10 of the best day trips from Cardiff
From southern Britain’s highest peak and a 14-mile coastal route to the spa city of Bath, the Welsh capital makes a great base for day trips.
An ancient fort and waterfront mark some of the main attractions in Wales’s capital city, but beyond the centre, Cardiff makes a great base for day trips. Rolling valleys and coastline stretch out from the city’s edges into more wild terrain, all reachable in less than 90 minutes. In the north, there are mountain ranges to climb and idyllic waterfalls to discover in the Brecon Beacons National Park; east will take you over the iconic Severn Bridges to cities like Bath and Bristol; or, head west for beautiful stretches of beaches and coastline. You could even venture south to discover remote islands in the Bristol Channel.
1. Dyffryn Gardens
The Grade II-listed Dyffryn House and its surrounding gardens is just a 25-minute drive away from the city. The Victorian mansion is owned and looked after by the National Trust and has 55 acres of manicured lawns, vegetable patches, landscaped gardens and an arboretum in its grounds. There’s also a collection of outdoor garden rooms here, as well as a rockery, a small canal, a tearoom and an outdoor adventure play area for children. While here, stroll around the nearby market town of Cowbridge, known for its quaint charm, independent boutiques and mansions.
2. Brecon Beacons National Park
Less than an hour’s drive north of Cardiff, the Brecon Beacons is the most-visited national park in Wales. There are mountains, forests, lakes and moorlands to explore. The town of Merthyr Tydfil is the starting point of many walking trails; it’s part of the National Cycle Route, too (there are bike rentals available in the town). Elsewhere, in the southwest corner of the park, is the Four Waterfalls Valley Walk. Four rivers run mountainside through the surrounding forest here and the walk is a gentle option. Start at the Sgwd yr Eira waterfall and follow the marked trail (doable in a few hours).
3. Flat Holm Island
This tiny Welsh island, lying in the Bristol Channel just five miles from Cardiff, feels wholly remote and wild, with just one regular inhabitant. Despite this, it holds a lot of history and attractions. Vikings, Anglo Saxons, smugglers, silver miners and monks have all at one point resided on the island and left their mark. There’s a well-preserved lighthouse and Victorian-era fortifications, but beyond the manmade sites it’s a great place to come for the day for its wildlife (it’s a popular choice for birdwatching) and views out across to England and Wales. Reach the island by water taxis running from the city centre.
Less than an hour north of Cardiff, the main attraction in the town of Caerphilly is its 13th-century castle. It’s the largest in Wales, the second largest in the UK and a hub for medieval Celtic and British history. After a visit here, head to the Indoor Market, which has a selection of stalls selling Welsh produce and gifts — caerphilly cheese also originated in this town. En route back to Cardiff, if you have the energy, Caerphilly Mountain has a 6.6-mile circular trail that provides beautiful views over Cardiff and Cardiff Bay.
5. Wye Valley
Straddling the Welsh-English border, the Wye Valley is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. With the River Wye running through it amid lush forest, limestone gorges and hills, it’s a great place for water-based activities, including kayaking, canoeing and standup paddleboarding. Walk the River Wye’s valley to Tintern Abbey (around five-and-a-half hours) and enjoy nearby cafes to refuel in. It’s best to drive to the valley (40 minutes from Cardiff) as there’s a scattering of small villages worth visiting while in the area that give insight into the local culture (Hay-on-Wye is the main town).
Bath is just over an hour away from Cardiff, either by train or car. The historic spa city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, first established during the Roman Empire, and has its own hot spring where you can soak in the thermal waters on a rooftop with views over the city, or dip in between steam rooms. The Roman Baths Museum holds the original bathing structure and is one of the city’s main attractions. Bath is a very walkable city and amid the bars and shops, there’s interesting Georgian architecture, plus the Bohemian district on Walcot Street to explore.
7. Pen y Fan
Deeper into the Brecon Beacons (just over an hour by car) is southern Britain’s highest peak, Pen y Fan. The popular hiking mountain rises to 2,864ft above sea level and has a good circular walking route that starts in the car park. This typically takes around three hours and has some difficult patches, but it includes great views along the way. There are three other route options that range from more gentle to tougher. There are burger vans and a cafe at the peak, plus a handful of pubs at the base of the mountain to refuel at.
8. Glamorgan Heritage Coast
This 14-mile coastal route between Aberthaw and Porthcawl is popular with walkers, cyclists and surfers. There are secluded coves, rock pools and sheer cliffs along the way, plus a mix of stone and sand beaches. There are villages and towns dotted along the coast, with beautiful inland views of rolling hills and narrow country lanes. The rocky beach of Nash Point is a great place to join the Welsh Coastal Path (the waters around this part are great for surfing and other watersports) while Ogmore-by-Sea is a sandy stretch that’s ideal for beach days filled with barbecues and lounging. Aberthaw is reachable in 30 minutes by car or under an hour by public transport.
Swansea is one of the oldest and largest cities in Wales. It’s located on the Gower Peninsula, an hour by car or train from Cardiff, and has built up a reputation as a cultural highlight of the country through its theatrical and artistic community (the Swansea Festival of Music and the Arts every October is a popular event). Beyond the buildings of the city, like the National Waterfront Museum, there are parks and gardens such as the botanical Clyne Gardens, which includes more than 2,000 species of plant and a nearby three-mile stretch of beach. Alternatively, head to Rhossili Bay — a great spot for surfing.
Just across the River Severn, Bristol has plenty of scenic attractions, including the forested Avon Gorge. There are plenty of adventure options nearby, like hiking through the Clifton Downs, taking a hot air balloon ride over the city or standup paddleboarding in the harbour, but the city itself has plenty of draws. It’s become known for its sustainability efforts and street art, including works by Banksy. You can see some of his pieces in the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, where you can see more of Bristol’s eclectic art scene, too. The city is also packed with restaurants and bars to try out. It can be reached from Cardiff over the Severn Bridges (which have become an iconic symbol in itself) by train or car within an hour.
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