I moved to Aberystwyth, Wales to start a new chapter in my life: University. Before coming to University, I had no idea that half of these towns even existed, much less how to pronounce them. While the bigger cities like Cardiff, Swansea, and Newport are definitely worth the hype, I much prefer going to the smaller towns, which have just as much history, culture, and vibrancy as any of the bigger cities. I also love the legends and mythology tied to the smaller towns in Wales, some of which you would never hear unless you visit! Wales is often overlooked when people think about the UK since cities like London and Edinburgh are a lot more known. But I’m going to tell you 16 reasons why going off the beaten path in Wales will give you an unforgettable experience.
One thing I will never get tired of is the scenery. Waking up each morning and being able to see rolling hills and lush greenery for miles still makes me smile, especially now that spring has sprung! There are still so many walking trails and hidden spots for me to discover in Aber, so imagine how much there is to explore when you look at the entire country. Wales is the ideal location for anyone wishing to travel to a less well-known region of the world since, despite its modest size, it has a wealth of natural and cultural attractions. There’s even a tour that’ll take you through 4 charming Welsh towns to explore the castles. Each town, village, and city in Wales has its own unique character and hidden gems to find, you just have to look!
1. Ystrad Meurig
Ystrad Meurig is a hidden gem in the Ceredigion county. A tranquil escape from the rush of city life can be found in the small community of Ystrad Meurig. It's a wonderful location to unwind and rest in a peaceful environment. It is surrounded by picturesque landscapes and rolling hills and is located in a rural location. The village has a long and rich history, and there is proof that people have lived there since the Bronze Age. St Meurig's Church, which is a well-known landmark in Ystrad Meurig, was built in the 13th century. The church, which has a stunning tower and spire, is a popular stop for travellers curious about the history and architecture of the region.
Near Ystrad Meurig, there is a woodland park called Nant Yr Arian. It is a fantastic place for biking, walking, and bird viewing. Also, it has a Red Kite feeding facility where guests may observe these magnificent birds being fed. Only a few miles from Ystrad Meurig, the old Cistercian abbey of Strata Florida Abbey offers an intriguing look into Welsh history and is definitely worth a visit. There is a visitor centre, and the abbey's ruins are accessible to the general public.
2. Barafundle Beach
On the Pembrokeshire Coast in West Wales, Barafundle Beach is a serene and picturesque sandy beach. Only on foot, over a steep and narrow coastal path, is it possible to reach the beach, which is situated between Stackpole Quay and Broad Haven South. The best part is not many people go to it because it’s so remote, but trust me, you do not want to miss out on this stop. One of the most stunning beaches in the UK, Barafundle Beach is recognised for its natural beauty. It is sheltered from the wind and flanked by tall cliffs, giving it the perfect location for picnicking, swimming, and sunbathing. While the beach may be small, it’s the perfect getaway for couples with crystal clear water and fine white sand. The beach is also surrounded by sand dunes, which act as a natural windbreak and serve as a habitat for various animals, including unique butterflies.
Barafundle Beach is a well-liked hiking and walking location, and the coastal route provides breathtaking views of the Pembrokeshire coastline. The ancient Stackpole Estate, which is home to a variety of gardens and wildlife habitats, is one of the surrounding sites that visitors can explore. It should be noted that Barafundle Beach lacks amenities like restrooms or cafes because it is situated in an isolated and remote place. I would recommend that visitors pack their own food and beverages and be ready to charge down the steep descent to the beach. Despite this, many visitors think that Barafundle Beach is a jewel that is well worth the trip.
3. Cardiff Secret Gardens
The Rooftop Garden at Cardiff Castle is a breathtaking green haven that is situated atop the castle's old clock tower. Professor David Stevens, a well-known landscape architect, designed the garden, which became public in 2011. The rooftop garden is a contemporary interpretation of the mediaeval gardens that once adorned the castle walls. Herbs, grasses, and wildflowers are among the many plants there, all of which were picked for the rooftop's exposed and windy environment. The rooftop garden's magnificent views of the surrounding city are one of its most outstanding features. Views of Cardiff's skyline and famous sites, such as the Millennium Stadium and Cardiff Bay, are spectacular. If you want to learn more about Cardiff or are planning a weekend visit, check out this 2-Day Cardiff Itinerary for more recommendations in the capital!
