Ah, beautiful, beautiful Wales! Bizarrely overlooked by the rest of this shared, windswept island, I love the place so much, I've made it home. This is the Wales road trip itinerary that I've been meaning to write about for years and finally, here it is. Move over muddy sheep on country roads, a Welsh road trip will bring you history, architecture, wild skies and landscapes to set your heart on fire. Here's how to plan your own unforgettable trip to Wales.
The Best Wales Road Trip Itinerary
Map of Wales: Road Trip Wales
Wales Road Trip Overview
The best Wales road trip itinerary starts in the south by sweeping through the capital city of Cardiff and the Brecon Beacons. It travels along past Swansea and the Gower and then north through Pembrokeshire to university town Aberystwyth and into the north proper. The northern part of the loop takes in Anglesey, Snowdonia and Llandudno, before sweeping east via the UNESCO World Heritage Site Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. After that, it's back into England's rolling pastures or international airports to fly home.
To complete the loop takes at least two weeks, or ten days if you want to push it.
Driving in Wales & Splitting the Itinerary
Roads through the middle of Wales are windy, twisty and a third word for winding again. Progress this way is slow. So, too, is the progression up the west coast of the country. For this reason, and because the airports in Wales are close to both the northeast and southeast points, many visitors choose to split their Wales road trip itinerary in two.
One road trip through south Wales. And then a separate trip that zips around the best places to visit in north Wales.
If you're currently based in the UK, or even anywhere else in Europe, this is probably the best course of action. But if you live further afield and this Wales road trip is the only one you've got, then this two week itinerary works fine.
Another popular choice is to base yourself in one of the picturesque regions (the Brecons, Gower, Pembrokeshire or Snowdonia) and take day trips from your base. You won't cover all the highlights of this Wales road trip itinerary if you do it like that, but crossing everything off is rarely the point of travel!
Wales excels in pristine landscapes, rugged coastlines and wild country escapes. It's perfect for hiking, canyoning, cycling and playing on the beach, as much as it is about scrambling up and down castle walls and listening to music.
So, don't feel as though you're missing out if you choose to base yourself in a region and drive from there. You're not. In fact, you may be making the most of life :-)
If you want a livelier home base, then settle yourself in Cardiff and take road trips into the Brecons, the Gower and Caerphilly Castle from there. As the capital city, there's lots going on. That said, Cardiff is a European city, not a vast skyscraper behemoth like you'll find in the Americas and Asia. It's still on the small side and incredibly walkable.
When to Visit Wales
Ah, the weather. The downfall of the British Isles is the unreliability of the weather! The summer months, which generally run from May to September, give you your best chance to enjoy the beaches, hiking and the otherwise chilly castles.
Winter can look beautiful in snow and fairy lights, but snow is far from guaranteed and you'll need to wrap up warm.
Spring and autumn offer respite from the crowds, especially in popular spots like Snowdonia, Tenby and St David's.
Rugby remains something of a religion in Wales, so check the international fixtures if you plan to stay in Cardiff at the same time as a game. Prices skyrocket and it can be difficult to find accommodation then.
Where to Stay in Wales
Wales offers a wide variety of places to stay but brand lovers may be surprised to learn that you'll find few of the big chains beyond the capital. Wales specialises in rustic homestays, boutique hotels and no-frills farm houses.
It also excels in self-catered accommodation. Think cottages with sea views, sloping beams and all the mod cons in the kitchen. Outside the cities, parking rarely costs extra with accommodation, which makes visiting Wales on a road trip all the more pleasurable.
Finally, of course, in Wales, you can stay in a castle. This company can also help you plan and tweak your itinerary, while matching your sleeps to a great stately home.
At the other end of the scale, you can take your bed with you by hiring a cool campervan or motorhome. Here's one place where you can arrange exactly that.
What to Eat in Wales
Traditional Welsh food isn't too well known on the world stage but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Our Welsh food guide will introduce you to the world of cockles and laverbread, Welsh cakes, cawl and Welsh rarebit.
Beyond that, expect to find most international cuisine in the cities and lots of hearty "pub food" in the countryside. What's that, you ask? Pastry laden pies, Indian influenced curries, roast meats and, of course, fish and chips by the sea.
