What to explore around the capital of Wales at less than one hour driving!
Cardiff has a lot to offer and you will be pretty busy visiting all the city sightseeing if you are a tourist spending a week-end only in town. If it’s not your first visit or if you are staying longer then I truly recommend you to hire a car or join a guided tour to one of the following places. Whether you are a history, culture, nature lover you will find something in the suburbs of Cardiff that will steal your heart and will you a thousand reasons to come back to Wales for further explorations!
Here is list of the best day trips to do outside Cardiff:
1.St. Fagan’s National Museum of History
The names suggests a boring History museum but you couldn’t’ t be more wrong! This free entry museum located at less than 30 minutes from Cardiff is one of my favourite places due to the beauty of the gardens and the interesting heritage and story told at the introductory exhibition at the entry.
The museum is divided in two parts: the stunning St Fagans Castle and gardens, a 16th-century manor house donated to the Welsh people by the last owner, the Earl of Plymouth in 1948, and the heritage Welsh life section made of forty original buildings from different historical periods such as traditional houses, a farm, a school, a chapel, native sheep and animals in farmyards surrounded by a vast park.
St. Fagan’s has been elected one of the ten best free museums in the UK and it will appeal to children and grown -ups due to the various workshop and crafty activities organised throughout the year in addition to the live music festivals and events taking place here recurrently. The green and dense woodland encircling the area will be the perfect frame for a lovely family day out and since centuries, they also home the rich local wildlife!
To get here from Cardiff follow the directions on the St. Fagans website.
This seaside town is an elegant destination famous among wealthy people and located just a stone away from Cardiff Bay. Follow the Wales Coast Path starting in Cardiff Bay that will take you in a bit me than 30 minutes walking or cycling to Penarth. The lazy one can take the train (10 minutes journey from Cardiff Central) or a taxi boat from Cardiff Bay.
Don’t miss a walk on the Art Deco pier gifting you with airy views over the ocean, take a breezy walk on the Esplanade, have a break at one of the panoramic parks such as Belle Vue park, Alexandra park or from the cemetery of the Augustine’s church. stroll along the Marina quarters and boats and admire the fine architecture of mansions and historical buildings.
Alternatively spend a day exploring Cosmeston Medieval Village, park and lake, where you can see a faithful replica of the 14th-century settlement that was only discovered during construction of the park. A great day out!
3. Barry Island
Barry island is a peninsula at less than 30 minutes by car from Cardiff and the most frequented typical British seaside resort since 1870. Cardiff people generally come here since this is the longest and closest sandy beach in the area! I used to come here taking the train which was very handy and in 20 minutes you arrive to the wide Whitmore Bay.
Here you can promenade on the recently refurbished esplanade, eat an ice cream or a fish and chips in one of the shops under the colonnade, take pictures of the iconic Barry colourful beach huts or take a walk on the Welsh coastal path in both direction leading you to cliffs and smaller coves for more tranquillity and great panoramas.
The area is particularly popular with families as there is a leisure park near the beach including children playgrounds and attractions. The best way to get to Barry is taking the train without worrying about the car park. Here is the map of the city centre from the official website.
4. Caerphilly Castle and Village
At 30 minutes away by train from Cardiff Central, this little Welsh village has multiple reasons for you to spend the night or longer in this traditional village rich in hiking and horse riding places to visit, and with a rich historical heritage. Caerphilly Castle is Wales’ largest medieval castle: built in 13th century by the Norman Gilbert called “The Red” for his ginger hair, this fortress was meant to protect the area from Welsh attacks. The defensive purpose is highlighted by the water encircling the area, the huge gatehouses and high walls!
According to the tradition, even Oliver Cromwell’s roundheads failed to break to break into the castle leaving nevertheless important damages such as the famous leaning tower (yes as the one in Pisa!). The castle has been a film setting in the past and most recently appeared in several “Doctor Who “ tv series episodes.
