I recently visited Taunton for a long weekend, staying at Castle House apartment in Taunton Castle, thanks to Classic Cottages. It was my first visit to Taunton, the county town of Somerset in the South West of England.
Taunton is just a few minutes from the M5 motorway, making it an ideal location for a weekend break in Somerset. For this post, I’m assuming that you have access to a car, but you can also reach Taunton. The station is a short walk from the town centre.
So if you decide to visit Somerset, here are my top recommendations for spending a long weekend in Taunton.
* All prices quoted are correct at the time of writing.
Sheppy’s House of Cider
Of course, Somerset is well known for its cider. And Sheppy’s are one of the world’s oldest premium craft cider makers, going back through the family for over 200 years. They now blend traditional cider making skills with modern technology to create a range of fine ciders.
So if you want to try Sheppy’s ciders for yourself, I would recommend paying a visit to Sheppy’s House of Cider. It is about a 15 minute drive from Taunton town centre, so it’s ideal to call in there on your way to Taunton.
At Sheppy’s House of Cider, you’ll find a cider shop where you can taste the range of ciders. There are also counters serving fresh meat and freshly baked bread, and a delicatessen serving local cheese and homemade pies, pastries and quiches.
We stocked up on goodies to take to Castle House with us, including some really good bacon and eggs. And of course some Sheppy’s Cider!
You can take a walk through the Sheppy’s Orchard, choose from the delicious cakes in the cafe, or eat in the Apple Bay restaurant. There’s also a children’s playground and a heritage museum to visit as well.
And between March and November, you can also book in for a tour of the facilities. Entrance to Sheppy’s House of Cider is free, and tours start from £15 per person.
Take a walk around Taunton
Once you’ve settled into your accommodation for the weekend, why not take a stroll around Taunton town centre to get your bearings. The town is quite small, so you should be able to cover it easily.
You’ll notice that there’s a real mix of architectural styles dotted around the town. And if your walk takes you out after dark, you’ll see some of Taunton’s main buildings beautifully lit up.
It’s worth passing by St Mary Magdelene Church as well, to catch sight of their engraved glass doors lit up at night.
You’ll find plenty of places to eat in Taunton on Friday and Saturday evenings, including popular national chains like Zizzi and Bill’s.
You’ll also find interesting independent restaurants like The Skewerhouse, a Portuguese restaurant serving Madeira-style skewers of meat which came highly recommended by a friend. We really wanted to eat there when we visited Taunton, but they were fully booked. So be sure to book ahead!
Explore Taunton’s Museums
If you stocked up at Sheppy’s House of Cider yesterday, then you may be enjoying breakfast at your holiday home. If you are looking for somewhere to have breakfast cooked for you, we really enjoyed breakfast at Brazz. The service was quite laid back, so perhaps not ideal if you’re in a hurry. But the breakfast was well worth the wait.
Once you have fueled up for the day, it’s time to take in some of Somerset’s museums.
Museum of Somerset
The first one to explore is the Museum of Somerset. This is housed within the walls of Taunton Castle, and tells the story of Somerset from prehistoric times to the current day.
You’ll see everything from a Plesiosaur skeleton encased in the floor, the largest Roman coins discovered in Britain so far, a mosaiic floor from a Roman villa and much more. The museum uses film projections and the voices of Somerset people to bring the county’s history to life.
As well as the permanent galleries, there are regularly changing temporary exhibits to check out. For families, there are children’s activities run during the school holidays. There are also evening talks and outdoor theatre productions held in the castle grounds in the warmer months.
And if you decide to stay at Castle House, the museum is literally on your doorstep, and you can ask for a guided tour of the Castle’s tower.
Somerset Military Museum
The Somerset Military Museum is situated within a wing of the Museum of Somerset, and tells the story of Somerset’s regiments both at war and in peacetime.
At the museum, you will see uniforms, medals and other military items, and you can discover more about the formation and history of the regiments. Visitors can even try on a range of military uniforms from World War 1 up to the present day.
It’s a quiet and sombre place, but visually dramatic and very interesting to visit.
Entrance to the Museum of Somerset and Somerset Millitary Museum is free of charge, but a donation is welcomed. £3 per adult is the recommended donation.
Somerset Cricket Museum
If you’re a cricket fan, then you should definitely pay a visit to the County cricket ground during your stay in Taunton.
