The Guardian newspaper celebrated the Cambrian Coast Railway as one of the world's 10 epic train journeys in 2016. We’re not going to disagree! Completed by 1869, this incredible feat of Victorian engineering follows our beautiful coastline for most of the journey, showcasing the sandy beaches, coastal villages and outstanding views of this part of The Coastal Way.

The railway line is pretty dramatic; in places it clings to high cliffs and burrows through tunnels hewn from the rock. 

The train ride itself can be a day out, but there's also loads to do along the way."

The line runs between Aberystwyth and Pwllheli (change at Machynlleth), following the curve of Cardigan Bay. The Cambrian Line from Shrewsbury connects the coast line with the Midlands and the rest of the UK. 

The train ride itself can be a day out, but there's also loads to do along the way. There's something for everyone - outdoor and watersports enthusiasts, heritage and history fans and families looking for that perfect sandcastle-making beach.

Come and explore part of The Coastal Way section of The Wales Way by train.

Towns and villages

Travellers are spoilt by the attractive, vibrant harbour towns of Aberystwyth, Aberdyfi, Barmouth, Porthmadog and Pwllheli - wonderful for exploring anytime of the year. Each has its fair share of independent shops, markets and cafés full of homemade delights, local produce and crafts. 

Borth, Tywyn, Fairbourne, Barmouth and Dyffryn Ardudwy have long, sandy beaches, while Pwllheli is the gateway to popular surfing spots on the Llŷn Peninsula. Many places offer water sports and activities to try, including sailing, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding and surfing. Most of our beaches are family friendly and safe for swimming and water sports, but please take care and follow the RNLI’s Beach Safety Advice.

Donkey on the beach
Outside shot of Castell Harlech with a view of the towers and entrance.
Blick auf die Aberystwyth Cliff Railway.

Donkeys on Barmouth beach, Castell Harlech and views from Aberystwyth's Constitution Hill

Things to see from the train

The sun rising over the Dyfi Estuary to gently waken the landscape of birds, boats and misty hills is truly special. The line grips the vertiginous cliffs at Y Friog but don't look down, look towards Pwllheli, Barmouth, Porthmadog and Cricieth for panoramic views across Cardigan Bay.

Look out for the yarn bombing (colourful street art made up of knitted or crocheted displays - definitely needs to be seen!) at Llwyngwril station (request stop). You can get off and follow the Yarn Bombing Trail if you like - a guide is available from outside the shop by Gwril's bridge.

There’s plenty of wildlife to see as well – sea birds (including cormorants), dolphins, porpoises and various birds of prey live in the area."

As you head north past Barmouth, the line veers inland slightly and the flatter landscape reveals some fantastic views of Eryri (Snowdonia) on both sides. On a clear day you should be able to see the distant Llŷn Peninsula and Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island) draw ever closer, as you pass through Aberdyfi, Tywyn, Barmouth, Harlech, Porthmadog and Cricieth. Watch out for the colourful Italianate village of Portmeirion hidden in the trees across the Dwyryd river as you pass through Tygwyn (just after Harlech).

There’s plenty of wildlife to see as well – sea birds (including cormorants), dolphins, porpoises and various birds of prey live in the area. Along the Dyfi estuary, the Dyfi Wildlife Centre's osprey nest is visible near Dyfi Junction, and you also pass the RSPB Ynys-hir Nature Reserve and the Dyfi National Nature Reserve and Ynyslas Visitor Centre. See if you can spot waders, ospreys and other sea birds from the train depending on the season.

You can now download an audio guide using the Window Seater app for the Cambrian Line to listen to as you trundle along. 

Portmeirion hidden in the trees, view from over the river

Portmeirion, seen from across the river, North Wales

History and heritage

If heritage and history are more your thing, it’ll definitely take more than one day out to see everything!

Stop off and explore the mighty Harlech and Cricieth castles, or simply admire them as you pass by - it's hard to miss them. 

There are plenty of museums and galleries to wander round as well. Aberystwyth is home to the National Library of Wales and Ceredigion Museum; both host regular exhibitions and events. Machynlleth is home to the Museum of Modern Art Machynlleth. The Narrow Gauge Railway Museum is based in Tywyn, Barmouth Sailor’s Institute is a lovely place to escape the busy town, and Porthmadog has its own Maritime Museum.

Standing on the shoreline with waves hitting the beach, looking up to Criccieth Castle on a hill.
A grey corrugated iron building.

