Somerset is renowned for its picturesque towns and villages, rural idylls and rich heritage which is a big draw for residents and tourists alike.
There is perhaps one location in the county which encapsulates all those things the best, and that is the spectacular city of Wells.
Steeped in history, the second smallest city in England and the surrounding area offers everything the tourist could wish for to keep them entertained.
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Repeatedly chosen as historical backdrops for filming locations, Wells is a captivating city with many stories to tell.
So if you are in the area and want a bit of help to decide where to go, then here are a few ideas.
1. Wells Cathedral
Wells Cathedral is one of the most iconic sights in the city
Wells Cathedral is set in the heart of the city surrounded by an immaculate green and has been inspiring pilgrims and visitors for nearly 850 years.
Its broad west front and large central tower are dominant features on this magnificent building, and it has been called “unquestionably one of the most beautiful” and “most poetic” of English cathedrals.
The cathedral, built in 1176–1450 to replace an earlier church on the site since 705, features stunning Gothic architecture and is now the seat of the Bishop of Bath and Wells.
Open to visitors, take a tour around this fabulous structure which is a sight to be seen with its stunning stained-glass windows.
2. The Bishop’s Palace
There is nowhere more quintessentially English than enjoying a relaxing trip to the Bishops Palace in Wells and perhaps taking in an afternoon tea at the same time.
Surrounded by a tranquil moat, the swans swimming in the water create a graceful and majestic backdrop to this home of the Bishop of Bath and Wells.
Dating back to the 13 th century, visitors can walk across the drawbridge and enjoy wandering around this spectacular medieval building and its 14 acres of beautiful gardens.
You can also stop off at The Bishops Table to enjoy some delicious meals, light snacks or afternoon teas all made using locally sourced ingredients.
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3. The Vicar’s Close
A trip to Vicars Close in Wells is an absolute must so you can marvel at this amazing example of medieval architecture which adjoins Wells Cathedral.
This historic landmark was designed to provide communal accommodation for the Vicars Choral who sang daily worship within the
cathedral, a tradition which continues to this day.
The Grade 1 listed houses were built in the 14th century and today comprise 27 residences, a chapel, library, treasury and muniment room.
The current occupants still include all 12 men of the Vicars Choral, plus the organists and vergers.
It is claimed to be the oldest purely residential street with original buildings surviving intact in Europe. It also features a strange optical illusion where the street appears to be longer when viewed from the main entrance near the cathedral yet appears shorter when viewed from the other end.
4. Market Place
The Wells Market Place is the focal point of the city and links the shopping centre with the town hall, cathedral and Bishops Palace.
The area is home to a twice-weekly traditional market on Wednesdays and Saturdays with an array of local gifts and products as well as fine examples of local food producers with meat, cheese, fish, bread, and cakes just some of the options available to buy.
Twice a year a funfair is held, together with other lively activities such as the annual charity boules (petanque) competition. Two medieval gateways are located on the Market Place known as Penniless Porch and the Bishops Eye.
The imposing Town Hall also overlooks the market square and was previously used as the local magistrates’ court and also featured in the popular TV series Poldark when it was used as the location for Warleggan Bank.
5. Wells Food Festival
Wells Food Festival is an annual event which attracts visitors from far and wide to sample a range of delightful produce, many locally sourced.
Stalls are found in the Market Place, Town Hall, along the moat of the Bishop’s Palace and in the recreation centre and feature a large range of artisan and street food along with homewares and drinks.
Around 15,000 visitors come to browse around 200 different stalls at the event which started in 2012 and was recently chosen by the Daily Telegraph as “One of Europe’s best food festivals.”
This festival is firmly established in the Somerset Calendar and this year’s event has been planned for Sunday October 10, so make sure to mark it in your diary.
6. Wookey Hole
Just a few miles outside of Wells is the chance to enter a world of stalagmites and stalactites deep down in the caves of Wookey Hole, complete with its own resident witch!
The resort has expanded massively in recent years and not only has the popular Penny Arcade and hand-made paper mill, but you can now venture into the Valley of the Dinosaurs and come face to face with some spectacular animatronic beasts.
Take a wander round the mystic fairy garden, meet King Kong, and see where the Wookey Hole cave-aged cheddar and goats’ cheese is stored.
The resort now has its very own hotel, ideal for family stays so you have time to enjoy all the attractions to the full.
7. Wells Literature Festival
Another annual festival that is gaining massively in popularity is the Wells Literature Festival and a bumper event is being planned for the 2021 event which takes place from October 15-23.
Set up in 1992 to promote the love of books and reading within the local community it has grown from strength to strength and is held in Cedars Hall, a state-of-the-art performance venue in the grounds of Wells Cathedral School.
There is an extensive selection of events which attract a wide range of international, national and local writers to entertain, challenge and inspire audiences of all ages and tastes.
No two events take place at the same time, so it is possible to attend every one if you so wish!
8. Cheddar Gorge and the Caves
Cheddar Gorge and Caves is one of England’s most iconic and spectacular landscapes which you can visit either by car, on foot or by bicycle.
The National Trust owns the north side of the gorge which at almost 400 feet deep and three miles long, is England’s largest gorge.
The Cheddar Caves is the site where Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton, Cheddar Man, estimated to be over 9,000 years old was found in 1903.
Due to the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak, Gough’s Cave, Dreamhunters, The Museum of Prehistory and Rocksport and Escape Room games and activities are currently closed until further notice.
