Somerset has two cities, Bath and Wells, and only a small number of towns. Bath, Weston-super-Mare, Taunton, Yeovil and Bridgewater are the most populous areas of Somerset. Two suggestions exist of where the name Somerset originates, one being that it is taken from Seo-mere-saetan, which means "settlers by the sea lakes". Another option is that it derives from Sumorsete, which means "the people living at or dependent upon Sumortun".
Occupied since the Palaeolithic period, the caves of the Mendip Hills contain Cheddar Gorge and many other important archaeological sites. A complete skeleton known as Cheddar Man dating back to 7150 BC and bones from Gough's Cave circa 12,000 BC have been discovered. Aveline's Hole houses some examples of cave art that has been discovered in the area and some caves continued to be utilised until modern times, including Wookey Hole.
Bridgwater, in the 19th and 20th centuries, was a centre for the manufacture of bricks and clay roof tiles, and later cellophane. Agriculture and food and drink production continue to be major industries in Somerset, employing over 15,000 people. Cider production is closely associated with Taunton and Shepton Mallet, with brands such as Blackthorn and Thatchers cider being sold nationwide.
Somerset now has a variety of light industry and high technology businesses, along with traditional agriculture and an increasingly important tourism sector, supporting around 23,000 people.
In Stanton Drew, the stone circles are a strong tourist attraction known as the henge monument. This is considered one of the most impressive Neolithis monuments to have been built. The Great Circle is thought to have been made up of 30 stones originally, with 27 still standing. Other tourist attractions include Cadbury Castle and Ham Hill which are examples of the numerous Iron Age forts that can be seen in Somerset, some of which were reoccupied in the Middle Ages. Somerset’s coastal towns, part of the Exmoor National Park, the West Somerset Railway and the museum of the Fleet Air Arm at RNAS Yeovilton all also draw in visitors to the area.
The Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts takes place most years in Pilton, near Shepton Mallet, attracting over 170,000 music and culture lovers from around the world to see world-famous entertainers. The town of Glastonbury has mythical associations, including legends of a visit by the young Jesus of Nazareth and Joseph of Arimathea, with links to the Holy Grail, King Arthur, and Camelot, identified by some as Cadbury Castle. Glastonbury also hosts one of the UK's largest open air music festivals each year.
Art, music and literature have always had a strong association with Somerset. Both Wordsworth and Coleridge stayed in Nether Stowey while writing. The writer Evelyn Waugh spent his last years in the village of Combe Florey. Somerset songs were collected by Cecil Sharp and incorporated into works such as Holst's A Somerset Rhapsody. Somerset has an international centre for folk music based at Halsway Manor.
American Museum in Britain, the Building of Bath Collection, the Herschel Museum of Astronomy, the Jane Austen Centre, and the Roman Baths are amongst the many museums found within Somerset.
Other visitor attractions in Somerset include Claverton Pumping Station, Dunster Working Watermill, the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton, Nunney Castle, The Helicopter Museum in Weston-super-Mare, King John's Hunting Lodge in Axbridge, Radstock Museum, Somerset County Museum in Taunton, the Somerset Rural Life Museum in Glastonbury, and Westonzoyland Pumping Station Museum. There are 11,500 listed buildings, 523 Scheduled Monuments, 192 conservation areas, 41 parks and gardens, 36 English Heritage sites and 19 National Trust sites in Somerset, including Stembridge Tower Mill, the final remaining thatched windmill in England.
As a way of protecting Bristol during World War II, numerous decoy towns were built in Somerset. To encourage bombers away from important areas of Bristol these towns were designed to imitate "blacked out" streets, railway lines and even Bristol Temple Meads railway station.