This is 15,000 square metres of sheltered water in the Bristol Channel where you can swim, hire sailboats and canoes or even go zorbing (take to the water in those transparent inflatable balls). The lake was built in 1929, with water replenished by high tides, and after becoming disused later in the century was restored as an attraction in the 2000s.
Two thirds of the lake is less than 1.5 metres deep so younger swimmers with a little experience will be fine.
5. St Andrew’s Church
Also a Grade I monument, St Andrew’s Church is in a stirring spot on a hill over the Bristol Channel.
The core of this building is Norman, dated to the 12th century.
The tower is from that time, and its Romanesque architecture shines through in its corbel-table and the pairs of circular windows.
Head in to see the crossing arches, which are also Norman, and the rare late-Romanesque chevron ornamentation in the Chancel arch.
In the south transept you can locate the tomb of Arthur Hallam (d. 1833), who died of a stroke at just 22. He was the subject of a notable 90-page elegiac poem by his friend Alfred, Lord Tennyson, published in 1850.
6. Poets’ Walk
The church is on a scenic coastal footpath that starts just west of the Marine Lake.
You’ll head southwest through a local nature reserve, giving you photogenic views of the coast, but also leading past some points of interest.
The St Andrew’s is one, but there’s also a moving piece of public art in the shape of a set of wooden posts carved with lines from Tennyson’s poem.
You’ll also see the earthwork ramparts of an Iron Age hillfort at Wain’s Hill, and a concrete shelter from the Second World War.
After Wain’s Hill the trail loops back on itself and has a satisfying view of Clevedon Bay as you descend back to the town.
7. Salthouse Fields
Behind the Marine Lake, Salthouse Fields is a typical local park with a huge spread of grass fringed by amenities like a skate park, children’s playground, bouncy castle, crazy golf, refreshment kiosks and tennis courts.
Running around the perimeter is a miniature railway which operates on school holidays and weekends throughout the year, weather permitting.
On the west side, above the Marine Lake, you can climb the bank to get onto Lovers’ Walk.
This mile-long path meanders along the coast, past the lake and pier, and into Ladye Bay, which has a picturesque rocky beach.
In September 2018 Clevedon’s venerable Curzon Cinema put on two outdoor screenings at Salthouse Fields, a first for the park.
8. Sugar Lookout
The first stop after the initial climb on Poets’ Walk is a castellated vantage point atop the cliff.
The lookout dates from 1835 and was built for the sugar merchant Conrad Finzel to survey the ships sailing up the Bristol Channel, carrying sugar back from the West Indies.
This hexagonal structure had fallen into ruin by the late 20th century but was restored and reopened in 2000 by the Clevedon Civic Society.
Looking northeast there are fabulous vistas of the seafront and pier.
9. Curzon Cinema
Clevedon has one of the oldest operating purpose-built cinemas in the world.
The Curzon opened in April 2012, and remarkably its first show raised money for survivors and relatives of those killed in the Titanic disaster.
The current Art Deco facade dates to the early 1920s and still bears signs of bomb damage from the Second World War.
The auditorium, remodelled in the art Deco style in the early 20s, has a working Christie organ installed in 1931. The main building also features a collection of cinema artefacts, including a set of vintage projectors and a cinematograph from the late 1920s.
As well as a programme of new Hollywood releases, the Curzon regularly screens live recordings from the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera, among others.
10. Clevedon Craft Centre
Set on Clevedon’s outskirts the Clevedon Craft Centre is in a 17th-century farm building that once belonged to the Clevedon Court Estate.
The farm’s various outbuildings now house studios and workshops for woodworkers, potters, jewellery makers, leatherworkers, painters and more.
You can come by to see their skills up close and of course buy pieces right from the people who made them.
Children will be content with the patio garden, which has chickens and ducks, while there’s also a tearoom hot drinks, sandwiches and cakes.
11. Gordano Valley
Right on Clevedon’s eastern fringe is a remote landscape framed by carboniferous limestone ridges and designated a National Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest.
You can walk along the valley’s southern or northern ridges, for wonderful panoramas and to navigate a series of habitats like grassland, woodland and fen meadow on the valley floor.
Rare long eared owls are sighted in the Gordano Valley in winter, while more than 130 species of flowering plant have been recorded here, including three species of orchid and three rare species of water parsnip.
The Gordano Valley Riding Centre offers one-off horse-riding sessions in this bucolic setting.
In the 1860s the Georgian house at Tyntesfield was remodelled in spectacular fashion into a fairytale Neo-Gothic mansion.
This transformation was commissioned by William Gibbs, who had owned the estate since the 1830s and whose fortune came from the guano trade.
Gibbs’ descendants lived at Tyntesfield until 2001, after which the estate was bought by the National Trust.
A tour of the interior is essential for the finery of its silk wallpapers, ornately carved stone fireplaces, marble columns, abundant stained glass and a collection of more than 50,000 paintings, pieces of furniture and other decorative arts.
Key works are Murillo’s Mater Dolorosa and a depiction of St Lawrence by 17th-century Spanish Baroque painter Alonso de Llera Zambrano.
The Home Farm Visitor Centre opened is set in farm buildings raised in the 1880s, and boasts a cafe and exhibition space for arts and crafts.
13. Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm
In 100 acres of Somerset countryside the Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm is the largest zoo in the South West with a vast array of species from around the world.
Among them are children’s favourites like giraffes, white rhinos, tigers, lions and African elephants.
In fact, at 20 acres, Elephant Eden is the largest enclosure in the UK for this species.
Be sure to catch the daily elephant keeper talks, and the big cat talk, when you’ll see lions and tigers being fed.
Complementing the animal displays there are 15 adventure play areas, a food barn and the largest hedge maze in the UK. Like most zoos, Noah’s Ark also offers behind the scenes experiences, including one for children allowing them to groom ponies and bottle feed lambs.
Something worth keeping in mind is that the zoo has quite a strong Christian creationist agenda, which may not appeal to everyone.
14. North Somerset Bird of Prey Centre
Looking after more than 50 birds of prey, reptiles and exotic mammals, the North Somerset Birds of Prey Centre is less a visitor attraction than a place to come for unforgettable animal encounters.
These could be a 90-minute guided Hawk Walk, a 90-minute Bird of Prey Experience, a two-hour owl experience, a four-hour Falconry Day or a “Meet the Animals Experience”, when you’ll get up close to birds of prey and animals like armadillos and meerkats.
The centre does open its gates for once-monthly open days in the summer when you can tour the aviaries and habitats to see the many inhabitants, from Eurasian Eagle Owls to Corsac foxes.
One way to appreciate the hilly terrain and coastal vistas in Clevedon is on a golf course, and there are two within minutes of the town centre.
The more distinguished of these is Clevedon Golf Club, founded in 1898. Visitors can book a round for £45 in the week or £55 on weekends.
You’ll know why you paid the green fee when you get to the 8th, which is beside the 17th-century Walton Castle and looks across Clevedon and out to the hills of South Wales across the estuary.
More economic is Clevedon Golf Centre, where you can turn up and play all 18 holes for just £9.