Cricieth Castle and Barmouth Sailors' Institute, North Wales

The Cambrian Line is a railway enthusiast’s dream destination.

This area of Wales is world famous for its historic narrow gauge steam railways, many originally built to support the slate quarrying industry. Heritage railways you can visit along the route include the Vale of Rheidol in Aberystwyth, the Talyllyn Railway in Tywyn (which kick-started the railway preservation movement in 1951), and the Fairbourne Miniature Railway

Porthmadog is home to the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway, plus the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways - the Ffestiniog is the world's oldest narrow gauge railway. Some offer discounts to people arriving by public transport or who have a Great Little Trains of Wales discount card.

Welsh Highland and Ffestiniog Railway steam engine at Porthmadog's Harbour Station

Ffestiniog Railway train going over the Cob at Porthmadog, North Wales

Circular tours

For a family-friendly mini-tour, Barmouth is a good starting point. During the summer you can board the little ferry from the harbour to Fairbourne Point, travel on the steam railway into Fairbourne, then catch the Cambrian Line train back to Barmouth or vice versa.

Remember to check train times, and leave yourself plenty of time to build sandcastles on Fairbourne's lovely beach. If you get off at Morfa Mawddach (request stop) you can walk across the spectacular viaduct into Barmouth, but be very careful on the narrow roads leading into the town.

How about doing a epic circular tour of the Cambrian and North Wales Coast lines via the Shrewsbury to Chester line, the Conwy Valley Line and the Ffestiniog Railway? You can get a rover ticket (‘Ffestiniog Round Robin’) which allows you to do it all in a day. Please plan and check train times carefully before you set out - it’s usually only doable during the summer timetable.

Starting off early from Machynlleth (or other stations along the route), ask for a Ffestiniog Round Robin ticket. Head towards Shrewsbury, change there for Chester or Llandudno Junction, change at Llandudno Junction for Blaenau Ffestiniog (along the scenic Conwy Valley Line), and catch the Ffestiniog steam train to Porthmadog Harbour station. Walk through the town to the Cambrian Line station to get the train back to your original starting point. You can do it the other way round but check train times before you travel. Please note, it's only valid on Transport for Wales trains and one single journey on the Ffestiniog.

There are also various 'rover' ticket options to explore the railways across one or more days. Some include bus travel as well to really help you explore Wales by public transport.

Using the Cambrian Coast line for walking and cycling

There are a lot of walks for all abilities starting from stations along the Cambrian Coast line. Follow in the footsteps of the many walkers who have already used the railway to complete the Wales Coast Path sections between Aberystwyth and Pwllheli. There's a great mixture of easy coastal walks with accessible level pathways, up to proper hard going hill walks, with spectacular views to match. There’s a handy guide to using the train to complete sections on the Wales Coast Path website and walk suggestions on the Rail to Trail website.

Other well known walks include the Mawddach Way walking trail around and above the beautiful Mawddach estuary, starting from Barmouth. The Panorama Walk takes you high above the coast for fabulous views, while Harlech's two mile Branwen walk explores the town and beach. 

Visit Eryri's (Snowdonia's) Cambrian Trailways page has a varied selection of walks to check out, from easy strolls exploring woodlands and old railway lines, to challenging hill walks along ancient tracks.

Cycling by the sea

Cycling in Barmouth, North Wales

Bikes can be taken on the train, although you may need to book in advance.

Aberystwyth is a good base to start exploring long-distance cycle routes - the Ystwyth Cycle Trail and the Rheidol Cycle Trail for starters. 

The Mawddach Trail along the disused railway line towards Dolgellau is perfect for a family cycle ride - it's flat and very scenic. Also heading through Barmouth, Porthmadog and Cricieth is Sustrans Route 8 - one of our long-distance road routes up the length of Wales. Route 82 follows a mainly inland route. It takes you over quieter, but definitely challenging in places, roads further south between Machynlleth and Dolgellau.

Being west facing, the vivid sunsets really are something special."

Whatever you decide to do, try to finish off your day watching a spectacular Cardigan Bay sunset from the train, or settle down in one of the many seaside pubs or restaurants before catching the last train home. Being west facing, the vivid sunsets really are something special. Just like the Cambrian Line.

Find out train times, fares and attraction discount offers via the Transport for Wales website.

View from Coast Path over Borth and Ynyslas towards Aberdovey Ceredigion

The Wales Coast Path above Borth, looking towards Ynyslas and Aberdyfi

Related stories