Want somewhere new to visit in the UK? If you’re looking for a change of scene and live in South Wales, or near the Welsh border, then you’re in luck! From stunning national parks and seaside towns to historic castles and quaint villages, there are many great options for days out in South Wales.
Over the past few years, I’ve been able to explore this part of Wales. And as someone who’s always gravitated towards big cities, I’ve definitely found a new appreciation and admiration for the variation and beauty that Wales has to offer. So, if you’re looking for some ideas for days out in South Wales, hopefully, this list will inspire you to add some places to your bucket list!
This article is written by Faraway Lucy writer, Lucy Carr.
Located right on the border, Hay-on-Wye is a small town, full of character. Home to the annual Hay Festival, one of the best literary festivals in the world, Hay draws in crowds of over 100,000 people for the 10-day event. It’s a truly spectacular celebration. With over 20 bookshops, Hay isn’t named The National Book Town of Wales for no reason. Any book lover is sure to be in heaven here.
Although books certainly help to characterise the town, it also has much to offer for a great day trip. There are many wonderful walking routes in the area – be sure to head up Hay Bluff! And if you’re feeling really adventurous, you can hire a canoe or a mountain bike to explore further. Packed with independent shops, fabulous places to eat and surrounded by natural beauty, Hay is a charming, fun destination that you’ll want to return to again and again.
2. Brecon Beacons National Park
Widely regarded as one of the best UK national parks, the Brecon Beacons is easily one of the best days out in South Wales. Covering approximately 520 miles of South Wales and only a 75-minute drive from Cardiff, the Brecon Beacons is perhaps Wales’ most accessible national park. If you enjoy being in nature and making the most of the great outdoors, then there really isn’t a better option for you.
Pen y Fan is the highest peak in South Wales and one of the most popular sights to see on walking trails. There’s also the Black Mountains and the National Showcaves Centre for Wales, where you can see unique and awe-inspiring underground caverns. There’s a multitude of other walking trails to choose from too. On each of these, you can appreciate the vast array of beautiful mountains, waterfalls and rivers South Wales has to offer. Make sure you hike to Llyn y Fan Fach for what is probably the best view in South Wales.
In 2019, Crickhowell was heralded by the Sunday Times as the ‘Best Place To Live in Wales’ and is frequently cited as one of the most beautiful towns in the country. Located near the Brecon Beacons, Crickhowell boasts a great array of independent shops and restaurants.
There’s a real sense of warmth and community in this town, with many events held there throughout the year. Crickhowell Open Studios Weekend is an annual event where the work of local artists is displayed across the town. You can even enter the artist’s houses and talk to them about their work. This personal touch makes the event really unique. Additionally, like Hay-on-Wye, Crickhowell has a great literary festival that is well worth the visit!
Often described as ‘The Gateway to Wales’, Abergavenny sits just 30 minutes from the border, nestled right next to the Brecon Beacons. It’s a great town to visit in its own right but it’s also a fantastic base from which to explore the Welsh countryside.
Depending on what direction you’re coming from, you’ll see the iconic Sugarloaf Mountain as you drive into Abergavenny. Once you get there, there are plenty of cafes, shops, beautiful walks and tourist attractions to choose from. In September, there’s even an annual food festival that transforms the streets, draws in top chefs, and celebrates local produce. If you needed any more incentive to visit, Abergavenny has also been listed as one of Condé Nast Travellers’ top 10 places to visit in the UK for 2021!
Top tip: If you’re looking for a new hat, Alison Tod is a lovely milliner with a hat for any occasion. Walking into this shop feels like stepping back in time.
Did you know that Wales has more castles per square mile than any other country in Europe? After living here for a year, it doesn’t surprise me. In every other town I visit there seems to be a castle. And as a history nerd, I find this quite exciting. Wales’ abundance of medieval castles, Roman ruins and Iron Age hillforts are a reminder of the country’s rich history. For anyone interested in historical structures, there are many towns and cities across South Wales you’ll want to visit.
Caerphilly is one such town, being home to a medieval castle from the 13th century, which is the second-largest castle in Britain. One of the towers in this impressive structure has even been dubbed ‘the Welsh tower of Pisa’ due to its vertical tilt. This is a great option if you want to spice up your days out in South Wales with a little bit of history.
Less than 10 miles from the M4 and 40 minutes from Bristol, Usk is a little market town perfect for lunch and a long walk. Usk’s 11th-century castle is free to visit and it boasts gorgeous views of the town and distant valleys. Or you can follow the Usk Town Trail, a guided tour which points out the town’s historic buildings, scenic views and points of interest.
Walking along the river Usk is a great activity in both winter or summer. The high street also has some lovely independent cafes, tearooms and vintage stores. My personal favourite is Number 49, an eclectic tearoom, interiors and dress agency which is really fun to explore.
Top tip: If you take an interest in Roman history, the town of Caerleon is only 6 miles away and is definitely worth a visit. It has Roman fortresses, baths and an amphitheatre, as well as a few shops and restaurants. Perfect for a change of scene!
7. RSPB Newport Wetlands
If you live in or near Newport and have exhausted your local walking routes, then a short drive to the Newport Wetlands is an ideal option for you. The reserve offers the chance to see a diverse array of low-lying habitats, including wet grassland and saline lagoons. This feature makes it one of the best places in the country to view different kinds of birdlife.
