A guide to Wales' National Parks

Days out, Activity, The Great British Outdoors

Posted by Ed R on 4th August 2021

Mountains

Wales: the great outdoors fully realised

Wales is a magnetic place for lovers of the great outdoors. Much of it remains as nature designed it: unspoiled, open, mountainous and beautiful. The chief guardians of all this splendour are those that manage the national parks. Protecting these sights and sites of awesome visual beauty for future generations means we can all visit these fantastic open spaces when we go on our holidays. 

Combined, the national parks in Wales cover as much as 1,592 square miles, which represent approximately one-fifth of the country’s total land area. Although the main purpose of the creation of national parks of Wales is the protection and conservation of their natural beauty and wildlife, they are also home to a host of historic and cultural sites too.

Our guide to Wales’ National Parks will inspire you to compile an action-packed itinerary of fun activities to embark on with your friends and family on a visit to these spectacular landscapes. Read on to find out why you should travel to one or more of Wales’ fantastic national parks on holiday.


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Tenby

How many National Parks are there in Wales?

There are three national parks in Wales: the Brecon Beacons, Pembrokeshire Coast, and Snowdonia. Each showcase different natural elements that make them all a prime location for a great holiday.

Stay in a country holiday cottage near one of Wales’ three national parks. Take a walking holiday with friends - this is possible because we offer large properties that are also perfect for an extended family break. Head to the peaks of the Brecon Beacons, the blue seas and cliff-top walks of the Pembrokeshire Coast or the dazzling waterfalls and Wales’ tallest mountain in Snowdonia.

Cottages in Wales


Snowdonia National Park

Harlech

Snowdonia was first established as a National Park back in 1951. The area is made unique by its crystal-clear lakes, rolling hills, peaceful moorlands, cascading waterfalls and formidable castles. Snowdonia is the oldest of the three national parks in Wales and the third national park in the UK. It covers an area of 823 square miles, but in contrast to most national parks, it contains vast public and private zones.

Governed by the Snowdonia National Park Authority, the region is renowned for its astounding beauty, the park itself being one of the most undeniably beautiful national parks in Wales. With a gorgeous sandy coastline, Mount Snowdon and countless waterfalls, it is heaven for wildlife lovers. Keen naturalists will come to see the Snowdon lily and Gwyniad, a freshwater salmon species, both unique to Snowdonia.

Our guide to Snowdonia


Snowdonia

Five highlights in Snowdonia National Park

Scale the highest mountain in Wales, roam through the national park’s spectacular landscapes or be transported by a magical stroll through an Italianate village.

mount snowdon

Mount Snowdon

Mount Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales and you can climb to the summit at 1,085 feet above sea level. However, the peak is accessible to everybody as there is a mountain railway that stretches between the base at Llanberis and the top. Choose from five pathways that snake up the sides of the mountain, all offering gorgeous views when the weather is great. They vary in grade, offering a challenge to all wayfarers: choose from Llanberis Path, Pyg Track, Rhyd du Path, Snowdon Ranger, Miners Path or Watkin Path.

snowdon mountain railway

The Snowdon Mountain Railway

First built in 1896, the Snowdon Mountain Railway is a brilliant way for everybody to witness some of the best views in Wales unfold in front of their eyes. Scramble for a window seat and relax as the journey to the peak takes three-quarters of an hour. The service does not operate all year round and is weather dependent, so check online in advance.

Views in Snowdonia

The Snowdonia Way

The Snowdonia Way is almost 100 miles long and cuts across the National Park from the north coast to the west coast via some amazing beauty spots including Mount Snowdon, Cadair Idris, The Glyders, Lake Trawsfynydd, The Ogwen Valley, The Vale of Ffestiniog, Aber Falls, The Pass of Aberglaslyn, the castles of Llewelyn the Great, Llyn Gwynant, Llyn Ogwen, Nantgwynant, Coed y Brenin, The Moelwyns, Moel Siabod, and The Carneddau. There is a longer route that detours up to some mountain ranges; the low-level route of 97 miles can be completed in six to eight stages. The mountain route is 122 miles and comprises nine stages.

portmeirion views

Portmeirion

One of Snowdonia’s best-loved curios, this mock Italianate village sits within 70 acres of cultured woodland gardens and walkways. Portmeirion is home to a spa, award-winning restaurants, and boutique shops selling a range of gifts, homeware, and the well-known Portmeirion Pottery. Make sure you check out the Gothic Pavilion, Hercules Hall, Bristol Colonnade and Belvedere. Don’t forget to head down to The Quayside, which boasts a gigantic chess set, and magnificent views over Ceredigion Bay. Portmeirion has featured on TV, most notably in the 1960s classic The Prisoner.

