It’s amazing how many day trips from Cardiff you can do. We lived in the capital of Wales for over six years, and found it such a great base for exploring not only the many things to do in South Wales, but also some of the most beautiful cities in England.
Cardiff is so close to some of the best Welsh castles, and is only an hour away from the mountains of the Brecon Beacons National Park. You can discover plenty more Welsh heritage in the South Wales Valleys, or head for the many beaches in South Wales. We particularly recommend the Gower beaches to the west of Swansea, which are among the most beautiful beaches in Europe.
We wouldn’t suggest travelling more than two hours each way on your day trip from Cardiff, particularly if you’re just visiting the city. That still gives you plenty of range, including wondrous Tenby on the Pembrokeshire coast, and the smallest city in the UK, St Davids.
We’ll give you approximate travel times for each destination from Cardiff, and advise which day trips from Cardiff by train can be accomplished, and which require your own transport. In some cases, especially with time constraints, it may be looking at planning some day tours from Cardiff, and we’ll suggest some of these for you.
- 1 A FEW QUESTIONS ON DAY TRIPS FROM CARDIFF
- 2 DAY TRIPS IN CARDIFF AND AROUND
- 2.1 CAERPHILLY CASTLE
- 2.2 CASTELL COCH
- 2.3 LLANDAFF CATHEDRAL
- 2.4 ST FAGANS NATIONAL MUSEUM OF HISTORY
- 2.5 DYFFRYN GARDENS
- 2.6 VALE OF GLAMORGAN
- 2.7 GLAMORGAN HERITAGE COAST
- 2.8 PENARTH
- 2.9 FLAT HOLM
- 2.10 LLANCAIACH FAWR
- 2.11 BARRY ISLAND
- 2.12 TREDEGAR HOUSE, NEWPORT
- 2.13 PORTHCAWL
- 2.14 SWANSEA
- 2.15 MUMBLES AND PIER
- 2.16 RHOSSILI AND GOWER
- 2.17 CARREG CENNEN CASTLE
- 2.18 LAUGHARNE
- 3 TO THE NORTH AND EAST
- 4 DAY TRIPS IN ENGLAND FROM CARDIFF
A FEW QUESTIONS ON DAY TRIPS FROM CARDIFF
Is it possible to do a Cardiff to Snowdonia day trip?
Not really. It’s way too far. It’s a minimum three-hour drive each way, and it’s not an easy drive – the main A470 road from Cardiff to North Wales is often slow and winding, with a great many turns.
If you’re visiting Cardiff and also wish to see Snowdonia, we suggest staying in the latter for a while. There are a great many things to do in Betws-y-Coed, the main gateway to Snowdonia, which is a good jumping-off point for Mount Snowdon itself. Otherwise if you prefer the coast, Barmouth is a unique seaside resort with an outstanding beach and the gorgeous Mawddach estuary.
Can you do some of these day trips from Cardiff by bus?
Yes. In a few cases, some of the trips we’ve listed, especially in the immediate Cardiff area, are easier by bus than train.
Other day trips we recommend can involve a change of public transport. If you want to visit Tintern Abbey, one of the best things to see in Wales, you have a 30-minute train journey to Chepstow, then a 20-minute bus ride up the Wye Valley to the Abbey.
DAY TRIPS IN CARDIFF AND AROUND
Caerphilly Castle is the best-known of the castles near Cardiff, and one of the top places to visit in Wales. I used to see this magnificent 13th century monster looming over the town every morning on my way to school, and later, work. It’s one of the largest castles in Europe, built to a concentric design with surrounding lakes and moats. I’ll always have a special affection for my home-town castle, but without any bias, it is one of the best castles in Wales and, indeed, the UK. It’s famous for its leaning tower which out-leans that of Pisa. The visitor experience has greatly improved in the last few years, with more parts of the castle open than previously, and now have a lair occupied by smoke-breathing dragons.
