Small but Mighty Wales: Your Next European Roadtrip
The smallest nation in the United Kingdom, Wales, or Cymru in the country’s own language, is an often-overlooked gem of natural beauty. This modern Celtic nation is an impressive travel destination that offers travellers a range of exciting experiences. From breathtaking coasts with expansive bays and sandy beaches, to captivating moorland and mountain scenery – nature lovers will be truly impressed with this small but mighty country. In this guide, we will outline a possible route for your tour of Wales and feature highlights that you absolutely can’t miss. We start in the capital, Cardiff, before journeying along the South Coast, through Pembrokeshire and up to Snowdonia and Anglesey.
Getting from A to B in Wales
If you want to tour Wales, plan ahead for how you will get from one place to the next. Public transport is generally good, especially if your trip focuses on cities and coastal villages. What’s more, Wales boasts more than 10 heritage railway lines that will take you to the heart of the action, dropping you off next to mountains, seaside towns, and castles. However, if you plan to hike a lot, public transportation may limit you a little. Though most national parks can be reached via train or shuttle bus, not all starting points of popular hikes are accessible this way.
For comfort and flexibility, we recommend hiring a rental car for your Wales trip. More remote destinations can be reached this way, plus you won’t have to stress about timetables or missing the bus. If you do decide to rent a car, making your reservation ahead of time is a smart option.
While on the Welsh roads, you’ll notice that most traffic signs are bilingual, showing both English and Welsh. However, speaking English will be more than enough on your journey, since almost everyone in the country speaks it, particularly in holiday hotspots. If you are planning to visit many natural sites in the car, it might be worth investing in a National Trust membership, which grants you free access and parking in hundreds of heritage sites across Wales and the wider UK. Save money on parking and treat yourself to a tasty Welsh Rarebit or two!
Cardiff – The Ideal Start
We start our tour in Wales’ colourful capital city, Cardiff. The city is characterised by its mix of old and modern architecture and offers many cultural attractions. If you are interested in art or natural sciences, you absolutely have to visit the National Museum of Cardiff. Plus, entrance is free! The Victorian arcades are perfect for a relaxing afternoon of shopping, while beautiful Cardiff Bay is perfect for a little stroll.
Of course, you cannot miss out on the beautiful medieval Cardiff Castle when visiting the city. You will find the centuries-old castle in the city centre, right next to Cardiff University and Bute Park. Wales’ biggest castle, Caerphilly Castle, located slightly outside the city, is also worth a visit. Caerphilly is the second largest castle in the whole of Britain; only Windsor Castle is bigger!
Wales’ South Coast – On Your Marks, Get Set, GO!
Once you’ve experienced what Cardiff has to offer, it’s time to set off on your Wales tour! Our first stop is Swansea, a charming city with an interesting waterfront museum and the gorgeous Swansea Castle and Oystermouth Castle.
We recommend going on a day trip to the surrounding countryside. The picturesque peninsula of Gower, which is not too far away, has the accolade of being the first place in Britain to be recognised as an Area of Outstanding Beauty! You will be impressed by its beautiful coastal scenery, wide bays, and sparkling beaches. One especially famous hiking destination is the tidal island Worm’s Head, reminiscent of a sea snake jutting out of the coastline. A trip to Worm’s Head requires careful planning, however, as the causeway is only accessible for about 5 hours a day, meaning the island – and any stragglers – are often cut off from the mainland.
Named as one of the world’s best beaches, the nearby Rhossili beach offers iconic panoramic views and fantastic walking routes. History fans can also get a thrill here as ancient human remains were discovered in an archaeological dig at Goat’s Hole Cave – the oldest known ceremonial burial site in Western Europe! Try and find the burial chamber which is covered with the so-called Arthur’s Stone (Maen Ceti).
If you are into more eccentric pursuits, you will spend a very happy afternoon in the famous Baked Bean Museum of Excellence. This Port Talbot attraction touts itself as the world’s only haricot museum, with hundreds of the delicacy’s devotees flocking there every year. What better way to immerse yourself in British culture?
A filling traditional fried breakfast will help you load up on energy to carry on your trip. So, let’s continue along the coast to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Rich in history and natural beauty, this area will enchant you with its impressive cliffs, sweeping beaches, and secluded bays. The Sunday Times named Castle Beach in Tenby the most beautiful beach in all of Great Britain. With 7,723 miles of coastline to choose from around the island, winning that prize is no small feat. The Pembrokeshire Coast is also home to wondrous wildlife like puffins and seals. With a little luck, you may even catch a glimpse of a dolphin! History buffs can enjoy the Pentre Ifan burial chamber and experience an Iron Age village at the Castell Henllys open-air museum. As you reach the most westerly point of Wales, you can stop by the famous St David’s Cathedral in St David’s, Britain’s smallest city. Did you know that until the 19th century, the presence of a cathedral was considered a main criterion for city status in Britain, no matter the size of the settlement?!