Road Trip Wales At a Glance
- Day 1- Cardiff
- Day 2 - Brecon Beacons
- Day 3 - Gower Peninsula
- Day 4 - Carmarthenshire
- Day 5 - Pembrokeshire
- Day 6 - Pembrokeshire
- Day 7 - Aberystwyth & Cardigan Bay
- Day 8 - Snowdonia National Park
- Day 9 - Snowdonia National Park
- Day 10 - Anglesey or Abersoch and the Llyn Peninsula
- Day 11 - Llandudno
- Day 12 - Llangollen and the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
Road Trip Wales: The Best Places to Visit in Wales
Travel in Wales gives a real sense of escape into wild landscapes, poetic legends and crumbling castles. Plus some good food. Here's your Wales road trip itinerary, plus some highlights for when you visit Wales.
Road Trip Cardiff & The Brecons
Begin in Cardiff, Europe's youngest capital city with history that dates back millennia.
Cardiff may be small but she has plenty of unusual things to do, from strolling or cycling around the renovated Tiger Bay area, catching a performance at the Armadillo Opera House or shopping for cockles and olives in the covered Cardiff Market.
Cardiff castle began life under the Romans in around 55 AD and now sits right in the centre of town, with banquet halls, air raid shelters and the unexpected history of having helped tutor Sir Anthony Hopkins in his early drama school days.
The National Museum Cardiff offers Monet and his waterlilies, great dinosaur skeletons and collections of precious jewels.
And for a a bite to eat, I'd recommend the centrally based Cardiff Central Market.
THE Brecon Beacons
After a day spent exploring the city of Cardiff, lace up your walking boots and take the 40 minute drive into the Brecon Beacons. Covering 520 square miles and established in 1957, this green and fierce National Park is everything that the genteel Cotswolds are not.
The SAS complete training exercises up here and, sadly, every few years someone perishes.
So, enjoy the drive but stop off at the visitor centre for information before you decide to hike.
- The big name in the Brecons is Pen y Fan, which you can easily reach from Cardiff and which should take around two and a half hours to summit.
- Top scenic drives include A4609. It's known as one of the most scenic drives in Wales.
Another great road trip from Cardiff involves heading to Tintern Abbey, an historic site set amid a picturesque village. From there, drive along the gorgeous Wye Valley to Hay on Wye, home to the famous book festival.
The Gower Peninsula Road Trip
The sprawling sandy beach at Llangennith and across Rhossili Bay is one of the best beaches in Wales, if not the world.
If you're used to your beaches coming with shopfronts, lifeguards and deckchairs, then this wilderness will come as a surprise. The coast itself is virtually untouched, with just a few sheep around for company.
Elsewhere on the Gower Peninsula, you'll find the family friendly Oxwich Bay beach and if you can handle the cliff path from Caswell Bay, then the secluded Brandy Cove is all yours.
Dylan Thomas fans may wish to stop off in nearby Swansea, where you can visit the poet's childhood home and former drinking haunts along the famous Mumbles Mile.
But the highlight, for me, is watching the sun set over Worm's Head, a place the Vikings thought was a sleeping dragon.
Carmarthenshire Road Trip
Most visitors to Wales zoom past Carmarthenshire in a rush to reach Pembrokeshire, it's more popular sister and neighbour.
But there are several good reasons to spend a day around here before travelling further West.
- The National Botanic Garden of Wales - an inspiring horticultural complex with a bubble to rival the Eden project and the world's largest single span glasshouse.
- The Dylan Thomas Boathouse in Laugharne - visit the writer's waterside studio and contemplate a life wasted.
- The Aberglasney Gardens - yes, I know I'm talking a lot about landscapes and gardens here! But this beautiful spot includes tropical gardens inside a former castle. That's just not the kind of thing you can find everywhere in the world!
I'd highly recommend an overnight stay in The Welsh House, a lovingly restored 18th century Welsh cottage set in the countryside. A pit stop for food at Wright's Emporium is another essential feature for your Wales trip.
Pembrokeshire Road Trip
Pembrokeshire is the mighty tourist hotspot for Wales and deserves its every visitor. This Wales road trip itinerary carves out two days in Pembrokeshire, but in all honesty, you could spend two weeks here and not run out of things to do.