Getting there: regular trains 20 minutes from Cardiff central, then a 10-minute downhill walk to the Castle entrance.
Your Cardiff sightseeing isn’t complete until you’ve visited Castell Coch, a fairytale 19th century castle on a wooded hillside just outside the city. Its name means the Red Castle, and it was a Welsh castle, as opposed to an occupying English one. It fell into ruin, but the site was revived by the Third Marquess of Bute, who was also responsible for the rebuilding and remodelling of Cardiff Castle. It’s a small turreted castle, looking like something out of Bohemia or Germany. Do not miss the interior, an opulently decorated masterpiece by the great Victorian architect, William Burges.
Getting there: easiest by car, otherwise buses 26 and 132 pass 1 km away. The driveway up to the castle is quite steep.
Llandaff Cathedral is a nice, easy trip from Cardiff, a 20-minute bus ride from the centre of Cardiff to Llandaff village on the #25. It’s one of the more intriguing places to go in Cardiff, with a fascinating cathedral in a dell near the river Taff. Parts of it date back to the 12th century, but much of it was damaged by a Luftwaffe bomb in 1941. It was rebuilt after World War II, and the interior is dominated by Jacob Epstein’s Christ in Majesty statue on an arch above the nave. The Lady Chapel at the east end is beautiful, with a lovely painted Gothic vault. Llandaff village is also worth an hour or two of your time, with the garden of the ruined Bishop’s Palace a quiet place to sit and relax, and several cafes and pubs where you can replenish.
ST FAGANS NATIONAL MUSEUM OF HISTORY
I’ll make a bold statement and say that Wales’ National Museum of History in St Fagans is one of the best museums in the world. It’s a collection of historic Welsh buildings painstakingly rebuilt on a site just outside Cardiff, near the village of St Fagans. It also includes St Fagans Castle, a 16th century manor house, and a beautiful series of formal gardens. Highlights include a row of miners’ cottages with each house fitted and decorated in the style of a different period, a reconstructed 15th century farmhouse and a medieval church complete with wall paintings. A traditional old Cardiff pub (where I had a few pints myself) is currently being rebuilt there. A brilliant place to visit for all ages, one of the best things to do in Wales.
One of the best day trips from Cardiff is to nearby Dyffryn Gardens, less than ten miles from the city centre. It’s down a country lane near the village of St Nicholas. The Gardens were built in the early 20th century Edwardian era to complement Dyffryn House, which had been completed in the 1890s. We’ve visited in spring, summer and autumn and all are great times to visit. There are several different gardens, from the main house front with the fountain and lily pond to several smaller side gardens.
Getting there: By car is easier, otherwise buses stop in St Nicholas, from where it’s a 15-minute walk down the lane to Dyffryn.
VALE OF GLAMORGAN
The Vale of Glamorgan starts where Cardiff finishes – as soon as you’re out of the western suburbs you’re out in glorious green countryside. The Vale is a place to meander and take your time, driving the back roads, chancing upon small bucolic villages with the occasional thatched cottage and medieval church. You’ll also come across some of the best pubs in South Wales on your travels, including g The Bush in St Hilary and the Plough & Harrow in Monknash. Don’t miss the old core of Llantwit Major, a beautiful old town with St Illtud’s Church, one of the best churches in Wales to visit.
Getting there: If you want any flexibility, you’ll need to drive.
GLAMORGAN HERITAGE COAST
Apart from Barry Island, the first decent beaches you’ll find as you head west are along the Glamorgan Heritage Coast. It’s a small section of coast popular with local beach lovers, geologists and photographers alike. Dunraven Bay in Southerndown is one of the best beaches in South Wales, with superb stratified cliffs, rock formations and a huge swathe of golden sand at low tide. Photographers love the rocky beach a few miles south at Nash Point, famous for its wave-cut platforms.
