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The Essential Top 5 Day Trips from Cardiff

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3 weeks ago

Wales’s historic capital and largest city, Cardiff is an excellent place for a weekend break. If you have time for a longer stay, there’s a load of great day trips from Cardiff that allow you to explore South Wales and even the West of England easily.

Aside from an imposing castle, vibrant waterfront and bustling shopping streets, Cardiff is also a foodie hotspot. Make sure to get acquainted with Wales’s best culinary delights so you can be on the lookout during your trip.

There’s no doubt that Cardiff is a fantastic and fun city to explore. But as with any capital city, it pays to venture out of town. With our top 5 day trips from Cardiff, you’ll get a “real” taste of Wales; one even takes you across the mighty River Severn to England.

Before heading to Cardiff, make sure you check out our guide to the Ultimate Six Nations Weekend in Cardiff, a huge sporting event when the city lights up. It’s packed with ideas on where to stay, eat and visit, and you don’t have to be going for the rugby to find it useful.

Wye Valley & Forest of Dean

Covering 42-square miles, the Forest of Dean is one of Great Britain’s few remaining ancient woodlands. The Forest of Dean sits on either side of the beautiful River Wye which, for those us that aren’t students of geography, means it’s in both Wales and England. In fact, the River Wye marks the border between the two countries for much of its course.

Chepstow

Start your day trip from Cardiff at the southern end of the forest in the small market town of Chepstow. There’s not all that much to see here, but Chepstow Castle is well worth a visit.

Built under Norman rule in 1067, the castle served as an important defence as William the Conqueror’s army moved west into Wales having taken England the previous year. Chepstow Castle is open daily from 9:30 am to 6 pm (shorter hours during winter) and entrance costs £10.

Local tip: If you’re driving, make a couple of extra stops on the journey north from Chepstow.

Giant’s Cave, near the village of St Arvans, is an amazing sight with an even more amazing view. And just a mile further up the valley, stop off at Eagle’s Nest, one of the best viewpoints in the valley.

Tintern

Following the River Wye north from Chepstow head for Tintern Abbey. Founded in 1131, the abbey remained active until Henry VIII steered England from Catholicism to Protestantism and dissolved monasteries across the country. Many have since come back into being, but Tintern Abbey never did and was left to decay.

The ruined abbey is a sight to behold and one of the most popular stopping points along the Wye Valley. Throughout 2024, some important restoration works are being carried out, so some areas may be off limits to visitors. Don’t let that put you off though: Tintern is an absolute must on this day trip from Cardiff.

Just up the road from the abbey, The Rose and Crown is a warm, cozy pub which makes for a great lunch stop. They do all the British pub classics – including a roast on Sunday.

Local tip: Just past the pub, Stella & Rose’s Books is a book lover’s paradise. They have everything you can imagine and it’s a great place to find rare titles.

Monmouth

Following the river northwards, there’s plenty of places to stop for a hike or just to admire the views. Brockweir Bridge offers a great view, whilst Cleddon Shoots is a beautiful woodland waterfall with some pleasant walks.

Eventually, you’ll reach Monmouth, the county town of Monmouthshire which dates back to Roman times. When the Normans reached Monmouth in 1067, they built a large castle on the site of the town. In turn, this led to it growing as an important border post.

Monmouth Castle is now in ruins and will take you by surprise as you wander around the town. It sits down a small alley just off the main shopping street and feels a little out of place. You can’t go inside, but it’s well worth passing by for a photo.

Church Street is a must when in Monmouth. This narrow, pedestrianized street is home to a wide array of independent boutique, quirky cafes and art galleries. If you’re craving coffee and cake, Whole Earth Café is the place to go. It turns into a Thai restaurant in the evening and is a great choice if you stick around for dinner.

Getting to the Wye Valley & Forest of Dean

In our opinion, the best way to explore the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean is to rent a car in Cardiff and drive yourself. This gives you the freedom to branch off the main road and visit the most photogenic locations and hidden gems. You can also take a day tour from Cardiff which covers Chepstow Castle, Tintern Abbey plus two more of South Wales’s finest castles.