At Cardiff's Bute Park, there is a quaint and cosy cafe called The Secret Garden Cafe. The cafe has a sense of serenity and solitude that is uncommon in the city since, as its name says, it is nestled away in a quiet area of the park. The cafe's unique and endearing character is further enhanced by the fact that it is located inside a gorgeously restored Victorian glasshouse. The cafe's interior is spacious and light, thanks to its high ceilings, big windows, and an abundance of natural light. With exposed brick walls, antique furniture, and an abundance of plants and greenery, the design is charming and rustic. A range of breakfast and lunch options, snacks, and baked goods are available on the Secret Garden Cafe's menu, which is influenced by seasonal, locally produced foods. Guests may savour everything, produced with love and attention to detail, from hearty brunch items to fresh salads and sandwiches.
Inside St. Fagans National Museum of History in Cardiff, you can find St. Fagan's Secret Garden. The garden is a historic setting that has been brought back to its former splendour, making it a special destination that people of all ages can enjoy. Tucked up behind the main museum structure, the garden is a verdant haven. Visitors are welcome to explore its twisting pathways, hidden nooks, and secret spaces. There are numerous types of plants in the garden, such as fruit trees, wildflowers, and fragrant herbs, as well as a pond that serves as a refuge for various animals. The history of the St. Fagans Secret Garden is among its most distinctive characteristics. Renowned landscape designer Henry Avray Tipping first created the garden in the 19th century. The garden, however, had become run-down over time. An expert team set out to restore the garden to its former beauty in the early 2000s using old photos and records as a guide.
Places to Stay:
Sleeperz Cardiff is close to various local landmarks, including Cardiff Castle, the railway station, and more. With accommodations ranging from Twin and Double rooms to Large Family rooms, Sleeperz Cardiff expertly blends comfortable settings and well-appointed rooms, making it the ideal choice for both leisure and business travellers.
Free WiFi and private parking are available at the Hotel Cardiff. Each unit includes a kitchenette with a fridge and a microwave, as well as a desk, an ironing station, a flat-screen TV with satellite service, and a lounge room with a sofa bed. There is a shower and a hairdryer in the fully furnished private bathroom.
This Victorian town house was lovingly renovated and expanded to provide you all the conveniences of modern living. It is conveniently located within easy walking distance of Cardiff city centre. You can return to the comfort of the hotel after a busy day and rest in the peace and quiet of the residents' lounge or with a drink in the bar.
4. Cader Idris
Cader Idris is a mountain located in Snowdonia National Park in North Wales, but is often overlooked because every traveller usually hikes Mount Snowdon. The mountain is also known as ‘Cadair Idris’, which means ‘Chair of Idris’ in Welsh. There are several routes to the summit, ranging from easy to challenging. The Minffordd Trail, a modest 6.5-mile roundtrip that provides breathtaking views of the surrounding area, is the most well-known route. Craig Cwm Amarch, on the other hand, is a hidden gem that many people are unaware of. Llyn Cau, a charming tiny lake, is located by the headwall of Cwm Amarch on Cadair Idris, and the region provides a sheltering backdrop of striking cliffs. The glacial corrie of Llyn Cau, which is thought to be the home of a Welsh water dragon called the Afanc, has it as a lovely backdrop. The crags that make up its eastern face give the rocky outcrop at the top a spectacular, nearly vertical view down to Llyn Cau.
Awe-inspiring vistas of the Welsh landscape, including the Mawddach Estuary and the Cardigan Bay coastline, may be seen from the top of Cader Idris. When the weather is clear, the summit offers views all the way to Ireland. Welsh mythology is also deeply ingrained in Cader Idris, and traditions claim that it was home to the giant Idris. Along with hiking, Cader Idris is a great spot for birdwatching and animal observation, with rare species like red kites and peregrine falcons sometimes observed nearby.
On the banks of the River Wye, in southeast Wales, sits the historic town of Monmouth. While the town is often overlooked due to its small size, it has a long history that dates back to Roman times and was a significant medieval market town. The ruins of Monmouth Castle, which date to the eleventh century, are one of the town’s most renowned landmarks. Early in the 15th century, the castle served as a fortress for the Welsh ruler Owain Glyndwr. It later served as the birthplace of King Henry V of England. Monnow Bridge, a 13th-century fortified bridge from the Middle Ages, is another important part of Monmouth’s history. One of the few surviving fortified river crossings in the UK, the bridge is great for learning about the town's past.
Monmouth is home to a lively town centre, which is filled with many independent stores, cafes, and eateries. Also, visitors may check out the neighbouring Kymin Hill, which provides breathtaking views of the surroundings, as well as the Monmouth Museum, which houses exhibits on the town's history. Monmouth is surrounded by a stunning natural environment, including the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which provides chances for hiking, cycling, and animal watching, in addition to its historic landmarks and attractions.
