On the Somerset coast before the Bristol Channel becomes the Atlantic Ocean, Minehead is a traditional seaside town with magnificent inland scenery.
Minehead is skirted by the Exmoor National Park, and is the trailhead for the South West Coast Path on its 630-mile route around Devon and Cornwall.
There’s a spacious sandy beach, a quaint old harbour, thatched cottages, a Medieval church posted on a hill and the leafy Avenue abounding with local shops and eateries.
At the harbour you can set off on kayak or paddleboard trips, while on land the National Trust’s Dunster Castle is a noble country house decorated with rare tapestries.
Cream teas are a speciality in this corner of Somerset, as is the scrumpy cider, produced at farms just outside the town.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Minehead:
Minehead is pinned to the coast by this National Park, lying immediately to the west and south.
Exmoor is 267 square miles of high open moorland crossing the boundary between Somerset and Devon.
The coastline is formidable, especially at the Valley of the Rocks, which has strange periglacial formations and is grazed by feral goats.
You’ll get an idea of what England’s coastline looked like thousands of years ago at the longest stretch of coastal woodland in England and Wales, between Porlock and Foreland Point.
Exmoor ponies, one of the world’s pony breeds, roam freely across the moors, and on remote hillsides you’ll catch sight of red deer in the mornings.
Hikers can plan all kinds of adventure in the park, as the South West Coast Path follows Exmoor’s coastline, while at least five other long-distance walking trails cross the park.
2. West Somerset Railway
Minehead is the western terminus for the UK’s longest heritage railway.
For almost 23 miles, the West Somerset Railway threads through the lush valleys next to the Bristol Channel Coast, before climbing up the west flank of the Quantock Hills on the way to Bishops Lydeard.
There are 11 stations en route, and lots of history is in store.
For instance, In a Hard Day’s Night (1964), the scene in which Ringo Starr rides a bicycle along a train platform was shot at Crowcombe Heathfield station on the line.
The journey takes roughly 90 minutes, riding in British Railways Mark 1 carriages from the 50s and 60s, behind a preserved steam or diesel Great Western Railway locomotive.
The line also offers special journeys, serving Somerset cheese and cider, cream teas or fish and chips as you travel.
3. Minehead Beach
Adding up to about a mile in Minehead Bay, the town’s beach changes dramatically according to the tides.
Networks of rockpools are revealed when the tide goes out, and children with have lots of fun looking for sea life and building sandcastles.
The beach becomes more pebbly towards the harbour in the west, while the east side is bordered by the Butlin’s Minehead Resort, a huge holiday camp.
Edging the shore is an esplanade, with telescopes, a cafe and shelters in Jubilee Gardens.
4. South West Coast Path
The esplanade next to Minehead Beach is the starting point for a National Trail that courses around Southwest England’s peninsula until it reaches Poole Harbour, 630 miles away in Dorset.
Even though the South West Coast Path hugs the coast it can be challenging as the route takes you over cliffs that give way to ravines and river valleys and then climbs again.
For a taster you can spend a half-day on the trail on the way to Porlock Weir.
It’s a perfect introduction to the trail you’ll ascend cliff tops, traverse valleys decked with woodland, gorse and bracken.
5. North Hill
A defining natural landmark for Minehead, North Hill is an outcrop of the Exmoor Hills, dominating the harbour and northern portion of the town.
Minehead’s Higher Town is on the slopes of North Hill, where wealthy Victorian families built holiday homes in the 19th century.
Closer to the top the hill becomes wilder, and you’re sure to spot an Exmoor pony in the clearings.
From the top the scenery is majestic, comprising an immense slice of the Somerset countryside, east towards the Quantock Hills and West towards Exmoor and its rambling, heather-covered peaks.
In between are pastoral valley called “combes” sheltering hamlets and villages.
6. Dunster Castle
Perched on the steep hill, the Tor, Dunster Castle is a National Trust stately home created from a Norman motte and bailey fortress.
This roost has been fortified since the days of the Anglo-Saxons, and its most violent period came in the Anarchy in the 12th century when forces loyal to King Stephen put the castle under siege.
Outliving its use as a fortress, Dunster Castle became more palatial in the 17th century after its outer walls had been torn down at the end of the Civil War to prevent them being reused.
The last major changes happened in the 1860s when the house was given a Victorian Gothic Revival makeover.
On a tour you’ll get acquainted with the Luttrells who lived here from the 14th century to 1976. The 13th-century gates are noteworthy, as is the very rare set of Dutch 17th-century leather tapestries depicting the story of Antony and Cleopatra.
7. Blenheim Gardens
Born during Minehead’s expansion in the first decades of the 20th century, the six-acre Blenheim Gardens is the town’s prime park.