Gwydyr Forest Park

Gwydyr Forest Park

Close to the popular Snowdonia village of Betws-y-Coed, Gwydr Forest Park is a wayfarer’s favourite. Home to curious old miners’ paths, cycle tracks and forest walks leading around the picturesque lakes of Llyn Elsi, Llyn Parc, Llyn Geirionydd, and Llyn Crafnant, there is no end of beauty to discover here. Trails for walkers of all abilities await. Seek out the Cyrau Trail and the Pen yr Allt Trail. There are two red-level mountain bike trails in Gwydyr Forest Park too called Gwydir Mawr and Gwydir Bach that originate in Sawbench and Hafna. Also, look up the waterfall walks from Betwys-y-Coed that incorporate Fairy Glen and Swallow Falls.

Snowdonia cottages


Pembrokeshire Coast National Park

Pembrokeshire Coast

First established in 1952, Pembrokeshire National Park is the single coastal national park in the United Kingdom, and one of two South Wales national parks, along with the Brecon Beacons. Covering a 391-square-mile area, the national park is characterised by its fantastic sandy beaches and distinctive rolling green hills. The beauty of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park can be enjoyed on walks along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. New views can be appreciated from the sea too; catch a boat from Fishguard or Saundersfoot on a fair-weathered day. 

Our guide to the Pembrokeshire Coast


Pembrokeshire Coast

Five highlights in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park

Explore colourful seaside towns, take a boat trip to a tiny island teeming with wildlife, and stroll around the perimeter of this breathtaking national park.

Pembrokeshire coast path

Pembrokeshire Coast Path

The magnificent Pembrokeshire Coast Path follows some of the UK’s most spectacular coastline for 186 miles. The trail passes towering limestone cliffs, sweeping, red sandstone bays, volcanic headlands, and wide estuaries. From St Dogmaels in the north to Amroth in the south, the trail is a good place to spot rare coastal flowers and birdlife. The Coast Path is divided into ten stages but it takes the average walker two weeks to complete it. The majority of walkers take on a short section at a time, connecting their outings with the help of a coastal bus service that calls in at many of the towns and villages along the Pembrokeshire coast.

Tenby

Tenby

Tenby is a small town in the south-eastern reaches of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, on the south coast of Wales. An immensely successful and popular seaside resort during the summertime, Tenby is an attractive town made visually memorable by its striking, colourful houses around Tenby Harbour. Walk to the ancient town walls and enjoy trying out the legions of cafes, good restaurants, and pubs. Sea cruising, deep-sea fishing, and even paintball are all on offer from local outdoor activity providers. Tenby is also home to some pristine beaches, ripe for some sun worship and family play.

St Davids

St Davids

Visit the UK’s smallest city, St Davids, which is found on the northern crest of St Bride’s Bay. Named after Wales’ patron saint St David, this pleasant Pembrokeshire city is close to the sea with a modest population of 1600 residents. St Davids’ city status was awarded in 1995, it also became a designated conservation area by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in 1972. There are several lovely places for a light lunch and many worthwhile pub pitstops during your visit. St Davids has a cathedral that dates back to the 12th century, although older cathedrals were built on the same site before being destroyed by the Vikings!

Saundersfoot

Saundersfoot

Saundersfoot is a peaceful seaside resort in the heart of the stunning Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, between Tenby and Amroth. With its Blue Flag gilded sandy beach, bustling harbour, and variety of excellent cafes, restaurants, and pubs, it’s an interesting hub of activity and a quieter alternative to Tenby. Whether you feel like some sun chasing and sandcastle building on the beach or picking up a section of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, a trip to Saundersfoot could be the recipe for a fine day out by the sea. Pubs and restaurants like The Captain’s Table and The Old Chemist Inn are worth calling into to for a good local meal. Join a boat cruise around the bay from the harbour too, a popular pursuit for visitors to Saundersfoot.

