In spite of the rain, South West England and Southern Wales truly are beautiful places to visit- perhaps even some of the most stunning locations in the entirety of the United Kingdom. Full of culture and oodles of history, a road trip here is the perfect place to spend a long weekend. Soak up the sights, learn all about the history and try lots of local delicacies (read: all the cheese!), here’s how to spend three days in England and Wales, including insider tips, where to stay, and things to know before you go!
Things to know before taking a South West England and Southern Wales road trip
If you’re planning a road trip through Wales and England, then you should know that the best time to go is either in the late spring or early autumn when the traffic is less than during the summer months, accommodation prices are lower, and everything is still open.
This way, you’ll also be rewarded by the beautiful tones of the autumn or the pretty cherry blossoms that herald the start of spring. In terms of what to pack, be sure to bring plenty of layers: thinks sweaters, cute boots (like these ones), cardigans, and pretty dresses.
I also recommend bringing along a good warm jacket like this one for those colder evenings or for when the wind is a little chillier than usual. Otherwise, the best way to explore South West England and Wales is by car; many of the more remote destinations aren’t accessible via public transportation. Check this price comparison website to discover the best deals for car rentals!
Day one: South West England
Spend the morning in Exeter
The historic town of Exeter lies on the River Exe and comes complete with a large cathedral, Roman ruins and an award-winning museum. If you love a bit of magic, then it’s worth noting that JK Rowling studied in Exeter and so you’ll find plenty of Harry Potter inspiration throughout the city.
Otherwise, it’s worth noting that there are plenty of beautiful things to do in Exeter; from enjoying a coffee alongside the Quay to following in the footsteps of the Romans, and discovering all of the independent boutiques along Gandy Street.
Lunch in Wells
One of the very smallest cities in England and Wales is that of Wells, a tiny city lying in the foothills of the Mendip Hills. Settled since at least Roman times, here you’ll find plenty of cobbled lanes, a large cathedral and all of the ecclesiastical history you could ever wish for!
After all, head to Wells and you’ll be able to wander around the Liberty of St Andrew (ancient city walls), the Bishop’s Palace (a medieval palace you can visit for a fee), Vicar’s Close (a pretty little cobbled lane full of old houses and beautiful architecture) which also happens to be the oldest residential street in Europe, and of course, the cathedral itself. For more Wanderlust inspiration, check out this guide to the best things to do in Wells.
Afternoon in Cheddar Town and Gorge
Cheddar is not only home to the iconic British cheese (a must-eat while you’re in the UK), but also home to an attraction of steep hills and winding valleys known as ‘Cheddar Gorge’. “Like something from outer space” is the term I’d use to describe the massive gorge that cuts its way through the hills just outside Cheddar.
The cheddar gorge caves were also the site of plenty of Upper Late Paleolithic human activity (12,000-13,000 years ago), meaning that the oldest complete human skeleton ever found in the UK (dating back 9000 years) was found here in the early 1900s. Head to Cheddar Gorge to see some amazing geography and learn about prehistoric men in the Museum of Prehistoric Men at Cheddar Gorge.
Cheddar Gorge Valley and Village, a colour photolithograph taken in the 1890s, via Wikipedia
Evening in Weston-Super-Mare
The old seaside resort town of Weston-Super-Mare is located in Northern Somerset. It’s one of the oldest seaside getaway spots in the UK and is a must-see if you love fish and chips, old piers and friendly locals. If you want to head for the best fish and chips in town, then I highly recommend Papa’s Traditional Fish and Chips of Weston-Super-Mare.
All fish served is freshly caught and there’s plenty of options for us non-meat eaters as well! Other wonderful things to do in Weston-Super-Mare include meandering along the Grand Pier, checking out the Helicopter Museum, and simply relaxing by the seaside in the salty sea breeze.
Weston-Super-Mare circa 1935, Overlooking the pier and beach via Wikipedia
Day two: Welsh adventures
Spend the morning at Tintern Abbey
The ancient and romantic ruins of Tintern Abbey are all that is left of a once-thriving 12th-century religious community. Founded by Walter de Clare in 1131, the Monastery was tragically dissolved during the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII in the 16th-Century. Today, you can wander around its ghostly ruins and imagine what life must have been like for the monks in South Wales all those centuries ago.