Places to Stay:
The King's Head Hotel-JD Wetherspoon offers rooms with a flat-screen TV, a closet, a restaurant, and complimentary WiFi. The private bathroom has a shower or bathtub, complimentary toiletries, and a hairdryer. The King's Head Hotel-JD Wetherspoon offers desks and air conditioning in every room.
Torlands is a chic B&B that has just undergone renovations and is located only two minutes from the town of Monmouth. Free Wi-Fi and on-site parking are provided for visitors. A lounge and a sun patio are also available. Each morning, a fully cooked or continental breakfast is offered. It is also possible to accommodate visitors with special dietary needs.
Creates in Monmouth provides complimentary WiFi, a café, and city views. A seating area, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, and a private bathroom with complimentary toiletries, a shower, and a bath are included in every unit. Every morning the hotel serves a la carte, continental, or Full English/Irish breakfast.
6. Abereiddy Beach
On the Pembrokeshire coast of West Wales, there is a little pebble and sand beach called Abereiddy Beach. The beach is located in a picturesque bay that is bordered by towering cliffs and unusual rock formations. The Blue Lagoon, a former slate quarry that has been filled with water and converted into a vibrant blue lake, is one of Abereiddy Beach's top hidden spots. The Blue Lagoon is a great place for swimming and cliff diving, but guests should be cautioned that diving can be hazardous and the water can be very cold (I would suggest going in the summer time to get the best experience).
Due to its protected cove and reliable waves, Abereiddy Beach is also great for surfers and kayakers. The beach is surrounded by spectacular natural surroundings, including the precipitous cliffs of the Pembrokeshire coastline, and is a part of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. The ruins of a former slate quarry can be explored on foot near Abereiddy Beach, which is a great place for history buffs. The quarry contributed significantly to the local economy while it was open for business from the middle of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th.
7. Llanddwyn Island
A small tidal island off the shore of Anglesey in North Wales is called Llanddwyn Island, often referred to as Ynys Llanddwyn. Saint Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers, is honoured with the island's name. Stunning natural beauty and historical sites make Llanddwyn Island the perfect getaway destination to relax and unwind. The island is bordered by sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters, making it amazing for swimming, sunbathing, and picnicking. The Llanddwyn Island Lighthouse, which was constructed in 1873 and is still in use today, is one of the features that makes the island so unique. If you’re a photographer or just like taking photos, the lighthouse offers expansive views of the nearby shoreline.
The 16th-century ruins of St Dwynwen's Church are another must-see on the island. In the Medieval Ages, pilgrims frequently travelled to the church, which bears Saint Dwynwen's name. Llanddwyn Island is home to a variety of species, including seals, dolphins, and seagulls, in addition to its historic landmarks. One of the best things to do to find amazing hidden gems is to hike along the coastal roads and discover the island's undiscovered coves and beaches.
Afan Valley in South Wales is home to the small village of Glyncorrwg, which is close to the national park's boundary. The town has breathtaking natural surroundings, which include the adjacent mountains, forests, and rivers. The three reservoirs that make up the Glyncorrwg Ponds, which are encircled by lovely woodlands, are a top spot for exploration. The reservoirs are flanked by hiking and mountain biking routes and provide chances for boating, fishing, and kayaking.
The Afan Forest Park in Glyncorrwg, which has more than 30 miles of hiking and mountain bike paths, is another place filled with things waiting to be discovered. The forest provides stunning views of the neighbouring mountains and valleys and is home to a variety of wildlife, including red kites, otters, and deer. The Glyncorrwg Colliery Museum, which chronicles the history of the region's coal mining industry, and the neighbouring Cwmavon Village, which has a variety of ancient structures and landmarks, are just a few of the cultural and historic sites that can be found in Glyncorrwg.
A small market town called Cowbridge can be found in South Wales's Vale of Glamorgan. The town is notable for its lovely Georgian buildings, iconic sites, and thriving cultural environment. The Old Hall, a 14th-century structure that has been rebuilt and is now a museum and visitor centre, is where the town's history is documented, from its mediaeval origins to its participation in the 15th-century Welsh uprising against English control. The Cowbridge Physic Garden, which is in the centre of the town and has a range of plants and herbs typically used for medicinal purposes, is another well-liked Cowbridge attraction. The garden welcomes guests year-round and provides workshops and guided tours.
