We returned to London for the world’s largest travel expo, World Travel Market, in November last year. As we glanced over the map of the UK we realised how little of it we had explored. It had been a while (over 5 months) since our last big road trip in Bulgaria and we were itching for the open road again. So we set our sights on the untouched countryside of Wales. The land where the town names look like a failed attempt at a Scrabble triple word score. The land with one of the oldest active languages in the world. A land of history and legend. A land of immense nature beauty and, as we discovered, so much more…
If you’re thinking about a road trip in the United Kingdom, follow our driving adventure around Wales and I’m sure you’ll be inspired. We had the luxury of 6 weeks in total, with a couple breaks, but this itinerary could be sped up if you had less time to play with.
Out of the 10 million tourists that visit Wales each year, only 1 million are from outside the UK. So this is still a relatively undiscovered destination for international travellers. Perhaps that’s the fault of the modest and reserved nature of the Welsh. But don’t be fooled, they are quietly proud, and quite rightly so, of their rich environment, warm hospitality, amazing food and ancient heritage.
I hope you feel inspired to discover the wonders of Wales. Off we go!
London to Pembrokshire
Accommodation: Asheston Eco Barns
Distance: 417 km
We left East London about 1pm. It took more then an hour to actually get through London and onto the highway. From there it was fairly smooth sailing until we hit Cardiff.
The sun set early, before 5pm, so the last few hours seemed so late at night, especially with the howling wind and rain.
We didn’t see much as we pulled into our new home for the next few nights, however with a full moon out what we did see was an absolute winner.
Pembrokeshire, St Davids, Whitesands
Accommodation: Asheston Eco Barns
Distance: 34 km
Today we left late afternoon for a drive around the surrounding area. We headed to the most heavenly cathedral I’ve ever seen. It was a dark, overcast day when the heavens opened for a single ray of light just to shine on the church and the church alone.
After visiting St David’s Cathedral we headed to Whitesands Beach, we didn’t last very long on the cold, windy shores before retreating to a nearby café for a round of steaming hot chocolate.
We finished the day with dinner at the Sloop Inn in Porthgain, a tiny town with just 38 permanent residents. It was a recommended eatery, and while the food was good, I couldn’t really identify anything particularly amazing about it that warranted it’s cult-like following.
Pembrokshire to Wolf’s Castle
Distance: 9.9 km
About 11am we headed to a nearby indoor playground (Merlin’s Magic Indoor Playground) for the kids to get in some playtime and let out some steam. Free Wi-Fi was available so out came our laptops for much-needed work, while the kids disappeared into the expansive playground.
About 3.5 hours later they were ready to leave and we made our way to Wolf’s Castle.
After a stellar breakfast at our hotel, we decided to check out Pembroke Castle. This is where Henry Tudor was fostered before becoming king. It was a beauty of a castle and featured a giant map of Wales. The kids enjoyed running between the places we were attending on our road trip.
At the Wolfscastle Country Hotel that night we received a special treat from the head chef who was a contestant on Masterchef Professionals (UK). Wow! An absolutely gorgeous meal.
We departed this amazing slice of rural Wales for the hustle and bustle of the city. We did a quick drive through Swansea on the way before arriving in Cardiff.
While in the city we were looking for a central location for a pit stop and the Ibis proved to be just the thing.
They also had a triple room, which was perfect for Josh, because I was to depart for Sri Lanka the following day.
Accommodation: Ibis Cardiff (check prices...)
Distance: 171 km
The kids spent time playing on the waterfront playground, while I pined to visit the Dr Who Experience. Unfortunately time was against us and I had to get back to the train station to catch my train to London. From there I flew onto Sri Lanka, leaving Josh and the kids in Cardiff.
Josh drove 1.5 hours from Cardiff to Llanwrda via the Brecon Beacons National Park. He stopped for a few groceries before heading to his next base, Myrtle Hill which we found on Sykes Cottages. He was going to relax and work for the week while I toured Sri Lanka. And he did just that, picking me up in Swansea for the last night before we continued our road trip.
Still catching up on the jetlag from Sri Lanka, it was straight back into our road trip. Today we travelled from Llanwrda to Caernarfon.
Caernarfon became a real favourite for us. We checked into the Travelodge located on Victoria Dock in the centre of town. Great location and good value family rooms.
Accommodation: Travelodge Caernarfon Hotel (check prices...)
Distance: 273 km
Today we were on a mission. A very special mission. To visit Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Yes, you read that right. With 58 characters, it is the longest place name in Europe and the second longest official one-word place name in the world. We didn’t do much there, but it was fun to visit.
After our visit to “L town” Josh took the kids to a unique indoor playground right near our hotel - Caernarfon’s Fun Factory (Yr Hwylfan), which is located inside a former church.
Accommodation: Travelodge Caernarfon Hotel (check prices...)
Distance: 92 km
We enjoyed staying at the Travelodge so much we decided to stay another night. Today we headed to the Bodnant Garden Food Fair for local Christmas markets and tasty Welsh food. On the way back we stopped at Bridge Restaurant for a Sunday roast lunch.
Another of my favourite places in Wales was Betws-y-coed. We stopped here to take a walk around town. It’s so cute and quaint, and apparently very popular on Sundays. Definitely worth a look. And Josh jumped out of the car near Capel Curig to capture the stunning sunset.