- Take a boat to Skomer Island and walk amid flocks of puffins as well as seals and peregrine falcons.
- Visit the smallest cathedral in the UK in its smallest city, St Davids. Listen to music concerts or else drink a cwtch sparkle at the restaurant named Cwtch.
- A trip to Tenby is another highlight of travelling to Wales. This seaside down with pastel-pretty houses also has a reconstructed Tudor Merchant's House to retrace steps into the past.
- The Pembrokeshire Coastal Path stretches for 186 miles along the clifftops of west Wales. The walking routes are simply spectacular, full of small coves, narrow pathways and invigorating sea views.
- Leap from the cliffs and go coasteering in the Preseli Hills.
- Read about more unusual things to do in Pembrokeshire here.
When it comes to where to stay in Pembrokeshire, you will be spoiled for choice. This is an area with so many options, from remote cottages to bustling seafront apartments. However, if you're looking for a base that helps you to see a lot in a little time, then I'd recommend staying in Fishguard.
Aberystwyth & Cardigan Bay
It took me years to make it to Aberystwyth - and what a mistake that was. This university town sits right on the seafront at the midpoint of the coast in west Wales. It's also, if we're being a little less cerebral, the place where a young Prince Charles visited in The Crown (and real life, of course) and the home for the police station in hit detective show Hinterland (if you haven't watched it yet, dig it out, it makes for a fantastic introduction to the wild beauty of rural Wales!)
Half a day in Aberystwyth itself allows plenty of time to see the main highlights of the National Library of Wales and Constitution Hill and to have fish and chips on the promenade.
Surrounding Cardigan Bay also has plenty to keep you occupied. In particular, check out:
- Castell Henllys Iron Age Fort - while technically part of Pembrokeshire, I think it's easier to plan for it in this section of your Welsh road trip itinerary. It's a fabulous reconstructed iron age village with actors in costume to walk you through the past.
- Look out for Penbryn Beach in Ceredigion, one of the most remote and beautiful beaches in west Wales.
- The Devil's Bridge Falls, a menacing yet captivating natural feat around 12 miles from Aberystwyth.
And then it's time to make your way on to the north.
Snowdonia National Park
Snowdonia is one of the most popular places to visit in north Wales. And it's easy to see why. First, the stats.
Not only is Snowdonia the largest national park in Wales but it contains the largest lake and, for its star turn, the highest mountain in both England and Wales: Snowdon.
All that said, compared to other mountain ranges, Snowdon isn't that high. It measures up to 1085 metres and can be climbed through a brisk walk in around 3 - 4 hours.
It's a big old place and you wont' have time to see it all in just two days. Here are the highlights:
- Snowdon Mountain Railway which travels up some of the steepest tracks in the world to reach the most popular part of the park.
- The picturesque village of Betws-y-coed, which means "temple in the wood." It's also the home to the postcard perfect but strangely named Ugly House.
- Climbing Mount Snowdon itself, of course, is a big draw for hikers. Several different routes take you to the summit on foot. Unlike most peaks, though, you can always take the train back down again...
Anglesey or the Llyn Peninsula
For this stretch of your Wales road trip itinerary, you can either head northwest to Anglesey, the lighthouse strewn outpost where Prince William and Kate spent their early married years. Or take a left turn into Snowdon's Arm, the Llyn Peninsula.
Highlights of the Anglesey Option
- Getting that photo at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, the town with the longest place name in Britain. But not, quite, the world.
- The Menai Suspension Bridge, the largest in the world at the time of its construction in 1826. This carries visitors across to Anglesey, the biggest island in Wales.
- Llanddwyn beach. Anglesey has many beautiful beaches but this one makes the cut because of its soothing views across to the Snowdonia peaks.
- Cemaes - go for a brisk walk around the most northerly village in Wales.
- Visit the lighthouse at South Stack.
Highlights of the Llyn Option
Often described as the Cornwall of the past, the Llyn peninsula offers sandy shores and fairly gentle coves without the celebrity buzz.
- Abersoch is one of the busier seaside villages, with cafes and bars along the sandy beach. It hosts the annual "Wakestock" festival for wakeboarding.
