City guide: Wells, England’s smallest city

The Bishop's Palace, Wells
The Bishop's Palace, Wells

With a sacred history stretching back more than a millennium, Wells – England’s smallest city – is big on charm and a great place for a weekend break. Here’s our guide to getting the best out of  the city.

VISIT

Wells Cathedral

The dramatic 12th-century Cathedral Church of St Andrews is a Gothic masterpiece. Inside, its pointed arches and ribbed vaults emphasise proportion, light and space, while unusual scissor arches look strikingly modern in contrast to the medieval clock – said to be the world’s second oldest working clock – and its quirky jousting knights. The cathedral’s intricate Jesse Window is one of the most splendid examples of 14th-century stained glass in Europe, dating from around 1340.

Vicars’ Close

Built in 1363 for the Vicars Choral (the men of the cathedral choir), it can lay claim to being the oldest completely medieval residential street in continuous habitation in Europe.

Bishop’s Palace

Bishop’s Palace, next to the cathedral, which has been home to the bishops of Bath and Wells for more than 800 years. Across its idyllic moat – where mute swans ring a bell to be fed – lies 14 acres of landscaped gardens encompassing the wells. Here you can peer into the city’s ancient origins and delight in the picture-perfect reflective pool, built in the 1830s, as a pretty mirror to the cathedral. The tranquil charms continue inside the palace’s medieval entrance and undercroft, and Jacobean staircase and long gallery, where visitors are invited to linger and even tinkle on the piano.

Wells Cathedral
Wells Cathedral. Credit: VisitEngland/Iain Lewis

Market Place

Market Place where a bi-weekly market has thrived for centuries, and independent retailers and quaint cafes abound.

Wells and Mendip Museum

Sitting on Cathedral Green, the museum tells the story of the Mendip landscape and is also home to the 900-year-old Wells archive.

Milton Lodge Gardens

The Grade II terraced gardens are worth a visit alone, and their position high on the Mendip Hills to the north of Wells means brilliantly broad panoramas of the city and landscape beyond.

Vicars’ Close, Wells
Vicars’ Close, Wells. Credit: VisitEngland/Iain Lewis

WHEN TO GO

Each October, Wells transforms into a festival city. The Festival of Literature (13-21 October) takes place in the Bishop’s Palace, Wells Food Festival (8 October) fills the market and New Music Wells (15-19 October) comes to the cathedral.

WHERE TO STAY

Winner of a Visit England Rose Award in recognition of service excellence in 2015, Beryl is a luxury B&B in a Gothic manor house. Its 14 bedrooms ooze hospitality and are packed with charm and antiques.

Stoberry House offers luxury B&B accommodation with tastefully and individually decorated rooms situated in a beautiful six-acre garden with breathtaking views over the city of Wells.

In the heart of the city, the Swan Hotel has been part of the story of Wells since at least the 15th century. Some of its rooms enjoy spectacular views across Cathedral Green.

WHERE TO EAT

Goodfellows is an award-winning Mediterranean, seafood-centric restaurant handily located just a few steps away from the cathedral in Sadler Street.
As well as sporting an open kitchen, it also has a tempting on-site patisserie.

With walls adorned with Punch cartoons by the man who gives the restaurant its name and sitting a perfect spot on the corner of Market Place, Anton’s Bistro at the Crown at Wells offers an excellent variety of dishes with a local ethos at a reasonable price.

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