If you’ve not yet discovered the beauty of Wales, there’s no better way to embrace its charms than by exploring the Wales Coast Path. The first country to create a path covering its entire coast, Wales has to be commended for its commitment to helping people enjoy the big outdoors. This epic journey taken as a whole covers 870 miles of cliffs, beaches, valleys and unexpected extras. But of course you can enjoy just a fraction of this distance over a shorter period of time. This makes the Wales Coast Path a great holiday destination.
- 1 Introducing The Wales Coast Path
- 2 Where To Start The Wales Coast Path
- 3 What To Expect: Wildlife
- 4 Choosing Which Parts Of The Wales Coast Path To Visit
- 5 South Wales and The Severn Estuary
- 6 Camarthenshire Bay and The Gower Peninsula
- 7 Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
- 8 Ceredigion Coast and Snowdonia National Park
- 9 Isle Of Anglesey
- 10 North Wales Coast
- 11 Top Tips For Visiting Wales
- 12 Staying Safe On The Wales Coast Path
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Introducing The Wales Coast Path
Over a few years, we’ve walked several parts of the Wales Coast Path. It can be divided into a number of segments:
- South Wales and the Severn Estuary
- Camarthenshire Bay and the Gower Peninsula
- Snowdonia and the Ceredigion Coast
- Llyn Peninsula
- Isle of Anglesey
- North Wales Coast
Those of you with a love of National Parks will have noticed the presence of Snowdonia and the Pembrokeshire Coast on this list, illustrating the spectacular nature that will surround you on the Coast Path. Each of the areas listed would give you a great opportunity for either a walking holiday, or some day hikes interspersed with other activities. Whatever you choose to do, it’s a winning prospect.
Where To Start The Wales Coast Path
The beauty of the Wales Coast Path is that there’s no right place to start. Unless you’re hiking the full length of it (and if you are, I doff my cap in envy and admiration) when one end or the other would be good, any point you choose will work. Over the years, we’ve chosen different spots to access the Path, often building in other visits as part of the trip.
While no one would claim that Wales is entirely remote, the geography of the country with its hills and valleys means that some starting points for your visit to the Wales Coast Path are easier to access. If you are driving from England, then motorway will take you as far as Chester in the north, just beyond Telford for mid Wales or Swansea in the south. After that it’s good (and well maintained) A roads to get you to your chosen destination.
If you are taking the train, check out the Trainline for your best options. Services branch out from Cardiff along the south coast, from Chester for the north and from Shrewsbury for mid Wales. If you’re not familiar with Wales, you might also spot information for heritage steam railways. These are run as visitor attractions, and don’t always start or finish near other public transport connections. Also be aware that trains do not run around the full coastline of Wales; the map here shows that there are gaps in coverage such as the one between Fishguard and Aberystwyth. It’s perfectly possible to complete your journey by other public transport options, but be sure to factor in the time and connections needed.
Read More: Our Guide to Cheap UK Public Transport
What To Expect: Wildlife
Wales is rich in natural habitats, and spotting wildlife is a great pleasure on the Wales Coast Path. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars and camera to make the most of your experience. And it might also be worth doing some investigation upfront to understand the wide selection of wildlife that might surprise you on your hikes.
Bird Life on The Wales Coast Path
From puffins to red kites, Wales is full of all kinds of birdlife. You might see
- Cormorants on Puffin Island, Anglesey, and also on the Ceredigion Heritage Coast
- Gannets all the way around the Welsh coast, and especially on Grassholm island
- Arctic terns with their black caps at Cemlyn Nature Reserve in North Wales
- Manx shearwaters all around the Welsh coast, as Wales has half the world’s population of these birds, typified by their very still-winged style of flight. You’ll find them on Skomer Island in Pembrokeshire and Bardsey Island off the Llyn Peninsula
- Bearded tits (actually with a parrot bill, rather than like garden blue tits) in reed beds at Newport Wetlands Reserve
- Chough, the red legged crow, on South Stack Cliffs in North Wales
- Red kites in Mid Wales on the Ceredigion coast. We also saw one at Bwlch Nant Yr Arian Visitor Centre.
