South Wales is a beautiful part of the world where there are lots of things to see and do. From hiking in the stunning Bannau Brycheiniog National Park to exploring the capital city of Cardiff, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Easy to explore via road or the rail network, it’s the perfect destination for a day trip, weekend break or a longer holiday.
1. Hiking in the Bannau Brycheiniog National Park
Wales is fortunate enough to have three National Parks within its borders, and along with Eryri in North Wales and the Pembrokeshire coastline, the glorious Bannau Brycheiniog are a nature lovers’ paradise.
Named for the warning fires that were lit across the hills whenever invasion was a threat, the Bannau Brycheiniog include the Black Mountains and Pen y Fan, the tallest mountain in South Wales, with its peak 886 metres (2,907 ft) above sea level. Formed from the easily recognisable Old Red Sandstone, the dramatic colour is due to the presence of iron oxide, and seams can be spotted on the open cliff faces from a great distance.
The hills are known for their vast abundance of flora and fauna, including red kites, horseshoe bats, and the beautiful purple-flowered saxifrage. There’s even a herd of wild ponies. The park also has a wide range of activities for visitors to enjoy, including night-time stargazing, touring the caves that lie beneath the hills, or guided climbs to encourage everyone to get out and experience nature at its very best.
2. Explore Cardiff
The Welsh capital of Cardiff lies in the country’s southeast corner, and it combines a vibrant, cosmopolitan culture with a rich and varied history. Offering a vast range of activities and attractions, it’s easy to find the perfect way to spend the day.
For adrenaline junkies, head for Cardiff Bay where you’ll find the International White Water centre. Try white water rafting, paddle boarding or kayak your way around a gruelling obstacle course, before recovering at one of the many cafes and bars around the waterside. If culture is your thing, the Wales Millennium Centre offers a packed programme of events, from art shows to stand-up comedy to live music, while the city’s many museums showcase fascinating collections of artefacts - both international and locally sourced.
- Fun for all the family
- Shop till you drop
- Soak up the local history
3. Visit Swansea and the Gower Peninsula
Swansea and Gower are a must-see for any traveller. With its rugged coastline, pristine beaches, and rolling green hills, the Peninsula is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Ringed by pristine golden sands, the environment is rich and diverse and brings wild, rugged moorland, dramatic cliff faces, and wooded glens together with a wide variety of animal and bird species. These include marine mammals such as seals, and dolphins, along with gannets, kestrels and the rarely seen chough.
The nearby city of Swansea and its headland, the curiously named Mumbles, are well worth a visit. Jam-packed with local charm, the name is said to have come from the French for ‘the breasts’ - les mamelles, in reference to the two island mounds that make up the headland. An alternative source is a corruption of the word ‘mamma’ or mother after a local river goddess.
Swansea is warm and welcoming, with the Grade II listed Cathedral Church of Saint Joseph at its spiritual heart, while the remains of the 12th-century castle occupy the physical heart. Both should be on any visitor's must-see list. The Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas used to work for the South Wales Daily Post which, in the 1930s was housed in one of the castle’s remaining rooms. A museum dedicated to his life and works can be found nearby.
- Designated an Area of Outstanding National Beauty
- Spend a day on the stunning beach
- Lots to explore
4. Take a ride on Blaenavon's Heritage Railway
Blaenavon's Heritage Railway is a 5.6 km (3.5 miles) standard-gauge heritage railway. Run by keen volunteers, the route begins south of Blaenavon and travels along the edge of the Bannau Brycheiniog National Park, through the Blaenavon World Heritage site.
Carrying passengers, the railway operates both steam and diesel engines and has a full programme of popular events throughout the year. These include Santa trips at Christmas, steam train galas and spooky ghost hunting tours at Halloween. Big and little kids alike will love the excitement of travelling on these wonderful old trains.
- Fun for all the family
- Free parking
- Blaenavon's Heritage Railway website
5. The Vale of Neath
The Vale of Neath is home to waterfall country. Start your adventure at Pontneddfechan where you’ll find details of how to find such landmarks as Sgwd Gwladys, Melincourt Falls, Aberdulais and Sgwd yr Eira, on the fringes of the Bannau Brycheiniog National Park.
Penderyn Distillery is based in the small rural village of Penderyn in the Cynon Valley. It is the first Welsh whisky producer since the 19th century and has won awards for its less-is-more approach to producing quality single malts. Penderyn Visitor's Centre has tours, tasting sessions and masterclasses, as well as an exhibition of whisky-making in Wales.
Another must-see natural attraction in the Vale of Neath is Dan yr Ogof. The National Showcaves Centre for Wales is full of stalagmites and stalactites, as well as many magnificent passages and chambers. You can also see over 200 life size dinosaurs, discover fossils that are millions of years old and visit the iron age village.
For those that love the outdoors, then the Vale of Neath is a must-do because the quality of the mountain biking trails of Afan Forest Park in Neath Port Talbot draws visitors from all corners of Britain. You can bring your own bikes or hire them to try out the six trails - ranging from Blue to Black. There are many other attractions besides, including walks through the beautiful, calming forest trails, and the South Wales Miners Museum.
- Family fun
- Explore the great outdoors
- Museums and heritage sites
6. Royal Mint Experience
You can explore 1100 years of history at the Royal Mint, a great day out for all the family especially if the weather isn’t too good. It’s your chance to find out how coins are made and watch the money-makers at work when you experience the fascinating guided factory tour. There is also an interactive exhibition that lets you follow the lifecycle of a coin from design to distribution, with plenty of rare coins and medals for you to look at.
- Great for history lovers
- Free parking
- 20 minutes away from Pontyclun train station
7. Big Pit National Coal Museum
Coal mining is a huge part of Wales’ history. Big Pit National Coal Museum offers a fascinating insight into the lives of the miners and the work they did on this site in the South Wales Valleys. Get kitted up with a miner’s helmet and battery pack then travel 300 feet (100 metres) underground to find out what being down the mines was like. There’s an on-site exhibition to stroll through and there are often events and workshops to take part in. It’s a great day out for all the family.
- Children welcome
- Has accessibility facilities
- Pet friendly
8. St Fagans National Museum of History
Standing on beautiful grounds on the outskirts of Cardiff, St Fagans Museum is one of Europe's leading open-air museums and Wales's most popular heritage attraction. It is a people’s museum where you can explore history in over 50 original buildings from different locations in Wales that have been re-built. Each building is frozen in time and offers a fascinating insight into Welsh history. It really is a lovely day out for all the family.
- St Fagans National Museum of History website
- 2 miles from Waun-Gron Park Station
- Booking for events available
9. Brecon Mountain Railway
No visit to South Wales is complete for railway enthusiasts without a trip to the Brecon Mountain Railway. The railway was built on a section of the old Brecon and Merthyr railway. The Brecon and Merthyr railway opened in 1863 to join the towns to the docks at Newport. It was a rural line crossing the remote Bannau Brycheiniog. The old line closed in 1962.
You can visit the workshops and learn more about the restoration of steam locomotives and carriages. There are also some lovely tearooms and a children’s play area.
- Great fun for the entire family
- Beautiful landscape
- Brecon Mountain Railway website
10. Margam Park
Nestled in the hillside above Port Talbot, Margam Park is a great family day out with historic buildings, walking trails, play parks and water-based adventure. There are deer roaming freely around the grounds and hundreds of acres of parkland to explore. There’s also a regular programme of events so check out what’s on before you plan your visit.
- Family fun day
- Children's Fairytale Village
- Free entry