Exploring the outdoors

It often surprises people how quiet and unspoilt the great outdoors is in the Vale of Glamorgan, given how close it is to Cardiff, our busy capital city. You can walk, relax and swim, often with few other people around, particularly in midweek.

Take your pick from quiet, sandy beaches ideal for a potter and a sandcastle, rolling countryside studded with crumbling castles and verdant gardens, delightful walks through pretty villages with atmospheric pubs.

Coastal walks and forest trails

There are great walks for all abilities in the Vale. The Wales Coast Path winds its way along nearly 50 miles (80km) of coastline here offering sparkling views, hidden beaches and dune-backed coves. Inland there are walks through ancient forests and glacial valleys.

There's a handy series of 10 Vale Trails to help you explore. You can download the Vale Tales app which brings to life stories along each of them. The popular Vale of Glamorgan Walking Festival takes place annually with a wide range of walks to take part in.

A woman and child walking along the Wales Coast Path.
A wide sandy beach with cliffs.

Lovely views along the Wales Coast Path on the Vale of Glamorgan

Parks and gardens

Dyffryn House and Gardens was the home of wealthy coal merchant, John Cory. These days it's a National Trust property - a vast Victorian mansion. Cory was a keen horticulturalist and with the help of landscape architect Thomas Mawson, he turned the 55 acres of gardens into a wonderland of fruit orchards, formal gardens and lakes.

Dunraven Gardens date back to the 16th century. They're a small, secluded series of fragrant gardens surrounded by ancient walls with the romantic ruins of a castle tower and gatehouse overlooking them. They're just a pebble's throw from the wide, sandy beach at Dunraven Bay.

Slade Farm Gardens is ideal if you have kids in tow. Along with nine acres of wooded walks and leafy gardens, there's a working farm here with opportunities to meet the pigs, cows and sheep.

Fonmon Castle also combines gardens with all manner of activities. The are lost Victorian Gardens, magical woodland walks, a reconstructed medieval working farm and even a Dinosaur Experience.

Porthkerry Country Park has 220 acres of peaceful woods and meadowland with great walks and heaps of trees to climb. It backs on to a pebbly beach and is home to an iconic viaduct. There are nature trails, picnic spots, barbecue zones and an adventure play area too.

Cosmeston Lakes and Country Park is particularly good for people with mobility impairments as its flat, even paths are accessible. Two flooded quarries are now tranquil lakes which attract vast numbers of waterfowl. It's also home to Cosmeston Medieval Village where you can step back in time to the 14th century, hosted by 'villagers' in traditional costume.

Llanerch Vineyard and Glyndwr Vineyard are gardens of a different nature and probably more suitable for grown ups! Nestled in the countryside these two award-winning vineyards, both offer wine tours and tastings. Llanerch's restaurant serves exceptional food, perfect for pairing with the vineyard's sophisticated whites.

A wine bottle and white wine in a glass on a table.
A view of the grapevines and hotel at Llanerch Vineyard.

Fine wines and attractive vines at Llanerch Vineyard

Things to do in Bridgend

Bustling Bridgend is a handy place to base yourself if you want a little buzz or have young kids who like familiar places to eat.

The town centre is easy to get around with just enough to keep you busy. Much of it is pedestrianised so it's ideal for a wander. A little further out of town there's the McArthur Glen Designer outlet home to well known dining options like Nando's and Wagamama and upmarket brands like Calvin Klein and Ted Baker.

Along with shopping, things to do in Bridgend for adults include the buzzing café and pub scene with busy pubs, funky drinking spots and craft beers brewed by local hop-lovers the Bang On Brewery.

The river Ogmore runs through the town centre and there's a short boardwalk along the river bank. There are plenty of pretty places to visit near Bridgend if you want to walk a little further. The Bridgend Circular Walk is in three easy sections taking in the attractive little villages around the town like Coychurch, Corntown and Sarn.

Discover Barry Island

Barry sprang to fame as one of the locations in the BBC TV series Gavin & Stacey. But you don't need to be a fan to enjoy the town's attractions.

It's perfect for a day out at the seaside with the golden sands of Whitmore Bay offering a lovely spot for all the family to sandcastle and paddle. You can hire one of the colourful, iconic Barry Island beach huts for the day or explore the dazzling lights of nearby Barry Island Pleasure Park. To top it off, the promenade is full of thriving cafés, traditional fish and chip shops and amusement arcades. The beach is also accessible to those less able with the free loan of beach wheelchairs from Vale of Glamorgan Council.

