Some of the best day trips in Wales are a short drive from the capital, which makes Cardiff a great base for exploring this compact country known for its centuries-old castles, coastal towns and rolling hills dotted with grazing sheep.
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While many of the top spots are accessible by public transport like trains and buses, renting a car or booking a guided tour is the ideal way to get around as it allows the freedom to hop out at scenic viewpoints and make extra stops at attractions along the way.
From castle hopping to waterfall hikes, here are some of the best day trips from Cardiff, Wales.
Brecon Beacons National Park
Stunning panoramas are at every turn in Brecon Beacons National Park, which is a 45 minute drive from Cardiff.
This idyllic escape is known for its towering mountains, sweeping valleys, cycling trails, cave system and walking trails where there often isn’t another soul in sight. There are a handful of towns, nine castles, and the region is also a Dark Sky Preserve.
To get the most bang for your buck, head up to the summit of Pen y Fan which is the highest peak in Brecon Beacons at 886 metres. The hike takes just over an hour each way, and the wide, exposed slope means sweeping views for miles in all directions.
Chances are you’ll be greeted by a flock of sheep at the top of the trail, as you gaze down at glacial lakes and admire the surrounding steep ridges. For even more of an adventure, head to the nearby summit of Corn Du, or add on the Horseshoe Ridge hike across the Welsh moorlands which takes about five hours.
Book one of these guided Pen y Fan walks:
Four Falls Trail in Brecon Beacons
This stunning spot is also found in Brecon Beacons National Park, and is aptly-named as it features–yes–four waterfalls.
A popular summer hangout spot, it takes about 3 ½ hours to hike to all four of the magnificent falls, which are named Sgwd Clun-Gwyn, Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn, Sgwd y Pannwr and Sgwd yr Eira. Each one plunges down the cliffside into a gentle pool, which is the perfect way to cool off on a hot way.
Since it takes a fair amount of effort to see all four (including steep staircases and a few rock scrambles), most visitors instead choose to pack in their beach gear and set up in front of one of the waterfalls for a day of fun in the sun. While there aren’t any facilities on the trail, there are portable toilets and a cafe near the Comin y Rhos parking lot, and a picnic area near the Gwaun Hepste car park.
Another great place to beat the heat is the idyllic seaside town of Tenby, found two hours west of Cardiff.
Located within Pembrokeshire Coast National Park which is known for its rugged coastlines, stunning scenery and wildlife spotting like dolphins and puffins, this once sleepy spot became a resort destination for the rich and famous in the 18th century thanks to its clear waters and is now a beloved vacation getaway in the summer months.
Tenby’s historic centre is bordered by 13th century walls, and walking through the main gates reveals a hubbub of activity with shops, bars, restaurants and B&Bs lining the narrow streets.
Tenby’s expansive golden beaches are the main draw, accessed at the base of steep cliffs. The palm-fringed esplanade up above has stunning views of the shoreline, as well as Castle Hill which was once a defensive site until Tenby Castle was built in the 12th century.
North Beach, South Beach and Castle Beach are the most popular spots, and boats also head over to Caldey Island which has been inhabited since the Stone Age and home to monks since Celtic times.
A portion of the 186-mile-long National Trail also passes through Tenby: follow the acorn signs to walk to Saundersfoot (3.8 miles) or Lydstep (4.3 miles).
Visit Welsh castles
Wales is often nicknamed ‘the land of castles’ as it’s home to more than 400 of them, many of which are a short drive from Cardiff. Some of the best spots for castle hopping are:
Castell Coch: The ‘Red Castle’ is surrounded by Fforest Fawr and perched high on a hill, which means it can be seen from miles away. The closest castle to Cardiff (other than Cardiff Castle of course, which is in the heart of the city centre), Castell Coch is only about 20 minutes north of the city and can also be accessed on the Taff Trail bike path which starts from Bute Park.
