Aberystwyth, meaning the mouth of the river Ystwyth, and commonly and colloquially known simply as ‘Aber’, sits smack bang in the middle of the rugged Ceredigion coastline, making it a cracking short break destination. Located comfortably equidistant to the cathedral city of St Davids in Pembrokeshire and the surfers’ haven of Aberdaron at the Western tip of the Llŷn Peninsula, it’s the obvious base to tour the 180 mile Coastal Way.
The bustling town centre
It's one of the biggest towns in Mid Wales and home to the University of Aberystwyth and Bronglais Hospital, helping make this coastal town a diverse and vibrant place to live, work and visit. Aberystwyth town centre is spread around variety of interesting roads - the street names and architecture reflect the history and growth of the town since the Middle Ages. You can expect to hear plenty of people using Welsh as they go about their daily lives. Most of the town centre is easy to get to from the railway station and car parks by the retail centres.
There’s lots of lovely independent shops in Aberystwyth, so if you are stocking up on holiday gifts, bring an empty case. Polly boutique is a favourite for ladies contemporary fashions and accessories, Coastal Vintage does what it says on the tin and Ystwyth Books is a charming second hand bookshop where it’s easy to get lost in the racks for a few hours. Siop y Pethe is such a beautifully named shop, meaning the ‘shop of things’, but it sounds so much nicer in Welsh. As the title suggests, it sells a little bit of everything. Local artist Lizzie Spikes’ driftwood designs adorn the windows of menswear shop Cactws, and if the men in your life like quirky socks, make a whistle stop here too.
Where to eat and drink
Aberystwyth is a foodie heaven, with an abundance of options for all tastes and budgets. Two must-visits are Pysgoty (Fishhouse), a lovely little fish restaurant housed in a renovated toilet block overlooking the harbour on South Beach, and ultracomida, a remarkable Spanish / Welsh deli and tapas bar, that has warmth and atmosphere in spades.
Vegans and veggies are very well catered for in Medina. Baravin, meaning ‘bread and wine’, is the brainchild of Aberaeron’s delightful Harbour Master Hotel, just 16 miles south on the Coastal Way. Perfectly positioned in the middle of the promenade, and expertly run by Gareth, this cafe bar is a true gem. It’s also where I have enjoyed the best pizza I’ve ever eaten in my life - the pulled pork, perl las (Welsh blue cheese) and caramelized onion pizza is worth a trip to Aber alone.
Cocktails at The Libertine are also recommended, as well as a quick (or lengthy) stop in Y Bañera, aptly named as it’s situated in Bath Street (Bañera meaning ‘bath’ in Spanish). Here cocktails and the hefty wine list are the order of the day, and if you’re a fan of a #selfie, snap yourself with the giant red dragon painted outside.
A visit to Aberystwyth is quite impossible without a walk, jog or mindfulness moment on the mile long Victorian promenade. The seafront also boasts the oldest pier in Wales (it was built in 1864), which offers the second best vantage point of Aberystwyth. And the best vantage point is at the end of north beach’s promenade, atop the 430 feet that is Constitution Hill.
Culture and heritage
Pen Dinas and Aberystwyth Castle
A local landmark and a post-meal calorie killer to walk off all that lovely food is a walk up Pen Dinas Hill to take a closer look at the 1850s monument, erected as a memorial to the first Duke of Wellington. Also, try and make time to see Aberystwyth Castle (because as we all know it’s a crime to visit a town and not visit its castle). The English castle was built to keep the Welsh out in the 13th century, at the same time as Flint, Rhuddlan and Builth Wells’ castles were erected.
Aberystwyth Arts Centre and the National Library of Wales
The previously mentioned Aberystwyth Arts Centre is worth a visit, as is its neighbour the National Library of Wales, home to historic books as well as the smallest book in the world. It’s also hosts painting and film exhibitions, and you can sit in comfort watching archive films from across Wales.
Aberystwyth Camera Obscura
At the top of Constitution Hill, at the north end of the prom, you’ll find the world’s largest Camera Obscura, which provides a bird’s eye view of more than 1000 square miles, in a 360 degree sweep around Aberystwyth. The Camera Obscura is accessible via the Aberystwyth Cliff Railway. The longest cliff railway in Britain is a treat for all ages and offers superb views of the town, particularly the promenade’s famed starling murmurations, so keep your cameras handy.
And finally… if you’ve caught the BBC, S4C and Netflix TV series Hinterland, you couldn’t have escaped without being spellbound by the setting. The hit show was filmed in and around Aberystwyth, so there’s lots of opportunities to spot locations, particularly if you head a little further afield into the Ceredigion countryside. A rather special way of making your way to the classic Hinterland location of Devil’s Bridge is via the Vale of Rheidol Railway.
Where to stay?
If a little bit of old school opulence is your thing, then check out Gwesty’r Conrah Hotel in Ffosrhydgaled, just on the outskirts of Aber. The Conrah’s last private owners were a pair of spinsters from the Smiths Crisps family (whom my late gran was a chambermaid for), and the hotel’s modern take on the afternoon tea is a real treat.
If you’re on a smaller budget, there’s plenty of options too, with ‘out of term time’ (but peak season) bargains to be had at the University. While you’re checking out the accommodation on offer at the University, you’ll also see that the Aberystwyth Arts Centre forms part of the wider complex, and being one of the largest arts centres in the UK, there’s guaranteed to be a show or an exhibition to suit your taste. There’s also a superb café providing home cooked food, using locally sourced ingredients and a range of shops selling Welsh and English language books, as well as a craft and design shop, selling ceramics and prints from local artists, homeware, jewellery, stationery and cards. There’s even a dance school shop for those budding ballerinas and tap dancers.
Mid-range accommodation options include the recently restored Castle Hotel in the ‘old town’. Borth’s three mile sandy beach, seven miles north on the Coastal Way has self-catering accommodation, camping, touring and static caravan sites. When the tide is out you should check out the ancient sunken forest at the north end of the award winning, blue flag beach.
One of Aberystwyth's more recent famous exports is Taron Egerton, star of 'Eddie the Eagle', 'Kingsman - The Secret Service' and smash hit film 'Rocketman' for which he's just won a Golden Globe. His family moved to Aberystwyth when he was in his early teens. Taron began his acting career with the Aberystwyth Arts Centre's youth theatre group before being accepted into RADA aged 19. He regularly heads home to catch up with family and friends and claims 'Wales is absolutely where my heart is'.