- Ospreys on the Glaslyn Estuary
- Peregrine falcons on the beaches of Cardigan Bay, particularly at Mwnt and Llangrannog
- and finally, the cheeky chaps of the bird world, puffins, on – as expected – Puffin Island
Visit in May and June, and you’ll find the whole coast courting and in the mood for lurve, with the chance to see young puffins on Skomer Island.
There’s an abundance of marine life around the Welsh coast. From porpoises to whales, dolphins, and Atlantic grey seals, there are boat trips available to see marine life at close – and responsible – distances. You can also see plenty of sea creatures on the shores, from rock pool inhabitants to jellyfish taking a break on the sands while the tide turns.
Read More: Where to spot dolphins in the UK
You can meet the resident otters at Bosherton Lily Pools in Pembrokeshire. June and July sees the pools in full flower. Head to the Welsh Wildlife Centre near Cardigan for nature trails, or to hire a canoe for a trip up the Teifi Gorge with the potential to spot kingfishers and otters. Even if you don’t get a close-up kingfisher encounter, that flash of turquoise is instantly seared across your memory.
Choosing Which Parts Of The Wales Coast Path To Visit
Even if you’re a hardcore hiker, there’s unlikely to be time to walk the whole of the Wales Coast Path. Although I’m sure it would be a complete joy. But you can choose segments to walk, either for a hiking holiday, or else to intersperse day hikes with other attractions in the area. In fact, that’s been my approach, visiting parts of the Wales Coast Path during my time in Wales. So below I’ve given you an idea of some starting points and possible hikes in each of the areas covered by the Path. Even if you only have time for a long weekend, it’s still possible to enjoy some excellent hikes. And you can always come back for more. I know I have.
South Wales and The Severn Estuary
Possibly one of the easiest parts of Wales to access, the south coast has plenty of towns and cities to act as your base. From Chepstow on the Severn Estuary to the capital Cardiff and on to Swansea, you’ll find yourself spoiled for places to stay and explore.
Time your visit well, and you could see the Severn Bore. The River Severn has the third highest tidal range in the world, up to around 15 metres or 49 feet. That tidal surge creates a bore that moves up the river, attracting spectators and surfers alike. If you want to check out the potential for this natural spectacle during your visit, check out the Severn Bore timetable and guide here.
Move further along the coast past Chepstow and its magnificent castle to the splendors of Cardiff Bay. The Welsh capital has many waterside attractions including the Norwegian Church, a tiny beautiful white building used by the sizeable Norwegian fleet that sailed from here in the 19th century. Roald Dahl, the author, was baptised here. Pop inside if you can; it’s a fascinating and beautiful building.
Best Day Hike In South Wales
We’re keeping you urban for this one, to balance out the spectacular countryside hikes elsewhere in Wales. This one is a 6.2 mile/10 km walk on the Cardiff Bay Trail. It’s a circular trail on tarmac, starting at Mermaid Quay and finishing at the Barrage. You can stop off at various points along the way to make the most of the city’s attractions, including Tecnhiquest and the Dr Who Experience. You’ll also spot the imposing Millennium Centre.
Read more: If you want to explore Cardiff as part of a longer UK trip, check out our choice of 10 day UK itineraries.
Camarthenshire Bay and The Gower Peninsula
This is the Big Outdoors in its full capitalised glory. This area offers up 10 nature reserves, 24 Wildlife Trust reserves, 32 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, 5 Special Areas of Conservation and a country park with 500 acres of landscaped woods and parkland, plus the National Wetlands Centre. Breathe deep.
Here you have three spectacular ruined castles – Laugharne, Llansteffan and Kidwelly – overlooking Camarthen Bay. There’s Aberavon beach with its broad sands for walking slow to enjoy the sunset, plus Whiteford Point Lighthouse, the only cast-iron lighthouse left in the UK. Take time to appreciate the beauty of Worm’s Head, the slumbering dragon, best observed from glorious Rhossili Bay. Then there’s the Gower Peninsula, the UK’s first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Best Day Hike On The Gower Peninsula
This 7 mile/11.75km hike from Rhossili to Oxwich passes through National Trust land. If you’re looking for wild spaces, this is the one for you. On a clear day, you can see as far as the island of Lundy off the North Devon coast. Closer is the tidal island of Worm’s Head. There are 6 reserves here to enjoy. Don’t forget to appreciate the prehistory too; mammoth bones were found in cliffs here. You’ll find heath and dunes, grasslands, ancient woodlands and possibly even peregrine falcons. There’s also the chance to round off the day with fish and chips at Port Eynon.
