St Davids Wales must count as one of the most unusual city breaks destinations in Europe. It’s the size of a large village, but is the smallest city in the UK, in the far west corner of beautiful West Wales.
It’s tiny, so what about things to do in St Davids Wales? Many come to visit St Davids Cathedral, the most impressive church in Wales. It’s on the famous Pembrokeshire Coast Path – and indeed the Wales Coast Path – and it has some of the best beaches in Wales and best coastal walks in UK.
In our guide we’ll show you everything you need to know to get the very best of your trip to St Davids Pembrokeshire. We’ll also suggest St Davids accommodation, tell you the best places to eat in St Davids, and show you some of the things to do near St Davids, and places to visit including Solva and Abereiddy.
If you were ever to compile a Wales bucket list, put this tiny city right at the top of it.
- 1 ST DAVIDS WALES – ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW
- 2 ST DAVID FACTS
- 3 ST DAVIDS CATHEDRAL
- 4 ST DAVIDS BISHOPS PALACE
- 5 ORIEL Y PARC
- 6 WHITESANDS BAY
- 7 PEMBROKESHIRE COAST PATH
- 8 ST DAVIDS HEAD
- 9 CAERFAI BAY
- 10 ST NON’S BAY
- 11 PORTH CLAIS
- 12 ST DAVIDS BOAT TRIPS TO RAMSEY ISLAND
- 13 PORTHGAIN
- 14 ABEREIDDY
- 15 ABERCASTLE
- 16 NEWGALE BEACH
- 17 SOLVA
- 18 ST DAVIDS WALES HOTELS
- 19 WHAT TO DO IN ST DAVIDS AT NIGHT?
ST DAVIDS WALES – ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW
St Davids is the smallest city in UK
It’s located in the far west of Wales, 112 miles (180 km) from the Welsh capital Cardiff and 256 miles (412 km) from London
It owes its city status to its magnificent Cathedral, which dates from the 12th century
St Davids is in the county of Pembrokeshire Wales, which is home to some of the best beaches in the UK
The coast around St Davids has some of the best scenery in the UK
ST DAVID FACTS
Saint David is the patron saint of Wales, UK
St David was from the area now called St Davids – in his time it was called Menevia, or Mynyw in Welsh
He lived during the 6th century AD, and founded a monastic settlement on the site of what is now St David’s Cathedral
In Welsh he is known as Dewi Sant, and St Davids is known as Tyddewi (literally ‘House of David’)
St David’s Day – Wales’ national day – is celebrated on 1st March
ST DAVIDS CATHEDRAL
Visiting St David’s Cathedral is one of the top things to do in Pembrokeshire. For that matter, it’s one of the best things to see in Wales, a magnificent medieval church every bit as impressive as the best of the mighty Welsh castles.
Yet when you enter St Davids city for the first time, you could be forgiven for wondering where it is. St Davids Cathedral is hidden away in a hollow, in the lowest point in the area, and you only glimpse it briefly when passing the roundabout with the cross in the middle of the village – sorry, city. Most European cities – think Prague, Santiago de Compostela, Chartres, Toledo and Evora – had their cathedrals built on hilltops, in the most obvious place possible. St Davids Cathedral was built in the valley of the tiny Alun stream to remain invisible to passing maritime invaders, the Vikings included.
The exterior is beautiful in its simplicity, much of it purple sandstone from nearby Caerbwdi Bay. A flight of 39 steps leads down from the gatehouse to the churchyard proper. The interior is no less impressive, the nave dominated by the ornate carved oak roof. Continue from there to the choir and look up to the stunning tower vault. It’s as impressive as any church architecture Wales has.
St David himself was long believed to have been kept in a casket behind the high altar. Carbon dating tests revealed the bones to belong to someone who had dies centuries after St David. Nonetheless it has always been considered the most important of all pilgrimage in Wales sites. In early medieval times a Pope declared that two pilgrimages to St David’s brought the same spiritual benefits as one to Rome (three pilgrimages to Bardsey Island in North Wales were believed to be worth the same).
ST DAVIDS BISHOPS PALACE
The ruined Bishops Palace b=next to the Cathedral is the other attraction most likely to detain you in the centre of St David’s Wales. The Bishops Palace dates from the 13th and 14th centuries, evidently a time of great prosperity for the church in the area. It fell into disrepair in the 16th century when one of the bishops stripped the lead from the roof and sold it on!
It’s well worth a look around for half an hour or so. The Great Hall, with its rose window, is the most impressive. You can also climb stairs to a viewpoint over the Cathedral from the far end of the Hall.
