How to spend 48 hours in Taunton
PUBLISHED: 09:25 21 October 2019 | UPDATED: 09:25 21 October 2019
Whether you are looking to wind down or pack plenty in, Taunton is a perfect weekend destination
Trying to organise an itinerary on a short break to Somerset's bustling county town is something of a tall order. There is so much to do and see in Taunton - day or night, whatever time of year and whatever the weather. So we've done the work for you and devised a tailor-made weekend away which we think has something for everyone. Knowing Taunton, though, there is a good chance you may stumble on an undiscovered gem of a place that even we don't know about.
Why not take the afternoon off and arrive in Taunton early? After all there are plenty of things to pack in this weekend. Our choice would be to make a beeline for the centre of town and book in at the romantic Castle Hotel with its magnificent wisteria-clad façade. Check your bags in and relax for a while with afternoon tea in the peaceful 12th-century rose garden before heading off to explore the town.
You needn't go far though, as the Museum of Somerset is just a stone's throw away within the castle grounds and has a fascinating collection of artefacts from Somerset's history in prehistoric times to the present day. Handily, your historic accommodation for the night is on the Taunton Heritage Trail, so pick up a leaflet and explore some of the 44 historic sites and properties around town. These include the 1905 Art school Hunts Court with its striking neo-classical facade, Cider Press Garden and the old public library and municipal buildings, with sections built as early as 1522. Featured in the trail you'll also find Bath Place, a picturesque narrow street with 19th-century shop fronts now brimming with independent retailers and cafés.
At the top of the High Street sits the Victorian-designed Vivary Park, home to the annual Taunton Flower Show, known locally as the 'The Chelsea of the West'.
The cricket season may be ended but that's no reason not to wander towards the historic Cooper Associates County Ground and explore the Somerset cricket museum.
Pop in for a pint at The Ring of Bells over the road. It's a lovely place, and feels like a friendly country pub in the heart of town, nestling beneath the shadow of the spire of St James Church. If you are exploring this part of town, it's well worth catching a show at the Brewhouse Theatre and Arts Centre in what is Taunton's cultural centre.
There's a live screening of Midsummer Night's Dream from the National Theatre on October 18, or acoustic pop and folk melodies from Barbara Dickson and Rab Noakes the following Friday. Whatever day you arrive you are bound to find something to entertain you here, whether it's a film, an exhibition or a show, and there is often pre-theatre dining at Braziers at the Brewhouse too.
Other choices for supper are to head back to Castle Bow, your hotel's flagship restaurant, or visit Augustus Restaurant close to the Brewhouse in Priory Avenue. It is an informal, friendly neighbourhood bistro with a global menu, and when it opened newspapers such as The Sunday Times lavished deserved praise upon it.
After relishing in the comfort of the Castle Hotel, not to mention its hearty breakfasts, it's time for some shopping, and a wealth of quirky independent stores are dotted around Taunton, if you know where to look.
There is Krackers, a quirky comic book store in Bath Place with a range of rare and unusual publications, or the lovely local bookshop Brendon Books in the nearby Old Brewery buildings and home to the Taunton Literary Festival in November.
Grab a nice strong continental coffee at Portuguese cafe Algarve just off the High St or lunch at The Scrumper, a relaxed deli cafe with a modern style, friendly atmosphere and great cakes. After lunch there is still time for an afternoon daytrip to the coast if the mood - and weather - takes you.
Steam locomotives from yesteryear depart from nearby Bishops Lydeard along the West Somerset Railway, the longest heritage line in the UK, to whisk you away to the coast at Minehead or Watchet. Look out for combined tickets on selected dates throughout the year, including cream tea and cheese and cider specials and linked trips with Hestercombe Gardens and Dunster Castle.
If there's time on your return to Taunton head to The Willow Tree restaurant in Tower Lane for fine French haute cuisine in a romantic 17th-century building and views over the river Tone, or a late evening stroll along the canal.
The Castle Hotel is a special place to stay, but if your budget doesn't stretch to luxury four-star accommodation, try the boutique B&B rooms at Lower Marsh Farm on the outskirts or Blorenge House, a family-run Victorian hotel in the heart of town.
After you check out, we suggest you head south west for one of the weekend tours at Sheppy's House of Cider, home to one of the oldest premium cider-making families in the world. Try one of four Sheppy's ciders with a light lunch at the Apple Bay Bar and Restaurant there then wander round Broadleigh's colourful gardens and nursery nearby.
Then there's still plenty of time for a short trip north to Hestercombe house and gardens, with some 50 acres of grounds to explore, including lakes, woodland walks and formal gardens, as well as the art gallery (a Lutyens exhibitions continues until October 27), 17th-century watermill and Stables Kitchen Cafe. It may feel as though you've just arrived in Taunton, but all too quickly it will seem it will be time to leave - with many more things to do on the itinerary for your next visit here.