For those who enjoy walking, there can be fewer places on earth with as many options as Great Britain. From gentle strolls through meadowland to bracing mountain climbs, there are many miles to be explored. But Wales went the extra step, as it were. In 2012, they opened the Wales Coast Path, the world’s first footpath dedicated to covering the entire coastline of a country. With 870 miles of path (including the island of Anglesey), the coast path has since inspired its neighbour, England, to do the same thing (due to open 2020).
If you walk the entire distance of the Wales Coast Path, from Queensferry to Chepstow, you will pass through more than a dozen RSPB and Nature Reserves. You will also visit through two National Parks: Snowdonia and the Pembrokeshire Coast. And of course, you will experience almost every beach Wales has to offer.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. After all, 870 miles is not something that most people are about to undertake. Luckily, the path is divided into 8 separate regions, each with plenty of shorter segments so that you can cover as little or as much distance as you’d like. The official site for the Wales Coast Path has all the information you could need, from maps to ideas of what to see. There’s even an app to help you plan. When and where you go will determine what equipment you need, although comfortable walking boots and a light waterproof are always recommended.
Here’s a brief rundown of the 8 Wales Coast Path Regions with some of the “don’t miss” spots.
North Wales and Dee Estuary
This 68 mile-long section of coast path opened in 1997. A number of popular seaside resort towns lie along this part of the coast, including Llandudno, Conwy, and Prestatyn. In Prestatyn, you can also join the Offa’s Dyke Path, which runs the length of the Wales-England border to end, like the Coast Path, in Chepstow. Be sure to visit Conwy Castle, a World Heritage Site. Or spot the Kashmir goats along the Great Orme Nature Trail.
Just across the Menai Suspension Bridge (open to vehicles and pedestrians) is the beautiful island of Anglesey (Ynys Mon), complete with 132 miles of coastal path to explore. Go birdwatching near the famous South Stack Lighthouse or visit Beaumaris Castle, often called Edward I’s unfinished masterpiece. You might also take a short detour, depending on the tides, to visit Llanddwyn Island. There you can visit the remains of the church of St. Dwynwen, Welsh patron saint of lovers, and share a picnic on the sands with your own beloved.
Menai, Llyn, and Meirionnydd
Back on the mainland, this 189-mile section is cast against the spectacular backdrop of Snowdonia. This region is a haven for wildlife lovers; seals and dolphins are frequent visitors. Small fishing villages line the route, as do more of Edward I’s castles. Cult TV fans might be particularly interested in Portmeirion, best known as the location of The Prisoner.
Marine life and sandy beaches abound on this stretch, which runs from Ynyslas to Cardigan Bay. The 4.6 mile Teifi Trail is perfect for those looking for an afternoon of history and landscapes. Alternatively, take a break from walking in Aberystwyth and ride the railway to the top of Constitution Hill.
The Pembrokeshire Coast Path has been a National Trail since 1970 and covers 186 miles of coastline. Lonely Planet has called it one of the world’s best long distance trails. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, and have a decent amount of time (approximately 2 weeks), you could plan to walk this entire section. Be warned though – the ascents and descents on this trail make for quite a strenuous hike. For a shorter trip, why not visit St. David’s, Britain’s smallest city. Or settle down with a good book on one the region’s 58 beaches.
Passing through the town of Llanelli, places to visit along this gentle part of the coast include Dylan Thomas’ boathouse and the National Wetlands Centre to see an impressive array of birdlife. Or stop to explore Llansteffan Castle and enjoy views across to Devon.
Gower and Swansea Bay
The Gower Peninsula is home to nature reserves, sites of special scientific interest, special areas of conservation, and Wildlife Trust reserves. Its beautiful beaches are also popular with holidaymakers and surfers alike. Suffice to say, there is plenty to enjoy along this southern stretch of the Wales Coast Path. You may even spot a sleeping dragon; Worm’s Head promontory is so-named because Viking invaders thought it looked like a giant sea monster.
South Wales and the Severn Estuary
The Wales Coast Path reaches its southern end with the city of Cardiff and views across the Severn Estuary. Cardiff Bay features everything from wildlife to striking architecture and modern art exhibits. Whether you’ve walked 3 miles or 870, we suggest finding a good pub overlooking the Estuary. Toast your achievement while admiring the view.