9. Hollywood – or ‘Hollywells’!
Wells has been a popular location for numerous films and television programmes but none as popular as the film Hot Fuzz.
In 2006 the city was host to a star-studded cast of actors for the filming of this film which later went on to achieve international acclaim and cult status.
Directed by locally born Edgar Wright, the cast included Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Timothy Dalton, Bill Nighy, Martin Freeman and Olivia
Visitors can now take an official Hot Fuzz Tour around the city visiting the various locations used in the film by booking a guided tour with Wells Walking Tours.
10. Wells Carnival
Wells Carnival is always a bright and colourful event which has been dubbed as part of “The Magnificent Seven” of carnivals in Somerset.
Crowds are treated to a spectacular display of floats and walking entries that make their way through the town on a date in the middle of November.
Carnival Clubs spend all year working on their themes and some of the spectacular floats can use hundreds of lightbulbs and dazzling costumes to compete for the coveted prizes.
Wells Carnival is part of the circuit which encompasses processions in the neighbouring towns of Bridgwater, Highbridge and Burnham-on-Sea, Weston-super-Mare, North Petherton, Shepton Mallet and Glastonbury.
A decision was taken earlier this year not to hold the carnival processions in 2021 due to the amount of pre-planning and preparation involved. Hopefully they will all return to their full glory in 2022.
11. Shepton Mallet Prison
A short journey from Wells takes you to the neighbouring town of Shepton Mallet where you can take a fascinating tour of the town’s now decommissioned prison.
HMP Shepton Mallet, sometimes known as Cornhill, was the UK’s oldest operating prison when it closed in 2013 but it has now been opened as a tourist attraction where some of the former prison guards who worked will now guide you around the macabre premises, with some ghostly tales thrown in!
The prison is host to guided and self-guided tours, theme events and experiences, educational and history days, seasonal events, and horror tours.
12. Hauser and Wirth Gallery
The internationally renowned Hauser and Wirth Somerset gallery in nearby Bruton is home to an ever-expanding range of exhibitions from artists across the world.
It is described as a “world-class gallery and multi-purpose arts centre which acts as a destination for experiencing art, architecture and the remarkable Somerset landscape through new and innovative exhibitions of contemporary art.”
Located on a working free-range farm, it also has an on-site restaurant Roth Bar and Grill and offers a wide variety of special events including talks, seminars, workshops, and screenings.
The centre also has an extensive learning programme for local schools, young people and families and provides resources including a bookshop and dedicated learning room.
13. Mill on the Brue
If you are more of a thrill seeker then why not visit the Mill on The Brue outdoor activity centre in Bruton.
Set in 25 acres of stunning Somerset landscape the centre provides activities that promote team building, resilience, communication along with a whole lot of fun!
With over 40 activities you can experience outdoor activities, scale heights, paddle the river as well as explore underground.
14. Wells Reclamation Company
The Thinker at Wells Reclamation Yard
If you are looking to pick up something for your house and garden then a trip to Wells Reclamation Company Ltd in Coxley is a must on your to do list.
It is the oldest and largest reclamation yard in the South of England and is an Aladdin’s cave of architectural and salvage “treasure”.
From reclaimed bricks, tiles, stone and timber items to garden statues, vintage, and antique items you can’t miss the life-size statue of Rodin’s The Thinker.
15. The Rural Life Museum
The Somerset Rural Life Museum is a family-friendly attraction with something to interest everybody and is situated between Wells and Glastonbury.
Visitors are invited to explore rural life from the 1800s onwards and discover the county’s heritage including its landscapes, food and farming, working life and rural crafts.
The galleries and exhibition spaces are housed within the cowsheds and farmhouse, and it also has plenty of outdoor place to explore including the beautiful 14th century Abbey Barn, cider orchard and World War One-style allotment.
16. The East Somerset Railway
The East Somerset Railway is a perennial favourite in the area
Transport yourself back to the Age of Steam with a trip on the East Somerset Railway at Cranmore.
It is a two-and-a-half-mile preserved heritage steam railway running through the beautiful Somerset countryside from Cranmore to the Mendip Vale.
Prior to the Beeching Axe, the railway was once part of the former Cheddar Valley line that ran from Witham to Yatton, meeting the
Somerset and Dorset joint railway at Wells.
The journey is approximately 35 minutes over a five-mile route with pre- booking now essential to guarantee your place on the train.
Visitors can also look round the station’s engine shed and workshop to see restoration work in progress by a skilled group of volunteers.
There is also a newly refurbished museum, waiting room and ticket office along with the David Shepherd Discovery Centre on the restored second platform which celebrate the history of the railway and the life of the world-famous wildlife artist whose vision for the railway made it was it is today.
17. The Swan Walks
The Swan Walks in Wells were inspired by the collection of beautifully decorated life-size swans that were dotted around the city in 2012.
There are four self-guided walks to follow around Wells and the surrounding countryside ranging from 50 minutes to a couple of hours.
You can either download a link online to get the routes or borrow a map from the Bishops Palace in Wells, subject to a £2 returnable deposit.
18. Wells Comedy Festival
Since 2015 Wells now plays host to its annual comedy festival which attracts a host of varied comedians from all corners of the country and across the globe.
This firm favourite brings some of the finest stand-up comedians to the city with a jam-packed line-up of entertainment sure to have a type of humour to suit everyone.
Although the 2020 festival was cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic and just a few events in 2021, it is hoped this popular event will return in 2022.
What are your favourite things about Wells? What would you add to this list? Please log in and leave your comment below.