Given the rural nature and beautiful countryside of the county, it’s no surprise that Somerset is studded with magnificent stately homes – ridiculously huge, old country houses, with even bigger estates, and landscaped gardens, built by the mega-rich of their time.
Many of these Somerset stately homes you may recognise off the tele – they’re often featured in period films and TV, and a lot of them, inhabited or not, are open to the public.
Visiting them is a fascinating way to get a sense of England’s history, a way of travelling back in time, to immerse yourself in the lives of those who existed in a different era, and a means of seeing how the other half lived (as well as those who worked for them).
Visiting these stately homes in Somerset often makes a full day out – and can be particularly handy if you have kids to entertain. A lot of these historic houses have acres of grounds to explore, play areas for little ones, miles of footpaths for walkers, views over magnificent countryside, beautifully-manicured gardens, and a wide variety of visitor events on their calendar.
You can visit all the manor houses in Somerset on my list, but you may not be able to go inside each one. However, where the house is not open to the public, its grounds should be – I’ve mentioned this where possible. I’ve also included some fantastic historic homes and gardens nearby, that are an easy day trip from Somerset.
Please check the websites and opening-hours of the stately homes before you visit, as some are closed seasonally, or for events, while others are only open on certain days of the week.
Finally, it’s worth joining the National Trust, or English Heritage (who are currently offering 15% off with code EHAFF2023) if you plan to visit a lot of these historic homes as you can save A LOT of money when visiting Somerset’s historic country piles (and hundreds of other places in England).
This post contains affiliate links, should you click to purchase, it is at no additional cost to you, although I receive a small commission which goes towards the upkeep of this blog.
Stately homes in Somerset
1. National Trust Tyntesfield, Wraxall
This ornate, gothic-style Victorian manor house was once the home of the Gibbs family, who made their wealth from controlling the import of Peruvian ‘guano’ fertiliser. An adjoining chapel, modelled on the flamboyant architecture of the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, is joined to the house by a bridge. The bespoke architecture of the buildings reflects the devout Anglo-Catholic beliefs of the owners.
Inside, the mansion is richly decorated and furnished with a collection of over 72,000 objects. Beady-eyed Sherlock (the BBC version) and Dr Who fans may recognise parts of it – almost the entire episode of Doctor Who’s Hide (series seven, episode 10) takes place here! The Victorian Christmas extravaganza is particularly impressive.
Outside, paths meander through the historic parkland, woodland and manicured gardens (there are some 500 acres), leading off to an impressive kitchen garden, natural wood play areas, a couple of cafes, tulip gardens in spring and a magnificent pumpkin display in autumn. Look out for seasonal trails in school holidays.
2. Lytes Cary Manor
Lytes Cary’s name is derived from the Lyte family (who lived at the medieval manor house for over four centuries), and that of the River Cary, which flows through part of the grounds.
The house, restored by Sir Walter Jenner in the early 20th century, is a mish-mash of parts dating from the 14th to 20th century. Its chapel, completed in 1348, actually predates the manor house.
Enchanting ‘arts and crafts’ style gardens with expertly-clipped witch’s hat-like topiary, a croquet lawn (where you can picnic), formal orchard, farmland, meadows, and some lovely woodland surround the house. Seasonal trails through the woods, often take place during school holidays and are the place to head with kids, where they can log-hop and swing from the branches.
3. National Trust Barrington Court
Located next to the picture-perfect village of Barrington, this stately Tudor manor house was the vision of Colonel Lyle (of Tate and Lyle sugar fame) and his architect James Edwin Forbes, who restored it in the 1920s, rescuing panelling, fireplace and staircases.
The estate was also one of the first to be owned by the National Trust and like nearby Montacute House (used to represent Greenwich Palace), it featured in Wolf Hall, representing the home of Cardinal Wolsey.
Set in luscious Somerset countryside, there’s plenty to occupy visitors within the grounds – the tennis courts are opened in summer and the gardens are a riot of blooms – from ramshackle rose-bordered stables, to a lily garden influenced by Gertrude Jekyll and an incredible kitchen garden.
Tumbling wisteria dominates spring, while autumn sees the likes of ‘hinky punks’ descend on the estate, apple picking and nature-inspired crafts
4. National Trust Montacute House
It beggars belief that Montacute House, a masterpiece of Elizabethan renaissance architecture and design, was offered for scrap back in 1931, before being rescued by the National Trust.