The village has a pleasant city centre and parks where you can walk and browse independent little shops. Make sure to visit Llancaiach Fawr Manor, a 17th century mansion where history is brought back to life by interesting characters wearing clothes from the past! This place is perfect for a family day out since they organise events, ghost tours and activities; the locations and gardens are so beautiful that it is a popular wedding venue!
5. Castle Coch and its forest
Also called the “Red castle”, this fairy-tale building presents an unusual shape and a conic roof which made me think of being in a children tale in the Grimm’ brothers style! The area is surrounded my an enchanting Fforest Fawr where endless shady woodland paths lead to romantic and scenic views over the hills.
The castle was originally an hunt lodge of Gilbert de Clare, a wealthy Norman Lord. It has been then rebuilt and refurbished during Victorian times by the Marquess of Bute’s architect William Burges who created a masterpiece thanks to the Bute’s wealth. The furnishing and interiors are finely carved and decorated in medieval style. If you need directions to reach this magical place click here.
The area is a true paradise for hiking lovers and trails for all levels are available starting from the car park. It is also possible to do horse riding excursions in the ancient and atmospheric Fforest Fawr woods! Here is the link to the main hikes in the forest taken from the Cardiff Outdoors website.
6. Brecon Beacon National Park
This National park is the favourite destination for locals living in Cardiff: families, groups of friends, amateur or expert hikers, everybody goes there as soon as a sunny weekend comes up to picnic and walk on some of the most scenic routes of Wales!
The park is vast and I recommend to spend a night or two exploring the main attractions such as ruined castles (Brecon castle, Abergavenny Castle etc.), quintessential traditional villages or doing different sports from caving, to kayaking, horse riding, cycling etc. You will surely find something exceptional in the green lung of Wales!
I recommend you to come here to experience nature at its best; I loved in particular the Pen-Y-Fan mountain trail, probably the most famous for the far reaching views over the mountains and the park, and the Four Waterfalls Hike, an atmospheric woodland path that will let you pass behind dramatic waterfalls!
You can get here by car, but also by public transports: here is the official website for more information!
7. Big Pit National Coal Museum
This great free entry museum will be an incredible experience and an instructive day out for visitors of all ages! Wales wealth and heritage are deeply linked to coal mining, so why not dig deeper in the past of the region?
Get ready to go 90 metres underground as thousands of miners did for centuries to provide for their families: put your helmet and light on, your belt, battery and shoes on and get deep down the earth in small organised tours leaded by a real miner. The underground tours last 50 minutes and they are very interesting ad engaging! You will walk through mining galleries, coal trains rails and you will learn a lot about the past of Wales!
This coal mine turned into a museum is one the most loved and renowned attractions in the UK and it’s well worth a visit or two! Here are the detailed directions to reach the Big Pit museum in Blaenafon!
8. The Forest of Dean
One of my favourite day trips both from Cardiff and Bath is the Wye valley and the Forest of Dean natural area! This park is renowned for its folklore legends and for being the film setting of many films and TV Series such as the Harry Potter, Doctor Who, King Arthur, The Hobbit, Merlin, War Horse, Star Wars and many more. This ancient natural reserve has endless activities and sport options, attractions to visit and trails to explore! Falconry, archery, horse riding, kayaking, cycling, hiking are some the sports you can do in the forest and you could even sleep in secluded log cabins in the middle of nature!
Make sure you visit Puzzlewood, a thick and musky dark forest where some scenes of The Hobbit film has been shot. The entry costs 6 pounds per person but in my opinion is well worth it to preserve such a mystical and fascinating fairy tale woodland! For the best views head to the Symonds Yat to enjoy magnificent far reaching views of the Wye valley and river or visit the Tintern Abbey ruins, the famous abbey mentioned by the Romantic Wordsworth’s poem!
Here are the detailed directions to get here.
9. Margam Castle and Park
The weather is sunny and you don’t know where to go to have a walk and take some fresh air? If you are a castle addicted like myself then take the car and drive to Margam’s Castle, an imposing Tudor Mansion surrounded by lush gardens and acres of park!
