When the sun shines in Wales (and we promise it does!) locals and visitors alike make a beeline for one of our world-famous stretches of beach. But you don't need to be by the coast to make a splash on your holiday or day trip, as Wales is also home to a number of idyllic reservoirs, set amidst verdant surroundings.
Chief among these are five visitor attractions owned by Wales’ not-for-profit water company, Dŵr Cymru. At these serene locations, spread throughout Wales, visitors can enjoy an array of aquatic activities, from open water swimming to sailing. There’s also plenty to do for those who’d prefer to soak up the atmosphere rather than get wet, with hiking and biking trails, wildlife watching opportunities, and inviting waterside cafes.
Llyn Brenig, North Wales
A great spot for those seeking a peaceful paddle, the huge Llyn Brenig lake, carved into the rural North Wales landscape, is the fourth largest lake in Wales. As such, even in the height of holiday season, it’s easy to lose the crowds out on the water during a kayaking or stand up paddleboarding (SUP) session, both of which are available for rent during summer. Recreational boats are also available to hire on the lake year-round.
Aside from the chance to drift around on the reservoir’s tranquil waters, the site’s other primary draw is the opportunity to spy its two native ospreys, which, as one of only five or six known breeding pairs in Wales, have gained celebrity status amongst the Welsh birding community. The remarkable raptors return to the reservoir from Africa during breeding season (roughly April to August), and can be viewed from the site’s dedicated hide and lookout point.
Additionally, the reservoir serves as a very popular fishing spot. Having played host to international fly fishing competitions, Llyn Brenig is considered one of the top trout fisheries in the UK. The area’s hiking and biking routes are also well-used, with bikes available to hire from the visitor centre, which also houses a cafe, gift and fishing shop and exhibition about the lake’s beloved birds of prey.
The visitor centre, and on-site cafe, is wheelchair accessible and also has accessible toilets. The osprey hide is also wheelchair friendly, and accessible 'wheelyboats', used for fishing, are available for hire. There is dedicated disabled parking outside the visitor centre.
Elan Valley Lakes, Mid Wales
Hidden amidst the hills of Mid Wales’ mighty Cambrian Mountains, an area dubbed one of the last remaining areas of true wilderness in southern Britain. While this is one of the Dŵr Cymru sites where no swimming or water sports facilities are offered, the lakes and reservoirs of the Elan Valley serve as a dream destination for anyone in need of a digital detox.
Visitors to the Elan Valley visitor centre can delve into the area's wildlife and heritage by experiencing one of the twelve walking trails on offer. But the nature on show isn’t the only draw here, with the area’s six huge Victorian-era stone dams marvels in their own right, most of which are crisscrossed by the hiking and biking trails. Visitors can venture inside Pen y Garreg Dam on one of the frequently organised Dam Open Day events.
Bikes can be hired from the visitor centre, which also has a waterside cafe.
The natural splendour continues even after the sun sets, with the Elan Valley Estate listed as one of Wales’ International Dark Sky Places (IDSP), providing dazzlingly clear views of the cosmos.
The Elan Valley Lakes visitor centre is wheelchair accessible, and has disabled car parking spaces outside. The staff here are also Dementia-Friendly trained. The Cnwch Woods trail, starting from the visitor centre, is suitable for wheelchair users and those with limited mobility.
Llys-y-frân Lake, West Wales
Following a major refurbishment project, Llys-y-frân Lake has transformed from a picturesque woodland-silhouetted reservoir in Pembrokeshire into a true behemoth of an outdoor attraction, offering activities for the whole family to enjoy.
Out on the water there’s open water swimming, kayaking, canoeing and stand up paddleboarding (SUP) facilities offered, the latter of which comes in both regular and jumbo-sized (with room for up to eight people, until someone inevitably falls off), as well as a range of sailing courses. This is complemented by a wealth of quirky on-land activities, where visitors can shoot bows, scramble up climbing walls and – under watchful eyes – fling axes at targets.
The site is also a major hit with cyclists, who have a selection of flat paved routes and bumpy mountain bike trails to explore, as well as a small slalom track to hone skills. Bikes, including e-bikes, can be hired from the site’s visitor centre, which also boasts a cafe and gift shop. The reservoir also permits fishing.
Llys-y-frân Lakeview campsite, which opened in 2023, offers camping with a view of the water and some spectacular sunsets. With top notch facilities, campervans, tents and caravans are welcome to pitch up at this outdoor enthusiasts playground.
Designated disabled parking spaces are available in the car park close to the visitor centre, which is wheelchair accessible with accessible toilets. The Riverside Stroll and Memorial Garden Walk trails are both wheelchair accessible.
Llandegfedd Lake, South Wales
Situated next to the beautiful Usk River Valley, with the distant hills of the Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons) National Park as a backdrop, it’s tough to find a more photogenic spot for a dip than Llandegfedd Lake.
A swim tops most visitor’s agenda. The reservoir has been a certified spot for open water swimming since 2021, with a range of short and long distances for both competitive swimmers working on their stamina and casual bathers boosting their mental wellbeing. There’s also canoe, kayak and stand up paddleboard (SUP) hire available, as well as introduction classes to the disciplines of windsurfing and sailing.
Nestled in-between the visitor centre and activity centre is the Activities Arena where you'll find archery, axe throwing and laser clay shooting. Perfect for a family day out or a get together with friends.
For those who prefer their activities on the less strenuous side, a selection of hiking trails wriggle their way out into the forest surrounding the reservoir from the visitor centre. The on-site cafe here has an enticing balcony with lake views, and also offers a picnic service, providing packed lunches that can be taken away by walkers. Fishing is also available at the reservoir.
The visitor centre is accessible to wheelchairs and has accessible toilets. Dedicated disabled parking spaces can be found directly outside the visitor centre. Accessible sailing and katakanu hire is available.
Lisvane and Llanishen Reservoirs, South Wales
Initially built in the 1860s, access to the Lisvane and Llanishen Reservoirs site on the outskirts of Cardiff had been restricted for the last few decades. The reopening to the public in the summer of 2023 provided city residents and visitors alike with a superb spot for kayaking, canoeing and stand up paddleboarding (SUP) right on the doorstep of the Welsh capital.
Nature-lovers not keen to slip into a wetsuit can find equal enjoyment on strolls around the lakeside paths. These are dotted with bird hides where visitors have a chance to spot a variety of birdlife throughout the year, from heron and hawks to wigeons and wagtails.
Lisvane Reservoir is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for overwintering birds and waxcap fungi, with up to twenty-seven species found on the embankments of both reservoirs. Much of the reservoir grassland and scrub woodland outside the SSSI is designated as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC).
The two-storey visitor centre offers spectacular views across the reservoirs from the floor-to-ceiling windows of the first floor restaurant, which open up to the balcony, so you can dine al-fresco while watching watersports on the lake below.
The visitor centre is accessible by wheelchair and has accessible toilets. A wheelchair-accessible bird hide is also available at the site. Disabled parking spaces are located directly outside the visitor centre.