The West Coast Along to Snowdonia National Park
From St. David’s, we make our way north up the West Coast. Plan around four hours for the drive from Wales’ most western point to Snowdonia National Park. If you would like to make a stop along the way, the vibrant university town of Aberystwyth is perfect. Nestled in Cardigan Bay, the town is ringed by three striking hills which give you a fantastic view of the town and the surrounding coastline.
Devil’s Bridge, in tranquil forest only 12 miles from Abersytwyth, is truly a sight to behold. This world-famous trio of bridges built on top of one another amid a rugged and captivating landscape has served as inspiration for many writers over the years.
From Aberystwyth, you will need around two hours for the drive to Snowdonia National Park, the oldest of Wales’ three national parks. Spectacular mountains, rugged landscapes, and marvellous mountain lakes await you here. No wonder this region is especially popular with mountaineers and climbers. If you have time (and mountain-climbing energy!) in your trip to Britain, avid climbers might be interested in the Three Peaks challenge. The triumphant feeling of conquering Snowdon, Scafell Pike, and Ben Nevis – the highest points in Wales, England, and Scotland respectively – is unparalleled. If mountaineering doesn’t take your fancy, Snowdonia National Park has lots more to offer. Known as Wales’ adventure centre, Snowdonia gives adrenaline junkies their money’s worth with zip lines, mountain biking, kayaking, and rafting.
If you’re looking for a more leisurely pace, perhaps the Snowdon Mountain Railway, the only cog railroad in the UK, is for you. Drink in the majestic mountain scenery as you travel in style from Llanberis up to Mount Snowdon. Keep in mind that the railway is closed for winter works in the colder season!
At this point, maybe you have got a bit more accustomed to the spectacular charm of the Welsh landscape. Fancy a mid-trip getaway and a taste of la dolce vita? A private peninsula east of Snowdonia National Park is home to Portmeirion, an endearing and intriguing Mediterranean style tourist village, built as a nostalgic tribute to the Italian Riviera. Indulge your romantic continental fantasy before journeying on through the Celtic history of Wales.
Explore the Beautiful Island of Anglesey
Anglesey, also known as the Isle of Druids, was hugely significant to ancient Celtic inhabitants. The island lies in the far northwest of Wales, separated from the mainland by the Menai Straight and connected by the Menai Suspension Bridge. From here, you can take a short ferry ride directly to the Irish capital, Dublin, making it a perfect bridging point for a bigger trip out of Britain and on to the Emerald Isle. If you are staying on Cambrian soil, however, you can’t miss a trip to the place with the longest name in Europe. And you’ll find it right here: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch – try putting that in your sat nav! You won’t find a great number of interesting attractions here, but a photo with the town sign is definitely a novel memory to show off to your friends!
In the south of Anglesey, you will find the gorgeous tidal island of Llanddwyn. Only accessible on foot at low tide, this stunning beach houses the ruins of a fifth century church, set against a picturesque panorama of sea, coastline, and the Snowdonian mountains.
One of Wales’ must-see spots is certainly South Stack, connect to Holy Island by a simple suspension bridge. It doesn’t get more picture-perfect than this traditional lighthouse on the crest of rugged, weatherworn cliffs. At the eastern end of the island, you’ll find Trwyn Du Lighthouse and Penmon Point, another excellent photo spot. The seabirds which so kindly act as models in your holiday shots are protected through the work of the South Stack Cliffs bird sanctuary. This bird oasis provides a protected breeding ground for many seabirds. The area is also home to many magnificent, preserved castles, including Beaumaris Castle, Caernarfon Castle, and Conwy Castle.
Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales
After a refreshing stay on the island, we journey onwards, back towards the South, where our trip began. But, before we get there, we couldn’t miss out on one last stop: Wales’ third and final national park, Brecon Beacons.
Situated to the north of Cardiff, this park impresses with its beautiful mountain sceneries, caves, waterfalls, and moorlands. Horse lovers can spot the darling Welsh ponies in the wild, with their characteristic dished face and adorable wide eyes. On top of that, the region is marked as an international Dark-Sky reserve. By night, stargazers will be left starry-eyed by the views of the Milky Way, nebulas, and meteor showers. By day, let your imagination run wild and be inspired by the area’s numerous caves and waterfalls, as well as its dinosaur exhibition and recreated Iron Age village.
To learn more about the industrial history of Wales, tour the coal mine at the Big Pit National Coal Museum, just outside the park. We are now just an hour drive from Cardiff, but a short stop in Newport, the third-largest city in Wales, is also an inviting option for an urban day trip after time in the wilderness.
A tour through the magnificent Welsh landscape will absolutely impress you, especially if you are a fan of gorgeous scenery and romantic castles. Adrenaline junkies and sports enthusiasts will also find their calling here! Along the glorious Welsh coast, and with many stops in the three national parks, your road trip is guaranteed to be a showstopper. Whether by train, bus or by car – take your time and let yourself be enchanted by the beauty of nature! If this trip leaves you hungry for more, why not hop across the border and start a trip around England?