The ultimate guide to outdoor activities in Wales

Activity, Watersports, The Great British Outdoors

Posted by Ed Roberts on 12th May 2022

White water rafting in Wales

Wales is a playground for the outdoor enthusiast. An explorer’s paradise, an adrenaline junkie’s heaven, a nature lover’s idyll – the small country packs a mighty punch when it comes to outdoor activities. On any given day you could find yourself soaring like a bird on Europe’s longest zip line, plunging off cliffs into waiting waves, hurtling down a canyon on a white water rafting experience, or scaling dizzying heights with panoramic views all around. If there’s an outdoor activity on your bucket list, the chances are Wales can oblige.

To inspire your adventures in the great outdoors, we’ve compiled a list of outdoor activities in Wales. There are many ways to experience Wales, but none is as good as getting out there, being active and breathing in the fresh Welsh air as you take in the sights from some very unique perspectives! 

Once you decided which outdoor activities you are going to get involved with on your holiday, it may well be time to choose a place to stay. Click on the button below to browse our vast collection of self-catering holiday cottages in Wales.

Holiday cottages in Wales

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Zip lining in Wales
Zip World: Image credit Instagram @zip_world

Zip lining in Wales

Specialists in exhilarating zip line experiences, Zip World have no fewer than three zip lining sites in North Wales. At Zip World Fforest (Betws-y-Coed) you can indulge your love of all things adventurous with zip lining, a woodland rollercoaster (more adrenaline-pumping than it sounds), a bouncy walkway of treetop nets, giant multi-passenger swing, Tree Hoppers adventure course and a plummeting drop, over 100 feet high!

Zip World Penrhyn Quarry (Bethesda) is home to the world’s fastest zip line: Velocity 2. Hurtling 500m above a sparkling blue quarry lake at speeds which can reach over 100mph, it offers a ride like no other! Also on offer at this site are Big Red (Velocity 2’s slightly smaller sister), quarry go-karts and a quarry tour.

Zip World Slate Caverns
Zip World Slate Caverns: Image credit Instagram @zip_world

If you’re looking for a zip lining experience with a difference, look no further than Zip World Slate Caverns (Blaenau Ffestiniog). Caverns is an underground adventure on which intrepid visitors fly, climb and traverse their way through a magical, subterranean wonderland. The Slate Caverns also house Bounce Below, an enormous underground jumping course within the disused mine. And as if they weren’t enough, above ground there’s also Titan, Europe’s largest zip zone with three exhilarating zip lines. Also, check out Go Below (included in the caving section below).

If you’re looking for outdoor activities in South Wales, The Wire near Chepstow is a definite contender. It requires daredevils to launch themselves from a 70-metre-high cliff edge to soar over an 80-metre flooded quarry at speeds of up to 40mph!

Zip lining in Wales at a glance

  • Zip World (various locations)
  • The Wire (Chepstow)

Surfing in Wales
Freshwater West: Image credit Jon Gupta Instagram @mountexpeds

Surfing in Wales

With 1,370 miles of coastline, it’s not surprising that Wales offers a number of fantastic surf spots, whether you’re a beginner dipping your toes for the first time or a skilled surfer looking for the ride of their life. Starting in the most unlikely place, Snowdonia/Eryri is the new mecca for surfers, if only to see what all the fuss is about! Surf Snowdonia is an inland wave garden – a freshwater lagoon which throws up man-made head-high waves which peel for more than 150 metres.

The Llyn Peninsula has several good surf spots. Remote Port Ceiriad requires a 15-20 minute walk but delivers steep, hollow barrels when it’s on. Hell’s Mouth offers some of the north coast’s most consistent surf, while Porthor and Trefor are also top surf spots.

Surf Snowdonia
Surf Snowdonia: Image credit Instagram @weekendcandy

Anglesey, too, has more than its fair share of surfing beaches, particularly in the winter when good waves can be found at Aberffraw, Cable Bay, Broad Beach and Rhosneigr.

Down in South Wales, along the Gower Peninsula and Pembrokeshire, you’ll be spoilt for choice! There’s Freshwater West with its beach break and reef, Manorbier with its famous reef break known as the ‘dak’, West Dale, Newgale and Whitesands, which are extremely popular, and Marloes and Abereiddy which are more isolated and suitable for intermediate to experienced surfers.