The 13th century castle itself is magnificent, with imposing medieval towers and drawbridge. The real spectacle is inside though, thanks to richly decorated interiors where no expense was spared by the third Marquess of Bute.
During a tour, guests can see domed rooms where ceilings are painted with stars, the Gothic banquet hall and the parlour which is covered with hand-painted panels.
Caerphilly Castle: With bragging rights as the largest of all Wales castles (second only to Windsor Castle in all of Britain), Caerphilly is so big it’s impossible to take it all in at once. Fortunately, a walking path winds around the exterior to see it from all angles, where towers, gatehouses and fortified walls sprawl out over 30 acres.
One of its most unique features is the leaning tower, which is often compared to the Leaning Tower of Pisa as it angles three metres out. While the interior is not as lavish as Castell Coch, it’s worth visiting to see the apartments and centuries-old artifacts.
Pembroke Castle: Best known as the birthplace of Henry the 7th (father to Henry VIII, who most would say is the most famous king in British history), this strategic fortress was a key site in the centuries long struggle between the Norman Lords and the Welsh Princes.
Perched high on a hill, it’s surrounded by the castle mill pond which creates gorgeous reflections that are best seen from the surrounding footpath. Pembroke Castle is a two hour drive west of Cardiff in Pembrokeshire, so most visitors combine it with a visit to nearby Tenby.
Laugharne Castle: This medieval castle is about 20 minutes from Tenby in Laugharne, where two giant medieval stone towers guard the remains of a magnificent Tudor mansion. Built on the banks of the River Tâf, the grounds include 19th century ornamental gardens and the castle ruins.
With sweeping beaches, towering sand dunes and glassy water, a day spent at the seaside in the Gower Peninsula is one of the top day trips from Cardiff.
Some of the best spots are Bracelet Bay which has views of the famed Mumbles Lighthouse, Langland Bay where beach huts line the shoreline, Three Cliffs Bay, Weobley Castle and Rhossili Bay which has a fantastic beach and charming village.
One of the most popular road trips in Wales is actually heading over to jolly old England, starting in the city of Bristol which is an hour east of Cardiff and also well connected by train.
Known as a creative hub with world-class museums and street art which helped inspire the famous and secretive artist Banksy, there are also lots of craft breweries, independent cafes and plenty of pubs.
Some of the best things to do in Bristol are:
- Admire the incredible Clifton Suspension Bridge
- Wander around the Clifton Downs for great views of the bridge and the Avon Gorge
- Touring the harbour by ferry, to see the city from the water
- Shop at the boutiques along Gloucester Road
Just half an hour further down the road is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bath, an absolutely gorgeous city known for its ancient Roman Baths and limestone facades.
Located in Somerset near attractions like Stonehenge, Bath has been a spa destination since the days of the Romans and the Thermae Bath Spa is the only place in Britain where you can bathe in natural thermal hot springs.
The Roman Baths are unquestionably the main draw (be sure to prebook tickets or a guided tour during the busy summer months), and the complex has interactive exhibits detailing its history since being constructed in 70AD as a bathing and socializing complex, as well as a museum and the original chambers.
An astounding 1.17 million litres of steaming spring water fills the site every single day with temperatures reaching up to 46°C, and while visitors can see the phenomenon and feel the steam in certain spots it is no longer open for actual bathing.
Bath is also an excellent shopping destination, with hundreds of stores and boutiques lining the historic city centre. A great way to get a lay of the land is to book a hop on/hop off bus tour which heads to sites like the Royal Crescent and The Circus, which is a ring of large townhouses.
Head up the 212 steps at Bath Abbey’s Tower for a birds-eye view of the city’s Georgian architecture, take a boat tour along the River Avon, or head to the Jane Austen Centre to learn about the famous author and the time she spent living in Bath during the 1800s.
The steamy Netflix series Bridgerton was also filmed in Bath, and fans of the show can book a guided tour to see some of the set locations and get the behind-the-scenes scoop.
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