- Bardesey Island draws pilgrims to its wild coastline as the burial spot for more than 20 000 saints.
- Tre’r Ceiri means "town of the giants" and it refers to the remains of the Iron Age hillfort that still stands here, more or less. At 450 metres above sea level on the slopes of mount Yr Eifl, you'll also be rewarded with sweeping and stunning views.
Llandudno is the largest seaside resort in Wales and is an area where you can, to an extent, travel back in time to a world of Punch & Judy shows, sandcastles and walks along the pier.
You can ride the cable car to the top of Great Orme to find views not only across the seaside strip, but also south towards Snowdonia. If you're short on time, you can squeeze this down into a half day trip but if time is on your side, take the chance to relax and have a bit of fun as part of your Wales road trip itinerary.
Llangollen and the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
For the final stretch of your Wales road trip itinerary, we're going to turn inland and drive you through another Area of Natural Beauty to a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Llangollen.
This is the land of slow boat trips along canals, leafy walkways and a hulking great feat of engineering right in the middle of it all. Built in 1805, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct carries the Llangollen canal across the River Dee. But it's the pedestrian walkway that earns its place as one of the best things to do in Wales. Not only is this the longest aqueduct in Britain but it's the highest in the world, carrying iron, water, boats people 38 metres above the ground.
You can, quite literally, teeter along the edge either on foot or in a boat. Or, if you have an entirely reckless approach to heights and possibly your life, you can cycle.
And then from here, you'll head out of Wales, back to England to fly home. Or, well, be home, of course.
Road Trip from London to Wales
A drive from London to Wales takes around two hours from west London to cross the border along the M4 if everything goes well. Allow extra time to cross London and watch out for rush hour traffic on the Severn bridge that leads into Wales. From London to Wales, you'll also pass by some of England's greatest hits.
If you haven't seen these places then see if you can make room for them in your itinerary. You can easily take a detour and drive through some of the Cotswolds. Traffic in and out of the other three cities means you should avoid rush hour and leave a big chunk of your day to see each.
Find some more details through the articles below:
- The Cotswolds - find a detailed itinerary for the Cotswolds here.
- Oxford - the land of dreaming spires and literary history.
- Bath Spa - relive the Jane Austen days via the Royal Crescent and this guide to a London to Bath day trip.
- Bristol - uncover art and science in the gritty but brilliant city of Bristol.
The Best Scenic Drives in Wales
Most of these routes are already baked in to this road trip itinerary through Wales. You would need to take a moderate detour from either the Brecons or Aberystwyth to reach the Abergwesyn Pass in mid Wales. And just plan your route through the Brecon Beacons to include the A4609. If you're short on time, take a detour from Haverfordwest to Little Haven and then drive up to Solva through Druidston Haven for a taste of the truly spectacular Pembrokeshire coastline.
From Swansea to Rhossili Bay in the Gower peninsula
The A4609 Black Mountain Pass through the Brecon Beacons
From Tenby to St Davids in Pembrokeshire
Pretty much anywhere through Snowdonia
The Abergwesyn Pass (not on this Wales road trip itinerary)
Travel Tips for Your Wales Road Trip Itinerary
Here are some other handy things to know when you're planning a road trip through Wales.
Do people in Wales speak Welsh?
Some do, some don't. Most speak English. As a visitor, you will be fine in English but as ever, it helps if you can learn a few phrases.
Diolch - (dee - och as in loch) means thank you.
Bora da - hello.
Road signs are in both English and Welsh and you'll find that many hotels and restaurants draw on Welsh names to provide a little more depth and character.
Is Welsh similar to English?
Nope. Not at all. Some of the place names might look a little intimidating if you're not used to the Welsh language, so I've added in some (approximate!) pronunciation guides for some place names.
What currency do people use in Wales?
As part of the United Kingdom, Wales uses pounds sterling (GBP.) Although geographically part of Europe, the UK is no longer part of the EU and has never been part of the Euro. As an aside, this whole topic is one to avoid unless you're ready for a prickly conversation!
Do people drive on the left or the right in Wales?
As part of the United Kingdom, Wales drives on the left.
Bookmark this Wales self drive itinerary for later on Pinterest.
How to Put Together the Perfect Road Trip
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