Surfing in Wales at a glance

  • Surf Snowdonia
  • The Llyn Peninsula (Hell's Mouth, Porthor, Trefor, Port Ceiriad)
  • Anglesey (Aberffraw, Cable Bay, Rhosneigr, and Broad Beach)
  • Pembrokeshire (Freshwater West, Manorbier, Abereiddy)
  • The Gower (Llangennith)
  • Llantwit Major

Read our special blog about surfing in Wales to get an even better overview.

Stand-up paddleboarding in Wales
Stand-up paddleboarding: Image credit Instagram @psyched_paddleboarding

Stand-up paddleboarding in Wales

Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) is increasing in popularity, some favouring tranquil evening paddles across mirror-still waters, others preferring the thrill of catching waves by the shore. The fact is, most bodies of water in Wales can be paddleboarded, including its peaceful canals, picture-postcard lakes and varied coastline. With over 230 beaches, there are plenty of places to take to the water.

Cruising silently along is one of the best ways to appreciate the wildlife; sightings on the coast may include dolphins, porpoises, seals, puffins and other sea birds, as well as the occasional whale (if you’re lucky) and basking sharks. Cardigan Bay is a great place to spot dolphins - check out our blog on things to do in Cardigan Bay to find out more.

Stand-up paddleboarding is a relaxing pursuit to undertake at dusk, as the stars start to emerge from the velvet sky and the world falls silent – particularly in the lakes of the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia/Eryri, far from light pollution of any kind.

Psyched Paddle Boarding, founded by Sian Sykes who was the first person to circumnavigate Anglesey on a SUP, provides SUP experiences in North Wales for those looking to embark on their first (or second or third…) paddleboarding adventure.

The National White Water Centre
The National White Water Centre: Image credit Instagram @thenationalwhitewatercentre

Paddle boarding in Wales at a glance

  • Psyched paddleboarding (Anglesey)
  • River Wye
  • Cardigan Bay
  • Rhossili

White water rafting in Wales

Wales might not be the first place that springs to mind when white water rafting is mentioned, but it’s a country full of surprises…and rapids! The best place to go white water rafting in Wales is debatable as the offering is so different at each site. Weigh up whether you’re looking for a hair-raising, washing-machine-of-a-ride to take your breath away, or a more sedate experience, bobbing along to admire Wales’ spectacular scenery.

If you’re a newbie to the world of white water rafting, a good place to start would be on the River Dee in Denbighshire. The rapids here range from grades 2 to 4, with a guided trip covering 2.5 miles. The rapids are not quickfire, so there’s time to admire the scenery in between each section while still getting an adrenaline rush from the aptly named Serpents Tail, Tombstones and Town Falls.

For more scenic rafting through stunning Welsh hills, set your sat nav for the National White Water Rafting Centre in Eryri/Snowdonia National Park. Their guided rafting sessions take place on the Tryweryn River which wends its way with varying ferocity through beautiful leafy scenery with the chance to spot wildlife en route. There are approximately 200 days a year of rafting here, as the water flow depends on when the Llyn Celyn reservoir is releasing.

Cardiff International White Water
Cardiff International White Water: Image credit Instagram @visitwales

If you’re staying down south, close to Cardiff, you’ve got a few different options to satisfy your white water rafting desires! Several different outdoor adventure companies offer rafting experiences on the River Usk, Rhondda or Wye, with transport and experienced guides.

Cardiff International White Water Centre offers white water rafting and so much more in a unique, man-made environment. Their white water course is open all year round, with plenty of waves and holes providing an exhilarating experience without having to leave the city! Unlike other white water rafting activities, children as young as six are able to have a go on the less challenging rapids. While you’re there, you might want to try one of their other activities, including an adventurous air trail, stand-up paddleboarding, gorge walking, an indoor wave or climbing.

Water rafting in Wales at a glance

  • River Dee (Denbighshire)
  • National White Water Rafting Centre (Snowdonia/Eryri)
  • Cardiff International White Water Centre

Mountain biking in Wales

Revolution Bike Park
Revolution Bike Park: Image credit Instagram @holliefaith_mtb

Mountain biking in North Wales

Wales’ mountain biking trails are varied, scenic and numerous, with dedicated mountain biking centres providing route information and other facilities.

