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.
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.
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.
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.
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 is a great getaway location with the stylish farmhouse hotel, which recently won the AA Hotel of the Year Wales 2022/23, offering 37 four-star rooms. The 2 AA rosette restaurant completes the package, serving exceptional food, perfect for pairing with the vineyard's sophisticated wines.
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.
There is a lot more to Barry than the seafront too, including Barry War Museum 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.
Read more: Reasons to love Barry
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.
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 shops, cafés and restaurants.
For a real taste of fine dining in Penarth book ahead to visit Michelin-starred James Sommerin’s restaurant Home. As author Lowri Cooke discovered when she sampled the Michelin star restaurants in Wales, "Nobody knows quite what to expect before ringing the restaurant’s doorbell. But once you’ve been welcomed through those luxury grey curtains, be prepared for an evening of high drama!".
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.
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.
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.
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!
Search for other attractions and accommodation in the Vale of Glamorgan