The Victorian seaside town of Penarth is one of the easiest day trips from Cardiff, 15 minutes away by train from Cardiff Central. It grew in the 19th century with holidaymakers from Wales, the English Midlands and South West visiting regularly. The town has several grand Victorian and Edwardian buildings, but the best part of Penarth is the Esplanade along the seafront. The beach is pebbly, with great views out to the Bristol Channel, Flat Holm (see below), Steep Holm island and the Somerset coast. The recently restored Penarth Pier is a delight, an Art Deco beauty stretching out beyond the beach into the sea. One of the best restaurants in Wales, Restaurant James Sommerin, is a short walk along the Esplanade.
One of the most unusual day tours from Cardiff is the boat trip to Flat Holm from Cardiff Bay. Flat Holm is one of the most intriguing Welsh islands, situated five miles south of Cardiff and part of the county of Cardiff. Its history goes back millennia. The Welsh saint Cadoc lived there in the 6th century AD. In the 19th century it served as a cholera hospital, and in 1897 famously was the first place to receive a radio message across open water. It was sent by Guglielmo Marconi at Lavernock Point, a few miles away near Penarth.
Llancaiach Fawr is a late medieval manor house in the Rhymney Valley countryside to the north of Caerphilly. It’s one of the most unusual days out in South Wales, as you step back in time to 1645 and the time of the English Civil War (it was the Welsh Civil War too, for that matter).
It’s a living history museum where the guides are actors, playing characters from the 1640s. It’s all done with a dash of light humour, and a great way to glimpse the past, with or without kids. They also run ghost tours in the colder months. Llancaiach Fawr Manor is purportedly one of the ten most haunted houses in the UK, and if anywhere is going to convince you that ghosts exist, this is the place.
Barry Island was always one of the most popular Cardiff day trips with locals, and during my childhood we’d go there at least twice every summer holiday. It’s one of the easiest seaside day trips from Cardiff, less than half an hour away by train (followed by a five-minute walk). The main beach, Whitmore Bay, is the best beach near Cardiff, and the fish and chips are still as good as they were when I was a kid. There’s also a funfair next to the beach where we took our little fellow for his first ever fairground rides. Barry Island is far more widely known than when I was a child because it’s the setting for the popular BBC comedy Gavin and Stacey which, I must confess, I haven’t seen.
TREDEGAR HOUSE, NEWPORT
Tredegar House is one of the finest stately homes in Wales. It’s on the outskirts of Newport, Wales’ third largest city. Its handsome red brick exterior dominates the lovely gardens, and the interior is one of the grandest in Wales. It dates back to the 17th century, and was home to the wealthy Morgan family, one of the most powerful in South Wales, until 1951 when the last Baron Tredegar died childless, and the house and its contents were sold off. Tredegar House has been run by the National Trust since 2012.
Porthcawl is one of the larger seaside towns in Wales, but doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention beyond wales. It’s the traditional destination of the old Miners’ Fortnight, when the pit workers from the nearby South Wales Valleys would get their annual dose of sea and sun. The mines are long gone, but it’s still very popular with people from the area. Porthcawl has some great beaches – Rest Bay is our favourite, and it’s also a popular South Wales surfing beach. Porthcawl is also a popular destination during stormy weather, when photographers gather to capture waves crashing over the town’s small lighthouse and breakwater wall. In late September or early October it plays host to the Elvis Festival, which is always great fun.
Getting there: Driving is the easier option, otherwise a bus and train from Cardiff via Bridgend will take you an hour and a half each way.
TO THE WEST
I’ve never quite warmed to Swansea, the second largest city in Wales, but it does have a lot going for it. Its setting is superb, with one of the best city beaches in the UK sweeping all the way down to Mumbles Head. It sustained catastrophic damage in air raids in World War II, and the city centre has never quite recovered. The city is worth visiting for one of the best museums in Wales, the National Waterfront Museum, which delves into Wales’ maritime history. It’s also the birthplace of writer Dylan Thomas, and you can visit his birthplace at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive.