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
This is not the quickest part of the Wales Coast Path to reach, but its epic beauty makes it all worthwhile. It’s a National Park for a reason, and that reason is laid out before you in mile after mile after mile of simply glorious coast that will make you stop, stare and consign those images to your memory bank.
You should make time for Skomer Island, particularly if you visit in May or June, when young puffins are exploring their new world. But from April to August the place is alive with guillemots and razorbills. April sees a carpet of bluebells, replaced later with sea campion. On your boat to the island, you get to enjoy the marine wildlife too: seals, porpoises and dolphins.
Getting around the Pembrokeshire Coast is easy. If you are taking day hikes, then the Pembrokeshire coastal buses will drop you at a landmark, pub or cafe, from which you can hike back to base.
Best Day Hike in Pembrokeshire
Take the six mile circular walk between Bosherton and Stackpole. This captures two of Wales’ most beautiful beaches, Barafundle and Broadhaven South. You’ll see cliffs, dunes, wildflower meadows, lakes and woodlands. The Bosherton Lily Ponds will have you feeling that you are in the middle of a Monet painting, with bonus otters and dragonflies. Autumn is another great time to visit, when the woodlands are afire with colour.
Ceredigion Coast and Snowdonia National Park
The Cardigan Heritage Coast is truly spectacular, and sometimes overlooked in favour of the attractions of Snowdonia National Park. But it’s perfectly easy to visit both in a week of wonderful exploring. Cardigan Bay itself is rich with wildlife, including Europe’s largest group of bottlenose dolphins, Atlantic grey seals and colonies of seabirds. This makes walking a particular pleasure as you can spot dolphins from the headlands and also places such as New Quay harbour wall.
This part of Wales is home to the unique Mediterranean inspired village, Portmeirion, designed by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. It was used as the location for the 1960s cult series, The Prisoner. The market town of Cardigan is full of interesting spots to explore, and is one of the most dog friendly places we’ve found, should you have a canine pal in tow.
Best Day Hike – Ceridigion Heritage Coast
The return walk from Aberporth to Mwnt is 10 miles/16km. I’ve chosen this of many beautiful hikes for the splendid isolation you will feel here; even in the summer months, you won’t meet too many other people on the trail. You’ll be mainly on the clifftops, surrounded by gorse, crossing small bridges over water making its way to the sea. Below, you might spot the odd grey seal basking outside its sea cave home. The mini-mountain at Mwnt is a great landmark, as is its tiny and isolated 14th century church. You just might spot a bottlenose dolphin or harbour porpoise off the beach here.
Isle Of Anglesey
To get to Anglesey, you’ll travel the glorious Menai Suspension Bridge, built in 1826 by the renowned industrial architect Thomas Telford. Anglesey is home to St Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers: the female equivalent of St Valentine; visit Llanddwyn Island at low tide from Newborough Warren to learn more.
You can also visit iconic South Stack lighthouse, and take in Beaumaris Castle. It’s described as the most technically perfect castle, but to be honest you don’t need to appreciate that to enjoy its statuesque beauty. Then there’s Llynnon Mill, the only working windmill in Wales, and producing stoneground wholemeal flour. Two roundhouses alongside tell the tales of Iron Age farmers 3000 years ago, and you can even have a go at building your own Iron Age den.
Best Day Hike In Anglesey
The circular walk taking in Pentraeth and Red Wharf Bay is 5.5 miles or 8.8km in length. Starting in Pentraeth village, you take the pretty wooded path to the beach at Red Wharf Bay. Named for the colour of the sands, your path follows the bay for some time. The remainder of the walk takes you through the coniferous Pentraeth forest, overlooking the bay. And it’s not just red sands here; you could spot members of the resident red squirrel colony.
