Published On: Sat, Jul 6th, 2024
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500-mile UK road trip beats any holiday abroad | UK | Travel


Winding road at Great Orme, North Wales

This trip includes some incredible roads to drive combined with stunning views (Image: Getty)

The picture you’re looking at directly above these words could be setting your mind racing straight away, thinking about how good it is for the soul to be out on the open road in Wales. And this seven-stop road trip, that you could do in a week and is just as good as any holiday to Spain, Greece or Cornwall.

The summer’s here, and this road trip is one of the best ways you could possibly spend a few days unplugging from work and your busy life.

It’s full of freedom, romance, superb scenery and photogenic pit stops, with mountains to rival Scotland and beaches to rival the south of France. The restuarants are superb too. And you don’t need your passport for any of it. 

WalesOnline has planned a seven-day circular road trip that starts and ends in Cardiff (though you can adapt it for wherever you’re starting from) and takes in some of the best that the UK has to offer.

You’ll pass through mountains, beside beautiful lakes and experience coastal views with plenty of stops and several overnight stays over about 500 miles. The journey could take you a week or a month, depending how long you want to spend in each place.

We’ve also provided plenty of inspiration for places to eat and drink.

Leg 1: Cardiff to Bala

A delicious Greek style wrap

Ya Souvlaki in Cardiff Market that serve delicious Greek style wraps and baklavas (Image: John Myers)

If you do begin your road trip in, or near, the Welsh capital there are so many places to stock up on supplies, with Cardiff’s Victorian market an incredible hive of independent stalls selling Welsh cakes, bread, cheese,fresh wood-fired pizza, as well as sensational and affordable lunches ranging from salads to gnocchi, Indian street food to Greek souvlaki.

Then aim for the A470 and head north. You’ll pass through the Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons) National Park and Pen y Fan, the highest peak in south Wales on this leg of the journey. There are a few scenic spots where you can pull over and take some snaps of the impressive ridges and the weathered slopes of the peaks that were carved out in the Ice Age. Your jaw will be on the floor with the views and mountain passes here — and you’re barely out of the city!

Head onwards, towards the Elan Valley in the Cambrian Mountains where you’ll find Victorian reservoirs including Claerwen and Caban Coch and Llyn Clywedog. Continue onwards onto the B4518 and then follow A470 and A494 to reach the historic market town of Bala, in the Snowdonia National Park, where you’ll stop for the night.

Where to eat and stay

For lunch, you have several options. You pass through villages and towns including Builth Wells and Brecon, as well as one of Wales’ best restaurants, the Felin Fach Griffin. The market town of Rhayader is a great place to stop for lunch as it is the gateway to the Elan Valley and is roughly halfway on your journey north. You’ll find several options for lunch including cafes and pubs and a handful of independent cafes.

Once you arrive in Bala, you have a few options where to spend the night depending on your travel style and budget. The White Lion Royal Hotel offers a reasonably priced stay in a half-timbered hotel with modest rooms and a complimentary breakfast.

If you have a big budget for this trip, then you might want to consider staying at Pale Hall Hotel, a historic country home near Bala that has been expertly transformed into a luxury destination hotel with fine dining. There are 18 guest bedrooms and suites which have been carefully renovated and individually designed with their own unique style and personal identity.

Leg 2: Bala to Llandudno

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Llyn Tegid, near Bala (Image: Visit Wales)

Visit the glacial lake Llyn Tegid and have a coffee at Bala sailing club which is right on the shores of Wales’ largest natural lake (over four miles long and a mile wide). You can wake up properly with a swim, paddle or kayak, sail or canoe. Bala Watersports provide SUP equipment hire for pros and instruction for aspiring paddlers, so you can explore the lake on a paddleboard. 

Once you have explored the lake, head north to Llandudno via the A5 and A470 where you’ll be spending your second night. The drive to Llandudno is around an hour and 15 minutes and you also have the option of making a short detour to visit the village of Betws y Coed for lunch. This charming village is surrounded by forest and hills and has an ‘alpine town’ feel to it, as well as Swallow Falls, a pretty waterfall you can reach only by foot.

Minutes to the north is Llanrwst, where you can stop to grab some snaps and have a brew at one of Wales’ most photographed buildings, the Tu Hwnt i’r Bont tearoom. Then, it’s on to two of Wales’ most famous towns, Llandudno and Conwy. Both have plenty to offer visitors looking for history, heritage and culture.

