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Somerset family holidays and breaks

Walking up Glastonbury Tor to St Michael's TowerWalking up Glastonbury Tor to St Michael's Tower©VisitBritain - Martin Brent
Mendip HillsMendip Hills© VisitBritain
Wookey HoleWookey Hole© VisitBritain
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Currency British Pound

Today

Overview

Fittingly for a place offering the opportunity for great summer family holidays in Britain, the Anglo-Saxon word Sumersaete translates as ‘people of the summer lands’. The fact that this county in southwest England is often overlooked in favour of Devon and Cornwall works in its favour – in high season, Somerset is largely free of the traffic jams and queues that often occur in its better-known neighbours, while offering kilometres of beautiful sandy beaches (at Weston-super-Mare, Burnham-on-Sea, Minehead and Clevedon) plus stunning inland countryside including the Exmoor National Park and several Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

It also boasts historic Glastonbury and Wells (the smallest city in England) and fascinating ancient villages such as Dunster and Montacute. Meanwhile, the city of Bath with its many fascinating historical layers has long been one of Britain's biggest tourist draws and well merits a family day out or two.

Things to do with kids in Somerset

Discover the UNESCO World Heritage site of Bath with its extensive Roman remains, including the world-famous Roman Baths themselves, built around sacred thermal springs. The museum focused around them reopened in 2010 with new displays and features, including encounters with costumed actors talking about the site and film projections onto the stone walls. A children’s audio-tour is included in the family-ticket price. Other must-sees in Bath include the Fashion Museum, the abbey (part of the city’s rich medieval heritage) and the stately Georgian architecture, most notably in the form of the city’s lovely crescents. At the most famous, the Royal Crescent, take older kids into No.1 for a glimpse of life as it was in 18th-century Bath; younger kids can let off steam in Victoria Park in front of the crescent, with its ducks, botanical gardens and space for ball games. Older kids studying literature might find the Jane Austen Centre, celebrating Bath’s most famous resident, of interest, while Walcot Street is Bath’s Camden Town wannabe, with weekend markets and eclectic shops.

Move on to historic Glastonbury, home to atmospheric Glastonbury Abbey, according to legend the final resting place of Arthur and Guinevere. Set in beautiful parkland, it hosts regular demonstrations of rural crafts and concerts.

Explore Wells, the smallest city in England, especially its cathedral, which appeared in an episode of ‘Dr Who’.

From Wells, head for Wookey Hole – more than just caves, although they are spectacular. Other attractions at the site include the Valley of the Dinosaurs, the life-size King Kong, the Enchanted Fairy Garden with its dragons and elves, the indoor Pirate Ship Zap Zone Adventure and the Pirate Circus Show in the Big Top Theatre. 

Afterwards, discover the Cheddar Gorge – more than 150m wide in places, this ravine boasts the highest inland cliffs in the UK. It can be viewed from the public road through the base of the gorge or from footpaths along the cliff-tops. At the lower end of the gorge, closest to the village, you can enjoy riverside walks, the famous Showcaves (labyrinthine underground chambers), tea-rooms and gift shops. Cheddar cheese was also first made at farms in the region and you can watch traditional cheese-making at the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company in the lower gorge.

Before moving west, take an 8km steam-train trip through the Mendip Hills on the East Somerset Railway at Shepton Mallet.

Beach-lovers should head straight for Weston-super-Mare, winner of several awards for cleanliness, safety and water quality over the past decade and a must on family holidays. Traditional seaside attractions here include the famous donkeys, and there are designated areas for wind- and watersports, plus boat-trips around Weston Bay and further afield. If the weather is a bit too ‘British’, undercover attractions in town include the SeaQuarium, the North Somerset Museum, and the Helicopter Museum. Near Weston, Court Farm is an award-winning working-farm attraction with animals, castles, forts, trampolines, skyways, mazes and rides.

Discover the charm of Burnham-on-Sea, another traditional seaside resort with a distinct character, famous for its unique nine-legged wooden lighthouse. To the south of it lies Apex Park, where you can stroll around the lakes, enjoy the wildlife, fish, or make use of BMX biking areas, a skate park, a trim trail and a children’s play area. Then head south-west again to go fossil-hunting on Kilve Beach.