That said, it’s possible to travel by public transport. From Cardiff, take a train to Chepstow. There are two trains per hour from Cardiff Central and the journey takes about 35 minutes. From Chepstow, Newport Bus 69 runs along the Wye Valley to Monmouth, stopping in Tintern along the way. Buses run every hour and the full journey takes 50 minutes, although you’ll want to hop off along the way.

The easiest way to get back to Cardiff from Monmouth at the end of your day trip is to make the same journey in reverse. Alternatively, you can take Newport Bus 60 from Monmouth to Newport and catch a bus or train back to Cardiff from there.

Swansea & The Mumbles

Swansea

Wales’s second city, Swansea packs in some great sights. Named Abertawe in Welsh (meaning the mouth of the Tawe), Swansea began to grow up around the Tawe Estuary following the building on Swansea Castle in 1106. Little remains of the castle today, but it’s well worth strolling by and giving a thought to how important it once was.

Quite possibly Swansea’s top attraction, the National Waterfront Museum should be high on your list of places to go. Best of all, admission is free. The museum tells the story of Wales during the Industrial Revolution. Industry has always been important to Wales, from coal mining in the valleys to Swansea’s factories.

There’s plenty of excellent restaurants in Swansea if you decide to stick around for lunch. For a true taste of Wales, head for The Welsh House where they proudly serve all of the nation’s favorite dishes. Think Welsh cakes, Welsh Rarebit and local Lamb.

The Mumbles

On a headland sticking out into the Bristol Channel, protected by the calm waters of Swansea Bay, The Mumbles are to Swansea what The Hamptons are to New York.

Whilst you’ll regularly hear the term ‘The Mumbles’ being used, this area is actually just called Mumbles. Local legend suggests French sailors first started calling it The Mumbles because of the two headlands jutting out into the ocean. Consequently, the name stuck as the town here.

Like most places you’ll visit in Wales, Mumbles has a castle. Oystermouth Castle is in the middle of town and it’s well worth climbing up to get some of the best views of Swansea Bay. The highlight of Mumbles, though, is its beach.

Mumbles Pier, built in 1898 as a Victorian pleasure pier, is a lovely place for a wander on a sunny day. At the end of the pier, Beach Hut Cafe is an excellent spot for lunch or a leisurely coffee. If you’re after a really Instagram-worthy snap, carry on past the pier to the southern tip of the headland for a view of Mumbles Lighthouse.

And once you’ve seen all the sights, spend the afternoon aimlessly strolling along the promenade. It runs right along the seashore from the headland in the south to West Cross in the north. Along the way, pause at Mumbles Hill Nature Reserve where you can climb the hill for amazing views of the coastline.

If you don’t fancy walking, a road train runs the length of the promenade during the summer. It runs every weekend and daily during the school summer holidays, with five stops along the way.

Getting to Swansea & The Mumbles

The easiest way from Cardiff to Swansea is by train from Cardiff Central. The journey takes just under an hour with three trains running every hour. This makes Swansea one of the easiest day trips from Cardiff. The last train back from Swansea is at 10:30 pm, so there’s no need to rush back after your day trip from Cardiff.

From Swansea, First Bus 3A runs every half hour from the bus station to Mumbles, stopping right by Oystermouth Castle. The journey takes around 45 minutes and buses run late into the evening.

Barry Island

If The Mumbles are Swansea’s answer to The Hamptons, Barry Island is Cardiff’s Coney Island. A favorite among locals, Barry Island is the place to go for traditional seaside fun. Once a popular Victorian resort, as holidays became the norm for British workers, a large holiday camp opened here. When it closed in 1996, Barry Island’s fortunes began to turn and it began to look rather neglected.

In recent years, thanks in part to the iconic sitcom Gavin & Stacey and partly the growth in popularity of staycations, Barry’s popularity has surged. 1.25 million visitors flocked to the Island last year.