Get your history fix over in Conwy where the town’s imposing and well-preserved castle is one of the finest examples of Edward I’s fortifications. You’ll also find the smallest house in Britain in Conwy, it’s just 72 inches wide but was lived in until 1900. Your final destination for the day is the seaside town of Llandudno where you’ll find a historic promenade and pier. One of the best things to do here is to take a tram trip up the Great Orme, this scenic headland is a massive chunk of limestone that rises 207m/679ft straight out of the sea.

The famous tea rooms at Llanrwst, covered in foliage turning to colours of Autumn

The famous tea rooms at Llanrwst (Image: Getty)

Where to eat and stay

Spoil yourself with a stay at Bodysgallen Hall where history is all around you, from the imposing building to the manicured gardens and the extravagantly decorated bedrooms and drawing-room, where 17th-century coats of arms loom above you. The panelled, candle-lit dining room is also an experience – definitely a venue to consider if you fancy a special treat. Other Llandudno hotels have restaurants open to non-residents and there are several indie venues serving Welsh and international cuisine. For a lovely pub tea, try The Kings Head Pub, the oldest pub in Llandudno that serves real ales and home-cooked food.

Leg 3: Llandudno to Eryri

Snowdon seen in distance beyond a lake with perfectly flat water

Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) seen in distance beyond a lake with perfectly flat water (Image: Getty)

Drive from Llandudno to one of the most famous landmarks in Wales: Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) in Eryri National Park, the highest mountain in Wales.

There are six main paths to the summit, including the Llanberis Path, Pyg Track, Miners’ Track, Watkin Path, Rhyd-Ddu Path and the Snowdon Ranger Path. Make sure to research and plan your route before you set off and dress appropriately. 

The Watkin Path is probably one of the most scenic routes to the summit, with a unique wild swim feature located at the series of waterfalls that are just off the main track. Depending on your fitness levels and the route you choose, climbing Snowdon will take up a big chunk of the day.

Where to eat and stay

There are plenty of accommodation choices in and around Snowdon, from historic inns and unique Airbnbs to hostels and campsites. The Rocks at Plas Curig Hostel is a great budget stay right in the heart of the national park, where you’ll find a family run, five star and dog-friendly mountain hostel with serious flashpacker vibes.

Caffi Gwynant is a great option for lunch and light bites and is located near the base of the Watkin Path route. It’s a converted chapel serving breakfast, brunch, homemade cakes and locally roasted coffee.

Leg 4: Eryri to Aberdaron

Bardsey Island

Bardsey Island (Image: Charles Leventon/CC BY-SA 2.0)

On day 4 of your road trip, you’re heading to the very north-western tip of Wales. But before that, if you’re prepared to do a little driving around, there are plenty of adventure and adrenaline activities still to discover in Snowdonia (Eryri).

At Zip World in Blaenau Ffestiniog, the Titan 2 zip line and heritage experience will get your heart racing. You can do a four-person parallel zip line, plus a unique tour of the Llechwedd slate quarry which was once at the heart of the community here.

On the same site, you’ll find the unique Bounce Below attraction, where giant trampolines and nets are suspended across two levels in atmospheric caverns illuminated by neon lights.

The view from Yr Wyddfa

The view from Yr Wyddfa (Image: Getty Images)

When you have had your fill of adventure, head west as far as you can go until you reach the fishing village of Aberdaron on the very tip of the Llyn Peninsula via the A499. Whenever a storm hits Wales, this village usually features on the weather reports as the winds here can top a whopping 90mph.

Where to eat and stay

Gwesty Ty Newydd is a lovely seaside hotel option and directly overlooks the bay and beach. You can watch the sun go down from their terrace whilst enjoying a drink or two. The hotel serves dinner and and afternoon teas with home-baked cakes.

Sblash Caban Pysgod/Fish Bar is a great shout for fresh fish and chips that don’t cost the earth. 

Leg 5: Aberdaron to Aberaeron

Aberaeron

Aberaeron (Image: Getty Images)

On day 5 you’ll be driving on a series of B roads as you make your way through the Llyn Peninsula, Eryri and the Cardigan Bay coastline. As you head to the harbour village of Aberaeron, one of the prettiest villages in Wales, you will also pass by the towns of Criccieth and Porthmadog where you can stop for a coffee, browse the selection of shops, or visit one of the many historical sites in the area.

