Last Updated on 26th July 2019 by Sophie Nadeau
Nestled in the foothills of the mythical Mendips, the beautiful cathedral city of Wells lies close to the border with Wales and is not far from the iconic Glastonbury Tor. Filled with quirky boutique shops and oodles of cobbled lanes, here’s a quick guide to the best things to do in Wells!
How to visit Wells on your next UK Adventure
Close to iconic Glastonbury, the South West city of Wells is home to a population of around 12,000 inhabitants, making it one of the smallest cities in the UK. Incidentally, the very tiniest of cities are to be found in nearby Wales and each have populations of just a couple of thousand residents.
Though we personally found that the easiest way to reach the city was by car (we were travelling to several destinations, many of which didn’t even have their own bus stop!), Wells is indeed connected to the rest of the UK via public transport. With this said, the settlement doesn’t have its own train station, the nearest being that of Castle Cary (13 miles from the city).
For those who are a little short on time or wish to experience the history of the city with an experienced guide, there are also several tour options available. For example, this day excursion from Bath encompasses a visit to Stourhead, as well as the Cathedral city of Wells.
#1 Wells Cathedral
Of course, the main highlight of the small city of Wells is its stunning Cathedral. Wells Cathedral is characterised by its imposing and intricate façade, as well as its vaulted interior and a stunning set of cloisters. A visit inside is free, though donations are always appreciated.
If you’re lucky, then there might even be a choral practice in full swing while you visit (visit later on in the day and mid-week for the best chance to enjoy the music). Other highlights of Wells Cathedral include a 14th-century astronomical clock and an octagonal chapter house. Furthermore, a visit to the ecclesiastical building’s cloisters is an absolute must for those looking for historical and wizarding vibes!
#2 Bishop’s Palace
Surrounded by a moat and its own set of fortifications, the Bishop’s Palace was first constructed during the 13th-century. From that point onwards, it was to become the main seat of power within Wells for the next eight hundred years. While the palace was once surrounded by a deer park during the Middle Ages, today it’s pretty close to the centre of the city!
#3 Medieval Cathedral Close (Vicar’s Close)
The postcard-perfect Vicar’s Close is so picturesque, stepping inside this little alcove feels akin to stepping back in time. Dating back to the 15th-century, of all the attractions in Wells, the medieval cathedral close is one of those places you can’t believe actually exists.
Well, that is until you wander through it! Populated by medieval buildings and lying in the very shadow of Wells Cathedral itself, the Vicar’s Close is often claimed to be the oldest surviving purely residential street still in existence in Europe!
#4 Wells and Mendip Museum
If you’re a history buff and want to learn more about the city of Wells, as well as the surrounding area, then you simply must head to the city’s main museum, which is located at 8 Cathedral Green. Open on a daily basis from Monday through to Saturday, the museum was founded in 1893.
Comprising of plenty of Victorian collections, highlights of the Wells and Mendip Museum include an Ichthyosaur fossil, lead ingots from the Roman Era, and a skeleton found in the Wookey Hole Caves which was once thought by many to have been the witch of Wookey Hole.
#5 Wander the Streets of Wells
One of the best things to do in Wells is simply to wander around the city and allow the city to reveal itself to you. This way, you may well discover some of the more unusual things Wells has to offer as well as uncover more information about the medieval city’s eclectic history.
For example, one street in the city was formerly called Grope Street in Medieval Times, though it was changed to Grove Lane by 1821. Today, the cobbled alleyways is known as Union Street (as it has been called since 1834) and it’s these kind of details you’d never know without wandering through the city.
#6 Wells Market Place
To the other side of the imposing cathedral, Wells Market Place is where everyone heads to if they want to do a little shopping. Twice a week, an open-air farmer’s market is also held here (on Wednesdays and Saturdays) where it’s possible to purchase all manner of local goods from fresh vegetables to local honey!
While in the Wells Market Place, make sure to also check out a small commemorative plaque celebrating former resident, Mary Rand’s, world record-breaking long-jump at the 1964 Olympics. Other attractions of interest within the marketplace can be found in the form of medieval gateways known as the Penniless Porch and the Bishop’s Eye.
#7 Take a day trip into the Mendip Hills
If you’re a fan of all things outdoor related, then one of the best things to do in Wells is simply to leave the city and head for the hills- literally! The rolling green Mendip Hills (also known locally simply as the ‘Mendips’) are limestone hills South of Bath and Bristol.
First inhabited as early as the Paleolithic and Mesolithic times, the remains of Roman Mines have even been found within the area. Some of the best activities in the Mendip Hills are all about adventure; think hiking, canoeing, and caving! If you’re a fan of photography, then there’s plenty of fauna and flora to be snapped as well!
#8 Take a day trip to Cheddar Gorge and Wookey Hole
Though incredibly touristic, no trip to this part of Somerset would be complete without a day trip into the incredible gores of Cheddar, as well as the caves of Wookey Hole. During our three-day road trip through Southern England and Southern Wales, we were lucky enough to experience Cheddar Gorge at night. The ethereal light of the moon illuminated the impossibly high limestone façades and the lack of people about ensured for a spooky atmosphere…
#9 Take a day trip to Glastonbury Abbey
The ancient Glastonbury Tor has been associated with all things mythical since time immemorial. Situated along a ley line and located in Somerset, the ruins of this ancient monastery were first established in the early 8th-century.
While the first monastery was largely destroyed during a fire in 1184, the subsequent monastery soon became one of the richest and most powerful in England. Glastonbury Abbey eventually fell into disrepair following the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII.
Today, a visit here is one of the best things to do in South West England. For a more in-depth itinerary for the best things to do in the area, check out this one day in Somerset road trip guide. Highlights include several ruinous churches and some of the quaintest villages you could possibly imagine!
Where to stay in Wells
If you’re looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle of busy modern-day life, then a trip to Wells may well be in order. After all, this miniature cathedral city is populated by plenty of museums, cobbled lanes, and even its own palace. So, if you’re looking for a weekend getaway, then here are some suggestions for where to stay while in Wells cathedral city:
Ancient Gate House Hotel, 20 Sadler St, Wells BA5 2SE
If you’re a fan of staying in the centre of the city, as well as history, then the Gate House Hotel has some pretty good reviews online. Situated close to all of the city’s major attractions, amenities include a bar and restaurant on-site, as well as free Wi-Fi. Check prices and availability here.
Beryl B&B, Top of Hawkers Lane, Wells BA5 3JP
This luxury bed and breakfast is one of the top-rated places to stay in Wells. This former family home was first constructed during the 19th-century and now operates as a beautiful residence in the very heart of this medieval city. Check prices and availability here.