Each visit to the Wetlands can offer great variety due to the many walking trails available. If you’re a fan of the coast, there’s a 4-mile coastal walk which features views of the East Usk Lighthouse and the Severn Estuary. With opportunities to walk through woodland, an orchid trail, reedbeds and alongside the open water, this reserve really does offer something for everyone. And when you’re tired of walking, there’s a visitor centre where you can grab a cup of coffee and recover. So, whether you’re a nature enthusiast or just looking for a change of scenery, this is one of the best days out in South Wales for you.
I couldn’t write a list of the best days out in South Wales without mentioning the capital. Of course, Cardiff has all the drawing points of any big city: a huge shopping centre and hundreds of restaurants and cafes. However, unlike a lot of other UK cities, Cardiff has unique Victorian arcades filled with vintage shops and quirky cafes, as well as an indoor market.
The city is also home to a marina, which is lovely to walk around, and a castle nestled right in the middle of town. This is just one of the historic castles and houses in the Cardiff area. Attractions like these really add to the city’s character.
9. Barry Island
If you’re a Gavin and Stacey fan, a visit to Barry Island is a must. Even without the iconic status that Barry has gained from its association with the show, it’s great regardless. Think seaside arcades, coastal walks and great cafes. Barry even attracted royal attention, with a recent visit from Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Of course, one of the best tourist activities is to visit Trinity Street, where you’ll find the homes of the characters Gwen, Stacy, Doris and Uncle Bryn. Gwen’s house is especially not hard to find, as the owner has photos of the cast in the front window. You can even ring the doorbell and ask to be shown around!
10. The Gower Peninsula and Mumbles
In 1956, the Gower Peninsula was designated as the UK’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. And it’s easy to see why. For decades, tourists have been visiting this part of the South Wales coastline for its ecological diversity and beauty. In addition to views of the sea and stunning walks, you’ll find caves, Iron Age forts, medieval castles and lighthouses to explore, depending on what you want to see.
Mumbles is a fishing village which marks the beginning of the Gower Peninsula’s coastline and hosts a wide range of shops, restaurants, pubs and cafes. Popular with all ages, Mumbles is always bustling with people. While you’re here make sure you visit Oystermouth Castle, complete the ‘Mumbles Mile’ pub crawl, walk along the pier or visit the two nearby coves, Bracelet and Limeslade Bay.
Fancy a trip to the seaside? Located on the Southwest coast, Tenby is a slightly larger town than some of the ones on this list. This makes it an ideal spot for a day trip or a weekend getaway, especially in the summer. It’s one of my absolute favourite towns in Wales as there’s so much to do and see! You can check out the local museum and art gallery, visit the lifeboat station, explore the array of quirky and traditional seaside shops, or take a boat trip out to Caldey Island. Caldey Island is maintained by a local monastery and has even more sights to explore.
Of course, there’s always the option of spending a day on the beach, relaxing and soaking up wonderful views. Both the sea and the colourful houses along the coastline make for a great photo! A visit to Harbour Beach is a must, but you can also visit Castle Beach, North Beach or South Beach, depending on what kind of scenery you want. Whatever you choose to do in Tenby, there’s something to entertain everyone.
Top tip: Audrey Bull Antiques is a gorgeous shop if you’re looking for unique jewellery pieces. Also, if you like seafood I would recommend going to the Stables Restaurant for dinner. It’s definitely one of the best restaurants in Tenby. Just remember to pre-order the lobster!
12. Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
The Pembrokeshire Coast is another great option if you’re near the Southwest and fancy checking out some sea views. The coastline runs 186 miles from St Dogmaels to Amroth, boasting 58 beaches and 14 harbours. You’re bound to find a remote spot somewhere! With stunning views, an abundance of wildlife and numerous historical monuments, Pembrokeshire has everything you could want from a national park.
With beautiful beaches like Barafundle Bay, Stackpole Nature Reserve is a fantastic part of the coastline to visit. There’s Oakwood Theme Park for thrill-seekers, Folly Farm for a family day out, and whale and dolphin watching in the summer months. Of course, if you just feel like going for a long walk, there are endless trails to choose from.
Top tip: A great place to visit in Pembrokeshire is St David’s, the smallest city in Britain! It’s home to a gorgeous cathedral and the gothic ruins of Bishop’s Palace. And once you’re done exploring, head to the Pebbles Yard Gallery and Espresso Bar to wind down.
Just beside Pembrokeshire is Cardigan, one of Wales’ most historic towns. Filled with independent businesses selling everything from handmade knits to toys, Cardigan Guildhall Market is quirky and fabulous. This extends to the high street, which is rife with cute cafes and vintage shops. I’d recommend visiting Stiwdio 3, a studio, gallery shop and cafe which champions Wales and Welsh produce.
In the surrounding area, there are historic (yep, you guessed it) castles and ruins to visit too. There’s also the Welsh Wildlife Centre if you’re looking for a fun activity to do with the family!
These are just a few of the many amazing days out in South Wales. Have you got any other recommendations? Please let me know your favourite days out in South Wales in the comments below!