Built from gleaming Somerset ham stone, this magnificent abode was designed to boast the wealth and power of its owner, Sir Edward Phelips. Inside you’ll find the ‘Long Gallery’ (where aristocrats could exercise when it was raining) – the longest of its kind in England – and over 60 Tudor and Elizabethan portraits on loan from the National Portrait Gallery.
Such a fine mansion house calls for equally impressive outside space to match, and there are some 11 acres of manicured gardens to stroll around, with mixed borders, rose collections, a fountain and ‘wobbly’ hedges.
Once you’ve finished pottering around the grounds, way-marked walks lead off around the wider estate, which encompasses 300 acres of parkland and St Michael’s Hill.
This 14th century home nestled between Bristol and the North Somerset coast, was bought by Abraham Elton in 1709, and is still the ancestral home of the Elton family.
The original Elton was was a self-made industrialist and manufacturer, and made much of his fortune in the slave trade, although later family members had less shameful careers.
At Clevedon Court you’ll find an 18th century, Grade II*listed terraced garden, spread over six levels and a unique collection of local Eltonware pottery and Nailsea glass.
6. Dunster Castle
Surrounded by quintessential olde worlde English surroundings – think thatched cottages, ancient packhorse bridge, water mill, charming shop fronts, tea rooms, cobbled streets – the ancient turreted Dunster Castle has been witness to some 1000 years of history from its hill-top perch. The castle that you see today became a lavish country home during the 19th century for the Luttrell family, who lived here for 600 years.
As a result of centuries of building, planning and restoration, the grounds are now renowned for their spectacular sea and countryside views, diversity of plants and features.
A walk around the gardens will take you through four different microclimates! The South Terrace on a sunny day, has a Mediterranean feel thanks to its micro-climate – sub-tropical plants line the pathway, framing views that stretch as far as the Bristol Channel. The riverside garden below, with its natural play area, leads to the historic working watermill, while up high, a bowling green looks down upon the castle.
7. Bishops Palace, Wells
Bishop’s Palace has been home to the Bishops of Bath and Wells for more than 800 years and each has left their mark on their place. Perhaps the most surprising legacy, though, goes to one of the bishop’s daughters, who back in the 1870s, taught the swans to ring a bell on the gatehouse whenever they were hungry! Adult swans have taught their cygnets this trick ever since and visitors can watch it happen.
Hidden behind a stunning moat, ancient drawbridge and Great Hall ruins, there are 14 acres of Grade II* listed gardens here, and the well pools that gave the city its name.
For children, there’s a natural outdoor discovery area, named he ‘Dragon’s Lair’, designed around the themes and stories of the palace.
This magnificent estate and its 30 acres of gardens sit right on the border with Dorset. Since its days as a monastery, over 800 years ago, the garden has evolved to reflect the taste of the manor house inhabitants.
As much as the stately residence is stunning to behold, the seasonal blooms often become the star attractions, drawing visitors to February Snowdrop Weekends, Crocus Week (early March), a Tulip Extravaganza (mid-April-mid-May) and Spectacular Sweet Peas in July.
There’s also an arboretum, rock garden, bog garden, willow den, spiral garden, lime avenue and a 48m fountain (turned on at noon, 1.30pm and 3pm) in the ‘Mermaid Pond’.
9. National Trust Fyne Court, Bridgwater
Deep in rural Somerset, close to the Quantock Hills, is Fyne Court, once the grounds of a beautiful Georgian mansion with a grand Arcadian landscape. Its most celebrated resident is scientist and poet, Andrew Crosse, who lived here with his family until the house was destroyed by fire in 1894.
Today, the traditional garden has largely been lost, as has the house (only the music room and library survive today), but there is still much to discover and you can still see remnants of their former grandeur. Head off into the grounds to find streams, a play trail, wild garden, a folly, walled garden, arboretum serpentine lake, boathouse, and network of footpaths. Pop into the little tearoom to refuel.
10. Hestercombe Gardens, Taunton
Hestercombe House doesn’t look all that old from the outside, but its earliest remaining medieval feature is a stone archway, dating from around 1280. The reason for its apparent ‘youthfulness’ is due to the Georgian makeover the west elevation received in1730, followed later with a Victorian facelift by Lord Portman.
Hestercombe’s magnificent grounds reflect three centuries of the English country house’s history. From landscaped Georgian features to a Victorian shrubbery, and Edwardian Arts and Crafts-influenced formal gardens.
The 40-acre estate gazes over beautiful Somerset countryside and there’s a fantastic cafe, restaurant and contemporary art gallery to boot. Look out for seasonal events such as half term Halloween trails, a Christmas lights trail and more.
