On the south coast of Wales, Cardiff is the perfect place to explore the Welsh countryside. From here you can access the country’s two main national parks, Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons, the latter less than an hour’s drive through stunning countryside (while Snowdonia takes a little longer to visit, it’s also a must visit ).
Other great day trips from Cardiff include exploring the beautiful Pembrokeshire coastline and its many pleasant towns including Carmarthen, Merlin’s legendary birthplace, along with Swansea, one of the country’s busiest cultural centres. Also worth a visit are the many museums dedicated to Wales’ industrial past, including the huge coal mines of Rhondda and the Museum of the Welsh Woolen Industry in Cardigan (and yes, Wales does have a lot of sheep!). Best of all, Wales is such a small country, it’s easy to double up on your day trips and hit more than one great attraction each time you venture out.
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1 Brecon Beacons National Park
One of the most visited national parks in Wales – and certainly the easiest to get to – Brecon Beacons National Park is just 23 miles north of Cardiff city centre. The best place to explore this area of outstanding natural beauty is the city Merthyr Tydfil. It forms part of the National Cycle Route and is a good place to hire a bike or put on the old walking boots and head up to the surrounding hills along one of the many trails (you can also take the Brecon Mountain Railway five miles into the park and either bike or walk back). Whichever way you choose, you’ll be rewarded with stunning mountain views, numerous waterfalls (including spectacular Henrhyd Falls, the highest in Wales at 90 feet) and an abundance of wildlife, including the park’s famous wild horses ..
Adres: Visitor Center, Libanus, Brecon, LD3 8ER
2 Snowdonia National Park
Although a 2.5 hour drive north of Cardiff, Snowdonia National Park is well worth the journey. With a total of 14 peaks over 914m high, Snowdonia can be easily reached from the pretty town of Llanberis at the foot of the park’s highest peak, the 1,085m Mount Snowdon. From here Snowdon make several different routes, but it’s a long climb. So unless you are willing to put in a whole day doing the trek, you should consider doing the hike. Snowdon Mountain Railway. Chugging slowly but steadily all the way to the top, letting this beautiful narrow gauge railway do all the work while you sit back and enjoy the view is a wonderful experience. (Hot tips: Be sure to check the railroad’s website for weather-related cancellations and try to book your tickets in advance. Also, try to visit mid-week.) Other highlights of the park include its rich flora and fauna, its more than 50 lakes, and a rich history dating back to Roman times.
Address: National Park Office, Penrhyndeudraeth, Gwynedd, LL48 6LF
- Read more:
- Exploring Snowdonia: A Visitor’s Guide
3 Pembroke Castle en Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
Another scenic drive from Cardiff is the two-hour journey west along the coast to Pembroke Castle (it’s also a pleasant, if longer, train ride). Pembrokeshire’s coastline is regarded as one of the most beautiful in Britain – so beautiful, in fact, that much of it has been placed under the protection of the Pembrokeshire Coastal National Park. The park covers some 362 square kilometers and is a joy to explore on foot thanks to its many secluded beaches, sheer cliffs and rich flora and fauna. The picturesque town Pembroke is also worth exploring, and no visit would be complete without checking out the town’s Norman castle. Built in 1090 and the birthplace in 1457 of England’s King Henry VII, the castle offers stunning views over the old town and coast from its main keep. Tour highlights include the Normans and North Halls, a huge natural cavern known as the Wogan, and displays focused on medieval life.
4 Carmarthen en Laugharne
Along with King Arthur, the Welsh have long regarded Merlin as one of their own, with references to this mythical heritage seen everywhere from the lochs of Snowdonia to Carmarthen, the country’s oldest town. It was here, just an hour west of Cardiff, that the famous Celtic wizard was supposedly born, and the town has embraced the legend wholeheartedly, from a fragment of Merlin’s Oak that lived in the Carmarthenshire County Museum to Bryn Myrddin, a nearby mound that supposedly hides a cave used by the wizard as a refuge.