Getting there: The Cardiff to Swansea train takes under an hour. It’s also the first leg of journeys to the other places we describe in this section.
MUMBLES AND PIER
Mumbles is Swansea’s seaside suburb, and completely different in feel to the city. It’s one of the most pleasant day trips in Wales, with a lovely walk along the promenade, plenty of cafes and ice cream to keep you going, and a traditional old pier. At the end of the peninsula, Mumbles Head is a series of islets, one with a scenic lighthouse. You can also walk to beautiful Bracelet Bay, a great kid-friendly beach at low tide with fine lighthouse views. Back in Mumbles village, medieval Oystermouth Castle beckons you for further exploration.
Getting there: Train to Swansea, then bus 2 or 3 to Oystermouth.
RHOSSILI AND GOWER
The Gower Peninsula beaches to the west of Swansea are among the best places to visit in Wales. The westernmost beach, Rhossili, is regularly voted among the best beaches in Europe or indeed the world. And it is just that, a gorgeous sweep of golden sand 5 km (3 miles long), It also has outstanding coastal walks with other small, secluded beaches close by. Three Cliffs Bay is another classic Gower beach and, like Rhossili, involves some walking to reach.
Getting there: Time-wise the easiest thing to do is drive to Gower. Otherwise travel to Swansea by train then walk to the bus station and catch the 118 to Rhossili, or the 14 to Pennard Cliffs for Three Cliffs Bay. You can get to see both Rhossili and Three Cliffs in a day if you’re driving, but not if you’re travelling by bus.
CARREG CENNEN CASTLE
Carreg Cennen is one of several fine castles in Carmarthenshire, the west Wales county between Swansea and Pembrokeshire. It’s the most dramatically sited of all the castles in South Wales, on the summit of a sheer 100-metre cliff and with the Black Mountain escarpment of the Brecon Beacons looming high above. It’s one of the most enjoyable castles in Wales to visit – the ticket office is on a farm, and you walk up the hill from there to the castle.
Getting there – this one requires a car. The nearest public transport gets you is four miles (6 km) away, in the nearest town, Llandeilo.
One of the most popular things to do in south west Wales is to follow in the footsteps of Dylan Thomas, who is probably the best-known Welsh writer internationally. The Dylan Thomas Boat House features on many tours of Wales. He lived in this beautiful riverside house the last four years of his life, and would often spend time in his writing shed, a short walk away. A short walk down the estuary, Laugharne Castle is one of the best things to see in Carmarthenshire, a stout 12th-13th century fortress overlooking the wide estuary. You can also visit Dylan Thomas’ favourite watering hole, Browns Hotel, and his grave in the nearby St Martin’s Churchyard.
Cardiff to Pembrokeshire makes for a long day out, but it can be done – we have, many times over. If you have one spare sunny day forecast, move mountains to go to Tenby. Tenby is incomparable, easily one of the most beautiful towns in the UK and best beach resorts in Europe. It has no less than three of the best beaches in the UK, one of the most picturesque harbours you could ever hope to see and a set of medieval town walls.
Getting there: It’s two hours by car from Cardiff, or around three hours by train. You normally have to change at Carmarthen station – make sure you catch the onward service to Pembroke Dock, and not the train to Milford Haven.
ST DAVIDS PEMBROKESHIRE
St Davids is the smallest city in the UK, and like Tenby, warrants a stay of a night or two to get the most out of it. However, if this is your one chance to visit St Davids, grab it. It’s a 2-hour drive from Cardiff, and a world away from the Welsh capital. It’s home to St David’s Cathedral, the most impressive church in Wales and probably the nearest the country has to a spiritual home. Some Wales day tours also make the trip out to St Davids. You can also enjoy a boat trip to Ramsey Island and its seabirds and colonies of Atlantic grey seals. Otherwise, discover some of the best beaches in Wales, including Whitesands Bay, and some of the best walks in South Wales around the St Davids coastline.
TO THE NORTH AND EAST
BRECON BEACONS NATIONAL PARK
The Brecon Beacons is one of three National Parks in Wales, along with the Pembrokeshire Coast and Snowdonia. It stretches from the English border at Hay-on-Wye to Carmarthenshire, from the Black Mountains in the east, past the central Brecon Beacons range and out to the wild moorlands of the Black Mountain in the west. Cardiff to Brecon takes less than an hour by car, and for many the many mountain walks there are the best things to do in South Wales. The terrain is varied, from long sandstone mountain ridges to deep limestone valleys full of waterfalls and caves. If you’re pushed for time, several South Wales tours departing from Cardiff give you a great introduction to the area.
PEN Y FAN WALK
If you approach Pen y Fan from Cardiff and the south, it doesn’t look that much of a mountain. The most popular path up, from Pont ar Daf on the A470, gives the same impression. It’s only when you see it from Brecon, to the north, that you see it for what it is, an imposing peak, at 886 metres (2907 feet) the highest mountain in southern Britain. It’s something of a rite of passage, and one of the top things to do in the Brecon Beacons. The walk up the busy ‘M4’ (named after the nearby motorway) takes between 40 minutes and an hour, while the much harder, more rewarding slog up from Upper Neuadd reservoir takes well over two hours.
It’s known as the second-hand book capital of the world, but there are other things to do in Hay-on-Wye besides. Around 20 bookshops have survived the internet, and it’s a wonderfully quirky, charming place to spend a day or so. Some of the bookshops have diversified, with one of the originals, Booth Books, now offering a cinema and café as well as thousands of books to pore over. The town also has several great pubs and restaurants, and is close to some of the best scenery in the Brecon Beacons, particularly up around Hay Bluff.
BLAENAVON WORLD HERITAGE SITE
South Wales was one of the cradles of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Until the mid-20th century the coalfield was the most productive in the world. The village of Blaenavon, at the head of one of the Gwent valleys to the north-east of Cardiff, has an exceptionally well-preserved industrial landscape, and this was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, the second site in Wales to receive this designation after Edward I’s Castles in North Wales. Blaenavon has two of the best industrial south Wales tourist attractions, Big Pit National Coal Museum and Blaenavon Ironworks. If you visit Blaenavon, also drive north out of the village on the B4247 road, over the Blorenge mountain where you see where industrial South Wales ends and rural South Wales begins.
Tintern Abbey should be high on any Wales sightseeing itinerary. It’s one of the places that gave birth to tourism in the UK, a dramatic 13th century ruined Gothic church open to the elements. If you’re travelling there by public transport, you have to change at Chepstow for the bus, so try to combine it with an hour at Chepstow Castle, one of the earliest medieval castles in Wales.
Getting there: Driving is the easiest option, otherwise it’s a Cardiff to Chepstow train (30-40 minutes), a short walk then a 20-minute bus ride to Tintern.
The scenic Wye Valley is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty straddling the Wales-England border. The lower section of the wye, from M<onmouth to Chepstow, is the most dramatic, with beautiful sections above the village of Llandogo, around Tintern Abbey and immediately to the north of Chepstow. The Eagles Nest viewpoint is high up a mountain above the village of St Arvans. – persist to the top for one of the best views in Wales, including a meander of the river Wye and the Severn estuary beyond. This area is one of the best places to visit in Wales in autumn. We suggest a day’s drive to see some of the best Wye Valley scenery – if you concentrate in the Chepstow to Monmouth area, also make sure you get to Symonds Yat, across the border in Herefordshire.
Getting there: You’ll need a car for this one.
