Often described as England’s smallest city, Wells still manages to pack a lot of interesting sights into its tiny borders.
Wells is most known for its cathedral and collection of holy wells (which give the town its name) but there’s more to discover here than just those attractions.
In this post, we’ll be sharing our top picks for places to visit in Wells, including the most beautiful buildings and fascinating museums.
We hope you enjoy learning about this tiny yet lovely city and be sure to let us know in the comments which Wells must-sees we should add to our list!
1. Wells Cathedral
One of the most essential Wells tourist attractions is, of course, Wells Cathedral.
This cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of both Bath and Wells, constructed around 1175 to replace a church on the same site which had been around since 705! She’s looking very good for her age though, with beautifully preserved Gothic architecture and ancient stained glass windows.
Fans of Ken Follett’s novel The Pillars of the Earth will be particularly interested in visiting Wells Cathedral, as it inspired the fictional Kingsbridge Cathedral in the book and was also used for filming in the television adaptation.
Both the exterior and interiors of Wells Cathedral are stunning to explore, especially for architecture buffs. Make sure you head to the Gardens of Reflection behind the cathedral for more beautiful scenery and views of the adjoining Bishop’s Palace.
The Wells Cathedral clock is also famous for its 24-hour astronomical dial and the jousting knights who come out to perform every quarter hour on the inside face.
PRACTICAL INFO FOR VISITING: The Cathedral is open daily from 7am – 6pm although there are slightly different hours for the café, shop and visitors welcome desk. Admission is by donation (with 8 GBP suggested for adults) although you can also get a Cathedral Card for a year if you want to visit multiple times.
2. Vicar’s Close
One of the more unusual places to visit in Wells is Vicar’s Close, which was originally constructed as housing for priests and is now believed to be the oldest purely residential street with original buildings still intact in the whole of Europe.
Vicar’s Close connects to Wells Cathedral on the north side and consists of numerous Grade I listed buildings dating from the mid-14th century. One of the most interesting aspects of this road is that it tapers in such a way that it looks longer from the cathedral than if you look towards the cathedral from the other end!
It’s well worth a wander down this street to see the gorgeous old buildings, many with charming gardens today. You can enter from the cathedral via the Vicars’ Hall Gateway, which feels a little bit like stepping back in time. Continue all the way to the opposite end to see the Vicars’ Chapel and Library.
3. Wells Market Place
The historic marketplace is easily one of the best Wells destinations for shopping in a picturesque location, watched over by the imposing gates to the Bishop’s Palace and the Cathedral tower behind.
At the western end of the marketplace is the Wells Market Cross & Fountain, one of the three holy wells in Wells dedicated to Saint Andrew (the disciple of Jesus who originated the St Andrews’ Cross, which is on the flag of Scotland). A market is held here every Wednesday and Saturday, plus there’s a funfair here usually twice a year.
There are a number of cute shops and charming cafés lining the marketplace, which is an excellent spot for people-watching in between exploring the cathedral and Bishop’s Palace. If you’re visiting when it’s not a market day we recommend Twentyone (especially for brunch) and Flapjackery (for fancy oat flapjacks), but on market days there are many excellent food stalls to choose from!
4. The Bishop’s Palace and Garden
The Bishop’s Palace and Garden is another one of the most important Wells attractions, and also where the other two holy wells dedicated to Saint Andrew are located.
As you might have guessed from the name, this palace was built as a residence for the Bishops of the Diocese of Bath and Wells, and the Bishop’s House is still the home of the Bishop today. However, most of the palace is now open to the public with stunning grounds and gardens surrounding the beautiful palace buildings.
The palace has been added to over the years, but the earliest sections were constructed around 1210. Visitors can enter the palace grounds through the Bishop’s Eye, an archway which adjoins the marketplace and was built around 1450. Next to the Bishop’s Eye is the Penniless Porch, which leads to the cathedral and was constructed around the same time.
The swans that live in the moat surrounding the palace are one of the most popular attractions in Wells, as they have learned to pull ropes attached to bells to ask for food. The croquet lawn in front of the palace is also still used by the Palace Croquet Club, so you might get to see them playing on your visit!
PRACTICAL INFO FOR VISITING: The Bishop’s Palace is open 9.30am-5.30pm daily in the summer months and 10am-4pm daily in the winter months. Tickets cost 16 GBP for adults and 8 GBP for children, but this ticket is then valid for 12 months, so you could visit as many times as you like in that time.
5. St Cuthbert’s Church
Rounding out the religious things to see in Wells is the beautiful St Cuthbert’s Church, which is often mistaken for the cathedral due to its tower made from Somerset stone and superb carved roof!
The Church of St Cuthbert was constructed around the 13th century although much of its current appearance was added during the Perpendicular Gothic period in the 15th century. One of the most unique aspects of St Cuthbert’s is the colourfully painted ceiling, which features a variety of angel figures and is quite impressive.
St Cuthbert’s Church is located at the end of the High Street (which connects to Market Place) on the opposite side of the town centre from the cathedral and Bishop’s Palace. It’s free to enter but as it’s a local church it may sometimes be closed for weddings or funerals.
6. Wells and Mendip Museum
The Wells and Mendip Museum is one of the best places to visit in Wells to learn about the history of the city and surrounding area.
It’s located next to the cathedral in a pretty pinkish building which is also quite historic as it was the former Chancellors’ House and is now a Grade II listed building. Inside, visitors will find some fascinating exhibits of geology and fossils collected from the nearby Mendip Hills, which are well-known for the spectacular caves around Cheddar Gorge.
Continuing with the cave theme, this is also where one can find a skeleton which was found in the Wookey Hole Caves and is thought to be the bones of the Wookey Hole Witch. There are also displays of Roman artefacts, statuary from Wells Cathedral, and a charming collection of 18th-century needlework samplers.
PRACTICAL INFO FOR VISITING: The Wells and Mendip Museum is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10am until 40m. Tickets cost 4 GBP for adults and 1 GBP for children.
7. BONUS: Wookey Hole
Wookey Hole is the amusing name of a village located just five minutes’ drive up the road from Wells, heading towards the town of Cheddar.
Like Cheddar, Wookey Hole is most famous for its spectacular show caves, which have been developed into a fun tourist site with multiple things for visitors to see and do. At Wookey Hole Caves you can explore eight different chambers filled with impressive rock formations, go caving, play adventure golf, see an ‘enchanted valley’, visit a caving museum and even see a number of dinosaur figures in the area outside the caves.
There’s a legend of a Wookey Hole Witch which comes from one of the interesting rock formations in the caves, with subsequent myths claiming she was turned to stone by a monk from Glastonbury. The 1,000-year-old skeleton which is on display at the Wells and Mendip Museum was found here, although analysis showed that they were actually the remains of a man, rather than a woman.
Either way, Wookey Hole makes for a fun day out while you’re visiting Wells!
Did we miss any of your favourite places to visit in Wells?
Let us know in the comments so we can add more Wells must-sees to our list!