This 19th Century mansion was designed by the architect Thomas Hopper for Sir Christopher Talbot. The house was built in 1830 and features an impressive staircase hall and octagonal tower. Unfortunately a huge fire in 1977 devastated the interiors leading to a monumental refurbishing programme. The Halls and rooms are now used to host weddings, events and have featured as films and tv series location multiple times.
Make sure to visit the Farm area, see the Deer Herd which lives stably in the park, the Orangery and the stunning botanical gardens! Click here for detailed directions!
10. Dyffrin Gardens and Manor
An Victorian Mansion surrounded by luxuriant botanical gardens is located in the suburbs of Cardiff and will be your perfect countryside escape to leave all behind for a few hours and relish in the Welsh nature!
As many others great properties in Wales, this manor was built at the end of 19th century thanks to the wealth made from the coal industry. Today the Manors interiors are empty and host exhibitions, and events organised by the National Trust. The best way to get here is by car or by bike, here are the directions.
Tenby is a colourful walled seaside resort located on the beautiful Pembrokshire Coast. Located at two hours driving away from Cardiff, people come to visit this picturesque village to relax on the gorgeous sandy Castle Beach surrounded by emerald cliffs, to go fishing or relaxing on Caldey Island nearby or walk along the striking Pembrokeshire Coastal Path exploring multiple coves. You can also take a look at Tudor’s rich Merchant House where the interiors and furnishing are well preserved.
Tenby is the perfect destination for a long week-end to disconnect from our hectic lives where you can either get active and sporty or scoff ice creams strolling in the small alleys or getting tanned on the golden beaches!
12. Swansea and The Gower Peninsula
Less than one hour driving from Cardiff (or by train) you can reach this coastal town famous for its university, surfing and the long seaside promenade running parallel to long sandy beach. Don’t forget to visit the free entry National Waterfront Museum and to take a walk at Swansea Marina! For the best views head to the Meridian Tower, the tallest skyscraper in Wales, where you can have a drink or dinner at sunset enjoying a spectacular view over the coastline!
Besides Swansea don’t forget to spend a day or two doing a road trip on the Gower Peninsula chasing the best sandy coves for surfing or simply bathing. Rhossili beach is the most scenic and awarded beach of this area, surrounded by white and green cliffs, flowers and little cottages. The Peninsula hosts more than 25 beaches but be sure to at least visit the following ones: Caswell bay, Three Cliffs Bay, Oxwich Beach. The best way to explore them all is to follow the striking Coastal path leading you through woodlands, passing from one bay to another!
Here is the link to get detailed directions.
13. Horse riding in the Black Mountains
One of the best birthday presents I have ever received is a day on horseback exploring the Black Mountains in the Abergavenny area! Not far from Brecon Beacons attractions you can find several riding centres offering all sorts of horse riding trekking excursions for all levels of experience! The horses are well kept and adorable and they ill take you through the hills and forest while discovering the Welsh countryside and unique landscape!
I can recommend the Grange Trekking centre for honest prices, professionalism and spectacular trekking trails! They even offer forest cabin accommodations or farm guesthouse rooms to spend an unforgettable week-end exploring the Black Mountains hiking, cycling or on horse back.
This vibrant and cosmopolitan town is a 50 minutes train ride away from Cardiff and it truly burst with life and things to visit! Famous for being the hometown of Wallace and Gromit’s cartoon, Bristol is also renowned for its Balloon Festival taking place in August, the Harbour Festival animating the whole city centre with concerts, food stalls and music but also for its history and cultural heritage.
During the 17th and 18th century Bristol was the starting point for the trading routes to America and the colonies of the British empire playing an important part in the slavery and spices trade. Today Bristol is known for its university and as an important industrial and shopping destination on the estuary of the river Severn.
When visiting Bristol don’t miss out the quirky Clifton area and the breath-taking Suspension Bridge, andvisit the SS Great Britain, the first city attraction and ship museum featuring an impressive advanced technology at the time from which all modern ships originated.