Skomer island

Skomer Island

Puffin lovers, get in line. Skomer Island, just off the Pembrokeshire Coast, is a big draw for bird watchers. It is famous for its diminutive black and white wonders, Manx shearwaters, dolphins, harbour porpoises, Atlantic grey seals, razorbills, gannets, fulmars and the Skomer vole which is only found there. The whole island gets covered in a thick blanket of bluebells each spring, followed by swathes of pink campion. Boat trips are bookable and leave from Lockley’s Lodge in Martin’s Haven

Pembrokeshire cottages


Brecon Beacons National Park

BB

Brecon Beacons National Park has been so since 1957. Wales’ third national park of Wales, and one of two South Wales national parks, it is a mountain range which covers an area of 835 square miles. It's made up of three distinct areas: Black Mountain, The Black Mountains, and the Brecon Beacons. The national park is loved by many for its amazing upland formations and high peaks, bolstered by deep valleys, raw moorlands, lakes, caves and waterfalls which are sure to make any visit an unforgettable experience. With its natural beauty, Brecon Beacons also attracts visitors with a wide range of exciting outdoor activities such as hiking, caving, climbing, mountain biking, horse riding, sailing, and canoeing.

Our guide to the Brecon Beacons


Brecon Beacons

Five highlights in the Brecon Beacons National Park

Indulge your cultural side at one of the UK’s best festivals, visit ancient castles steeped in myth and legend, and delve deep underground for a unique day out.

Beacons Way

The Beacons Way

Walkers rejoice, the Brecon Beacons National Park’s premier trekkers' trail is the 99-mile-long Beacons Way. Broken into roughly eight stages, it takes most of those who undertake the challenge the same number of days. The different sections vary between 10 and 14.5 miles and the terrain can be rocky and uphill with a challenge for everybody. The walk originates at the Holy Mountain which is close to the beautiful ruins of Llanthony Priory; the curiously named Bethlehem waits at the other end. The Beacons Way wends past Carreg Cennen Castle and Craig-y-Nos.

Views of Pen y Fan

Pen-y-Fan

The tallest mountain in South Wales is Pen-y-Fan (886 metres high). Choose from one of four pathways to the peak: The Motorway, The Beacons Circuit, The Cwm Llwch Walk and the particularly challenging Horseshoe Ridge. The Motorway is the least difficult and serves as a good introductory walk for children who are beginning to enjoy the outdoor life.

books in a bookshop

Hay-on-Wye

Home to the UK’s best known and biggest literary festival, it’s perhaps fitting that Hay-on-Wye is also famous for its throngs of bookshops - a unique feature amongst the national parks in Wales! Every single book that has been printed in the UK may have at one time been sold in Hay-on-Wye; a crazy thought. This pretty town also has a castle and a steep choice of restaurants and cafes to dine in. Bookworms keep an eye out for Boz Books, Hay Cinema Bookshop, Richard Booth’s and The Children’s Bookshop which head up the ranks of tome emporiums for you to pore through. It would take weeks to visit every single one of them efficiently.

Craig y Nos castle

Craig-y-Nos Castle

Embark on a lazy stroll around the leafy lake at Craig-y-Nos Castle. The castle was built back in the 19th century as a home for the famous socialite Adelina Patti. The singer, who was very famous in her day, gave her final performance for the families of fallen soldiers in the Great War at the Royal Albert Hall in 1914. Visitors can see an elaborately pretty bandstand and a monogram on the estate’s handsome white bridge. Take in exceptional views across the Upper Swansea Valley as you follow this special trail around ornate ponds and through quiet areas of woodland.

National Showcaves Centre for Wales

The National Showcaves of Wales

The National Showcaves of Wales makes for an excellent day trip for anybody visiting the Brecon Beacons National Park. Originally known as Dan-yr-Ogof Caves, they were discovered in 1912 by the Morgan Brothers and in the 1960s further navigated with more and more areas of this vast system mapped. Today, guided tours can be enjoyed and experienced cavers can also go beyond the showcaves to develop their skills. With a full range of facilities, this is an awesome all-weather day out for the whole family.

Brecon Beacons cottages


Map of Wales' National Parks

Plan your holiday to Wales' National Parks with our map below, showing where all of our National Park highlights are located.


Stay in one of Wales' stunning National Parks

We have a vast collection of holiday cottages throughout Wales throughout each of the three national parks. Whether you are looking for a place to stay in the countryside or in the towns, we have properties large and small just for you. We have glamping choices and properties for those with extra mobility requirements. Visit our collection to discover your perfect holiday home in the Brecon Beacons, Pembrokeshire Coast, and Snowdonia National Parks.

Wales holiday cottages

For even more ideas on places to go in Wales, take a look at the array of guides in our Discover Wales blog. Or, to broaden your horizons to beautiful spaces throughout the rest of the UK, including more stunning landscapes to discover in Wales, have a read of our guide to the UK's Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.




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.