Coed-y-Brenin Forest boasts a fantastic network of all-weather single track, with a range of routes to suit all abilities, including families. The scenery is breathtaking too, with views across to Cadair Idris, rushing rivers and lush forest. For fun to extreme downhill rides, pre-book a session at Revolution Bike Park which has miles and miles of downhill trails, and an uplift service by Land Rover.

Another centre offering an uplift service for downhill trails is Antur Stiniog. Book in advance and enjoy mountain biking through some stunning, rugged scenery.

Oneplanet Adventure
Oneplanet Adventure: Image credit Instagram @oneplanetadventure

Oneplanet Adventure, in Coed Llandegla Forest, is just 20 minutes from Chester and is the UK’s leading Forest Visitor Centre. There’s mountain biking for all abilities, and walking and trail running routes for those in your group who prefer two feet to two wheels! 

Afan Forest Park
Afan Forest Park: Image credit Instagram @blair.cartmell

Mountain biking in South Wales

In South Wales, Afan Forest Park lies just off the M4 and features over 80 miles of mountain bike trails for all abilities. The panoramas are outstanding, so make sure you’re not too distracted as you hurtle through forest and wide open hills. If you’re looking for some swooping downhills, BikePark Wales is happy to oblige. With a bookable uplift service and trails organised like a ski resort, it’s for intermediate to pro-level riders.

Cwmcarn Forest, close to Newport, offers two red and one extreme trail which are not for the faint-hearted! If there are non-riders in your group, they can enjoy walking, playing on the adventure playground or trying water activities on the lake.

Before you load up your bike and gear, take a look at Mountain Bike Wales which is a comprehensive guide to trails and mountain bike centres, with ratings and descriptions to help you choose which suits you best, or find some more routes in our guide to the best mountain biking trails in national parks

Mountain biking in Wales at a glance

  • Coed-y-Brenin Forest
  • Revolution Bike Park
  • Antur Stiniog
  • Afan Forest Park
  • Cwmcarn Forest
  • BikePark Wales
  • Mountain Bike Wales

Climbing in Wales

Llanberis Pass
Llanberis Pass: Image credit Instagram @jc_lister

Climbing in North Wales

When it comes to outdoor activities in North Wales, the climbing on offer has to be among the best in the UK. Llanberis is Eryri's/Snowdonia’s rock-climbing capital, specifically Llanberis Pass where adventurous climbers can partake in multi-pitch climbing and bouldering. Swap mountain rock for the challenge of climbing on slate in the Llanberis slate quarries, which have a plethora of routes for discerning climbers.

The sea cliffs of Gogarth on the western tip of Anglesey are famed for their adventurous climbs, suiting competent climbers only. However, dotted along the north coast of the island are a number of crags which are a bit less challenging. If you’re new to climbing, sign up for full or half-day instruction with a company such as Anglesey Outdoors where you’ll learn the skills needed to start your rock climbing career!

Gogarth: Image credit Tim Oliver, Instagram @timjoliver

Tremadog is another popular spot, in the ‘armpit’ of Wales, with craggy climbs up mainly dolerite rock. Moving south-west into the Llyn Peninsula, the sea cliffs provide a playground for the experienced climber, particularly Cilian Head which offers some of the best climbing in the UK. If you’re into bouldering, make Porth Ysgo your destination. The secluded cove is notorious for its selection of ‘problems’ (climbing speak, for the uninitiated), but mats are essential as the landing spots aren’t good.

If these climbing spots sound interesting but your skills are little to none, make Beacon Climbing Centre in Caernarfon your first port of call. It is the biggest indoor climbing centre in North Wales, providing expert tuition to all levels and ages from 5 to over 80! Then, to put your skills to the test in the great outdoors; book in with one of the many climbing centres in North Wales, including Plas y Brenin, Rock Climbing Company and North Wales Active.