Accommodation: Travelodge Chester Northop Hall Hotel (check prices...)
Distance: 111 km
Today we decided to move on so we would have enough time to break up our journey on the way to Liverpool.
We stopped at a little playground in Llanberis along the exceptionally scenic lake.
Josh also pulled over on the side of the road at Glyder Fawr to capture the breathtaking slate-strewn landscape.
Afterwards we stopped for shopping in Wrexham and then pulled off the highway for another cheap Travelodge stay.
Now before I get nasty blog comments, I realise that Liverpool is not in Wales. However, we really wanted to visit the hometown of The Beatles, and it was just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away from northern Wales, so we took a sidetrack for a couple days.
The Ibis Liverpool Hotel was our next destination and was in a prime spot on the harbour within easy walking distance to the centre of town. We were able to leave our car in the hotel parking lot and made our way around on foot in this beautiful city.
For dinner we explored Liverpool One, the city’s modern pedestrian-only outdoor mall. Most restaurants were full so we picked up takeaway before checking out the cute Christmas markets and exhibits.
Accommodation: Ibis Liverpool Hotel (check prices...)
Distance: 0 km
Today we took a walk into the city to check out the Ice Festival. The kids had fun meeting Santa, ice-skating and zipping down the ice slide before the cold convinced us to retreat to the Central Library. This place was amazing and we spent a few hours reading in the warmth of the vast children’s room.
After a buffet lunch we rolled back to the hotel and caught up on much-needed sleep.
Distance: 119 km
Today we wanted to reach our next cottage in Machynlleth, but decided we’d break the journey up. We stopped at a few B&Bs along the way, but most were shut for the season before we stumbled on Abergwynant Farm Holiday Cottages. It was a sweet, spacious cottage, nestled in the quiet countryside.
On the way we had a quick stop at Llyn Tegid Lake for photos.
Day 22 - 31
Accommodation: Quality Cottages (Pandy Bach)
Distance: 56 km
Before we departed the area we took a quick drive through the pretty town of Dolgellau. From there we headed to Barmouth, a lovely beachside town. With a lot of kilometres under our belts from recent weeks we were really looking forward to a long stay at our cottage in Machynlleth found on Quality Cottages. When we arrived we were thrilled – it was heaven.
During our time in Machynlleth we visited surrounding areas –
Devil’s Bridge – Gorgeous hike through the woods to see waterfalls and the infamous Devil’s Bridge.
Aberystwyth – Beautiful town on the seaside with a oceanfront playground, castle ruins and yummy donuts (on the pier).
Barmouth – We returned to this beachside town for a hike along the “Panorama Walk”, overlooking the surrounding countryside.
Harlech Castle – An ancient, yet well-preserved, fortress with a rich history.
Bounce Below – At Llechwedd Slate Caverns – one of the top highlights from our Wales road trip… not to be missed!
After over a week in our cottage it was time to move on. My daughter’s 6th birthday was upon us so as a special surprise we decided to head to Drayton Manor for a day of ThomasLand fun. On top of that we were upgraded at Drayton Manor Hotel to the Presidential Suite - woohoo!
And on top of that Mia received a surprise mini birthday cake at Grill Inn (opposite Drayton Manor Hotel), complete with a hearty “happy birthday” sung by the staff.
Day 32 - 33
Stratford-upon-Avon & Oxford
Accommodation: Travelodge Oxford Peartree (check prices...)
Distance: 125 km
After Drayton Manor, Brighton was on the plans, but we decided to break up the journey with a visit to Stratford-upon-Avon and Oxford.
As the birthplace of Shakespeare, Stratford-upon-Avon holds a unique place in literature and history but is also a beautiful town in it’s own right.
Oxford, on the other hand, was relatively expensive and uninspiring, with a room off the highway at the local Travelodge cost nearly triple the amount as in Caernarfon. It was disappointing.
Day 34 - 36
Accommodation: Travelling family
Distance: 178 km
From Oxford we made our way to Brighton – London’s summer playground. We make a lot of friends online and one particular family offered to host us for the next two nights. We spent our time in Brighton socialising, playing on Brighton Pier and unwillingly, swimming in the very cold British waters.
Accommodation: GlobalHelpSwap, London
Distance: 81 km
We departed Brighton to spend 1 night with our good friends and fellow travel bloggers, Paul and Karen from GlobalHelpSwap. 6 people in a 1-bedroom apartment in London – what a fun night!
Accommodation: Central London Apartments
Distance: 12.5 km
Our apartment in central London was fabulous. Just a 10-minute walk from Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. It was the perfect base to explore more of this wondrous city.
Finally it was time to return our car at London City Airport. We experienced unexpected troubles with Europcar regarding alleged “damages” and surprising congestion fees. A sour end to our otherwise awesome Wales roadtrip.
With 6 weeks up our sleeves we thought we might be able to conquer England, Wales and Scotland. But we ended up conquering Wales and a sliver of England. And let me tell you if you have a spare month at your disposal then you should give it a try. Wales was simply intoxicating. Without a doubt some of the most deliciously dreamy countryside you are every likely to find. In fact, I’d go back to this enchanted country-within-a-country in a heartbeat.