8 Top-Rated Day Trips from Cardiff
On the southern coast of Wales, Cardiff is the perfect place from which to explore the Welsh countryside. From here, you can access the country's two most important national parks, Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons, the latter less than an hour's drive through stunning scenery (while Snowdonia takes a little longer to access, it is also a must-visit). Other great day trips from Cardiff include exploring the beautiful Pembrokeshire coastline and its many pleasant towns, including Carmarthen, the legendary birthplace of Merlin, along with Swansea, one of the busiest cultural centers in the country. Also worth checking out are the many museums dedicated to Wales' industrial past, including the massive Rhondda coal works 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, hitting more than one great attraction each time you venture out.
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 lies just 37 kilometers north of downtown Cardiff. The best place to begin exploring this area of outstanding natural beauty is the town of Merthyr Tydfil. Part of the National Cycle Route, it's a good place to either pick up a bike rental or lace up the old hiking boots and head off along one of the many trails leading into the surrounding hills (alternatively, you could take the Brecon Mountain Railway eight kilometers into the park and either cycle or walk back). However you choose to get there, you'll be rewarded by superb mountain views, numerous waterfalls (including spectacular Henrhyd Falls, at 27 meters high the tallest in Wales), along with an abundance of flora and fauna, including the park's famous wild horses.
Address: Visitor Centre, 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. Encompassing a total of 14 peaks more than 914 meters high, Snowdonia can be easily accessed from the pretty town of Llanberis at the base of the Park's highest mountain, the 1,085-meter-high Mount Snowdon. From here, a variety of trails wind up Snowdon, but it's a long climb - so unless you're prepared to spend a full day making the trek, you might want to consider taking the Snowdon Mountain Railway. Chugging slowly but steadily all the way to the top, letting this superb 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 railway's website for weather-related cancellations, and try to book your tickets in advance. Also, try to visit mid-week.) Other Park highlights include its rich flora and fauna, its more than 50 lakes, and a rich history that dates as far back as Roman times.
Address: National Park Office, Penrhyndeudraeth, Gwynedd, LL48 6LF
- Read More:
- Exploring Snowdonia: A Visitor's Guide
3 Pembroke Castle and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
Another beautiful driving tour from Cardiff is the two-hour journey west along the coast to Pembroke Castle (it's also a pleasant, though longer, train ride). The Pembrokeshire coastline is considered 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. Covering some 362 square kilometers, the park is a delight to explore on foot thanks to its many remote beaches, steep cliffs, and rich flora and fauna. The picturesque town of 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 English King Henry VII, the castle offers stunning views over the old town and coast from its main keep. Highlights of a tour include the Norman and North Halls, a huge natural cavern known as the Wogan, and displays focusing on medieval life.
4 Carmarthen and Laugharne
Along with King Arthur, the Welsh have long considered Merlin one of their own, with references to this mythical heritage seen everywhere, from the lakes of Snowdonia to Carmarthen, the country's oldest town. It was here, just an hour west of Cardiff, that the famous Celtic magician was supposedly born, and the town has embraced the legend wholeheartedly, from a fragment of Merlin's Oak residing in the Carmarthenshire County Museum to Bryn Myrddin, a nearby hill that supposedly hides a cave used by the sorcerer as a refuge.
After visiting St. Peter's church, the old town wall, and gatehouse (all of them dating back to the 14th century), along with the ruins of Carmarthen Castle, drive a little further west to the lovely seaside town of Laugharne. As well as being famous for its seafood, it was here that famous Welsh poet Dylan Thomas made his home (the slate-roofed Boathouse above 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 coalmining town of Rhondda. Once one of Britain's largest collieries, the now redundant mine has been turned into Rhondda Heritage Park, an excellent attraction showcasing the often tough life of the workers who toiled here right up to the 1980s. Highlights include a re-creation of the 1950s Lewis Merthyr Colliery, a chance to visit "pit bottom" as part of a fascinating underground tour led by former colliery workers, and a replica village street showcasing the everyday lives 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'll 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 machinery, 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're hankering for 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 include the ruins of 13th-century Carew Castle, idyllically perched overlooking a huge 23-acre millpond, and the nearby tidal mill, the only example of its kind still in use. Next, head nine kilometers east to the delightful town of Tenby, one of the most picture-perfect coastal towns in Britain. Here, you'll not only have a chance to explore the town's s historic town walls, but also the many attractive pastel-colored houses overlooking Carmarthen Bay. And for those into water sports, Tenby's beautiful sand beach is the perfect place to spend an afternoon swimming or simply kicking back and relaxing.
7 Swansea and the Gower Peninsula
Just an hour west of Cardiff by car or rail is Wales' second oldest (and one of its largest) towns, Swansea. Located on the Gower Peninsula, Swansea boasts one of the country's most vibrant cultural scenes, thanks in part to its university and the fact it was the birthplace of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Cultural highlights include a lively theatrical and artistic community that's responsible for hosting excellent events such as the popular Swansea Festival of Music and the Arts, held each October and featuring concerts by international orchestras and operas, along with folk music, theater shows, and art exhibits. Also popular is the two-week long Gower Festival, an extravaganza of choral and chamber music. It's also a fun city to walk around and boasts many parks and gardens. One of the best is Clyne Gardens, a botanical gardens spread across some 47 acres and home to more than 2,000 species of plants. Be sure to spend a little time exploring the surrounding area, too, in particular the famous Mumbles. Part of the spectacular Gower Peninsula, the Mumbles consists of a limestone massif that's easy to traverse thanks to a great trail network, many of them leading to quiet, secluded beaches.
- Read More:
- Top Tourist Attractions in Swansea
8 Into England: Bristol and the Cotswolds
An easy train ride east of Cardiff alongside the Bristol Channel, and you're in England and just a stone's throw from that country's beautiful Cotswolds, an idyllic area stretching some 1,266 square kilometers across the counties of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Worcestershire, and Warwickshire. As pretty as the countryside are the countless small towns and villages dotted among its hills and old beech forests, some of the most popular being Castle Combe and Chipping Norton. Another easy to access place in England is Bristol, one of the country's oldest ports and famous as the gateway to the New World after explorer John Cabot departed 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 famous as the first steamship to make regular Atlantic crossings.
- Read More:
- 10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Bristol