Take the road trip of a lifetime along The Wales Way
Tour the Wales of Yesterday and Today in Cardiff
Winding along miles of stunning coastline and through lush, mountainous landscapes, The Wales Way offers a ready-made itinerary with something to please every type of traveler. The Wales Way is a set of three national touring routes through Wales, a country tucked into the western side of the island of Great Britain.
These touring routes of The Wales Way are The Coastal Way, The Cambrian Way, and The North Wales Way. Together, the routes traverse a total of about 440 miles (710 kilometers). The inland Cambrian Way extends 185 miles (300 kilometers) right through the heart of Wales. The northern end of the route starts at the seaside resort town of Llandudno. From there, the route runs down to the capital city of Cardiff on the southern coast.
Cardiff is an excellent place to start or finish a trip along The Cambrian Way. In the city center, Cardiff Castle offers a window on 2,000 years of history, from Roman-built foundations to tunnels that served as shelters during air raids during World War II. Dine and take in the views along the waterfront of Cardiff Bay, where you'll also find the Wales Millennium Centre, a performing arts hub. And don't miss the open-air St. Fagans National Museum of History—kids will love seeing the animals, farm task demonstrations, and crafts. On the grounds of this museum, locals and travelers alike can enjoy learning about the past by exploring over forty re-erected historical buildings. From workshops, barns, schools, and even the Vulcan hotel, originally built in 1853.
Breathe the Mountain Air in Brecon Beacons
About an hour north of Cardiff by car, Brecon Beacons National Park spans about 520 square miles (1,347 square kilometers) of South and Mid Wales. Four ranges of mountains—the eastern Black Mountains, the Central Beacons, Fforest Fawr, and, to the west, the similarly named but separate Black Mountain—rise over rolling moors, beautiful waterfalls, and castles. In the western part of the park, Fforest Fawr is a UNESCO Global Geopark, marking it as a place of geological significance.
The park offers a remarkably broad menu of activities to choose from. Its 600 miles (965 kilometers) of bridle paths and tracks beckon horseback riders, while its many lakes, rivers, canals, and reservoirs offer opportunities for fishing and watersports like kayaking and rafting.
Brecon Beacons became the fifth designated International Dark Sky Reserve in 2013, which makes it a perfect place for stargazing—the ruins of Llanthony Priory and Usk Reservoir are two of many excellent spots to bring binoculars or a telescope.
Get Bookish in Hay-on-Wye
Leaving Brecon Beacons along The Cambrian Way, make a short detour to visit the famed book-lovers' town Hay-on-Wye in Mid Wales. Every year around late May and early June, the town hosts one of the world's best literary happenings, the Hay Festival, where authors, musicians, filmmakers and fans convene to see hundreds of readings, screenings, and other events. Year-round, Hay-on-Wye is famous for its secondhand and antiquarian bookshops, a tradition that began in the early 1960s, when resident Richard Booth set out to create what he would later call an "Independent Kingdom of Books."
But as any local will tell you, there is much more to Hay-on-Wye than the many tomes to be found here. Visitors also love to visit the other shops, restaurants and pubs in town. Renting a bike is a great way to explore the area; so is a horseback ride, organized by one of the town's outfitters. Go canoeing or fishing on the River Wye or take a walk along the banks.
Adventures Await in Snowdonia National Park
As you continue along The Cambrian Way from the south and up into North Wales, more beauty and adventure await at Snowdonia National Park. The park is anchored in the north by Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales at 3,560 feet (1,085 meters), and in the south by Cadair Idris. Besides the obvious appeal of hiking and climbing in the area, the national park also features multiple historic sites, castles, and towns. The Cambrian Way runs right through the center of the park's 823 square miles (2132 square kilometers). At the northern end along The Cambrian Way, stop at Betws-y-Coed, an area surrounded by forest and not far from the quaint town of Llanrwst.