11. East Lambrook Manor, South Somerset
The star of the show at this 15th century manor house in East Lambrook is the quintessentially English cottage garden created by the renowned 20th-century plantswoman and gardening writer Margery Fish. You can’t actually look around the house, but when the gardens are this charming, that’s no big deal!
In fact the grounds are considered to be England’s foremost cottage garden, and while they’re not huge (two acres or so), they pack plenty of flower power into their little corner of Somerset.
May, June and Autumn are great times to see the garden at its best, but February is a show-stealer, with a month-long festival devoted to snowdrops. There’s also a specialist plant nursery, tea shop and art gallery.
12. Tintinhull Garden
17th century, Grade 1*-listed Tintinhull house and its gardens sit in the pretty village of Tintinhull. The manor is now a National Trust holiday cottage, sleeping up to eight people, so day visitors are unable to enter, but it’s lovely to look at from the outside – all old honeyed stone and partly bedecked with wisteria in spring.
As the house is rented out to guests, the main attraction here is the acre and a half of blissful Arts-and-Crafts garden, designed by Phyllis Reiss. You’ll find seven distinct areas, made up of secluded lawns, pool garden, fountain, kitchen garden and arboretum.
13. Prior Park Landscape Garden, Bath
Prior Park was built in the 18th century by Ralph Allen, a Postmaster of Bath who became integral to developing the British postal system. From humble beginnings, Ralph Allen rose to be one of the wealthiest men in the country, and with his riches he built the mansion house here (now a college), surrounded by a gorgeous estate and magnificent views of the city.
The grounds, set in a sweeping valley and created with famed landscape designer, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown as well as the poet Alexander Pope, are incredibly beautiful. You’ll find various follies, a serpentine lake, sham-style bridge and fascinating architectural features around the gardens, but the showpiece is a stunning Palladian Bridge, one of only four left in the world.
14. Milton Lodge Gardens, near Wells
The gardens of this 18th century manor house were transformed from sloping ground into a series of terraces at the beginning of the 20th century by Charles Tudway – the current owner’s great grandfather. His motivation for doing so, was to capitalise on the spectacular views from this vantage point over Wells, Glastonbury Tor and the Vale of Avalon.
One such terrace contains a yew-enclosed swimming pool set at one end of the lawn, another has a lily pond decorated with flowering pots. There’s also an eight-acre arboretum and a wilder woodland garden.
While you can’t enter the house itself, you can catch sneak peeks of its grandeur from the grounds.
15. Combe Sydenham Country Park
This Grade 1*-listed Tudor manor house sits on the site of a former monastery, surrounded by 500 acres of woodland, a deer park and gardens.
The house was previously owned by Elizabeth Sydenham, who married Sir Francis Drake. Apparently Drake and Sydenham had been due to marry earlier, but Drake left on a long voyage, and her father arranged for her to marry a son of the Wyndham family. On their wedding day, there was a loud clap of thunder and a meteorite crashed through the roof just as they were approaching the church, this was deemed a bad omen for their marriage, so when Drake returned soon after, Elizabeth was able to marry him instead.
The iron meteorite (36 cm in diameter), became known as ‘Drake’s cannon ball’ and has remained at the house ever since!
The expansive estate is a great place for walking with miles of waymarked trails, pretty pools with a cascading stream, waterfalls, views over the Quantock hills and Seven Estuary.
16. Iford Manor Gardens, near Bath
Perched on the last hill of the Cotswolds, within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and on the Wiltshire/Somerset border (the county line actually runs through the garden), Iford Manor is a horticultural gem, with magnificent rural views across an unspoilt valley.
Now home to the Cartwright-Hignett family, the estate has a rich history dating back to the Domesday Book.
The Grade I*-listed gardens that exist today were largely designed by renowned Edwardian landscape architect, and former manor resident, Harold Peto. Since its ownership, the Cartwright-Hignett family has continued to develop and maintain the garden, with its romantic Italianate, Byzantine, Ancient Roman and Oriental inspirations (you might recognise its star turn in the recent Secret Garden movie).
Three miles of footpaths cross the estate and guided tours, classical and jazz concerts, and international Motocross events take place throughout the year.
17. The Newt, Bruton
The Newt, crowned the best boutique hotel in the UK, was the seat of the Hobhouse family for more than two centuries. The main house was built in the 17th century, then remodelled in Georgian times.