A number of art galleries, theatres, and music venues can be found in Cowbridge, which also has a flourishing arts and cultural scene. Every year in September, the Cowbridge Music Festival presents performances of both classical and modern music. In addition to its historical sites and cultural attractions, you’ll have no trouble finding places to dine and shop, thanks to the town's abundance of independently owned stores, boutiques, and eateries. If you’re interested in visiting Cowbridge for a day or other towns close by, check out this Discovering Wales Blog Post.
10. Bodnant Garden, Conwy
While the town of Conwy may be familiar to many, the Bodnant Garden, which is a National Trust garden, is not. Its expansive size and a gorgeous assortment of plants, flowers, and trees make it a perfect destination for both horticultural enthusiasts and nature lovers. Each of the various portions of the garden has its own distinct personality and allure. The Dell, a steep valley with a waterfall, ponds, and a variety of unusual and uncommon flora, is one of the highlights of Bodnant Garden. The iconic Laburnum Arch, which blooms with golden yellow flowers in the spring and early summer, is also located in the Dell. Feel free to take a private tour of Bodnant Garden, plus a couple of other stops along the way.
The Pin Mill, a historic watermill surrounded by lovely gardens, the Italianate Terraces, a mix of formal gardens, fountains, and sculptures, and the Old Park, a wildflower meadow with breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside are other noteworthy areas of Bodnant Garden. Together with its primary attractions, Bodnant Garden also has a variety of walking routes that visitors can use. These include the Garden Walk and the Far End Walk, which both explore the garden's more solitary and far-flung regions.
Nevern is a small village located in Pembrokeshire, Wales. It is found in the gorgeous Nevern Valley, a region renowned for both its stunning natural scenery and illustrious past. The 12th-century St Brynach's Church, one of Nevern's most well-known landmarks, has a number of historical artefacts, including a Celtic cross and a 10th-century carved stone. The Bleeding Yew, a tree that is believed to bleed red sap when cut, is also housed in the church. The 12th-century Nevern Castle, which is currently in ruins, is another well-liked site in the town. The castle offers breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside from its hilltop location overlooking the settlement.
The walking trails in Nevern town are known to offer views of the surrounding hills and valleys. The Nevern Valley Walk offers amazing views of the surrounding landscape and fauna, while the Nevern Walk gives visitors a tour of the settlement and its historic landmarks. Nevern is host to a number of cultural events and festivals throughout the year, including the Nevern Show, which includes livestock competitions, artisan exhibitions, and food and drink stalls, in addition to its historical landmarks and scenic surroundings.
12. Pontfaen Woods, Pembrokeshire
Pontfaen Woods is a beautiful woodland area located in Pembrokeshire, Wales. It provides travellers with a chance to enjoy the natural splendour of the Welsh countryside and is located in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Many animals, including birds, butterflies, and mammals like badgers and foxes, can be found in the woods. Guests can enjoy the dazzling views of the surrounding countryside while strolling leisurely along the wooded walks. My recommendation is to visit during the springtime when the wildflowers are in bloom.
The Gwaun Valley, which borders Pontfaen Woods and is one of its features, is located nearby. The sea trout and Atlantic salmon are among the uncommon and protected fish species that may be found in the Gwaun River, which runs through the valley. You can stroll down the riverbank and take in the tranquillity of the valley. The nearby Gwaun Valley Brewery is only a short distance from the woods. The brewery uses locally obtained ingredients and conventional brewing methods to create a variety of artisan beers. You can even take a tour of the brewery and partake in a beer tasting session.
Off Wales' northwestern shore is the island of Anglesey. The Menai Channel separates it from the mainland and makes it the biggest island in Wales. The island is a well-liked travel destination for people visiting Wales because it is home to many natural and cultural attractions, but there are many hidden spots travellers don’t know about! The UNESCO World Heritage Site Beaumaris Castle is one of Anglesey's most well-liked attractions. One of the finest examples of medieval military architecture in Europe, the fortress was constructed in the 13th century. The ramparts, towers, and gatehouses of the castle are open for exploration, and interactive exhibits provide information about its history. You can even take a bus tour of the castles in Anglesey!
Another must-see attraction is the ancient Plas Cadnant Estate, which goes back to the 18th century and is home to the Plas Cadnant Secret Gardens. A variety of rare and exotic plants and flowers, such as Himalayan blue poppies, magnolias, and rhododendrons, are housed inside their three levels of landscaping. The quiet and serene ambience is further enhanced by the numerous water elements, such as ponds and waterfalls, that are scattered throughout the grounds. The ‘secret garden’, which can only be accessible by a secret door in a stone wall, is one of Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens' most distinctive features. Perfect for picnics and leisure, the secret garden is a private, serene setting full of lovely flowers and plants.