There are so many castles in South Wales to see that some, inevitably, get overlooked, especially if you’re short on time. If you stay in Wales for a while, one area you can delve deeper is rural Monmouthshire. The Three Castles – White Castle, Grosmont Castle and Skenfrith Castle – make for a wonderful day out exploring the gentle bucolic scenery. They are clustered to the north and west of Monmouth, and are all close to the English border. White Castle is isolated on a ridge near Abergavenny, while Grosmont and Skenfrith are small, picturesque villages built around their respective castles. Skenfrith is a particularly idyllic spot, and The Bell is a great place to stop by for a lengthy lunch.
Getting there: The only way to do this is to drive.
The Elan Valley is a series of dammed reservoirs in the heart of remote Mid Wales. It’s the one part of the so-called ‘Green Desert’ of the Cambrian Mountains, which run through the centre of Wales, to be even remotely tamed. It’s a little under two hours’ drive to the town of Rhayader, from where it’s another 10-15 minutes to the lakes. Many just come for the scenic drive, which takes you past Caban Coch, Garreg Ddu, Pen-y-Garreg and Graig Goch lakes and their respective dams, before retuning to Rhayader. You also pass through some of the dramatic upper reaches of the River Wye en route.
Getting there: only by car.
DAY TRIPS IN ENGLAND FROM CARDIFF
Bath is one of the most beautiful cities in England. It’s over 2,000 years old, with much of the city dating from its 18th century Georgian heyday. It’s all built in the local golden Bath sandstone, giving it the feel of a harmonious whole. The Ancient Roman Baths, 15th century Bath Abbey church and the 18th century Pump Room are three of the most popular Bath attractions, and are located within metres of each other. The rest of the city has some of the finest 18th century architecture anywhere in the world, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s also one of the most popular day trips from London.
Getting there: It’s an hour by train from Cardiff Central to Bath Spa.
Bristol is one of the best cities to visit in England, with incredible cultural riches to discover. That said, I pondered omitting it from this article because you won’t cover a great deal of ground on a day trip from Cardiff. Bristol is quite widely spread out, so getting to see it takes time. The train from Cardiff to Bristol Temple Meads station takes around 50 minutes. From there, walk the 10 minutes to the magnificent St Mary Redcliffe church, before hopping on the #9 bus up the hill to the suburb of Clifton. This is full of beautiful Georgian terraces like nearby Bath. Eventually you’ll reach the Avon Gorge and Bristol’s greatest icon, the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Other options include visiting the splendid steam ship SS Great Britain in Bristol Harbour, or heading to Stokes Croft to see some of the best street art in the UK.
Tiny Wells is one of the smallest cities in the UK, with a population of less than 10,000. It’s one of the most underrated cities in Europe, possibly because many visitors don’t even realise it’s a city. It has more of the feel of a small country town, albeit one with an unrivalled ecclesiastical treasure trove. Wells Cathedral is an English Gothic masterpiece with a staggering west front with hundreds of statues. It also has some of the best-preserved cathedral precincts in Europe, including the Vicars Close, one of the most complete medieval streets in Europe.
We made several day trips to Hereford from Cardiff, which is easy as it’s only an hour away by train. There were always enough things to do in Hereford to keep us coming back for more. Hereford is one of the best hidden gems in England and its location not particularly close to anywhere large is probably what’s kept it that way. Hereford Cathedral is a medieval treasure, with an amazing 13th century map of the world, the Mappa Mundi. It’s in the heart of cider country, and the county has hundreds of orchards, particularly beautiful in May when the apple trees are in bloom. It’s also on the River Wye, close to some of the best scenery in the Wye Valley.
The old port city of Gloucester is an hour’s drive or train ride from Cardiff. The tower of Gloucester Cathedral dominates the view as you approach the city, and it’s the best thing to see there. It was built between the Norman (Romanesque) and Perpendicular periods. It’s stunning inside and out, with an amazing 14th century stained glass east window. The superb vaulted cloister has featured numerous times in Harry Potter movies, and are not to be missed. Also check out the tiny Tailor of Gloucester museum dedicated to Beatrix Potter’s famous tale.
Getting there: it’s only an hour from Cardiff by train.