Nowadays, it costs a pretty penny to stay at this luxury bolthole, but members can explore the mind-blowing grounds in which it sits all year round.
Discover British apple varieties arranged in a Baroque-style maze, a serpentine treetop walkway, natural wood playground, 300-year old Druid Tree, Story of Gardening museum, Roman Villa experience and Beezantium during your visit. Plus there’s a cyder press and onsite eateries serving vegetable-led homegrown food foraged from the gardens should you get peckish.
Stately homes near Somerset that make a great day trip
18. Longleat Safari Park
Longleat is renowned for its self-drive safari, exotic creature experiences and family attractions, as well as the magnificent manor house at the heart of the park.
Built in the 16th century, it has been lived in by sixteen generations of the Thynn family and today, it’s the family home of the 8th Marquess and Marchioness of Bath (you might remember Emma Thynn from Strictly).
Pretend you’re Lord or Lady for the day with a tour of the house – it’s filled with tapestries, beautiful furniture, books (some 44,00!) and paintings, including some by history’s most prominent artists – a Titian was the target of a burglary in the 90s. They used to run festive tours with the house dressed for Christmas, but I’m not sure if this is still a thing.
19. Stourhead House
Built in the early 18th century and modified by different generations of the Hoare family, Stourhead House is a Palladian-style villa set in the heart of magnificent grounds.
Inside the mansion, there’s a fascinating collection of furniture, including the striking Pope’s Cabinet, made in Rome in around 1585, most probably for Pope Sixtus V.
Head outside for a wander around the world-famous gardens – there’s much to explore (2,650-acres to be exact) – from follies, temples and grottos set around an ornamental lake, to woodlands, a rock bridge and cascade
Autumn here is a triumph of colour, likewise in December, when Stourhead hosts its fabulous Christmas Lights Trail (one of the best in my opinion!)
20. Kings Weston Estate, Bristol
Kings Weston mansion house, surrounded by gorgeous parkland, was designed by the same dude who dreamt up the plans for Blenheim Palace. The gardens here were once so famed across Europe, they drew lords and ladies from far and wide. Today, little is left of the former gardens, but you can seek out relics of their past grandeur in the estate.
There are also lovely views across to the Severn Bridge and Bristol Channel, plus lots of wooded trails, open green space and a water feature, which kiddos love to splash in.
The mansion is more of a wedding venue these days, so it’s not open to the public daily, but there is a little cafe and lots of ground to explore around it.
21. Blaise Castle Estate, Bristol
Just down the road from Kings Weston is Blaise Castle Estate with a 19th century mansion house (you can walk between the two estates – it takes about an hour) whose grounds cover vast open areas, forested gorge walks with babbling streams, pretty ponds, a folly castle sitting atop a hill, and huge children’s play area.
The stately home here is now a museum that is free to enter. Inside you can discover the history of the house, see how its inhabitants lived – what they wore, the toys they played with and how they managed their chores.
Don’t miss the hobbity hamlet of nine 19th century houses, set around a village green just around the corner from Blaise. If you’re interested in old houses and architecture, it’s lovely for a quick stroll.
22. National Trust Dyrham Park
Set in a sensationally beautiful estate, Dyrham Park’s 17th century mansion (you may recognise it from Poldoark as the Warleggan town house), sits snuggled in a steep valley and ancient deer park, against an idyllic backdrop of picturesque countryside.
The house, created by colonial administrator William Blathwayt, is a fine example of baroque architecture, and shows how a fortune made from empire was invested in a landed estate, making Dyrham one of the most notable stately homes of its age.
It’s a steep downhill from the car park to the mansion house (although there is a free bus that shuttles between the two) – if you’re with kids go via the Old Lodge play area.
Beside the house, you’ll find a chapel, manicured gardens with idyllic ponds, a wildflower orchard and a tea room.
23. Sherborne Castle and gardens
Originally a fortified 12th century bishop’s palace, Sherborne Old Castle became the home of Sir Walter Ralegh in 1594, before it entered the hands of the Wingfield Digby family in 1617, whose home it has been for over 400 years.
The castle is open to the public, and plays host to a variety of events, from country fairs to classic car rallies, throughout the year. Once you’ve taken in the old masters, porcelain collection, suits of armour and tapestries, head out into the Grade I*-listed English Landscape Garden – one of Capability Brown’s first commissions, which survives largely unaltered today.
Don’t miss the great gatehouse, chapels with decorative carved stone or moat walk.
Liked this post on stately homes in Somerset (and nearby!), discover more days out in the county: