Side Street Style: 11 Reasons to have a family break in Southern Wales

Side Street Style

Family travel and lifestyle blog

15/11/2021

11 Reasons to have a family break in Southern Wales


AD Press Trip - this post is written in collaboration with Southern Wales.

We recently spent an action-packed weekend exploring what is on our doorstep here in South Wales and I couldn't be more excited to share 10 reasons why you need to visit Southern Wales. As some of you may know I live in South Wales, between Cardiff and the Welsh Valleys and personally I think it's one of the best areas in the UK with so many hidden gems, wild spaces and cultural hubs that are often overlooked for more well-known destinations. But if your looking to get away, out of the city, into the outdoors and have a real family adventure then Southern Wales is definitely a destination you need to check out so here are 10 reasons to visit the area.

1. Try out mountain biking with the kids at Dare Valley Gravity Park

Have you ever fancied giving Mountain biking a go but feel intimidated or not sure where to start? Well, Dare Valley Gravity Park which is located in the stunning Dare Valley Park is perfect for all ages and complete beginners with all the trails being blue runs. You can hire all the equipment at the centre or bring your own and they also offer an Uplift service on certain days which takes you up the mountain to the start of the trails. My boys and I had an amazing time here and are already planning to visit again soon. I would put aside at least 2hrs aside and there is also a cafe on-site and an amazing play park for kids as well as some fantastic walks and trails within Dare Valley Park to explore. 


Dare Valley Gravity Park


2. Connect with Nature at the RSPB Newport Wetlands Nature Reserve

The Newport Wetlands Nature Reserve is a special place that has conservation at its heart and does so much for the local environment, is a real benefit to both wildlife and people and it's a great place to spend a couple of hours exploring with the kids. I would recommend bringing along some binoculars as you are likely going to spot a variety of birds, flora and fauna and we came across some amazing mushrooms in the small forestry area of the reserve. There are also some unique features to the wetlands including a floating walkway (or "bouncy bridge" as my kids call it), East Usk Lighthouse and easy to follow nature trails, kids can also pick up wildlife activity sheets from the visitors centre. To gain an even deeper insight into the area you can take a guided tour with a knowledgeable RSPB guide, the tours are 1.5hrs and suitable for young children. There is also a shop and cafe on-site and the entrance is free, you only pay £3 for parking.


RSPC Newport Wetlands Nature Reserve

Newport Wetlands


3. Explore the biggest castle in Wales

Caerphilly Castle, the largest castle in Wales is definitely one to tick off the bucket list and is always a popular choice with kids, I mean who doesn't like pretending they are a king or queen of a castle? The impressive moat, massive castle walls, towers and gatehouse spread over 30 acres means you need to put aside at least an hour or two (or more) to see everything. There are also the resident dragons to visit and Wale's very own leaning tower and plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, plus it makes for an all-weather attraction. There is a visitors centre and shop on-site and plenty of cafes nearby, do check opening times online as it's currently only open on weekends due to enhancement works. Some other castles in South Wales worth visiting are Castle Coch, Chepstow Castle, Caldicot Castle and Abergavenny Castle


Caerphilly Castle

4. Get your adrenaline pumping at Zip World Tower

Hirwaun in South Wales is now home to the latest Zip World and the fastest seated zip line in the world, suitable for 7yrs upwards so if you're looking for an adrenaline hit then look no further. Situated at the old Tower Colliery coal mining site, surrounded by the Welsh Valleys, this is a great place to spend a few hours even if you're not zipping down the mountainside as they also offer the Tower Coaster which is suitable for children as young as four (when accompanied by an adult) as well as Cegin Glo Bar and Bistro serving some fantastic food and drinks. I would also recommend a drive up to the Rhigos viewpoint above Zip World Tower as the views from up there are incredible.


Zip World Tower

Rhigos Viewpoint
Standing at the Rhigos viewpoint watching Zip World



5. Marvellous Museums

South Wales has some amazing Museums, many of which are free or budget-friendly and are perfect for a family day out. Here are 5 of our favourite museums in the area

1. St Fagans National Museum of History, Cardiff

A fantastic open-air museum with over 50 historic buildings including a Victorian school and medieval church to explore that walk you through the history of life in Wales, it's free to visit although parking cost £6. 

