Stunning landscapes, starry skies and Blue Flag beaches – they’re all here, right on your doorstep, ready to be explored. Here’s a hand-picked selection of staycation ideas to inspire your next break.
Visit award-winning beaches
The first time I visited Pembrokeshire’s beautiful beaches as a child, it wasn’t just the broad, soft sands and white-crested waves that wowed me. It was the little things. Limpets and periwinkles gleaming in the rockpools. Wildflowers – sea campion, harebells and thrift – scattered like confetti beside the clifftop paths.
Pembrokeshire has the lion’s share (or perhaps I should say dragon’s share) of Wales’ Blue Flag beaches – the 45 stunners that environmentalists, conservationists and lifesavers have singled out for awards. To fly a Blue Flag, a beach must be clean and safe, with essentials such as drinking water, information boards and those all-important toilets. It’s hard to choose a favourite, but in the summer of 2019, The Sunday Times did exactly that, crowning Tenby Castle Beach the British Beach of the Year.
There are cracking staycation spots all along the crinkled Welsh coast. Some are perfect for swimming or just feeling the sand between your toes; others are all about watersports. The Gower’s Blue Flag blockbuster, Langland Bay, attracts top surfers, while sailors gather at Abersoch on the Llŷn Peninsula. Tuck yourself away in a seaside cottage or a funky boathouse, and you could discover some insiders’ favourites: Cwmtydu in Ceredigion, for example, or Anglesey’s pebble-strewn Porth Padrig.
Take a road trip along The Wales Way
The team at National Geographic, who know a thing or two about grand landscapes and unforgettable adventures, included The Wales Way in their 25 best trips to take in 2020. There are three routes, crossing different regions. Knitting together spectacular scenery, they lead to places stuffed with possibilities, from Snowdonia’s hiking trails and Pembrokeshire’s coasteering spots to the high-end restaurants of Monmouthshire and the Wye Valley.
There’s no need to rush. You could spend four days driving along the North Wales Way from Anglesey to the border, or follow the Cambrian Way through Mid Wales in five. The Coastal Way around Cardigan Bay fits neatly into a week, with quirky campsites and ecolodges to explore along the route.
To make your road trip on The Wales Way as sustainable as possible, I’d heartily recommend travelling by electric car. Now that modern vehicles cover more than 150 miles on a single charge, there’s no need to worry about running low on juice – and your staycation will be as green as those gorgeous, rolling hills. You could also explore by bike or by foot – an ideal way to slow down and really get to the heart of Wales.
Explore an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
Wales is rightly famous for its national parks: Snowdonia, the Brecon Beacons and the Pembrokeshire Coast. All three have scenery to knock your socks off. But some of the loveliest places in Wales are not in the parks at all.
There are five Welsh Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), three of them coastal (on Anglesey, Gower or the Llŷn Peninsula) and two inland (in the Wye Valley and Clwydian Range). Each region has its own, understated atmosphere; from Anglesey’s restless coves to the Clwydian Range’s heather-cloaked summits. It’s this abundance of fine scenery – particularly around the Welsh coast – that helped prompt Rough Guides readers to vote the UK one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
If you’re planning a camping staycation, a Welsh AONB is a superb choice. I particularly love the Wye: right on the border with England, visiting from Cardiff, Bristol or London is a breeze. The glossy river, edged by tree-cloaked banks, is genuinely picturesque, and paddling along it by canoe is just dreamy.
Wales is blessed with plenty of lesser-known beauty spots, too. Stride out across the Cambrian Mountains, for example, and you’ll often have its wild upland landscapes all to yourself.
Stargaze in a dark sky destination
Gazing at the stars can add an extra special sparkle to your staycation in Wales. On a crisp, clear night, prepare to be dazzled. Wales has three IDA International Dark Sky Parks and Reserves, in Snowdonia, the Brecon Beacons and the Elan Valley, and a network of unofficial dark sky destinations where light pollution is refreshingly low. They’re peaceful places to stay, and fun to visit with a local expert, who will help you de-code what you see and perhaps teach you some traditional Welsh names. Orion’s Belt, for example, is sometimes called Y Tri Brenin (The Three Kings); Lyra is Telyn Arthur (Arthur’s Harp) and the Pleiades are Y Saith Seren Siriol (The Seven Cheerful Stars).
Winter, when the hours of darkness are longest, is a wonderful season for stars. It’s a time to wrap up warm, filling the days with bracing walks or bike rides and rounding the nights off nicely with drinks by the fire in a cosy country cottage or pub.
Discover Wales’ wildlife
Who can resist a puffin? Each time I see one, I can’t help but grin. On Skomer and Skokholm, summer sightings (and smiles) are pretty much guaranteed. Elsewhere in Wales, red kites soar on elegant wings, scarlet-legged choughs tumble on the clifftop breezes and blackcaps warble from the hedgerows. In total, more than 400 species have been recorded in our wildlife-rich nation. And that’s just the birds. With a rich mosaic of habitats including wetlands, woodlands and mountains, Wales is an internationally recognised wildlife haven.
What else might you see? Dolphins and seals are surprisingly easy: Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion’s skippers know where to look. Rarer species, such as water voles, polecats and greater horseshoe bats, are elusive, but they’re here, leaving tracks and traces to prove it. How exciting is that?