My favourite places: Essential Wales

8th May 2017
Llangollen - Essential Wales - The Sussex Girl

We’re off on holiday again at the end of May and we are heading back to Wales.  This time last year my Instagram was filled with sunny pictures of our Welsh adventure and we are always excited to head back for more.

I spent the early part of my childhood growing up in Llanidloes in mid-Wales, family holidays in Pembrokeshire and then lived in Cardiff for four years whilst at University. Phil’s family are from North Wales and so between us, we have it pretty well mapped out.  Hiraeth is a Welsh word that is pretty difficult to translate but loosely means a yearning for the Welsh homeland.  And it is what drives us back for more each time we leave.

Wales photography - Essential Wales - The Sussex Girl

From the beautiful southern Gower peninsular with its miles of sandy beaches through to hikes in the Brecon Beacons into the rolling hills of mid-Wales with its history and adventure, then off up into the craggy mountains of North Wales, there really isn’t a bit that I don’t like (well maybe Swansea, but that’s an old uni rivalry…!).  Last year we mooched through in the sunshine with the roof down on my little convertible, returning to old haunts and catching up with friends and family.  This year we are headed to a little flat up in Snowdonia which belongs to Phil’s Aunt and Uncle.  Perched on the coast line, Criccieth is stunning and I’m excited for some days of long walks, fish and chips and beautiful sunsets.

Whether you are looking for a long weekend or have a whole week, maybe even two, to enjoy away there is something for everyone so I’ve pulled together a list of some of our favourite spots to tempt you in. FYI, this was really hard to narrow down.

South Wales

This city is perfect for a long weekend.  It has such a buzz about it and so much on offer that you will have to return time and time again.  I’d recommend a lazy brunch at The Pot in Cathays, followed by a chilled walk around Roath Park. Head into the city centre for a booze lunch and an afternoon shopping in the old Victorian arcades.  Catch the rugby at the Millennium Stadium if it is on and use Sunday to explore Cardiff Bay. Pop in to the Welsh Assembly building and see if you can grab some matinee tickets to the Welsh National Opera at the Millennium Centre.  The acoustics in the opera hall are out of this world.  There is a mainline train station which connects the rest of the UK to Cardiff so there isn’t even need to battle the M4!

Cardiff - Essential Wales - The Sussex Girl

Gower Peninsula
Slightly west from Swansea is the Gower Peninsula.  This stretch of coastline is beautiful and well worth an amble down the beach. Kick off your shoes and head for the sand, it really is as good as it looks. It was the first ever part of the UK to be named as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty back in 1956, you’ll know why the first time you spy the beaches, cliffs and coves!

St David’s
This tiny city lies on the far south western tip of Wales.  It is Britain’s smallest city but is full of character.  There is a cathedral, several pubs and the ruins of a 13th century Bishop’s Palace.  The whole area is rife for exploring – make sure to drive so that you can get off the beaten track.  Whether you edge around the coastline to the north or to the south, you will happen across some gems such as the Blue Lagoon at Abereiddy.

St David's - Essential Wales - The Sussex Girl

During my uni days in Cardiff, we headed out surfing to Porthcawl.  On one particular occasion, in November, we thought it was a great idea to camp as well – horrendously cold, I can still remember changing in the car park above the beach in rain and wind!  I’m not great at surfing but I love being in the water even if it is just to cling on to my board as the waves crash overhead.  There are plenty of options for surfing along the south coast of Wales including Porthcawl, Manorbier along a bit in Pembrokeshire and Freshwater West also in Pembrokeshire (and where some of Harry Potter was filmed no less!).

Mid Wales

I’m totally biased with this one as it is where I grew up but Llani really does have a lot to offer. From the gorgeous river Severn that has only just begun its journey when it winds its way through the town. Grab an icecream and sit in the sunshine by the St. Idloes church next to the river.  In the middle of the town is a medieval market hall from the 1600s which, together with the Minerva Art Centre at the top of the high street, is well worth a visit.  If you’re in town then make sure to pop up to Llyn Clywedog – an enormous reservoir and dam. The view is spectacular but the magic for me involves a walk down to the base of the dam where the ruins of Bryntail Lead Mine have been the playground for generations of children (myself included).

Llanidloes - Essential Wales - The Sussex Girl

Elan Valley
If you fancy a walk with some of the best views of mid Wales then pick up in the Elan Valley – there are various routes through this pretty valley, alongside reservoirs and steep hillsides.  The main trail is surfaced so it is suitable for wheelchair users and easy for pushchairs too.

Llangollen Steam Line
We stopped by in Llangollen on our way through Wales last year and I loved the quaintness of the steam railway (I’ve always been a steam train and engine lover!) as well as the many ice cream shops we found there – I can recommend the delicatessen on Castle Street.  It’s really easy to park in the town centre and there is plenty to discover on a walk.  Potter along the canal too and spot the horse-drawn canal boats, it really does feel like a tranquil spot.

Llangollen - Essential Wales - The Sussex Girl

Aberystwyth coastal path
Aber is a childhood memory sweet spot.  I’ve been back lots as an adult too and there is something incredibly charming about it.  From a bar in a converted chapel (complete with pulpit – The Academy) to some of the best fish & chips around, Aber has a lot to offer.  The stunning western coast line of Wales is spread out on offer from Aber and a good stomp along it is enough to clear any cobwebs you might have.  Pop by, the whole area (Ceredigion) won’t disappoint!

Mid Wales - Essential Wales - The Sussex Girl

North Wales

Okay so this might not be a groundbreaker for a list about Wales but if you haven’t yet conquered Snowdonia then what are you waiting for?  You can take a variety of routes up and down, for challenge hit up the miners’ path or the Snowdon Horseshoe and if you’re feeling lazy then take the little train up and walk down the meandering Llanberis Path on the way back. The views are well worth the effort, I find any mountain top inspiring but Snowdon really is pretty special.

Forte’s Ice Cream Parlour, Llandudno
I’m not sure I would naturally include Llandudno on this list but we popped in last year to grab some shopping and ended up at this ridiculously decadent ice cream parlour. Not only did I love the aesthetic in there but the ice cream (made locally since 1926) was super special. We both had huge sundaes and called it lunch. What’s not to love?

Fortes Ice Cream Parlour - Essential Wales - The Sussex Girl
Fortes Ice Cream Parlour - Essential Wales - The Sussex Girl

I’ve not actually visited Criccieth yet, we’re heading there at the end of the month but Phil’s family love spending time there.  It’s got a castle, award-winning restaurants and sits on the Welsh Coastal path – what’s not to love? We are planning a few days relaxation but want to pop to visit Portmeirion whilst we’re nearby – the village that was the location for ‘The Prisoner’ and is built in an Italian style.  I’m also hoping for at least one romantic picnic on the beach…here’s hoping for some nice weather!

Conwy Castle
If there is one thing that Wales does well (for the record, there are a lot of things!), it is castles.  I do love a good castle and Conwy is no exception.  It was built in the 1200s and really is a fairytale castle – enormous towers, buttresses and barbicans as well as far-reaching views across the bay.  Go and explore, release your inner princess or prince!

Have you got a favourite spot in Wales? Let me know in the comments below.

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