Gavin & Stacey

If you’re not familiar with Gavin & Stacey, it first hit TV screens in the UK in 2007, written by and starring Ruth Jones and James Cordon (long before he rose to worldwide fame in the U.S.). It tells the story of a long-distance romance between the title characters with many of the scenes filmed in Barry, where Stacey lives.

For fans of the show, a visit to Barry Island is something of a pilgrimage. A highlight is a visit to Marco’s Café, where Stacey worked on the show (even if you’re not a fan, it’s a great place for an ice cream). Next to the café, Nessa’s Slots are the amusement arcade where Ruth Jones’s character worked, and again, great fun whether you’re a fan or not.

Local tip: If you want to cram in as many filming locations as possible, take the Gavin & Stacey TV Locations Tour.

What to do in Barry Island

Barry Island Pleasure Park is a fun destination for all the family. Opened in 1897, it has all the rides you’d expect of a British seaside town: dodgems, waltzers and even the country’s biggest thrill ride, the space machine. Entrance is free; just buy tokens if you want to go on the rides.

Barry Island’s beach at first seems quite busy and not all that pretty, especially in summer. But walk west from the Pleasure Park and Marco’s and you’ll soon find yourself in another world entirely. At the end of the main beach, climb the sandy hcill and walk out to Friar’s Point at the end of the headland. The views from here are stunning and, better still, you’ll often be the only person around.

Before you head back to Cardiff, nip into Finnegans Inn next to the railway station for dinner. It’s anything but luxurious, but they do the best fish and chips on the island, along with some old school pub classics.

Getting to Barry Island

The quickest way from Cardiff to Barry Island is by train. Trains run from both Cardiff Central and Queen Street stations every 15 minutes and take less than half an hour to get to Barry. There are three stations in Barry, so make sure you get off at Barry Island which is the very last stop as it’s quite a walk if you accidentally get off at Barry or Barry Docks.

Brecon Beacons

Covering over 520 square miles, the wild and rugged Brecon Beacons are unmissable on any trip to Wales. Plus, they’re conveniently located for one of the most fantastic day trips from Cardiff.

The National Park is actually made up of two mountain ranges: the Brecon Beacons which gave the park its name and the Fforest Fawr uplands (yes, that’s spelled correctly), a UNESCO global geopark. If immersing yourself in nature and being surrounded by natural beauty is your thing, the Brecon Beacons National Park is for you.

Abergavenny

Start your day trip from Cardiff in the bustling market town of Abergavenny, on the edge of the National Park. Known for the annual Abergavenny Food Festival (held on the third weekend of September), Abergavenny is a foodie town year round.

Grab a coffee and a home-baked cake from Fig Tree Espresso before exploring the indoor market. Open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday every week, Abergavenny Market has dozens of stalls selling everything from artisan produce to art and crafts. Make sure you pick up some Welsh Cakes for the journey and any other Welsh treats you can find.

Next, head along to Abergavenny Museum which sits on the site of the town’s ruined Norman castle. They have a great display on artefacts which date back to prehistoric times. It’s an excellent place to learn a little about the town and region’s history. And like virtually all British museums, admission is free.

Brecon Beacons

Leaving Abergavenny and entering the Brecon Beacons National Park, you’ll get fantastic views of Sugar Loaf Hill as you make your way towards Brecon.

Local tip: If you’re driving, make a detour from the main road to visit Llangors Lake.

This is a beautiful place for a walk and there are trails leading right round the lake if you fancy it. There’s an excellent little café by the lake too.

Stop off at Brynich Aqueduct. Completed in 1801, the aqueduct was vital in the creation of a network of canals which were once an important way of transporting goods around the country. Whilst freight is rarely carried by canal barge anymore, canals still see regular use by pleasure craft and houseboats.

Brecon

The small, but bustling, town of Brecon sits at the heart of the national park and is the ideal place to pause for lunch. Head to the International Welsh Rarebit Centre to sample Wales’s national dish. Delightfully simple, Welsh Rarebit is essentially cheese on toast with the delicious flavor of Worcestershire Sauce added in.

The International Welsh Rarebit Centre in Brecon have seven different varieties of rarebit on offer and even do a vegetarian version.