Being inland and in the mountains, you might not be expecting surfing. But you can find that and other activities at Adventure Parc Snowdonia, which also lies at the northern end of the park. At the surf lagoon, pros can ride perfect waves that roll in every 90 seconds, while newbies can take lessons. Caving, climbing, and extreme slides can be found indoors; outside, zip lines, free falls, paddleboarding, and other activities make for plenty of thrills.
Enjoy Blissful Gardens in Conwy
The north end of The Cambrian Way bisects the east-west route of The North Wales Way, forming a jagged T. The North Wales Way runs 75 miles (120 kilometers) along the top edge of Wales, a path filled with fascinating castles, incredible local food, and memorable vistas. The town of Conwy—small but filled with sights to see—is a welcoming intersection between The Cambrian Way and The North Wales Way.
The 700-year-old Conwy Castle, a well-preserved fortress ringed by an unbroken 1,400-yard (1.3 kilometer) wall, is a signal attraction. Climb one or more of the castle's eight towers for views of the town. Bodnant Garden, a quick drive south of town, features 80 acres of serene, lush grounds that are colorful even in winter, plus a bridge-topped waterfall. End the day at the Albion Ale House, a 1920s pub co-run by four local craft breweries. The Conwy Quay waterfront and Quay House, the smallest house in Great Britain, are a short walk from the pub.
Clwydian Range and Dee Valley
Heading east from Conwy along The North Wales Way, you will pass what is said to be the smallest ancient cathedral in Britain, St. Asaph, both a visitor attraction and a local place of worship. Continuing on, The North Wales Way runs across the northernmost end of the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley, a breathtaking 150-square-mile (390-square-kilometer) expanse. The region is Wales' newest designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, one of 46 such protected areas in the United Kingdom.
The area is a haven for walkers and cyclists alike, characterized by sweeping views of undulating countryside. A collection of short walks known as Community Miles in the county of Denbighshire makes it easy to find a day- or hours-long excursion. For a longer trek, consider taking a few days to follow part of the Offa's Dyke Path National Trail, which passes through the range. Coed Llandegla Forest, a privately owned park, has 27 miles (44 kilometers) of mountain bike trails that draw some 200,000 riders a year.
See the King’s Masterpiece of Caernarfon Castle
Wales has over 400 castles, and Caernarfon Castle regularly appears on lists of the ones not to miss. Traveling west from Conwy on The North Wales Way, you will pass many beautiful beaches that dot the northern Welsh coastline. Llanfairfechan beach is a hidden gem close to four nature reserves: Morfa Madryn, Nant y Coed, Coedydd Aber, Morfa Aber.
Once you reach the Menai Strait, a narrow channel that separates the North Wales mainland from the island of Anglesey, a short southwesterly detour takes you to Caernarfon. The 13th-century castle, considered one of the greatest buildings of the Middle Ages, sits on the banks of the Seiont River and was built by King Edward I of England. The first English Prince of Wales—the future Edward II—was born here, and it is a building of massive ambition that took 47 years to build. Together with three other castles Edward I built, Caernarfon is designated a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Get a Bird’s-Eye Sea View in Anglesey
About a third of The North Wales Way extends west across the island of Anglesey. To get there, you will cross the Menai Bridge, a suspension bridge that takes you across the strait and into approximately 260 square miles (673 square kilometers) of idyllic scenery. Much of the 125-mile coastline is labeled an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with many beaches to explore.
Among the many things to do on Anglesey, visit the unfinished Beaumaris Castle, another in the quartet of UNESCO World Heritage-designated castles built by Edward I. Anglesey is also home to the town with Britain's longest name: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwy-rndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
If you were to imagine in your mind's eye the perfect image of a lighthouse perched high above the sea, the South Stack Lighthouse would be it. The white column, built in 1809, sits on its own tiny island off the westernmost tip of Anglesey. You'll need to brave 400 cliffside steps to get there, but the site will reward you with stellar views and excellent birdwatching. And if you're really courageous, try cliff camping with Gaia Adventures, spending a night suspended above the Irish Sea.