Neatly tended, the park has flowerbeds, perennials, shrubs and a diversity of trees, including palms that benefit from coastal Somerset’s mild conditions.
The bandstand hosts concerts by classical ensembles, local musicians and brass bands in summer as part of the Music in the Park programme.
Also in the warmer months you can work on your short game at the 18-hole putting green and take a refreshment at the park’s cafe.
8. St Michael’s Church
High on Minehead’s North Hill is the 15th-century Church of St Michael.
At this elevation the tower once served as a beacon for vessels entering the harbour.
The church is constructed over an older building and is composed of local blue lias, using red sandstone for its windows and doorways.
St Michael’s has plenty of fittings that have been in place since Medieval times, like the font from the 1400s, and the rood stair and rood screen from around the same time.
The pulpit dates to the 1600s and nearby are the coats of arms of Queen Anne and George II who ruled in the 18th century.
Another curiosity to seek out is the carving of the Virgin and the Devil on the tower.
9. Church Steps
Where Vicarage Road turns right to become Church Street are the pretty Church Steps, winding up to St Michael’s.
The stairway guides you between thatched cottages with cob walls, a couple near the top dating back to the end of the 17th century.
Once you get to St Michael’s Road beside the church you can turn back feast your eyes on a wonderful view south across the thatched roofs of Minehead’s Higher and Lower Towns and beyond to the Brendon Hills.
10. The Avenue
Traced with lime trees and gorgeous Edwardian villas, the Avenue leads east to west from the beach into the heart of the town.
Along the way are lots of independent shops for fashion, second-hand books and things for the beach, as well as bars, ice cream parlours, fish and chip shops and tearooms.
Be sure to try Somerset cider or a cream tea.
Close to the water is Minehead’s visitor information centre, while a quick hop from Blenheim Gardens is the Regal Theatre, the town’s main performing arts venue.
The theatre puts on classical concerts during the Minehead and Exmoor Festival in July, and in 2018 prominent conductor Richard Dickins and the cellist and former BBC Young Musician of the Year Laura van der Heijden performed here.
11. Minehead Harbour
At the base of North Hill is the picturesque Minehead Harbour, which has existed in some manner since the 14th century.
On the waterfront you’ll find a fishing tackle shop where you can get some line, a bucket and bait for some crabbing.
You can compete with your friends or family to catch the largest, and then release them down the slipway for a race back into the water.
There’s a six-metre difference between high and low tide, so it’s worth checking the tide times before you visit.
The harbour has an RNLI lifeboat station, which puts on a raft race every August.
Most years a harbour festival takes place here, with live music, boat races and family activities raising money for the RNLI.
12. Fishing and Boat Trips
Along with a small commercial fishing fleet, Minehead Harbour also has a community of operators providing fishing charters.
If you’re in to sea angling, this is a great place to embark on some low water or high water fishing.
The array of species changes with the season: Summer brings the likes of turbot, bass, mullet and dogfish, while rays, thornbacks and codlings are more common in spring and cod are abundant in autumn and winter.
Pleasure steamers have sailed the Bristol Channel since Victorian times, and at the end of August the Waverley arrives in Minehead Harbour, sailing for Ilfracombe in Devon, past the spectacular Exmoor coast.
For invigorating outdoor fun, the company Channel Adventure is based right in Minehead and caters to a big choice of water activities.
Two favourites are stand-up kayaking, paddleboarding, either by river or on the Bristol Channel.
For both activities you can join introductory “Give it a Go” sessions, get more advanced tuition or take part in tours along the River Tone or looking back at Exmoor’s hills from the sea.
There’s also coasteering, when you put on neoprene and safety gear and scramble around rugged coastline, and open water swimming adventures in the channel, with a qualified instructor and wetsuit.
14. Holnicote Estate
Four miles into Exmoor from Minehead is the Holnicote Estate, with 12,000 acres of countryside maintained by the National Trust.
This comprises a whole tapestry of environments, from challenging hills to moorland, ancient woods, beaches and villages.
Dunkery Beacon, the highest summit in Exmoor, has Iron Age earthworks on its slopes distant vistas over the Bristol Channel and into Wales.
Separated from the hill by a bucolic valley is Selworthy, a picture perfect village with a Grade I-listed church from the 15th-century, thatched cottages and a tearoom.
At Bossington Beach are fragments of old kilns and WWII defences, while the tidal pools draw waders and waterfowl like shelducks, curlews and little egrets.
Golfers will feel at home in Minehead, as on the eastern edge of town is the highly rated Minehead and Somerset Golf Course.
This 18-hole par 72 has links and parkland framed by the sea and the steep wooded slopes of the Brendon Hills.
The course has been around since 1882, when it was founded by a Scottish physician, Dr Clark.
As with the best links courses, you’ll have to contend with some healthy gusts blowing off the Bristol Channel.