North Wales Coast
Offa’s Dyke Path, Britain’s longest ancient monument marking the Welsh border, joins the Wales Coast Path at Prestatyn. Here on the north coast you can see everything from castles to dragons and traditional seaside towns. There’s Angel Bay, with its great opportunities for seal and bird spotting. If your legs need a break, you can take the tram or cable car to the summit of Great Orme for views to Llandudno and the Menai Strait across to Anglesey.
In the mood for sea and sand? The seaside town of Rhyl and its beaches will lead you along to Pensarn beach. On the way you’ll pass through Kinmel Bay, a great spot to enjoy watersports. Then there’s another great day hike that will see you travel from Talacre Beach to Prestatyn. You’ll walk via the Gronant Dunes and see the Point of Ayr lighthouse.
Best Day Hike In North Wales
Your 8 mile trip from Holywell to Flint is full of Welsh history in every step. You’ll see Flint Castle, founded in 1277 as part of Edward I’s campaign against Llywelyn ap Gruffydd. Complete with a moat and a great tower, it’s still an imposing sight. There’s also a Welsh dragon – created in steel with a beacon on his back which is lit on special occasions.
Top Tips For Visiting Wales
The very geography of Wales makes travel focused along the valleys and valley heads. Routes are seldom as simple as a straight line, so allow extra time. There is very little motorway access across the country. If you drive in Wales, you’ll mostly be using well maintained and well surfaced A roads.
The beautiful rural countryside of Wales outside the main towns can be quite remote. We noticed that there are usually plenty of places to buy fuel, and these often have a small shop. But outside the towns, don’t expect coffee culture and lots of choices for places to eat. Some small towns and villages can have excellent facilities for visitors. New Quay on the Ceridigion coast boasts several restaurants, a fantastic gelateria and lots of shops in season. But we heard that many close from October to April, so plan your stops accordingly.
Dealing with the melodic Welsh language can be a challenge for non-native speakers. Place names can be very long and in an unfamiliar structure. You’ll find that once across the border of Wales, the Welsh name is rightly given first, followed by its English version. If you are the navigator, allow yourself some time to become familiar with the names on your route. My tip would be to look at the end of the place name. Many places begin with Llan (parish) or Aber (mouth of a river), so relying on the start of a place name could see you confused by multiple choices. Check out the end of the place name to confirm you’re on the right road. You’ll also soon become familiar with Welsh road markings such as araf, meaning slow.
Read more: Quick guide to Welsh place names
Staying Safe On The Wales Coast Path
If you’re a committed hiker, none of what I have to say here will be news to you, so feel free to skip. But if you are more likely to enjoy a few walks now and again, the following tips may be helpful for your day hikes.
- Do your planning in advance. Check out the trail map, the distance and estimated time beforehand.
- Underestimate rather than overestimate the abilities of your group. It’s better to have everyone ready for more at the end rather than struggling.
- Check weather conditions and the forecast. Don’t underestimate the effect of sea fog on the coast.
- Check the tide times if your hike includes time on the beach. A trail guide will let you know if you need to take any specific precautions. And it’s good to know how much of your walk will be on easier-going wet sands.
- Tell someone of your plans and when you expect to be back. Then don’t forget to tell them you’re safely back.
- Take plenty of water, but don’t pack too heavy.
- High energy snacks offer the best option for the weight. Trail mix was so named for good reason!
- Be prepared for temperature changes along the way. We’ve gone from t shirts to fleeces and coats within 3 hours.
- Watch your footing. It’s easy to get distracted by the beauty of the view. Even if you only turn an ankle, that can be a painful and difficult incident when you are miles from the nearest help.
- Take a whistle. Three short blasts means you need help.
- Watch out for critters. Both wild animals from which you should keep a respectful distance and farm animals where you should be careful with gates. And be prepared for small beasties that bite and sting. Even a horsefly bite can make for a painful experience. Pack a small first aid kit, including remedies for stings and blisters.
- Don’t forget the sunscreen.
Have a wonderful time! The Wales Coast Path offers some incredible day hikes in addition to the more lengthy segments. There’s nothing better than getting your endorphins going in such a beautiful setting.
Read more: Explore the Best Beaches In Wales
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