Somerset is best known for the city of Bath, England’s magical natural spa where mineral-rich waters erupt from the earth at a perfect bathing temperature. But, as if that wasn’t enough, also scattered across the county are some of the best traditional market towns in Britain. Best of all, with most tourists flocking to Bath, the town centres are left relatively quaint, quiet and welcoming, all year-round.
Best towns in Somerset
Best for: Mixing past and present
Local market: Frome Farmers Market, second Saturday of the month
We start our list in East Somerset, with one of the most celebrated spots in the county. Winner of the National Great Town Award in 2016 and one of The Sunday Times best places to live in the UK, Frome isn’t a traditional market town. Home to hundreds of independent boutiques, quirky shopping spots and an energetic arts scene, this award-winning retreat mixes old-world charm with a vibrant modern atmosphere.
If you do one thing: Taking place in mid-September, Frome’s Agricultural and Cheese Show is a one-day festival jam-packed with music, livestock and equine events and, of course, a whole lot of cheese.
Best for: An electric atmosphere
Local market: Magdalene Street Market, every Tuesday
Best known for being home to the biggest performing arts festival in Britain, the electrifying kaleidoscope of colour, culture and incredible entertainment that makes Glastonbury festival so popular, is present in Glastonbury market town year-round. Calling itself ‘quite possibly the quirkiest town in England’, it’s a town steeped in history, legend and more than a few peculiar tourist spots.
If you do one thing: Towering above the town, Glastonbury Tor is one of those structures that oozes mystery. Standing as a point of significant religious and spiritual significance for over 1000 years, there are few places in Britain cloaked in quite as much magic.
Best for: Ancient architecture
Local Market: Castle Cary Market House, every Tuesday
For lovers of ancient architecture, Castle Cary is an endless sea of incredible photo opportunities. A haven for historical buildings and significant structures, the golden Market House has been the focal point of this town for over 150 years. Today, this Grade II listed building hosts regular community events, from lectures to local film screenings and is the place to head if you find yourself with an evening spare.
If you do one thing: The Market House, the historic heart of Castle Cary is an essential stop-off. On the ground floor, you’ll find the tourist desk who can give you the low-down on their current events. Expect anything from spirited cook-offs using local produce to lectures on the town history.
Best for: Award-winning alcohol
Local market: Shepton Mallet Market, every Friday
Best known for its award-winning cider and wonderfully whimsical name, Shepton Mallet sits amongst the gently rolling hills of the Mendips. For over 500 years, the iconic centrepiece of this colourful town has remained the same. Having undergone a recent restoration, the striking Market Cross stands as one of the most popular postcard images in Somerset.
If you do one thing: Ever wondered what it’s like to be a convict? Well, the recently closed Shepton Mallet Prison, one of England’s oldest jails, offers a 12-hour ‘night behind bars’ experience, where tourists can sample a short prison sentence.
Best for: Old-world charm
Local market: Axbridge Town Square, first Saturday of the month
If you close your eyes and think of an old-world England, you’ll likely see something similar to this historic market town. Axbridge is home to thatched cottages, half-timbered buildings and the iconic 13th-century church of St John, standing protectively over the town square. Much more, it’s a destination for anyone who craves a medieval feel, with much cleaner streets, that is.
If you do one thing: Axbridge sits in the centre of the Strawberry Line, a gorgeous walking and cycling route that runs from the coast, through the South West’s most scenic spots. Pick a direction, take a stroll and you’ll be rewarded with glorious views of Somerset Levels and the Quantock Hills.
Best for: Authentic coaching inns
Local Market: Wincanton Country Market, first Friday of the month, excluding January
Once upon a time, Wincanton was famous for being a staging post on the road between London and Plymouth. Thanks to the many riders stopping off in the area looking for food and a pint of ale, various coaching inns sprang up, coating the town in beautiful, wood-beamed drinking spots. Today, many of these inns remain, providing the perfect place for an authentic Sunday lunch.
If you do one thing: For lovers of the prolific fantasy writer Terry Pratchett, Wincanton is an important place. The town is twinned with Ankh Morpork, the famous fictional city in Pratchett’s award-winning novels. It’s also home to Cunning Artificer’s Discworld Emporium, the proud purveyors of official Discworld merchandise.
Best for: A classically English seaside town
Local market: Watchet seafront, every Wednesday, May to September
We head to the coast for the next best town in Somerset and the scenic seaside spot of Watchet. Home to an active marina, and an English charm that only exists in towns beside the sea, you can actually see if Watchet looks like the place for you with a live stream of the town’s coastline that runs year-round.
If you do one thing: Tropiquaria Zoo is a chance to explore wonders from every corner of the globe. All from the comfort of the English countryside, this independent zoo is home to a Tropical Hall, Nocturnal House and four outdoor acres of animal enclosures.
Best for: Independent shopping spots
Local market: Taunton Farmers’ Market, every Thursday
With enough exciting attractions to have inspired its very own Monopoly board, Taunton is an unrivalled hub of activity and excitement. Here, you’ll find dozens of pretty boutiques, independent shopping spots and gorgeous tea rooms to while away your afternoons.
If you do one thing: Spend a lazy afternoon amongst the multi-coloured beauty of Vivary Park. At over seven and a half hectares large, this gorgeous green space is home to thousands of stunning flowers.