Climbing in South Wales

Climbing in Pembrokeshire
Climbing in Pembrokeshire: Image credit Henry Castle, Instagram @climbpembroke

The climbing in South Wales is mainly coastal on limestone or sandstone rock. The climbing hub in this area is unarguably Pembrokeshire which boasts some fantastic higher grade routes - it’s all about abseiling down the cliffs to climb back up, with waves breaking on the rocks below.

The Gower is perhaps a better option for those looking for less-challenging routes, with some accessible straight off the beach. Sites to consider are Pennard Cliffs, Three Cliffs and Tor Bay (rated difficult and higher), Port Eynon, Rhossili and Fall Bay (rated difficult and higher) and Paviland Cliffs (rated difficult and higher).

To the south of the Brecon Beacons, there are also lots of opportunities for sports climbing in quarries and limestone outcrops.

If you’d like to give it a go, search for local adventure companies which offer rock climbing, including Dragon Activity Guides, Climb Pembroke, The Climbing Company and Rock Up Climbing.  

Climbing in Wales at a glance

  • Plas y Brenin
  • The Rock Climbing Company
  • North Wales Active
  • Dragon Activity Guides
  • Climb Pembroke
  • The Climbing Company
  • Rock Up Climbing

Ready for kayaking
Ready for kayaking: Image credit Instagram @kayak_pembrokeshire

Canoeing and kayaking in Wales

There are so many opportunities for canoeists and kayakers in Wales, from serene paddles on gentle rivers and peaceful lakes, to wave dodging along the wild and rugged coast.

Pembrokeshire is a firm favourite for sea kayaking, with the added bonus of wildlife such as seals and sea birds to spot as you make your way around the coast. Experienced kayakers will enjoy the stretch from Abereiddy to Abercastle, as well as the scenic coastline around Ramsey Island. Further north, Anglesey is another wonderful spot for sea kayaking, with Sea Kayaking Wales offering guided tours around the scenic coast.

Paddling in the Teifi Estuary in Ceredigion is also a treat, meandering down from the valley with your eyes peeled for wildlife before following the flow of the river out into the sea near Cardigan. 

For gentle lake paddling, the national parks of Snowdonia/Eryri and the Brecon Beacons present some wonderfully picturesque options. Admire Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa as you glide across Llyn Gwynant, or gaze up at the cliffs of old slate mines on Llyn Padarn. Bala Lake, Wales’ largest natural lake, is a definite favourite, with the surrounding hills mirrored in its glassy surface on a still day. In the Brecon Beacons, Llangorse Lake is a top choice.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Sedate canal paddling can be found on the Llangollen and Montgomery canals in North Wales, with the Pontcysyllyte Aqueduct being a notable highlight. In South Wales, pack up your gear for a gentle paddle along the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal which glides through charming villages and affords some of the most beautiful views from the comfort of your boat.

Rivers, too, carve a stunning path through Wales’ impressive scenery. The River Wye in South Wales is one of the most popular among water goers, with plenty of scenic stops including the country’s literary capital, Hay-on-Wye (which, as an aside, is packed with interesting things to do). In Mid Wales, the River Teifi is a sanctuary for families looking to get out on the water together, with landmarks such as Cilgerran Castle and wetlands where water buffalo graze providing interesting distractions from paddling.

Kayaking and canoeing in Wales at a glance

  • Abercastle and Abereiddy
  • Sea Kayaking Wales (Anglesey)
  • Llangollen and Montgomery Canals
  • Monmouthshire and Brecon Canals
  • River Wye
  • River Teifi

Porth Yr Ogof
Porth Yr Ogof: Image credit Instagram @forgottenheritage

Caving in Wales

The Brecon Beacons is one of the UK’s top caving locations, with many different caves and potholes to suit all levels of experience. Budding potholers will love taking a guided tour of one of the caves, with challenges along the way to give you a taste of what it’s like to take on more awkward routes. You’ll walk and crawl through enthralling underground worlds, passing fascinating rock formations and awe-inspiring chambers. There are a wide variety of activity centres in Wales offering caving within their portfolio of adventure pursuits. They take groups to caves throughout the Brecon Beacons, including Bridge Cave, Porth-yr-Ogof and Eglwys Faen.