ORIEL Y PARC
Oriel y Parc – ‘the Park Gallery’ – is the first thing many visitors to St Davids UK see. It’s part art gallery, part tourist information centre – one of the best in Wales at that. The exhibitions tend to run for a few weeks or months at a time – last time I visited, they had a contemporary exhibition on loan from the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. The information centre is a great place to get your bearings, both for the city and surrounding St Davids peninsula.
Whitesands Beach is one of the best Wales beaches, a sweep of superb golden sand two miles (3 km) or so down a country lane from St Davids. It’s the most popular St Davids beach, partly because it appeals to so many. It’s one of the best beaches for families in Wales, with great rock pools galore to explore. The scenery is outstanding, with great views in all directions. And Whitesands is also one of the better surfing beaches in Pembrokeshire.
PEMBROKESHIRE COAST PATH
How much you attempt depends on how long you spend in St Davids, and of course your fitness levels and conditions while you’re there. The scenery along the St Davids coastal path is breathtaking, and the walking, while invigorating, isn’t as challenging as, say, the North Pembrokeshire Coast from Newport Pembrokeshire to St Dogmaels.
The walk from Whitesands which I’ve described below is probably the most strenuous in the area. I also recommend the walk from Caerfai Bay to either Porth Clais or St Justinians, which takes you through some incredible coastal scenery.
ST DAVIDS HEAD
The headland immediately to the north-west of Whitesands is St David’s Head, Penmaen Dewi in Welsh. The circuit of St Davids Head is one of the best Pembrokeshire coast path walks. It takes in a lovely hidden beach at Porthmelgan, before climbing up to the headland proper. It’s a magnificently wild spot where you’ll have seabirds and the occasional walker for company. Look out for the Carreg Coetan Arthur Neolithic burial chamber near the end of the headland.
An optional return route to Whitesands takes you up to the summit of Carn Llidi, the knobbly rocky volcanic outcrop you can see from just about everywhere on the St David’s peninsula. It’s a bit of a scramble towards the top, but you’re rewarded with unforgettable views over Whitesands and nearby Ramsey Island.
Caerfai Beach is the closest beach to St Davids itself, and it has always been one of the more popular St Davids beaches. It’s a pristine sandy Pembrokeshire bay with some striking outcrops of rock on the beach and on the cliffs.
Caerfai is also popular as it’s one of the main St Davids camping destinations, with a large site close to the beach. Another of the best Pembrokeshire coastal path walks starts here, continuing around the headland to St Non’s Bay and west to Porth Clais, Porth Lysgi or St Justinians.
ST NON’S BAY
The St Davids area was also home to several other Welsh saints, including St David’s mother, St Non. A mile (1.5 km ) south of St Davids, via a winding lane, you reach this magical spot. This is where St David is said to have been born during a fierce thunderstorm in 500 AD.
I’m not a religious person, but this is one of the most spiritually moving places I have ever visited. The coastline is a series of rugged cliffs, and there are two chapels dedicated to St Non and a retreat house. The ruined chapel, dating back to the 13th century, is in a field a short walk downhill from the modern stone chapel and retreat house. There’s also a small holy well dedicated to Non and a white statue of her close by.
St Non’s is a place of blissful peace, far removed from the hubbub of modern life. Explore it as part of one of the St Davids walks I’ve suggested, or just head down there and wander short sections of the Coast Path either side of the bay.
St Nons Bay is also known as one of the best coasteering locations in Wales. This involves traversing the coastline, climbing and moving along cliffs, and making the odd spectacular jump into the water for the cameras.
Porth Clais (sometimes written Porthclais) is another pleasant stop on the Pembrokeshire coastal path to the south of St Davids. Back in the Middle Ages it was the port for St Davids. Now it’s a picturesque small harbour full of pleasure boats, and it’s used by some of the local activity providers to take you out to the cliffs. It’s also the starting point for some great sea kayaking and canoeing around the St Davids coast.
ST DAVIDS BOAT TRIPS TO RAMSEY ISLAND
Ramsey Island (Ynys Dewi in Welsh) lies a mile or so west of the two lifeboat stations at St Justinian’s (Porth Stinian in Welsh). This is the departure point for most of the boat trips St Davids offers.
These vary from speeding through the Bitches, a series of rocks which cause white water waves, even on relatively calm days, to full Ramsey Island boat trips exploring the caves and coves all around its coast.
This is a great place to come to spot Welsh wildlife, whether it’s the popular nesting puffins, guillemots and kittiwakes in spring and early summer, or the Atlantic grey seals
Porthgain (pronounced Porth-gine) is a village to the north of St Davids, close to the main A487 road to Fishguard and beyond. It’s an old industrial village with extensive ruins of a brickworks on one side of the harbour. These days it’s a small fishing port with a couple of seafood restaurants and one of the best pubs in Wales, the Sloop Inn.