After a visit to St Peter’s Church, the old town wall and gatehouse (all 14th century) along with the ruins of Carmarthen Castle drive a little further west to the pretty seaside town of Laugharne. Not only was it famous for its seafood, but it was also here that the famous Welsh poet Dylan Thomas made his home (the slate-roofed Boathouse over the bay in which he lived and wrote is now a museum dedicated to his life and work). While in Laugharne, be sure to visit the town’s medieval castle.
5 Rhondda and Blaenavon: Celebrating Wales’ Industrial Heritage
Just 30 minutes’ drive northwest of Cardiff is the former mining town of Rhondda. Once one of Britain’s largest mines, the now redundant mine has turned into Rhondda Heritage Park, an excellent attraction with the often hard life of the workers who worked here until the eighties. Highlights include a re-creation of the 1950s Lewis Merthyr Colliery, a chance to visit “well bottom” as part of a fascinating underground tour led by former miners, and a replica village street depicting the daily life of those who depended on coal for their livelihoods.
Another former industrial site to visit is Blaenavon, a perfectly preserved traditional Welsh ironworks. Here you will find the “Big Pit”, now part of the National Coal Museum, along with its old blast furnaces and foundries. After touring the workshops and old machines, be sure to spend some time wandering the town to admire the well-preserved homes of those who once lived and worked here.
6 Carew and Tenby
Although more than 90 minutes’ drive west of Cardiff, the small town of Carew is well worth a visit if you crave a glimpse of pre-industrial Wales (it’s in the same direction as Pembroke, so easy to combine as part of a ” go west from Cardiff” tour). Highlights are the ruins of the 13th century Carew Castle, idyllically perched overlooking a huge 23-acre Millpond, and the nearby Tide Mill, the only example of its kind still in use. Then head nine miles east to the beautiful market town of Tenby, one of the most picture-perfect coastal towns in Britain. Here you will not only have the chance to explore the town’s historic ramparts, but also the many attractive pastel-coloured houses overlooking Carmarthen Bay. And for those into water sports, Tenby’s beautiful sandy beach is the perfect spot for an afternoon swim or simply relaxing.
7 Swansea and the Gower Peninsula
Just an hour west of Cardiff by car or train is Wales’ second oldest (and one of the largest) cities, Swansea. Situated on the Gower Peninsula, Swansea has one of the most vibrant cultural venues in the country, thanks in part to its university and the fact that it was the birthplace of the poet Dylan Thomas. Cultural highlights include a vibrant theatrical and artistic community responsible for hosting outstanding events such as the popular Swansea Festival of Music and the Arts, held in October and featuring concerts by international orchestras and operas, along with folk music, theater shows and art exhibitions. Also popular is the two-week duration Gower Festival, an extravaganza of choral and chamber music. It is also a nice city to walk around and has many parks and gardens. One of the best is Clyne Gardens, a botanic garden spread over about 47 acres and home to more than 2,000 species of plants. Be sure to also spend some time exploring the area, especially the famous ones Mumbles. Part of the spectacular Gower Peninsula, The Mumbles are a limestone massif that is easy to traverse thanks to a large network of walks, many of which lead to quiet, secluded beaches.
- Read more:
- Top tourist attractions in Swansea
8 In England: Bristol and the Cotswolds
An easy train ride east of Cardiff along the Bristol Channel, and you’re in England and just a stone’s throw from that country’s beautiful Cotswolds, an idyllic area of approximately 1,266 square miles spanning the counties of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Somerset , Worcestershire and Warwickshire. As beautiful as the countryside, the myriad of small towns and villages are dotted amongst the hills and ancient beech woods, some of the most popular Castle Combe in Chipping Norton. Another easily accessible place in England is Bristol, one of the oldest ports in the country and famous as the gateway to the New World after explorer John Cabot set sail here in 1497. Highlights include the Cabot Tower in Brandon Hill Park, the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery and the majestic SS Great Britain, built in 1838 and famed as the first steamship to make regular Atlantic crossings.
- Read more:
- 10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Bristol