 

People using a beach wheelchair by brightly coloured beach huts.
Three females pushing all-terrain beach wheelchairs down slope towards sandy beach.

Beach huts and beach wheelchairs at Barry Island

There is a lot more to Barry than the seafront too. Barry Tourist Railway runs regular heritage train rides. Barry War Museum is on the same site with a First World War replica trench and an Anderson shelter from the Second World War. Knap Lake and Gardens is a favourite spot for locals to relax and the gardens are lovely to walk around. Goodsheds is a cool collection of independent boutiques, cafés and diners, ideal for a bite to eat and a spot of retail therapy.

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Read more: Reasons to love Barry

Barry Island from above showing funfair and beach

Whitmore Bay, Barry Island, Vale of Glamorgan

Visit the Vale's villages

Scattered across the Vale of Glamorgan, you'll find a gaggle of pretty villages where time sometimes feels as if it has stood still. Ancient ruins, friendly pubs and quirky shopping all await.

Penarth

You'll find plenty of things to do in Penarth. It's an elegant seaside town with independent shops, its very own arcade and a clutch of excellent eateries. Head east and you come across Penarth Marina and the Barrage. Head towards the coast and you can’t help but find the magnificent Art Deco Pier and Pavilion. The splendid Esplanades run the length of the seafront offering a range of high quality restaurants, cafés and shops.

Aerial view of Penarth including the waterfront, pier, beach and sea

Penarth Pier stretching out into the sea

Cowbridge

The market town of Cowbridge is an absolute delight with historic town walls, a blue plaque trail to follow and lots of fashionable independent shops. The Physic Garden is a perfect spot to sit, relax and take a breather and there's a great range of cafés and delis if you fancy a bite.

Llantwit Major

Ancient buildings are everywhere in Llantwit Major, one of the Vale of Glamorgan’s most beautiful villages; the first church was recorded here more than 1,500 years ago. You can walk the Blue Plaque Trail here too and lush countryside, caves and beaches make for glorious surroundings.

Nearby St Donat’s Castle is a feast of towers, battlements and dungeons. It’s home to UWC Atlantic an inspiring educational academy with students from over 150 countries. There’s also lots going on here for visitors including Christmas fayres, outdoor cinema and castle tours and sporting experiences like kayaking, climbing and coasteering.

Exterior view of St Illtyd's Church.
garden with hedged flower beds and white building.

St Illtyd's Church, Llantwit Major and Cowbridge Physic Garden

Don’t miss…

The potters and Ewenny Pottery

Here at the oldest working pottery in Wales, the Jenkins family have been creating uniquely lovely pots, dishes and vases for eight generations. They have quite a pedigree, as pot-throwing here dates back to the 15th century. You can see the family at work and take home your very own piece of iconic Welsh history, handcrafted on site at the Ewenny Pottery.

Nash Point Lighthouse

Engineer James Walker designed the Nash Point Lighthouse to protect the coast during the mid-19th century. It's thought that many hundreds of shipwrecks lie here beneath the waves. It was the last manned lighthouse in Wales before being automated in 1998. Opened to the public in 2007, it’s an excellent starting point for a cliff-top walk with dramatic views.

View of Monk Nash lighthouse along side the beach., Vale of Glamorgan.
Rocky beach with cliff.
Close up of ammoniate fossil on rock

Nash Point Lighthouse and fossils found on the beach

Merthyr Mawr

Ever dreamed of meeting Lawrence of Arabia? Sequences from the 1962 classic were filmed at the historic sand dunes here, overlooking the River Ogmore. The dunes form part of Merthyr Mawr Warren National Nature Reserve and there are a waymarked trails to help you explore its unique wildlife and habitats. Merthyr Mawr also features pretty thatched roofed cottages, the 19th century mansion Merthyr Mawr House and Candleston Castle, the romantic ruins of a 14th century fortified manor.

Ogmore Castle

The ruins of Ogmore castle sit on a bend in the gentle waters of the Ogmore River. The setting is idyllic, but what visitors remember most is the line of large stepping stones that go right across the river. See if you can get to the other side without getting your feet wet!

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stretch of water with stepping stones across. Adult and child are stepping across. Ruins of an old building in the background.

On the stepping stones at Ogmore castle

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