Taking in the vast curve of the Cardigan Bay, this south-north trip has the sparkling Welsh coastline on one side and the mighty peaks of Eryri (Snowdonia) on the other. It starts in the ancient pilgrimage city of St Davids and ends at the tip of the wildly unspoilt Llŷn peninsula.
You don’t need to drive either. The Coastal Way tracks the long distance Wales Coast Path for much of the route so you could walk or cycle much of it. The northern section is also mirrored by the Cambrian Coast Line which ranks among Britain's most scenic railways.
Day One: St Davids to Cardigan
Distance: about 35 miles/56km
St Davids is Britain’s smallest city, home to St Davids Cathedral, a building that’s central to Wales’ story. St David, our patron saint, founded a religious community here in the sixth century. This soaring medieval building is full of treasures. It stands next to the Bishop’s Palace which, although in ruins, retains echoes of its former splendour in its arched parapets and decorative windows. St David's birthplace is said to be at nearby St Non's well and chapel.
The Pembrokeshire coastline is movingly beautiful and has inspired artists down the generations. At Oriel y Parc gallery you can enjoy some of these works and learn more about the coast and its history.
Worth a Detour: If you want to explore the coast some more, Ramsey Island southwest of St Davids is a wildlife paradise – particularly for seabirds. You can take a boat trip from St Justinians slipway, next to St David’s Lifeboat station between April to October. Pre-booking recommended. Entry charges apply if you’re not an RSPB member.
Once you’ve been enthralled by the treasures of St Davids’, try something altogether more quirky. Dr Beynon’s Bug Farm, a little way outside the city, is a research and visitor centre where you’ll learn all about the insect world and sustainable agriculture. You can even eat food made with from insects in the café!
You’ll be seeing plenty of beaches on this trip but if you can’t wait to see the surf and smell the ozone, the perfect crescent of sand at Whitesands Bay is down on the coast.
Approaching Fishguard, Melin Tregwynt gives Wales’ traditional woollen industry a contemporary twist. Dating from the 17th century, the mill now produces contemporary designs and its fabrics are sold worldwide. You can watch the looms in action and buy blankets, clothes and gifts.
Just past Newport, take a short journey inland to Pentre Ifan Burial Chamber, a skeletal burial chamber built around 3–4000BC. A giant capstone sits balanced on three uprights – it’s over 5000 years old.
Your last stop today is the friendly castle town of Cardigan. Don’t forget to see what’s on at Theatr Mwldan. This brilliant arts, theatre and cinema venue has a busy programme of drama, music, opera and film.
Overnight: The Cliff Hotel just up the road in Gwbert has a luxurious spa, serene sea views and a 9 hole golf course.
Day Two: Cardigan to Aberaeron
Distance: about 24 miles/39km
Start today with a visit to Cardigan Castle. It’s certainly not your typical castle: ancient walls enclose a handsome Georgian mansion along with stylish Cegin 1176 Kitchen, named after the date when Wales’ first eisteddfod was held here.
Just inland, you can immerse yourself in the natural world with a visit to the Welsh Wildlife Centre. There are all sorts of habitats here bursting with bird and wildlife. The striking wood and glass visitor centre has informative displays, a shop and café that makes a nice lunch stop.
For Cardigan Bay at its most idyllic, you could take the side road to Mwnt, another perfect crescent of sand – and a perfect picnic spot – topped by cliffs. There's a tiny Grade I listed Holy Cross Church, a medieval sailor's chapel which is dazzling in its coat of whitewash. The atmosphere here is quite spellbinding.
On the rural outskirts of New Quay make a beeline for New Quay Honey Farm (or Afon Mêl in Welsh). The honey is uniquely special, full of the flavours of the wild flowers around. They also produce a range of award-winning meads – alcoholic drinks produced by fermenting honey! Learn about bees at the bee exhibition and sample some honey or mead in the coffee shop.
The seaside town of New Quay is picturesque and home to more golden sandy beaches. It also partly inspired Llareggub, the fabled village brought to life in Dylan Thomas’ masterwork Under Milk Wood. In summer, it’s also the place to hop on a boat and go dolphin spotting. You might want to learn a little about them beforehand at the Cardigan Bay Wildlife Centre.
A short hop along the coast brings you to another pretty town, Aberaeron. There are several nice places to eat here and enjoy the bustle of the harbour.
Day Three: Aberaeron to Aberystwyth
Distance: about 16 miles/26km
From here to Aberystwyth, the A487 hugs a cliff-backed coast with spectacular, far-reaching views along Cardigan Bay. It’s a wonderful drive so allow time to stop and admire the scenery!
Worth the detour: Alternatively, a short drive inland brings you to the National Trust property, Llanerchaeron. This tranquil traditional Welsh villa and farm buildings is a fascinating step back in time. The walled garden is a romantic spot with ancient fruit trees and a fragrant herb garden.
The elegant resort town of Aberystwyth offers all sorts of attractions so spend the rest of the day here.
There’s a castle to explore (of course) the Ceredigion Museum, the National Library of Wales and lots of interesting shops. You could also board the cliff railway and take in the spectacular views over the town and out to sea from the camera obscura. For a longer ride on rails jump on the Vale of Rheidol Railway and puff up the valley to see famous Devil’s Bridge and waterfalls.
Make sure to see what’s on at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre too – you could catch a play, some comedy or just go to the movies for the evening.
Day Four: Aberystwyth to Aberdyfi
This morning it’s all about the wonders of the natural world and there are plenty!
