Scenic road trips through Wales

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Welsh mountain road

From dramatic mountain landscapes to pretty harbour towns, discover seven of the most scenic drives in Wales

Take a road trip through Wales’s beautiful National Parks to explore the hills and peaks of the Brecon Beacons (Bannau Brycheiniog) and Snowdonia (Eryri), before heading towards the vast, sandy beaches of the Pembrokeshire (Sir Benfro) coast, or further north towards the Menai Strait.  

Whether you're planning a day trip or a longer break, Welsh roads offer some of the best scenery for driving, with historic market towns and characterful villages to visit on the way. 

1. The Abergwesyn Pass, Powys (20 miles)

Abergwesyn Pass

Abergwesyn Pass map

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Even in a world of 5G phones and internet anywhere, there are some parts of Wales where your mobile will have zero bars. The Abergwesyn Pass is one of them. Cutting through the Nant Irfon Nature Reserve between Llanwrtyd Wells and Tregaron in the heart of Powys, it’s a fairytale land of mossy, oak-lined lanes that open up into a valley with a murmuring river. At the eastern end is the imposing ‘Devil’s Staircase’ – a 25° incline that hairpins sharply up the mountainside. Make it over the top and you’ll soon reach the most remote phone box in all of Wales, and possibly the only way to reach the outside world. At least it would be if it hadn’t been disconnected. Worth a photo stop, though – your mobile might not have any signal, but at least it can still take a picture.

2. Garnlydan to Llangynidr, Brecon Beacons, Wales (6 miles)

Garnlydan to Llangynidr road

Garnlydan to Llangynidr map

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Here’s a tip for any supercar spotters out there: for almost guaranteed sightings of auto-exotica, head to the B4560 at the eastern end of the Brecon Beacons. On a weekend morning, the whole area is alive with the sounds of everything from Fast Fords to Ferraris, along with a parade of wailing superbikes. It’s not a long road – only six miles or so between the villages of Garnlydan and Llangynidr – but it’s thrill-a-minute. From the south, the tarmac climbs quickly onto open moorland and wriggles into the distance – with no trees or shrubbery, you can see almost to the horizon. The middle section is the most exciting, with sloping straights, sweeping corners and a pair of elbow-shaped hairpins in the middle. It can get busy, so take care up there.

3. Abergavenny to Aberystwyth, Wales (82 miles) 


Abergavenny to Aberystwyth map

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If you were to design the ultimate Welsh road trip, the cross-country route from Crickhowell to Aberystwyth would be a good place to start. Starting in the Brecon Beacons, follow the A40, A479, A470 and A44 – all with long stretches of national speed limits and endless lovely views. You’ll pass waypoints such as Builth Wells and Rhayader – both of which lie at the intersections of yet more dream drives. You’ll also pass the legendary Sweet Lamb Motorsport Complex, home to some of the most dramatic stages of Wales Rally GB. After a while, you’ll reach the last leg of the A44, featuring corners reminiscent of the world’s greatest racetracks, laid out over the landscape as you approach the coast. Reward yourself with fish and chips on Aberystwyth’s promenade, then turn back and do it all again.

4. Bala to Blaenau Ffestiniog (22 miles)

Car driving along mountain road

Bala to Blaenau Ffestiniog map

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In the old days, the most exciting way to travel between Bala and Blaenau Ffestiniog was on the now-mothballed mountain railway. Today, you can take the B4391, arguably one of the best driving roads in Wales, if not all of the UK. And there are lots of reasons why: almost nobody uses it, the surface is silky-smooth, and it runs over empty moorland so you can see for miles ahead (useful with stray sheep about). But mainly because of the twists, turns, soaring straights and jaw-dropping vistas – whether you’re doodling along or making swift progress, there’ll be a smile on your face. A favourite among test drivers, journalists and photographers, you’ll recognise it from countless car mags and automotive ads. But there’s no substitute for trying it for yourself.

