You can walk from one end of Newport’s compact city centre to the other in little more than 10 minutes - or a lot longer if you stop at the cathedral, museum and art gallery, and traditional covered market.
There’s also lots of interesting public art, including a statue that commemorates Newport’s ‘Supertramp’ poet, WH Davies, the man who wrote the immortal lines, ‘What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.’
What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare."
For entertainment, there’s the Newport Centre’s pool, sports facilities, and 2,000-capacity music venue. The Riverfront’s 500-seat theatre presents a mix of comedy, opera, dance, music and drama, with a pleasant café-bar with outdoor terrace that spills onto the banks of the River Usk.
Newport is strongly associated with Chartism, the 19th-century working class movement for political reform, and more recently has left a couple of marks (or at least, vivid stains) on popular culture: the absurdist rap collective Goldie Lookin’ Chain sprang from Newport’s anarchic subculture, while Kurt Cobain apparently proposed to Courtney Love in the legendary TJ’s rock venue.
Set in a beautiful 90 acre park, Tredegar House is probably the best 17th century Charles II mansion in Britain, and a thoroughly pleasant place to spend a day, exploring the red-brick house, its gardens and parkland.
Now run by the National Trust, the house was built by the powerful Morgan family, local landowners and later Lords of Tredegar – although their most famous son is Sir Henry Morgan (1635-1688), the original pirate of the Caribbean, after whom Captain Morgan Rum is named. Another famous son, Godfrey, was an army hero who survived the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War. Even more remarkably, so did his horse Sir Briggs, who lived to the ripe old horse age of 28 and is now buried in the Cedar Garden.
The house’s interiors reflect its progress from flamboyant 17th-century origins, through stately Victorian days, to the 1930s when it hosted notoriously wild parties.
In 1906 the Morgan family built the nearby Transporter Bridge, one of just eight that survive in the world. It’s designed to carry cargo across the River Usk on a gondola, which is slung under a rail that’s tall enough to allow ships to sail underneath. Sounds weird, but it still works today – and you can take your car across for £1.
RSPB Newport Wetlands Reserve
The 100km2 of wetland along the Severn Estuary, known as the Gwent Levels, have gradually been reclaimed from the sea by people over thousands of years. The birds have benefited too, and this is now one of the most important places for wildlife in Wales.
At its heart, the Newport Wetlands Reserve was created to compensate for the loss of the mudflats when the Cardiff Bay barrage was built in the 1990s, and its 438 hectares of reed beds, lagoons, wet grassland and scrub have attracted a wealth of wetland birds. It’s also an excellent place to see orchids, butterflies, dragonflies and otters.
The exact species you’ll see depends on the time of year, and might include bearded tits, avocets, bitterns, zillions of wildfowl, marsh harriers and peregrines.
National Roman Legion Museum
Wales was one of the farthest-flung outposts of the Roman Empire, and in AD75 the Romans built a fortress at Caerleon, a few miles from Newport, that would guard the region for over 200 years.
This was one of only three permanent fortresses in Roman Britain, the home of the 2nd Augustan Legion, housing 5,000 soldiers and horsemen, with an amphitheatre, baths, shops and temples. The museum lies inside what remains of the fortress, whose ruins include the most complete amphitheatre in Britain and the only remains of a Roman Legionary barracks on view anywhere in Europe. The museum also holds half a million objects from the nearby Roman forts of Caerleon (Isca) and Usk (Burrium).
While you’re there, the little town of Caerleon itself is worth a wander – it’s a pretty place, with lots of good pubs, restaurants and tea rooms, notably in the Ffwrwm arts and crafts centre.
Fourteen Locks Canal Centre
The problem facing 18th century industrialists was how to transport all that coal, iron, limestone and brick down from the South Wales Valleys to Newport’s docks. The Monmouthshire Canal was the solution, but the hills around Newport still posed a major obstacle to the canal’s 11-mile Crumlin branch.
Completed in 1799, the Fourteen Locks Canal Centre is an ingenious flight of 14 locks and is one of the world’s finest examples of the canal engineer’s art, raising the water level by 50m, supported by a series of ponds, sluices and weirs to control the water supply. Today it’s simply a lovely place to go for walks along the canal tow path, to enjoy the wildlife and surrounding countryside, which includes the Allt-yr-Yn nature reserve.
And further afield…
Newport has the best transport links of anywhere in Wales, which is half the reason it attracts global events like the Ryder Cup and NATO summit (the other half is the sheer excellence of the Celtic Manor Resort).
It’s easy to get to and, when you’re here, easy to nip off on day-trips. Cardiff is 20 minutes away by train or car, with all the attractions of a European capital city. Thirty minutes north and you’re deep into Monmouthshire, home to many of our best restaurants, classic market towns like Monmouth, Usk and Abergavenny, and some superb castles like Raglan, Caldicot and Chepstow, which guards the entrance to the beautiful Wye Valley.
And since Newport’s fortunes were based on exporting coal and iron, you’d better visit the places where these were mined and made – notably at Blaenavon Ironworks and the Big Pit National Coal Museum.