Take the coast road and you come to the friendly town of Borth with its long sand beach and characterful cafés. But what’s particularly remarkable is the spooky petrified tree stumps that appear mysteriously from the water at low tide!
Moments further up the road and you’re entering the Dyfi Biosphere. It’s the only biosphere in Wales – a river estuary and coastal dune plain which is a paradise for wildlife and rare ecosystems. You come first to the wild coastal landscape of Ynyslas dunes and the unique raised peat bog of Cors Fochno.
The road heads inland around the reserve and on to Ynys-hir RSPB Reserve home to all sorts of birdlife particularly waders, the Dyfi Wildlife Centre and the adjoining Dyfi Osprey Project on the Cors Dyfi Reserve. There’s a great deal to see here so choose wisely!
Worth the detour: You will need to book in advance and ideally stay the night at nearby Ynyshir. This Michelin-starred restaurant with rooms is one for serious foodies – it offers an utterly unique dining experience.
Your final destination today is the quirky market town of Machynlleth. Make sure to leave time to explore if you can. You can learn all about our national hero at the Owain Glyndwr Centre, gasp at the fantastic modern art at MOMA Machynlleth and just enjoy browsing the funky shops and cafés.
Overnight: Head back to the coast to the Trefeddian Hotel close to Aberdyfi. It’s a stylish, modern family-run hotel with wonderful sea views.
Day five: Aberdyfi to Portmeirion
Aberdyfi with its big sandy beach is perfect for a stroll before breakfast. From here, head north on the cliff-hugging coast road to the Mawddach Estuary, where mountains tumble into the sea, taking the historic wooden toll bridge across the water at Penmaenpool.
Barmouth has a special place in Britain’s heritage. On a headland perched dizzily above the town is Dinas Oleu which in 1895 became the National Trust’s very first acquisition. The short walk up is circular and as you’d expect there are brilliant views over the town and out to sea. It’s only 1.2miles (1.9km) and takes a couple of hours. Barmouth beach is also wide and sandy, perfect for a paddle or a sandcastle two.
The cosy coastal town of Harlech is a short picturesque drive up the coast road and sat high above it is Harlech Castle, a World Heritage Site. There’s lots to see with mighty towers and walls to explore. The medieval ramparts seem to grow organically from the rock – once a sea-cliff – on which it stands. The waves have now retreated to leave dunes that today serve as one of Europe’s finest links golf courses, Royal St David’s.
A nice way to get to know Harlech is a short stroll following the Branwen Walk trail. It’s just a couple of miles (3.5km) so won’t take long but there’s a steep section – Ffordd Pen Llech is officially the second steepest street in the world!
Overnight: From Harlech, head inland to the remarkable Italianate village of Portmeirion. Choose to stay in a cosy cottage, a luxury hotel and even a converted castle.
Day six: Portmeirion to Abersoch
Distance: about 24 miles/39km
Portmeirion, is a unique 20th century architect-designed village inspired by Portofino on the Italian Riviera. It’s a colourful collection of piazzas, gardens, domed houses and statues – truly remarkable. There are ornamental gardens too. You’ll want to spend some time exploring here!
Once you can tear yourself away from Portmeirion’s charms, press on to Porthmadog. There’s an interesting Maritime Museum here or you can do a stroll to nearby Tremadog through the Parc Y Borth nature reserve.
Just along the coast you come next to Criccieth, a charming Victorian resort. Criccieth Castle is a landmark scarred by serious conflict (all is revealed at its new interactive visitor centre). Criccieth is a perfect spot for lunch stop. Dylan’s located right on the seafront in a curvaceous Art Deco pavilion is a particular favourite.
A short hop from Criccieth you’ll find the Lloyd George Memorial Museum in Llanystumdwy. It offers a fascinating insight into the life of the famous prime minister. Or else, there’s another dose of history just down the road at Penarth Fawr a unique medieval house. It’s small but perfectly preserved.
You’re now on the Llŷn Peninsula, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It’s hard to argue with that description from the grounds of Plas Glyn y Weddw, Llanbedrog. There’s more on which to feast your eyes within this Victorian mansion, a leading gallery dedicated to contemporary Welsh art. The beach at Llanbedrog is long, sandy and sheltered, popular with windsurfers and sailors.
Your final stop is the chic seaside town of Abersoch just down the coast. For dinner make sure to try some sparklingly fresh seafood!
Day seven: Abersoch to Aberdaron
Distance: about 13 miles/21km
Today is all about enjoying the unspoilt and spectacular coastline of the Llŷn Peninsula.
You might want to spend some time enjoying the beach at Abersoch this morning. It’s a lovely stretch of sugary sand with clear sheltered waters. Kids will love it.
Perched on a headland, Plas yn Rhiw is an early 17th century Manor House maintained by the National Trust, close to Rhiw. The house is surrounded by ornamental gardens with superb views of Hell's Mouth Bay and the Llŷn Peninsula.
Aberdaron marks the end of this Coastal Way itinerary, but there’s lots to do here.
First stop should be Porth y Swnt Visitor Centre to find out what makes Llŷn so special. Then, to take in the dazzling clifftop views, pull on the walking boots and go for a stomp. There’s a perfect 7 mile (11km) circular walk treading in the footsteps of poets and pilgrims to Mynydd Mawr. Or else there’s another gorgeous beach!
Or how about getting closer to the wildlife? Take a boat trip from Aberdaron across to Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island), the ‘Isle of 20,000 Saints’ at the stormy ‘land’s end’ of North Wales. On Mynydd Enlli, the island’s highest point, look out for puffins in the skies and seals resting on the rocks below.