The Somerset county cricket side play their home matches at Taunton cricket ground. So if you’re visiting the town during the cricket season, you may be able to watch a match. And the County Ground also hosts the Stragglers Coffee House, which is open to the general public on non-match days.
The Somerset Cricket Museum is also on the County Ground site. It is housed in a renovated 16th century priory barn, and contains a wealth of cricket related memorabilia. The museum is generally open between May and September, but may open by appointment outside these times.
Other Museums near Taunton
Depending on what you are interested in, you may also want to pay a visit to the Working Mill at Bishops Lydeard, or the Bakelite museum at Williton. It’s worth checking ahead to make sure that they are open at the time that you are planning to visit.
Hestercombe House and Gardens
After lunch, take the 15 minute drive over to Cheddon Fitzpaine to visit Hestercombe House and Gardens.
Hestercombe is well worth a visit at any time of year. The house contains stately rooms that you can look around, and a contemporary art gallery. There’s also a bookshop and a restaurant where you can enjoy a relaxed lunch.
But Hestercombe is probably most famous for its gardens, which cover 50 acres and span three centuries of garden design. During your visit, you can wander through woods to discover the Victorian follies dotted around, and take in the Georgian Landscape Garden. And of course, you can admire Sir Edwin Lutyens’ magnificent Formal Gardens.
You can easily while away a few hours looking around Hestercombe. And when you’re ready to take a break, the Stables cafe is perfect for coffee and cake or a hot meal.
Entrance to Hestercombe costs £11.80 for adults and £5.90 for children aged 5-15 years. Family tickets are available.
I’ll be posting a full guide to Hestercombe House and Gardens here on the blog soon.
There are several pubs in Taunton where you can enjoy a meal and a glass of cider. We liked the Hideout bar, which also had the bonus of just being a short walk from our apartment at Castle House!
West Somerset Railway
Ready for your second full day in Taunton? It starts with a 15 minute drive over to Bishops Lydeard to the West Somerset Railway.
This is the longest heritage railway in England, which has been running since the 1850s. Over 200,000 visitors travel on the railway every year, which makes it one of the South West’s biggest visitor attractions.
The railway is open on selected dates throughout the year, and steam trains run from Bishops Lydeard over to the seaside town of Minehead. You can either travel straight to Minehead, or buy a day rover ticket and explore some of the stops along the way.
If the weather is good, I would suggest taking the first train of the day over to Minehead and spending a few hours on the beach. You can then get the train back to Bishops Lydeard in the afternoon.
If you decide to do a straight round-trip, there’s about 30 minutes wait before the return train from Minehead. You can get a light lunch at the Turntable cafe, and watch the trains being prepared.
An adult Day Rover costs £20, and a child Day Rover costs £10. Discounts for booking online and family tickets are available.
I’ll be exploring the West Somerset Railway more fully in a blog post soon.
After your trip on a steam train, you’ll have a little free time this afternoon. So be sure to take a good look at the gorgeous buildings dotted around the town centre.
This is St James’ church, which overlooks the County cricket ground.
When you’re visiting Taunton, be sure to spend a little time in Vivary Park. It’s only a few minutes from the main shopping area in the centre of town, and is a perfect spot for a picnic or stroll.
Vivary Park plays host to Taunton Flower Show every August, and it also hosts outdoor concerts in the summer. There are pretty floral displays throughout the park, and the mature trees make the park look beautiful even in winter.
The park opened as a space for public events and recreation in 1895, and there are a number of memorials dotted around. These include the Queen Victoria memorial fountain, and the large oak tree which was planted near the bandstand in 1902 to celebrate the coronation of Edward VII.
You’ll be able to see the imposing structure of the disused Jellalabad barracks next to the park.
And to keep the whole family entertained, there’s also a children’s adventure playground, tennis courts, a golf course and cafe.
After all that activity, you are probably looking for a good dinner on your last evening in Taunton. We found that the town was fairly quiet on Sunday night in February. Several restaurants were shut, but there was still a good selection to choose from.
One Last Thing…
If you’re planning on visiting Taunton for longer than a weekend, the town is ideal to use as a base for exploring the South West of England.
You could head 30 miles or so further down the M5 motorway to Exeter, visit Cheddar Gorge and Wookey Hole, or go over to the North Devon coast.
And as it is right in the middle of Taunton, Castle House makes the ideal base for a Somerset holiday.