Join E&M author Marta Montanari on her road trip through Wales! Enjoy her descriptions and photos of historic towns, scenic ports, and even the smallest city in Britain – without ever having to leave the (socially distanced) comfort of your home.
The first time I arrived in Wales, I had no idea how much exploring I was about to do. I knew it would be beautiful, but I didn’t realise how beautiful. One of the first words you learn in Welsh is “cwtch”, which means hug, and that’s the feeling you will carry with you while you travel through the country.
Travelling right now is tricky, but whether you are planning a road trip in the near future or you are just looking to dream a little bit, I want to take you on a virtual road trip with me through South and West Wales to some of my favourite spots.
We will start our trip in Cardiff, in the south, and drive all the way up to mid-Wales, to a small city called Aberystwyth. Renting a car will make things a lot easier and there are several companies to choose from. I was planning my trip to last a little more than a week. For you, it might take the same amount of time, or maybe you’ll get carried away by your surroundings and decide to stick around a little longer. You never know.
Cardiff, the Welsh capital, is 30 minutes across the border from England and you can arrive there by car, by train from Paddington (London) – my personal favourite – or by plane. While on your way, there is so much to see. Sometimes you’ll be in between beautiful hills and other times you’ll get closer to the water. Either way, look outside the window. It’s worth it!
Once in Cardiff, you just have to start exploring. The city is small enough to walk and cycle around, but not so small that you’ll get bored. Take at least a couple of days to visit it. One thing I absolutely love there is going to the arcades. In the city centre, you can find these small streets, covered by and hidden in between buildings, filled with local shops and restaurants.
If you are looking for a place to eat, The Plan, at the heart of the Morgan Arcade, is a perfect, cosy café. As well as serving award-winning coffee, it is also known for its delicious breakfasts! If you would rather have a vegan or vegetarian option, you must go and try Crumbs. To be found in the same arcade, it will offer you a wide variety of mains, salads and juices. However, if it’s a week-day, you have to pass through the famous and historical Cardiff Market and try a freshly baked Welsh Cake. You can’t leave the market without trying one of the most popular treats in Wales!
Heading south, you will find Cardiff Bay and the Millennium Centre, with amazing performances planned all year long, bars and restaurant. You can enjoy the view and walk along the barrage or take a boat trip around the bay.
The Gower peninsula
The whole area of Gower offers its visitors majestic views, some of the most beautiful beaches in the country, and the Welsh coastal path. Whether you explore the path for a day, or you already have your trekking boots on and are adamant on walking all 870 miles of it, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a hidden gem which will leave everyone speechless.
Rhossili Bay is one of the places worth checking out here. Perfect for a family trip, a romantic getaway, or a solo adventure, it’s visited by locals, tourists and surfers alike. From the car park, you can walk down to the Worms Head, a rock formation in the middle of the sea. Following the opposite path, you can head all the way down to the beach, walk in the water or even swim if it’s hot enough. And when you think there is nothing more to see, you’ll be proven wrong! Back up the hill, in springtime, you will have the chance to walk in a field of tall, beautiful sunflowers, a real and unexpected splash of colour which acts like the cherry on the cake.
Particularly popular in summer as a tourist destination, Tenby is known for its very colourful buildings and big sandy beaches. The houses are painted in pastel colours which, with the Georgian architecture, paint quite a picture at sunset in front of the sea. You will easily be able to see why authors like Jane Austin and Roald Dahl were inspired here or decided it was the right place to rest for a while. Right in front of the town there is Caldey Island. Connected by a seasonal boat service, it’s home to grey seals, sea birds and a monastery.
The Pembrokeshire coast is one long surprise. Behind every corner there is a new hill or cliff that will take your breath away (quite literally at times) and those who visit are guaranteed a brilliant day trip into nature.
But this is not all it has to offer! Celtic and pre-Celtic sites are all around, and to experience some of that magic you have to stop in a little place called St Davids. The smallest city in Britain, home to a beautiful 12th century cathedral, is also the birthplace of the national patron saint.
The cathedral is slightly hidden but appears, in all its beauty, only after a little walk. The valley site was chosen in the hope that the church wouldn’t be noticed by Viking raiders. Once you step inside, passing the gates which separate it from the rest of town, you will feel the atmosphere completely changing and as you actually enter the nave, you won’t be able to stop looking at the ceiling and the architecture surrounding you.
New Quay is one of Wales’ best summer destinations. Here, thanks to the hard work of the Sea Watch Foundation and the Spotting Dolphins Boat Trips, as well as many others, there is a massive effort underway to protect the local wildlife.
Be sure to wake up early to not miss any part of the day, and enjoy some time on the beach admiring the pretty boats floating in the bay. You can go to the pier and walk to the very end to admire the ocean. You will probably find other people looking out at the water, carefully recording all the sights.
If you get to New Quay, you cannot miss out on the Dolphin-spotting boat trips. Take the two-hour trip to get more chances to see the local wildlife. You will be navigated around the bay, while an expert teaches you interesting facts about the local area and wildlife, and explains how there is a sustainable way to interact with wildlife without putting the animals at risk.
Admiring the cliffs, the many birds that populate them, seals and dolphins, is a great way to spend an afternoon. Once in the sea, remember to turn around and look at the town, it’s a unique opportunity to see it in all its beauty.
Keep driving along Cardigan Bay and you will soon find Aberystwyth, a university town visited frequently by tourists in summertime. The city has the ruin of a castle erected in 1277, which was later destroyed by Oliver Cromwell. At the end of the 1800s, Aberystwyth became a founding part of the University of Wales (1872), and home to the National Library of Wales in 1907.
Following the promenade next to the beach, you will pass by the pier and finally arrive at the foot of Constitution Hill. You can reach the top on foot or with the cliff railway, and you’ll get to admire an impressive view. Once you are back down, enjoy some fish and chips on the beach, but remember this: the seagulls are rather confident here, and they won’t hesitate to take away your lunch if they get the chance.
My road trip through Wales took nine days, more than 230 miles, lots of food, pictures and sunsets, but I absolutely enjoyed every moment of it. As will you. The many independent businesses, kind people, and the amazing landscapes will just make you fall in love with this small and often overlooked country.
Cover photo: Rhossili Bay, courtesy of Mara Montanari