Enjoy lunch in Monmouth
Located in Monmouthshire, the ancient market town of Monmouth is where you’ll find the first town in the UK transformed into a ‘Wikipedia Town’. Nicknamed ‘Monmouthpedia’, throughout the town you’ll find little plaques with QR codes. You can scan these on your phone and a Wikipedia page will pop up, informing you all about its history and provenance of the location you’re at.
Asides from the Monmouthpedia plaques, you’ll find plenty of little stores, a covered medieval bridge and even the ruins of the Castle where Henry V was born. Otherwise, there are many quaint coffee shops worth checking out, as well as independent shops where you can scout out unusual and quirky souvenirs.
Spend the early afternoon exploring Raglan Castle
Beautiful and mysterious, Raglan castle is one of the best castles in Wales, if not the UK. Located just outside the charming town of Raglan, the ruins of this late medieval castle can be explored, walked around and most definitely photographed. The castle has a rich history, dating back all the way to Norman Times and its location along the A40 means that it can easily be combined with a trip to nearby Monmouth or Abergavenny.
Spend the afternoon perusing the shelves of Hay-on-Wye
Of all the things we did during our three days in England and Wales, our visit to Hay-on-Wye was probably my favourite activity. The ‘town of books’ is one of those ‘must-see’ Welsh destinations and no road trip of three days in England and Wales would be complete without at least a brief perusal of its many bookshelves.
Even the ruined castle has been converted into one giant outdoor bookstore! From bookshops selling thrillers to stores dedicated entirely to children’s novels, there’s something for every bibliophile out there. Visit during the end of May/ beginning of June and you may even be fortunate enough to attend Hay Festival, a literary event and festival dedicated to all things book-related!
Stay overnight in Pengennfordd
On our second (and final) night of the road trip, we stayed overnight in Pengennfordd, a charming hamlet in the very heart of the Brecon Beacons. Our room for the night was located in Castle Cottage and came in at a very reasonable £30 for two. (And no, this post wasn’t sponsored or anything- we just really enjoyed our stay- especially when it started snowing in the morning!)
The stay also came with the exclusive use of the outdoor hot tub and its own ensuite. If you’re looking for something a little more adventurous, then the couple who run the property also have a real-life Hobbit house you can rent out instead.
Within an hour’s walk of the cottage, you’ll also come across the highest castle ruins in England and Wales- well worth the uphill walk in my opinion! If you’ve not already got Airbnb, then sign up with this link to get credit towards your first stay!
Day three: A taster of the Brecon Beacons
Spend the morning exploring Tretower Court and castle
On our way back towards England (and the toll bridge), I saw something flashing across the countryside, just outside of the car window. A castle! “We have to stop,” I cried as if we hadn’t seen enough castles already, and so we pulled up the car and stepped out to explore the charming village of Tretower.
Filled with small cottages, little chapels and winding lanes, the real star of the village is its ancient manor house and castle ruins. The Court House and Castle at Tretower have been inhabited for well over 900 years, meaning that there’s plenty of history to see and it has to be said that the castle ruins are particularly romantic.
Enjoy lunch at Crickhowell
This independent town is all about supporting local businesses and small start-ups. As a result, you won’t find any large chains here, nor will you be able to shop for many non-local products. Situated between Abergavenny and Brecon, Crickhowell comes complete with a castle, a medieval bridge and plenty of stunning countryside to explore.
Spend the afternoon in Abergavenny
The ancient town of Abergavenny lies on the fringes of the Brecon Beacons and is a town steeped in history and legend. Here, you’ll find the ruins of a castle, lots of independent boutiques and plenty of friendly locals. You could easily spend a couple of hours here, enjoying a coffee, wandering the small stores and visiting the ruins of the medieval castle. And so that’s what we did, and it was the perfect end to our three days in England and Wales!