The South Stack Lighthouse, which is located on Anglesey's western shore, is another site to explore without hundreds of people crowding you. The lighthouse is a haven for many seabirds, including puffins and razorbills, and it provides breathtaking views of the Irish Sea. A guided tour of the lighthouse allows visitors to learn about its history and role in directing ships over the perilous Irish Sea. A number of stunning beaches can be found on Anglesey, including Newborough Beach and Llanddwyn Island, which sits off the island's southwest coast. In addition, the island is home to a variety of charming towns and villages, including Menai Bridge and Llangefni, where travellers may explore local shops, galleries, and historical monuments.
Places to Stay:
Guests are welcome to utilise the communal lounge while they are there. In the town of Menai Bridge, there are several dining options close by. Bangor University and the Holyhead port are both conveniently located near Maen Hir. You can also take part in a variety of activities, like cycling and golf.
The Liverpool Arms Hotel is located in Beaumaris, 350 yards from Beaumaris Castle, and offers views of the city. The amenities of this establishment include free WiFi, a restaurant, room service, and luggage storage. There is a desk, a flat-screen TV, and a private bathroom in every hotel room. There will be a kettle and a wardrobe in every guest room.
Within 200 yards of Beaumaris Beach, The Bold Arms Hotel provides accommodation with a garden and a bar, and free WiFi. The property is set 350 yards from Beaumaris Castle. The hotel features family rooms. At the hotel, every room is equipped with a wardrobe, a flat-screen TV, a private bathroom, bed linen and towels. All units will provide guests with a fridge.
14. Wales Coastal Path
The entire Welsh coastline is covered by the Wales Coastal Path, a long-distance walking route. It is one of the world's longest uninterrupted coastal pathways, spanning over 870 miles from the Scottish border in the north to the southern border of England. After being formally opened in 2012, the trail has gained popularity as a destination for walkers and hikers from all over the world, with multiple opportunities to find hidden spots and coves. It provides breathtaking views of the Welsh coastline, which includes rocky cliffs, sandy beaches, and charming settlements.
There are eight sections along the path, each with a distinct environment and character. These include the Llyn Peninsula, Isle of Anglesey, North Wales Coast, Dee Estuary, Welsh Border, Pembrokeshire Coast, Gower Peninsula, and South Wales Coast. For walkers, each segment of the path provides its own unique experience, with some segments being harder than others. All of the trail, though, is clearly marked and kept up, so walkers of all abilities can use it. Walkers will come across a variety of species along the path, such as seals, dolphins, and seabirds. A variety of ancient towns and villages are also passed by along the path, providing opportunities to experience the local way of life and food.
On Wales' north coast, between the cities of Bangor and Conwy, is a little town called Abergwyngregyn. The town, which is located along the Afon Aber River, is surrounded by stunning natural features like the Snowdonia National Park and the Aber Falls. The Aber Falls, a magnificent waterfall located just outside the settlement, is one of the main draws of Abergwyngregyn. A favourite site for hikers and nature lovers, the falls have a height difference of almost 120 feet and are surrounded by stunning countryside and woodland.
A number of historical buildings are also located in the town, notably the 13th-century Aber Castle, which served as a crucial strategic bastion throughout the Welsh Wars of Independence. Interactive exhibits allow visitors to explore the castle's ruins and learn about its history. The National Nature Reserve, which is home to a variety of animals, including uncommon birds, butterflies, and plants, is often an overlooked site in Abergwyngregyn. In addition to traversing the reserve's pathways, visitors can view educational exhibits and displays about the area's ecosystem.
A market town called Denbigh can be found in the northeast of Wales, sandwiched between the Clwydian Range and the Vale of Clwyd. It is the administrative hub of Denbighshire and is steeped in history. The Denbigh Castle, which was erected in the 13th century by King Edward I of England, is one of the city's top attractions. Even though the castle is now in ruins, it nevertheless makes for a striking picture. The castle offers breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside and is perched on a hill above the town.
The only remaining portion of the medieval town walls, St Hilary's Tower from the 15th century, is one of the historic structures in Denbigh. The town is home to a variety of churches, including the famous St Mary's Church from the 13th century with its majestic bell tower. The Clwydian Range, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is one of the picturesque rural areas that surround the town. Visitors have the opportunity to enjoy the magnificent nature thanks to the numerous walking and cycling routes in the area.
A variety of galleries and performance venues in Denbigh feature the creations of regional musicians and artists, and the city also has a lively arts and cultural scene. The community holds numerous events all year long, such as a cuisine festival, music festival, and agricultural exhibition.