After lunch, spend a while wandering around the town. Make time to visit the Brecon Canal Basin for a stroll along the canal. Y Gaer Museum is also well worth a visit and has a fantastic art gallery attached.

Merthyr Tydfil

Now it’s true that you won’t find many guide books suggesting you go to Merthyr Tydfil (known simply as Merthyr), but hear me out. Whilst the town isn’t anything to write home about, it has got a couple of great attractions.

Just outside Merthyr, the Brecon Mountain Railway starts its 4.5 mile journey through the national park. Hauled exclusively by steam locomotives, a ride on this little train is a great way to see the scenery. Trains run from Pant station every day except Friday (and Monday in the off season). The return journey takes an hour and a half and there are three trips per day.

If you follow this itinerary, the 3 pm trip would work well. Tickets are £22 for adults and it’s best to book in advance to avoid disappointment.

In Merthyr town center, Cyfarthfa Castle Museum and Art Gallery is definitely worth a look. On the site of a former ironworks, the castle itself is more mansion than traditional castle, but is still a stunning building. Surrounded by landscaped gardens, the museum houses an excellent collection of artefacts from the town’s past. It’s open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 4:30 pm

In the grounds, you’ll find a peaceful lake, tea rooms and a miniature railway which offers trips around the lake.

Getting to the Brecon Beacons

This circular itinerary works in either direction, so if you decide to do it the other way round, just follow it in reverse. The easiest way to cover all the sights we’ve mentioned on this day trip from Cardiff is to rent a car in Cardiff and drive yourself. This way, you’ll be able to give yourself time to fully enjoy all the stops and scenery.

If you’re traveling by public transport, first take a train from Cardiff to Abergavenny. The journey takes around 40 minutes and trains leave Cardiff Central every half an hour. From Abergavenny, Stagecoach buses 43 & X43 run, roughly hourly, to Brecon taking between 45 and 70 minutes.

From Brecon, Stagecoach buses T4 & T14 take 30 minutes to reach Merthyr, running roughly every hour. As your day trip draws to a close, take a train from Merthyr back to Cardiff Central. The journey takes an hour with trains departing every 30 minutes.

Bath

We recently listed Bath as one of the top 10 day trips by train from London, so we couldn’t not include it as one of the best day trips from Cardiff. The beautiful Roman spa town of Bath is one of those places you can’t come to the UK and not visit.

Surrounded by seven hills, Bath is brimming with stunning Georgian architecture, great restaurants and fascinating museums. The city’s main attraction are, of course, the Roman Baths. After centuries of neglect when Roman Britain came to an end, they became popular once again during the Middle Ages and now attract over a million visitors every year.

The Baths are open from 9 am to 6 pm (10pm through the school summer holidays) and tickets start at £24.50. Make sure you book in advance, as they do get very busy. Alternatively, consider a walking tour of Bath with entrance included, and the chance to learn a little about the city’s history from a local.

Once you’ve experienced the Baths, head to The Botanist for lunch. This swanky gastropub serves all the classics, plus they’re famous for their ‘hanging kebabs’. They’ve got plenty of vegan options too. Try to leave room to sample one of Bath’s most famous cakes afterwards though.

Sally Lunn’s have been making their iconic Bath Buns in the oldest house in Bath since 1680. Don’t try to avoid the temptation: they’re worth the calorie spend!

This afternoon, discover some of Bath’s more recent history with a visit to the Royal Crescent. Built in 1774, this sweeping crescent is the best example of Georgian architecture in the city.

Afterwards, spend some time learning a little about revered author Jane Austen, who lived in Bath from 1801 to 1806. Her former house is now the Jane Austen Centre which offers an insight into her life. It’s well worth a visit.

Getting to Bath

Direct trains run every hour from Cardiff Central to Bath, taking just over an hour.

Alternatively, you can take a National Express coach, changing in Bristol on the way. This can be cheaper, but takes double the time. The bonus of traveling by road is that you’ll get some great views as you cross the River Severn via the Prince of Wales Bridge.


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