The tiny Pembrokeshire village, 3 miles (5 km) from Porthgain, became known worldwide as one of the venues for the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series back in the early and mid 20-teens. Competitors would dive into the Blue Lagoon, the mineral-enhanced azure water of a former slate mine. With the stunning Pembrokeshire coast as a backdrop.
The Blue Lagoon Abereiddy is a very popular snorkelling spot, and Abereiddy also has two beaches, one either side of the Lagoon. Abereiddy beach has the darkest sand of any beach I’ve seen in Wales (and I have literally seen all of them), close to that of Perissa or Black Beach Santorini in Greece. The sand is so dark because of particles of slate from the Lagoon a short distance away.
I also recommend a short hike over the hilltop to the next beach along the coast, Traeth Llyfn. It’s one of my favourite West Wales beaches, a stretch of golden sand backed by imposing cliffs.
Abercastle – Abercastell in Welsh – is a tiny village around a narrow steep harbour a few miles beyond Abereiddy. There’s a small shingle beach, but the coast scenery is the star here. The harbour is ideal for sailing, and the coastal walk is a joy indeed. It’s about a mile from the harbour to the cromlech, or ancient burial chamber, of Carreg Samson – one of the most impressive ancient sites in Wales.
You’ll probably first encounter Newgale beach on your way to St Davids. The main A487 Haverfordwest to St Davids road passes over the crest of a hill, revealing the Pembrokeshire. Coastline in all its glory. Beyond the vast beach, a line of jagged cliffs, coves and inlets stretches away towards St Davids and Ramsey Island.
Newgale beach is magnificent. Cross over the bank of pebbles and you’ll reach a fantastic sandy beach with amazing views across St Bride’s Bay. It’s one of the best beaches Wales has, 3 km of sand with great surf and that astounding view towards St Davids. No exaggeration, it’s one of the most beautiful places in Europe, and one of the places in Wales I miss most. The Wales Coast Path walk from Newgale to St Davids via Solva is also exhilarating.
Tiny Solva has always been one of the best places to visit in Pembrokeshire. The old village is huddled along the floor of a steep valley, culminating in gorgeous Solva harbour. It’s a lovely inlet, or ria, that’s wonderful whether at high tide, full of bobbing boats, or low tide, when it’s a rockpooler’s paradise, and for a few hours, one of the best beaches in South Wales until the water returns.
There are plenty of things to do in Solva, and Lower Solva has several enticing places to eat, including the Old Pharmacy and the Ship Inn. Solva. There are also a couple of art galleries to explore, and Window on Wales, one of the best places in the country to buy Wales souvenirs and crafts.
The coastal walks either side of Solva harbour are fantastic. The path from Newgale (to the east) passes Gwadn, a wonderful pebbly cove that’s one of the most enjoyable beaches near St Davids.
ST DAVIDS WALES HOTELS
In terms of accommodation, St Davids options have improved immeasurably in recent years. The old mill tower behind the Oriel y Parc Gallery has been converted into the luxury 4-star Twr y Felin Hotel St Davids. This is owned by Retreats Group, who also run the 5-star Penrhiw Hotel just to the north of the city (in St Davids terms that’s a ten-minute walk from the centre).
If you’ve ever wanted to stay in a castle, this could be for you. The 12th century Roch Castle Hotel overlooks St Bride’s Bay, and is just off the A487 road from Haverfordwest. I haven’t stayed there but was given a guided tour just after it opened. Wow. One of the best hotels in Wales, and an amazing experience if you ever get the chance.
There is also a growing selection of mid-range hotels in St Davids Pembrokeshire. The best of these is the St Davids Cross Hotel, which is at the epicentre of everything in St Davids, opposite the traffic island with the memorial cross that is the city’s traffic hub. Another good choice is the Warpool Court Hotel, which is just off the minor road down to St Non’s Bay.
If you love staying at a bed and breakfast St Davids has a great range to choose from, including The Waterings, close to Oriel y Parc gallery.
WHAT TO DO IN ST DAVIDS AT NIGHT?
There are just two pubs in St Davids, the Farmers Arms and The Bishops, and these are just a few doors apart. Both serve good food and are great places to hang out. I’ve spent many a balmy summer’s evening in the beer garden at the Farmers Arms.
There are also several restaurants in St Davids. Blas at Twr y Felin is our fine dining recommendation. Otherwise, St Davids Gin & Kitchen is a gin bar and restaurant with rooms on Nun Street.