The Valleys region of South Wales has received some major tourism investment in recent years as it regenerates. A key barrier to this regeneration was removed last year with the scrapping of the road toll on the M4 which meant everyone had to pay to get into Wales.
The region has outstanding natural beauty – something for which Wales is known. What is unique about this region is its coal mining past which ended in the 1980s. Now, what were mining sites have been turned into interesting and quite cutting edge tourist attractions. It now offers many fantastic days out in South Wales.
Most importantly many of the sites of this region – both old and new – make for some very instagrammable places to visit in South Wales!
How to get to Places to Visit in South Wales The Valleys and Around
So where is South Wales The Valleys?
If you are heading to The Valleys from overseas flying into London will be the best option. Heathrow is the best airport in terms of location as it is located just outside West London and Wales is West of London!
The closest domestic airport is Cardiff which is in Wales. Cardiff airport gets some overseas flights and of course domestic flights but it is most likely to require connections.
Cardiff is easily accessible from most of the UK by train.
Click here if you live outside the UK and would like to buy a great value BritRail Pass before heading to the UK.
Also for overseas visitors only is the amazing value Cadw Explorer Pass which provides entry to over 100 historic sites in Wales.
If you live in the UK you can Book Train Tickets here.
No matter how you get to The Valleys the area really requires a car to get around.
1. Places to Visit in Wales – The Welsh Mining Experience
When it comes to fun places to visit in South Wales, the place you cannot miss in The Valleys is the Welsh Mining Experience. Someone very clever was responsible for turning what was once one of the most important coal mining areas in the world into a major tourist draw. I never would have thought I would find mining life so interesting!
The Welsh Mining Experience is held at the Rhondda Heritage Park. The park was once the Lewis Merthyr Colliery. Two mining pits opened in what is now the park in the 1850s. The Coal Industry enjoyed steady production and employment until alternatives started to become available in the 1950s. Production ceased at the Lewis Merthyr Colliery in 1983.
The site itself now holds several buildings as well as the engine rooms. The visitor’s centre has been beautifully constructed. There are mock-ups of what the butcher’s shop would have looked like, a chocolate shop that just uses local ingredients – as does the very Bracchi café which is on site.
The only real way to experience the park is to take the Black Gold Experience Underground Guided Tour. This tour seeks to bring the experience of working in the coal mines back to life. They have even employed former miners to lead the tours and they are fantastic characters. They share their personal stories of working in the mines as well as the history – and they are very amusing.
The site itself is very photogenic with the last coal wagon, the Chimney Stack, steel structures and loads more.
The guide provides an overview of the site and there is a visit to the engine rooms.
Next up is a visit to the original lamp room. This is where miners picked up their lamps and hats for their shifts. At this point, we were all given a hat to wear and this was, of course, the perfect opportunity for a photograph!
Then it is time to head down! In the day the mines were 420+ metres underground – take the rather large Chimney Stack, times it by 10 and add another 30 metres and that is how far down! The tour only goes down 30 metres. Indeed, they used former miners to create the area underground for the tour. The tour started in 1989.
The highlight for me was the memorable details provided by the guides. The canary cage. The steel boxes used for lunches – anything that wasn’t that strong would get eaten by the rats and mice underground. Tales of the cats of the mines who were fed nothing but the rats and mice they caught. This is where it really comes to life.
Once the lift has landed it is time to walk through the tunnels and really feel what it may have been like to be underground. It is difficult to comprehend how humans were able to spend so much time underground particular whilst doing such physically demanding work.
The tour finishes with a fantastic immersive 3D video experience that is not to be missed!
As is lunch or cake at the lovely Bracchi cafe! This lovely cafe is a major step above the usual tourist attraction restaurant – particularly the cakes!!!
2. Things to do in South Wales – Visit Llancaiach Fawr Manor
Another fantastic use of modern tourism trends to bring another time to life! Experience 1645 in this beautifully restored manor house. The fire is roaring and the table is set!
The building itself dates back to the 1550s and was owned by the Prichard Family. All the furnishings in the home are accurate reproductions of the 16th and 17th centuries. It is now one of the best places to visit in South Wales UK.
The majority of the tour was three different actors playing different types of servants from the time. They were brilliant! Such a good use of old fashioned language but done in a way that everything was clear. Their style is very interactive and they ask many questions of the audience such as whether we were lucky enough to have our own indoor privy. You won’t forget how the tale of how they managed their own dental upkeep.
Again, very entertaining storytellers. I love how these tourism sites are using the natural storytelling abilities of the Welsh and turning what could be standard destinations into memorable experiences!
The grounds are also quite beautiful. There is a lovely small maze in front of the house as well as a pond and the Walled Gardens. The Visitor Centre also includes a coffee lounge and boutique gift shop.
Best of all Llancaiach Fawr Manor has been ranked in the top ten haunted houses in Britain! Guided tours are also held at night to share the tales of the staff and visitors and look for a few ghosts!