If you’ve had enough of sand and sea, the Animal Farm Adventure Park, set in 23 acres of lovely countryside, has views across the Levels to the Mendip Hills and plenty to keep the children happy. Animals of a more exotic nature can be found at Tropiquaria further along the coast at Watchet.

Moving inland to Bishops Lydeard, you’ll find the West Somerset Railway, Britain’s longest heritage railway, offering regular steam and diesel train-rides to Minehead. 

Head west again to reach beautiful Exmoor. When you’ve spent time appreciating the natural splendour of the place, the Exmoor Pony Centre at Dulverton offers kids the chance to meet rare-breed ponies and go for a ride over the moors  (there are also taster sessions for adults and children). Nearby you will find the beautiful Winsford Hill and Tarr Steps.

Venture south-east of Exmoor to reach another Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Blackdown Hills, opened up to all the family by the Neroche Scheme, with new features including buggy-friendly trails.

If you’d like to learn more about Somerset’s cider-making, go north towards Taunton, where you can get involved in some apple-pressing at the Fun Farm in Priorswood.

Going east now, visit the Langport and River Parrett Visitor Centre, where you can ride the Parrett Cycleway along an old railway line for about 2km (ideal for those with small children). There are other cycle routes in the area, suitable for varying abilities; bikes, child-seats, tandems, children’s bikes and trailers are available to hire.

When you’ve had your fill of the great outdoors, the Fleet Air Arm Museum houses the largest European collection of naval aircraft and Concorde, which you can board and explore (including the cockpit), plus the award-winning Aircraft Carrier Experience, which allows you to ‘fly’ by helicopter to the replica flight-deck of the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, as powerful jet fighters take off and land around you.

Eat

Somerset and apples go hand in hand, and family holidays in the area aren't complete without a trip to an orchard, where you can meet the people behind some of the best apple juices and ciders in the world. Charlton Orchards in Taunton has 45 acres of orchard and produces 14 different apple juices, plums, damsons, herbs and squashes plus preserves and fruit trees.

Don’t resist sampling a Somerset Cream Tea of home-baked scones, farmhouse clotted cream and local jam. And don’t miss the distinctive and delicious jam made from whortleberries, found only in the Quantock Hills and on Exmoor.

Feast on the world-famous local cheese, which you can still see being made in Cheddar Gorge (see above). 

The county has lots of picturesque, family-friendly pubs, including the thatched Red Lion Inn in Somerton, and the Ring o’ Bells in Ashcott, family-owned and offering all home-made food from fresh, local ingredients where possible.

If you’re self catering, local produce can be bough direct from the suppliers at 17 farmers' markets at various towns throughout the county and at dozens of farm shops.

For those looking to eat alfresco, the Uphill Local Nature Reserve was voted best picnic spot in the south-west in Warburton’s 2009 Picnic Awards.

When to go to Somerset

Many of Somerset’s sights can be enjoyed year-round, but the county comes into its own for family holidays in the warmer months, when visitors can take advantage of its wonderful beaches and outdoor attractions. The area’s summer events include the world-famous Glastonbury Festival (June), which includes a Kidz Field, and in mid-July the Buddhafield Festival, a drugs- and alcohol-free event featuring yoga, meditation and so on, also with a kids’ area. See more on Buddhafield in our feature Taking Kids Out of School, and more on family-friendly festivals in Best Summer Festivals.

How to get to Somerset

Somerset is easily accessible from other parts of the UK and further afield by car, train and even plane. Bath Spa station is well served from other UK destinations, including London Paddington (1hr 30mins). Taunton train station has services through to most major stations, with London Paddington about 1hr 45mins away. 

Bristol International airport (served by, among others Continental Airlines, EasyJet and Ryanair) is just 32km from Bath. Exeter International airport (served mainly by Flybe) is also within easy reach.

Your own wheels are the best bet for family holidays, whether you drive here or hire a car: the M5 and A303 run through the county.

Cost

Somerset can be an excellent place for budget family holidays, especially if you self-cater and take advantage of all the wonderful local produce. The fact that it is less touristy than its neighbour counties means that in most cases you’ll avoid inflated prices.

By Take The Family

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