Wander Portmeirion, a Fantasy-Like Italianate Village
If you suddenly feel transported to the Italian Riviera while standing in Portmeirion, that's by design. Architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis designed the village in this style, acquiring the land and building out the village in stages between 1925 and 1973. The village also draws fans of the 1960s cult TV show The Prisoner, which was filmed here.
Pastel-colored houses and lush landscaping mark this spot near the northern end of The Coastal Way, which extends 180 miles (290 kilometers) from the end of the Llŷn Peninsula below Anglesey southward to the town of St. Davids on Wales' southwestern edge. Photographer Cai Morgan named Portmeirion as his favorite place along The Coastal Way to capture shots of people: "It was full of vivid, bright colors with lots of dancing, laughter and light."
At the Hotel Portmeirion, have tea on the hotel's lovely terrace, with its views of the Dwyryd Estuary. Wander the village, peruse the gift shops (pottery is a village specialty), get a spa treatment, and explore the Gwyllt, a 10-hectare (25-acre) wild garden filled with azaleas, camellias, and many other blooms. Stay at the hotel or at one of many self-catered cottages with views of the estuary.
Take a Scenic Train Ride in Barmouth
Less than an hour's drive south from Portmeirion along The Coastal Way, the seaside towns of Harlech and Barmouth are worth a stop, especially for family fun. Be sure to visit Harlech Castle—along with three other North Wales castles built by Edward I, Conwy, Caernarfon and Beaumaris, it's designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The castle overlooks large, placid Harlech Beach, with its graceful sand dunes, and nearby Royal St David’s Golf Club, an incredible place for a round of golf.
The popular resort town of Barmouth lies just south of Harlech. Kids will love the arcade and fairground, with games and donkey rides. The historic wooden railway bridge makes for a good walking excursion, and from there you can take a ride along the shoreline on the Fairbourne Railway, a miniature locomotive that's been running for more than a century. You'll find plenty of accommodation in Barmouth itself and just outside town, such as converted barns with jaw-dropping views of the beach at Beautiful Wales Limited.
Feast on Views in a Coastal National Park
Continuing southward along The Coastal Way from Barmouth, within a two-and-a-half hours' drive you will reach Cardigan, a gateway to Pembrokeshire and the United Kingdom's only coastal national park. The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park's 382 square miles (615 square kilometers) comprises coastline and offshore islands, the Daugleddau estuary and parts of the Preseli Hills and the Gwaun Valley. At its northern tip lies the riverside town of Cardigan, full of history, artisans, and delightful, fresh food. Visit Cardigan Castle & Gardens, which has two acres of landscaped grounds that overlook the River Teifi—you can also stay at its onsite bed and breakfast or in one of its apartments.
Look for souvenirs from your stay in Cardigan at the Guildhall Market, full of stalls selling locally made goods. Nearby, the Welsh Wildlife Center offers a chance to explore river, pond, meadow, and woodland habitats. Take another short drive to the Cardigan Bay coastline and see the Pwll y Wrach, or Witches Cauldron, a water-filled crater formed by a collapsed sea cave.
Spot Seals Near St. Davids Cathedral
Britain's smallest city by population lies at the very end of The Coastal Way to the south. About an hour's drive from Cardigan, St. Davids is home to 1,600 residents and to the St. Davids Cathedral, which has a history that spans 14 centuries. The cathedral sits on the banks of the River Alun; a shrine to its namesake was restored in 2012, and the site is filled with beautiful architectural details. On the opposite bank of the river, the Gothic ruins of the Bishop's Palace are a stage for summer theatrical performances.
For some up-close-and-personal encounters with nature, head to Dr. Beynon's Bug Farm, about a mile from town. Based on a 100-acre working farm, the site just may change your perspective on insects and arachnids. If seabirds and seals are more up your alley, take a boat trip to one of the islands off St. Davids, such as Ramsey Island, a nature reserve that is home to one of the United Kingdom's largest gray seal colonies.