3. Places to go in South Wales – Caerphilly Castle Floodlit
Caerphilly Castle is the largest castle in Wales and the second largest in Britain behind Windsor. This not quite complete castle is surrounded by moats and watery islands – even better for photos!
The castle was built between 1268 and 1271 by Gilbert “The Red” – a hair thing! The castle is rather famous having appeared in the BBC Series “Doctor Who” and “Merlin”.
A unique way to experience the castle is seeing it floodlit in the evening – and combining it with some great food! Casa Mia is opposite the castle and has some amazing views plus some great food. We visited on a Saturday night and it was obviously the place to be in Caerphilly as it was packed and humming!
I enjoyed prawns by two with a king prawn starter followed by pasta with prawns. Both were excellent!
The restaurant has an amazing view of the castle and makes the most of it with a wall of windows. Do call ahead and see if you can book one of the tables by the window.
Alas, through glass is not the best way to take a photo. I took this shot downstairs on a ledge by the edge of the moat. I sat the camera down on the ledge to minimize shake and got quite a nice shot I think!
4. Things to do in Wales – Enjoy a Gellihaf House Afternoon Tea
Gellihaf House is an absolutely lovely boutique bed and breakfast that also does a fantastic home-made afternoon tea on the weekends. Set in two acres of beautiful gardens and grounds, this is my kind of boutique property! The gardens are beautiful as you can see in these shots.
The delightful owners invested their blood sweat and tears in making this beautiful old building a comfortable and modern boutique experience. Neither had any experience in the hospitality industry – which makes what they have created even more special!
The hotel opened in 2017 and has three beautifully styled rooms with the best of modern facilities.
And then there is the afternoon tea! Everything is homemade. Everything! The scones were wonderfully flaky. Even the very tasty millionaires’ shortbread and tiny eclairs were homemade. All the sandwiches were delicious but the prawn was without a doubt my favourite. And look at this jam! I feel like this is a jam porn shot!!!
5. The Side of the Road
OK it isn’t exactly a place but one of the best places to get shots for Instagram in the Valleys is literally stopping the car by the side of the road (when it is safe of course!)
I visited in March and there were daffodils everywhere – and even some cherry blossoms. Best of all there were not just sheep but loads of super cute little lambs! It appears they weren’t used to being celebrities based on their wide eyed expressions in this photo!
I imagine it must be dramatic in winter and super colourful in Autumn along these roads. There are also loads of cute houses, gates and wider views for great photos. Keep an eye out for where you can pull over, good light and interesting welsh things to photograph!
6. Parc Slip Nature Reserve
Continuing with the theme of regenerating the areas that were devoted to mining, this 300-acre nature reserve was an opencast coal mine. Tragically, an explosion in 1892 took the lives of 112 men and boys – virtually wiping out a generation in this small area.
In 1989 the land was transformed into a nature reserve. It is now home to some of Wales’ rarest wildlife as well as many badgers, foxes, butterflies and other creatures. There are several hides throughout the reserve that can be visited for some nice photographic captures.
In the summer there are apparently wildflowers everywhere (and a dedicated wildflower valley) and there is a field of sunflowers – although I quite like my shot of the relics of sunflowers past!
There are 10km of walking tracks and 4km of cycle and bridle paths for horses. It is a beautiful area and so easy to explore. Plus the visitor centre has an excellent cafe that serves some great looking cakes and good coffee.
Parc Slip Nature Reserve is one of those places where there will always be something to see no matter what time of the year it is visited.
The Reserve is open 24/7 all year round and entrance is free! So it is perfect for a free day out in South Wales!
7. Woodlands Bistro
Lovely Woodlands Bistro is a genuine hidden gem! This lovely restaurant is part of a community project and has the most stunning views across The Valleys. The restaurant (and bunkhouse which can be rented out) are on 37 acres of lovely land.
I had a fantastic Sunday Roast at the bistro which offered a choice of lamb or beef (there are vegetarian options available as well). I was lucky enough to visit on a sunny day and the views – as you can see – where rather magnificent!
Boutique Hotels in South Wales The Valleys
There are quite a few interesting and lovely boutique sleeping options in this area! I stayed at the very conveniently located Heritage Park Hotel. It is virtually next door to Rhondda Heritage Park. I was a bit concerned that it might lack charm when I originally drove past it but as you can see I had a lovely room with all the facilities I could have wanted.
I also had a fantastic breakfast there in the morning – scrambled eggs and salmon. This was one of several hot breakfast options – I was quite impressed with the options available! It is a fantastic value for money option.
For a quintessential boutique hotel experience, it would not be possible to go past Gellihaf House which I mentioned above. I didn’t stay there but I did see all the rooms and they were absolutely gorgeous!
For something different but a little farther away stay in a Mongolian style yurt at Cwm Tawl Yurts.
Who Paid for What in this Blog Post
Thanks to The Valleys Tourism Board for Hosting my stay. This means that they covered the cost of the hotel, activities and meals. I did pay for the car hire! But as always all the opinions are mine.
Just so you know – if you click through on most of the links in this blog post and make a purchase I will receive a small commission.
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