As with many of these outdoor pursuits, Snowdonia/Eryri is another one of Wales’ top caving destinations. Go Below offers caving with a difference – a high-adrenaline route which runs deep under the mountains, incorporating nine underground zip lines, sections of traversing, via ferrata, free fall and crossing of ancient wooden bridges.

Caving in Wales at a glance

  • Go Below
  • Dan yr Ogof Caves
  • Porth-yr-Ogof Caves
  • Eglwys Faen
  • Bridge Cave

Offa's Dyke Path
Offa's Dyke Path: Image credit Instagram @welsh_girl_wandering

Walking and hiking in Wales

We couldn’t talk about the best outdoor activities in Wales without including walking and hiking; the reason that many visitors come to this beautiful country.

There are many well-known routes which treat walkers to some of the gorgeous natural scenery. The Llangollen Canal Path takes in the towering Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the Offa’s Dyke Path wends its 177-mile way along the English/Welsh border, and the epic climb up Mount Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa features on many a bucket list.

Brecon Beacons walks are incredible, with popular routes taking in Pen y Fan and the famous torrents of Waterfall Country, including Sgwd-yr-Eira.

Skirting the coast for 870 miles, the Wales Coast Path encompasses some of the very best vistas the UK has to offer, including the remote and atmospheric Llyn Peninsula section, and the well-loved Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail, with glimpses of seaside wildlife en route.

Rhossili Bay
Rhossili Bay

The Gower Peninsula, too, shouldn’t be underestimated for its walking opportunities; revel in the sound of the waves and wheeling seabirds on beach walks along the 3-mile Rhossili Bay or head into the ancient woodlands of Cwm Ivy Woods.

Finally, for mountain walks in Wales, Snowdonia/Eryri is beyond compare. Whether you’re looking to admire the peaks from afar on a gentle level walk, or hike up to the summit of Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa, there’s something for everyone. Popular trails to consider are around Lake Bala, the 9-mile Rhosgadfan and Moel Tryfan mountain walk, and the incredible Mawddach Estuary in the shadows of Cadair Idris.

Walking in Wales at a glance

  • Llangollen Canal Path
  • Offa's Dyke Path
  • Snowdonia Way
  • The Brecon Breacons Way
  • Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Gorge walking
Porth Yr Ogof: Image credit Instagram @forgottenheritage

Other outdoor activities in Wales

It would be impossible to cover every single activity on offer in Wales, not least because new experiences are constantly being introduced to help visitors make the most of the incredible great outdoors! For that reason, we’ve grouped together all other adrenaline pursuits under our final heading to give you a taster of the variety on offer.

Gorge walking, gorge scrambling or canyoning as it’s sometimes known, is a popular pastime in the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia/Eryri. It involves jumping down waterfalls, scrambling up slippy and stony rivers, exploring caves and braving raging rapids, among other daredevil, river-based activities. You’ll get very wet and you’ll ache the next day, but you’ll certainly have some stories to share when you get home!

Coasteering: Image credit Instagram @abersochwatersports

The craggy coasts of North Wales and Pembrokeshire are a magnet for those wanting to try the thrilling activity of coasteering. There are many adventure centres which offer group coasteering days, during which intrepid participants climb, scramble and traverse their way around the coast, not to mention cliff jumping and swimming through sea caves. A unique and active way to enjoy the scenery from a different perspective!

If you like the sound of climbing but would prefer to go down, rather than up, abseiling could be for you. There are many abseiling locations and providers all across Wales, including high rock faces in the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia/Eryri, and the cliffs of North Wales if you prefer a sea view during your descent!

Even more outdoor activities in Wales at a glance

  • Gorge walking in the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia/Eryri
  • Coasteering in North Wales and Pembrokeshire
  • Abseiling in the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia/Eryri

Stay at a self-catering holiday cottage in Wales

If you’re planning a Welsh holiday, take a look at our holiday cottages in Wales which are perfectly placed to take advantage of whichever of these outdoor activities takes your fancy. From cosy cottages for couples nestled in the Eryri/Snowdonia National Park, to welcoming coastal escapes where you can watch the sea from your window, whatever type of holiday you’re planning, you’ll find a comfortable base within our collection.

Holiday cottages in Wales

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.