The magical ruin of Criccieth Castle stands proud on top of a rocky headland overlooking the small town and beach and is well worth a visit. This spectacular coastal castle was built and destroyed by powerful Welsh princes and still stands today. You can bring the whole family to visit the castle – family tickets are £18 and there is bike access as well as a car park.

The seaside town of Criccieth, Tremadog Bay, North Wales

The seaside town of Criccieth and its castle (Image: Getty)

Drive a little further south down the coast and Harlech Castle is also waiting to impress you atop a rocky crag with a sheer drop down to the flat plains below. It’s a World Heritage Site.

The drive towards Aberaeron also takes you near the Italianate-style village of Portmeirion, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Wales.

This unique site is a great place to stop for a few hours and has an indulgent spa, gift shops, cafes, restaurants and an authentic Italian-style gelateria to explore. After stopping for lunch, or to visit Portmeirion, continue south to Aberaeron where you’ll be spending the night. 

Where to eat and stay

The Harbourmaster is a popular choice for dinner and an overnight stay in Aberaeron. It’s famous for its warm Welsh welcome, superb food and wonderful rooms where you can spend the night near the ocean. 

There are plenty of other options inculding the Castle Hotel, situated in a Grade II listed building, and Y Seler, which has quickly earned a very good reputation for refined food too, so is a great place for dinner.

Leg 6: Aberaeron to Tenby

Tenby is one of the prettiest towns in Britain

Tenby (Image: Getty Images)

On day six it’s time to head to the seaside town of Tenby via the A487, with plenty of scenic stops along the way. Head west along the A487 on the north Pembrokeshire coast towards the historic city of St Davids, which is also the smallest city in the UK.

You’ll find plenty of dining options including cafes and fancy dining. There’s also a small selection of shops here if you fancy a browse in boutique stores by the sea.

St Davids Cathedral

St Davids Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral situated in St Davids (Image: Getty)

From St Davids, continue on the A487 towards the small harbour village of Solva, where you can grab a coffee and cake. The drive towards Tenby also takes you near Newgale Beach, famous for its two-mile stretch of gloriously golden sand and surfing.

Where to eat and stay

Stop for lunch in St Davids and dine in the stylish surroundings of a former windmill with a menu that’s influenced by season and local surroundings at Blas Restaurant in the Twr Y Felin Hotel, where the menu features the very best of Pembrokeshire produce with a modern twist. 

The A498 heading up from Nantgwynant to Pen-y-Pass on a sunny spring day in Snowdonia

The A498 heading up from Nantgwynant to Pen-y-Pass on a sunny spring day in Snowdonia (Image: Getty Images)

You’re spoilt for choice with accommodation and places to eat in Tenby, just named one of the best seaside towns in the UK. There’s something for all types of getaway, whether you want something luxurious or just a guesthouse by the beach for your last night.

There are lots of hotels and Airbnbs on the seafront looking out over the beach and further inland. If you’re looking for a luxury spa stay for your final night, then St Brides Hotel and Spa in nearby Saundersfoot is a popular, modern spa hotel looking out over beautiful Saundersfoot Bay from its position on the hill.

In Tenby, you can eat at the lively, brilliant Tap and Tan, which serves mouth-watering meat platters, or a little drive out of town is the unique Paternoster Farm, barely findable on a map but serving some of the best food in Wales.

Leg 7: Tenby to Cardiff

Tenby has always been a tourist hotspot, with waters are warmed by the Gulf Stream and said to be one of the sunniest places in the UK. Before leaving, enjoy the picturesque harbour, Victorian houses, sandy beaches, independent cafes, coastal walks and no less than four sandy beaches.

There are plenty of independent shops to keep you occupied here and it’s definitely worth taking a look around Tenby High Street and St Julian’s Street.

You can also take a ferry to the historic Caldey Island, or go paddleboarding at North Beach.

After a busy morning exploring Tenby, it’s time to head back to Cardiff the endpoint of this circular road trip. There are two options for the drive back. You can drive the more direct way back to Cardiff via the A48 and M4, or via the A470/A40 where you can drive through the Brecon Beacons.

If you choose the M4 route, you can stop for lunch in Carmarthen, or take a detour to the coastal city Swansea. If you take the A470/A40 route, you can call in for lunch in the market town of Llandovery, as the A40 passes right through it. Both options include stops for petrol and food, so it depends on how leisurely you want the final leg of your journey to be? Arrive back in Cardiff and rest up after your epic road trip around Wales.



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