What to see, eat and do along the River Taff

Deep in the heart of the Brecon Beacons, two rivers meet – the Taf Fechan (Little Taff) and Taf Fawr (Big Taff) – and arise as one.  From its source in Cefn-Coed-y-Cymmer, just north of Merthyr Tydfil, the River Taff flows south for 40 miles through rural landscapes, towns and cities. The river can be followed by foot or bicycle along the Taff Trail and there are plenty of intriguing places to stop along the way. 

The great thing about the Taff Trail is that if you don’t want to do the whole trail, you can choose a section to explore or use the train to transport yourself (and your bike if cycling).

Here are some tips on what to see, eat and do on your trip along the Taff. 

Be awestruck by the Cefn Coed Viaduct

Cefn Coed Viaduct from below next to a river.

Cefn Coed Viaduct, South Wales Valleys by @parryg
The immense, curving Cefn Coed Viaduct was formed as part of an extension to the Brecon and Merthyr Railway in the 1860s, standing at a height of close to 120 feet above the river. It is easily accessible via the Taff Trail footpath, and makes for a dream #Instagoals picnic spot. 

Explore Cyfarthfa Park, Castle Museum and Art Gallery

Swans on a lake.

Cyfarthfa Park, South Wales Valleys by @amyleighjonesphotography
Cycle for 11 minutes, walk for 21 minutes, or hop in the car for a quick five minute drive down river from the Cefn Coed Viaduct and you’ll reach Cyfarthfa Park and Castle, which overlooks the town of Merthyr Tydfil and historic Cyfarthfa Ironworks. The 19th century castle is home to a museum and art gallery, open all year round and accessible for just £2 per person (under 16s go free). Nature lovers may wish to visit the park’s greenhouses, while culture vultures can explore Number 4 Chapel Row, the birthplace of Joseph Parry, one of Wales’ most famous composers. Youngsters can ride the miniature railway, or wreak havoc at the outdoor play facilities. The good news for parents is that a little R&R awaits in the Canolfan Cyfarthfa café. 

Get an adrenaline high at BikePark Wales

Mountain bike over a jump.
Bike Park Wales, South Wales Valleys by @bikepark_Wales
Thrill-seekers will find what they’re looking for at BikePark Wales, a professional mountain biking facility lying slightly to the west of the River Taff, 11 minutes by car from Cyfarthfa Park. More than 30 unique mountain biking trails wind their way down the Mynydd Gethin slope, with routes suitable for riders of all skill levels. Day passes start at £10, and a range of coaching and training sessions are available for booking in advance for first timers and more experienced riders alike.

Take a dip in a historical lido 

Lido Ponty outdoor swimming pool with swimmers.
Lido Ponty, South Wales Valleys by @lidoponty
An 11 mile ramble down the Taff Trail, or a 10 minute drive down the A470 will find you in Pontypridd. If the morning’s exertions have left you longing for a refreshing swim, the National Lido of Wales, or Lido Ponty (as Pontypridd is fondly known to Welsh folk), offers three heated outdoor pools. Situated in the heart of Ynysangharad War Memorial Park, Lido Ponty first opened in 1927 – Jenny James, the first ever Welsh person to swim the English Channel worked as a lifeguard there – and was refurbished in fine style in 2015. The lido is open from May until September and you can swim there for £2.50.  Ynysangharad War Memorial Park is also home to the Evan and James James memorial, composers of the national anthem Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau ('Land of my Fathers').   

Enjoy traditional Sunday lunch and ale at The Gwaelod 

The Taff with Gwaelod y Garth in the background.

Gwaelod y Garth, South Wales Valleys by @itamary123
After a 40 minute cycle from Ponty, or two hour stroll along the Taff Trail, you’ll likely be in need of a hearty lunch. The Gwaelod-y-Garth Inn (or for locals, simply ‘the Gwaelod’), is a traditional country pub that sits at the foot of the Garth mountain (the peak in the picture above). The pub is famed for its selection of ales and hearty Sunday lunches, and offers spectacular views of the surrounding valleys. If you’re feeling adventurous, a 300 metre climb will take you to the summit of the mountain, where on a clear day you can see as far as Weston-super-Mare across the Bristol Channel. 

Visit a fairy-tale castle

Exterior of Castell Coch.
Castell Coch, South Wales Valleys
Not far from Gwaelod-y-Garth (approximately a 50 minute walk) perches the 19th century Gothic revival castle, Castell Coch (Red Castle), whose turrets peek through the trees on a cliffside high above the river. The castle has overlooked the river, under various occupancies and forms, for almost a thousand years. However, Castell Coch as we know it today was rebuilt during the years of 1875-79 by the architect William Burges, commissioned by John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, the 3rd Marquess of Bute. Burges lavished the interior with artwork and eccentric furnishings, creating a fairy-tale feel.
 
For visitors, the castle is open most of the year round, with adult admissions starting at £6.90.  Explore its history via touch-screen information stops on your tour. 

Take afternoon tea in Bute Park

Exterior of Pettigrew Tea Rooms in Bute Park.
Pettigrew Tea Rooms, Cardiff by @hayladyjohnstone
You’re sure to work up an appetite on the half hour cycle, or 1 hour 50 minute walk from Castell Coch to Cardiff’s Bute Park. Thankfully, Pettigrew Tea Rooms is on hand to serve up finger sandwiches and cream tea delights to help you refuel. You’ll find it next to Bute Park’s main entrance on Castle Street, right next to Cardiff Castle, which backs onto Bute Park – and can enjoy an afternoon tea for £16.95 per person. You can also catch a spot of cricket at Sophia Gardens, home of Glamorgan County Cricket Club, or sweat it out at the nearby Sport Wales National Centre, which are both just a brief stroll away through some of the most glorious parkland you’re likely to find anywhere.  

Sail away into Cardiff Bay

Cardiff Bay with a sailing boat in the foreground.

Cardiff Bay
The River Taff comes to an end in Cardiff Bay, 20 minutes by bicycle or 50 minutes on foot from Bute Park. It filters into a stunning harbour before heading through the impressive feat of engineering that is the Cardiff Bay Barrage and out into the Bristol Channel. You can end your day trip there – the bay is home to a great selection of bars, restaurants, a comedy club, the magnificent Wales Millennium Centre, and more – or continue following the river by boat into the sea. Multiple independent boat companies offer tours of the bay (and on to Penarth and Flat Holm island, which is home to a rather quaint little pub), in a variety of fishing chuggers and exhilarating speed boats.

Find out about appropriate clothing and footwear as well as more info on protecting and enjoying the countryside in the Countryside Code.

Discover more attractions in the South Wales Valleys and Cardiff.