On a cloudy Friday evening after work I made my way from South East London all the way to Paddington Station in West London. I was going to visit a friend in Wales that weekend, and could not wait to get out of town for a little while. I hopped on a train and just over two hours later, I arrived in the Welsh capital of Cardiff.
South Wales – What more is there than Cardiff?
Since I visited the city of Cardiff just the year before, I wanted to see something different this weekend. Places that are not too far from the capital. To be very honest with you, I had never heard much about South Wales, the region where Cardiff is located. When I think of Wales, I think of Castles and the mountains of Snowdonia National Park.
However, I found out that South Wales offers a wide range of possibilities. From beaches, to castles, and from hilly market towns to actual mountains. All reachable within one hour from Cardiff.
1 St Fagans National History Museum
For people who would like to learn more about the national history of this country in the United Kingdom, St Fagans National History Museum is a great place to start. It is one of Europe’s leading open-air museums and Wales’ most popular heritage attraction. The best part: it’s admission free!
Buildings from different era’s are scattered around the woodland that is surrounding the castle’s grounds that the museum is build on. Historical houses, shops, gardens and chapels give a good idea of how people lived and worked in Wales throughout the centuries. With craftsmen performing their jobs and interior from times long gone, it really feels like having traveled back in time.
St Fagans National History Museum is only 5 miles from Cardiff’s city center on the grounds of St Fagan’s Castle. Admission Free and 10am – 5pm daily. (At time of writing – May 2016 – some parts of the museum were closed for redevelopment)
2 Caerphilly Castle
It is the largest castle of Wales, and the second-largest of Europe, it has a tower that is even more lop-sided than the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and it is the backdrop for many movies and Television series. Caerphilly Castle is situated right in the heart of the town of Caerphilly and is quite a spectacular sight, both from the inside as well as from the outside. It survived many wars and had quite a few royal inhabitants over the years.
We even found a sleeping dragon in the ‘front yard’, and some stunning views over the moats, little islands and further out in the hills that surround the site.
Caerphilly Castle is located 8 miles from the city center of Cardiff. Opening times change throughout the year – visit their website for the latest updates.
3 Barry Island
Barry and Barry Island became world famous when the Television series ‘Gavin & Stacey’ aired. But long before the world got to know Barry, it were the locals who changed into their summer dress and went down to the beach for a dive or for a round on one of the rides of the pleasure park.
This beach side destination has some of the steepest streets I have ever seen in my life, a large pleasure park and – of course – a beach. Eating fish and chips here is a must I have learned! And game arcades are a big thing.
Barry Island is situated 10 miles from Central Cardiff.
Hay-on-Wye, or the Town of Books, is located right on the border between England and Wales. The town’s nickname is not a coincidence, as this town literally sells books everywhere! In book shops, but also even on cabinets on the streets. Simply drop one pound into one of the boxes next to the cabinets and pick the book you like.
Every year in late spring the town hosts its very own book festival, which invites writers and readers alike to come and celebrate everything that is written language. In 2016, the Hay Festival takes place between 26th May and 5th June.
We very much enjoyed the lovely shops, adorable market hall and the stunning landscape the town is set in.
Slightly cheating here a bit, as Hay-on-Wye can be reached within 1 hour and 20 minutes from Cardiff’s city center. But hey, those extra 20 minutes are worth the detour!
5 Brecon Beacons National Park
For someone who has spent the last six months in an enormous city, hiking in the mountains of Brecon Beacons National Park was such a welcome change. The ride from Cardiff through the heart of the national park all the way up to the town of Brecon was breathtaking and I wish I could have spend more time there.
People visit the park for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding for water sports and even for mountain climbing. The tallest mountains in the park are almost 900 meters high with no trees on top, making them look quite daunting! Secret lakes, waterfalls and market towns can all be found here.
The nearest entrance to Brecon Beacons National Park is about 40 minutes from Central Cardiff.
What is your favourite place to visit near Cardiff?