5. The Gospel Pass (22 miles)

Gospel Pass

Gospel Pass map

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The Gospel Pass, just inside the eastern border of the Brecon Beacons National Park, is the highest road in Wales and arguably one of the most scenic in the UK. The attractive market towns at either end – Hay-on-Wye and Abergavenny – both make perfect weekend breaks, and are home to two fantastic literary and food festivals.

After a little browsing around Hay’s many bookshops, it's the A479 that offers the quickest route south to Abergavenny. However, we recommend seeking out the start of the Gospel Pass – down side streets on the edge of town – instead. It's a treat. Initially a slow climb, with hedgerows obscuring the view on either side, it's pretty much single-track and there's always a chance of having to back up to let a tractor through.

Then, after five miles, the road finally emerges into open country 500 feet above sea level, and a magnificent panorama is revealed: peaks ahead, and valleys and slopes stretching away on either side. Pull over for a picnic on the plateau: the view westwards is huge, with layers of hills and valleys receding into the distance.

Over the Pass, Abergavenny is a great base for further exploration of the Brecon Beacons: a friendly, pleasantly busy market town, with a string of nice restaurants (including two that are Michelin-starred) and an annual Food Festival (this year, taking place on 21 and 22 September).

6. Conwy to Lake Vyrnwy (84 miles)

Lake Vyrnwy

Conwy to Lake Vyrnwy map

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Returning to Snowdonia National Park, this drive begins in Conwy, a tiny town with a huge, perfectly preserved medieval castle. It's a picturesque starting point, but within five minutes of leaving it behind on the A470, the prospect is even better, as magnificent views of Snowdonia’s peaks and lush valleys open up ahead. The next 80 miles are immersed in beautiful, remote landscapes.

Inside the National Park, you could stop in Betws-y-Coed, the (comparatively) bustling capital of Snowdonia, but maybe press on and stop instead at Pen-y Gwryd, the cosy, remote 1800s guesthouse full of mountaineering memorabilia where Edmund Hillary and co stayed when training for their 1953 Everest expedition.

Past the beautiful lake, Llyn Gwynant, it’s a short drive to Beddgelert, which, with its stone cottages and little bridge over the bubbling Colwyn River, may be the prettiest village en route – although nearby Portmeirion, an Italianate fairytale village on the Welsh coast, has its own ‘wow’ factor.

Head back eastwards, initially on the A487, to Capel Celyn and beyond, taking in some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. Journey’s end is Lake Vyrnwy (pictured above), a six-mile-long reservoir with wooded shores. It’s lovely driving country: beautifully peaceful and remote, but also home to a colonial-style hotel offering afternoon tea and magnificent views.

7. Abergavenny to Tenby (96 miles)


Abergavenny to Tenby map

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A road trip sweeping south-west, taking in a rich array of the history and landscapes of south Wales. It could be driven easily in a morning or – with stop-offs and detours – could be the basis of a short break.

Abergavenny is the starting point for our drive westwards, initially along the fringes of the Brecon Beacons National Park. The first 30 miles of the route follow the A465 – the Heads of the Valleys road, taking you through the green, rolling countryside in which nestle the South Wales pit villages. Later, leaving the Brecon Beacons behind, follow the A48 to Carmarthen, by way of a short stretch on the tail end of the M4.

As elsewhere in Wales, it's always possible to find a quieter, slower back-way – here, starting the first leg on the B4246 from Abergavenny takes you deeper into the landscape. Stops along the way could include the Big Pit National Coal Museum in Blaenavon – free, widely acclaimed and including a tour of an old mine shaft, the Penderyn Distillery tour (best enjoyed by your passengers, but interesting even for non-drinkers), and the National Botanic Garden of Wales (including the largest greenhouse in the world) near Carmarthen.

To get a true feel of Welsh magic, drop in and listen to an evening rehearsal of a village male voice choir, based close to the route.

Beyond Carmarthen, you could opt to explore the small town of Laugharne, on the estuary of the River Tâf and once home to Dylan Thomas, before pressing on to the pretty walled town of Tenby with its miles of sandy beaches and a beautiful harbour lined with pastel-shaded buildings.

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