Car-freeAdventures in South Waleswith Great Western Railway

Whether you're after blustery beach walks and spectacular coastal scenery, inspirational museums and local food, Roman ruins or state-of-the-art TV studios, or all of the above, South Wales has a lot to offer. The biggest cities in Wales and several colourful towns are strung along the railway like pearls on a necklace with some fabulous countryside in between: meadows full of orchids, waterfalls in wooded valleys or seabird-magnet estuaries between salt marshes and castle topped hills. Ride GWR trains to Newport, Cardiff, Swansea, Neath and Carmarthen and explore the areas around them by train, bus, bike and foot.

  • County: with Great Western Railway
  • Great for: castles | good cafés and pubs | guided tours | industrial heritage | roman remains | scenic train |
  • Refreshments: lots of fabulous cafes and restaurants
  • Please note: researched/updated in November 2023. If anything’s changed or you have more tips to share, do get in touch:
  1. 4. Wales Coast Path

    The railway provides great access to the Wales Coast Path, which celebrated its tenth birthday in 2022. It is one of very few paths in the world to follow an entire national coastline. Here are some great walks that you can access from the railway, sometimes with the help of a bus.

    • The Newport Coast Path is an interesting stretch of the long-distance route with lighthouses, industrial heritage and wetlands, teeming with waterbirds, to explore. There are marshy meadows, with orchids and butterflies, and views across the Severn estuary to Somerset.
    • The Cardiff Bay Trail is rich in art and history. It circles the lake on Cardiff’s coastline and crosses the Pont y Werin, a 140-metre bridge, to the elegant seaside town of Penarth with its Victorian pier and Art Deco Pavilion.
    • Swansea is the gateway to the beautiful Gower peninsula. Visit Wales suggests these varied walks along the coastal route nearby.
    • If the weather isn’t great for walking, you can see a lot from the train window and stop off in towns and cities to visit some rainy-day attractions or hop between great pubs and cafes. See 6 below for some suggestions in Carmarthen.
  1. 5. Port Talbot and Neath

    With their factories and docks, these stations between Cardiff and Swansea may look uncompromisingly industrial from the train, but the area is a jumping off points for some unbeatable wild walks. Heather-cloaked hills rise above the railway and twisted tree trunks, wreathed in ivy, line the track. Hidden in the hills, the relics of Victorian mines and mills have become beautiful nature reserves. Billing the area as the Dramatic Heart of Wales, where the “urban east meets the rural west”, a new website explores five local valleys, each with their own distinctive character, including waterfalls and ancient woodlands, carpeted with bluebells and other forest flowers.

    • In the Dulais Valley, a couple of miles north of Neath, the Aberdulais Watefall can be spectacularly torrential after rain. On drier days, there are bats and waterbirds to spot among the trees and rocks.
    • Bus T6 from outside Neath railway station runs hourly and stops very close to the Aberdulais falls. If you’ve just missed one, walk three minutes down Alfred Street to the bus station, where regular bus X8 leaves.
    • If wild sea water is more your thing, head for Surf School Wales in nearby Aberavon. Bus 87 from Neath or Port Talbot stations stops at Romney Road, about ten minutes’ stroll from the beach.
  1. 6. Colourful Carmarthen

    Between Swansea and Carmarthen, the railway runs beside the beautiful Towy estuary with views across the water to Llansteffan Castle. There are oystercatchers on the sandy shore outside the window and cows grazing on the saltmarshes. GWR runs more trains along this line in the summer, but you can change at Swansea onto the regular Transport for Wales trains to get to Carmarthen all year round. It’s also worth stopping off at towns like Llanelli and Burry Port to access wetlands, rugby heritage or the Pembrey Country Park with walks through the dunes, bikes for hire and lots more. You can read more in our car-free guide to Carmarthen. For now, let’s keep going to the town itself, which has a great reputation as a foodie destination. Here are some of the many fabulous places to eat, drink and shop in Carmarthen.

    • Start with a walk over the river from the railway station (look out for the dragon on the roundabout) and up Blue Street to Guildhall Square. After looking round the ruined castle, have a gourmet breakfast wrap or coffee and cake (almond and white chocolate torta perhaps?) at Karm’en Kafe.
    • Stroll along King Street, past the Lyric theatre, independent shops and galleries. Taylor’s has all kinds of locally-distilled gin, hand-crafted chocolates and gift-able produce like the world-beating condiments from Dylan’s restaurant chain in North Wales (the best brown sauce!)
    • Oriel Bevan Jones is run by the Arts Care charity and showcases some lovely crafts while supporting a great cause. Look out for elegant chopstick-holding noodle bowls, created by potter Joe Finch.
    • Almost opposite, is the colourful Cwrw pub, which means “beer” in Welsh. It’s packed with local crafts ales to sample and sofas to relax on while you drink. The pub has regular live music, a book swap, and a record store upstairs.
    • Loop round, through narrow lanes, onto Red Street to visit the indoor market, selling everything from books to boiled sweets and Welsh cakes to balls of wool. Nearby are two more great eateries: The Warren on Mansel Street has begun to attract a bit of a cult following with its tasty locally-sourced food and, round the corner on Lammas Street, Waverley health food shop has a vegetarian restaurant at the back with dishes like spiced bean burgers, quiches, lasagne and legendary homity pie, served with a plateful of salads on a when-it’s-gone-it’s-gone basis every lunchtime.
    • From the bus station on Blue Street or from the nearby railway station, you can take bus 279 on Tuesday to Thursday or Saturday mornings, soon after 11am, to the National Botanic garden of Wales (50% off entry when you show your train ticket). From early February, a mile of snowdrops stretches through this beautiful garden. In April and May, the Mediterranean collection blooms in the Great Glasshouse and the woods are full of pale anemones and then bluebells.
    • As if all that weren’t enough, there are also lots more walks along the Wales Coast Path from stations nearby. Wherever you go by train in sensational South Wales, enjoy exploring!