2. Cyfarthfa Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Merthyr Tydfil 

Set in the lovely Cyfarthfa park the Museum and Art Gallery is open all year round and focuses on the social and industrial history of Merthyr, which was once the iron capital of the world, in a fun & interactive way & gallery also houses ceramics, Egyptology, natural history and artworks by Welsh Artists. Under 16yrs are free and Adults are £2.30 and there is also a quaint Tea Room on site. 

3. Big Pit National Museum, Torfaen

Fancy heading 300ft underground with a real miner for a true coal pit experience for free? The Big Pit offers a completely unique experience and is suitable for the whole family including a multi-media tour of a modern coal mine, mining galleries, exhibitions and an underground tour. The museum and tour are free and there is a Miners Canteen on-site & picnics are also welcome.

4. South Wales Aviation Museum, Rhoose 

My boys really enjoyed our visit to the South Wales Aviation Museum in Rhoose and I recommend a visit as unlike other aviation museums this one encourages a hands-on experience and some of the cockpits are open for you to climb into. The museum is a self-funded, not-for-profit, volunteer-run charity with 100% of its admission going to the upkeep and running of the museum. Under 14's are free and adults are £7.50.

5. Caerleon Amphitheatre & National Roman Legion Museum 

Caerleon is a site of considerable archaeological importance and was once the Roman town of Isca and has various Roman ruins to explore including the incredible Amphitheatre which was built in AD 90 and would have sat 6000 spectators. A short walk from the Amphitheatre is the Roman Barracks, both of these sites are overseen by Cadw and free to explore. While you there I would also pop into the National Legion Roman Museum which again is also free (although still requires pre-booking) and houses many Roman artefacts, a barracks room and a beautiful Roman garden to walk around.  


Caerleon Ampitheatre


6. Stay Overnight in a Forest

There are plenty of options when it comes to accommodation in South Wales, from upmarket hotels in Cardiff City to countryside cottages in the hills, although if you're looking for something cosy, relaxed and perfect for families then why not stay in Cwmcarn forest? They have 3 different options including camping, glamping pods and luxury lodges which are self-catering and have everything you need for a comfy but adventure-filled breakaway. 

Other hotels in South Wales I can personally recommend are the Heritage Park Hotel which makes a great base for exploring the Welsh Valleys. Indigo Hotel Cardiff for a chic city break and Castle Knights, Usk for a summer glamping adventure. 


Cwmcarn Forest lodge


7. Indulge your inner foodie

South Wales has some incredible foodie spots from fine dining to traditional pubs to street food, it has it all and in abundance. While Cardiff seems like the obvious choice (and in many ways it is) as it naturally has the city cafe culture, there is plenty of amazing foodie spots outside of the city that are family-friendly, here are 3 I recommend 

1. Tiny Rebel Brewery, Rogerstone, Newport

Tiny Rebel, a homegrown business started by two friends has gone from strength to strength and they now have 3 bars in South Wales although the Tiny Rebel Brewery is the largest and most family-friendly of them all, with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating and also only a stone's throw from the 14 locks centre which is perfect for a pre-meal walk. The menu also has something for everyone including children and the brewery bar is also dog-friendly. 

2. Barry Sidings Cafe, Barry Sidings Countryside Park, Trehafod, Pontypridd

Barry Sidings Cafe is an award-winning cafe located in a lovely countryside park and serves up not only really good coffee but also smashed pattie hamburgers (an awesome vegan option as well) and loaded fries along with some indulgent cakes. There are also bike trails to explore and bike hire next to the cafe, along with a lovely play park and free parking. 

3. Cegin Glo, Zip World Tower

I was really impressed with the food at Cegin Glo at Zip World Tower and you can eat in this Bistro without a booking and watch people zip down from a crazy height as well as stunning views across the valley. The menu is locally sourced with a Welsh twist with dishes such as Rarebit and Cawl and they even had their own Phoenix Burger in a charcoal brioche bun. The rustic yet modern setting with floor to ceiling windows, with references to its mining past and, is a really cool place to have a meal with family or catch up with friends. 


Tiny Rebel Brewery



8. Fourteen Locks Canal Centre 
 
An engineering wonderFourteen Locks Canal Centre is a bit of a hidden gem and perfect for a family day out exploring the Mon and Brec canal towpath. Located at the top of a unique flight of 14 locks, the Cefn flight of Locks is an engineering wonder of the industrial revolution, rising 160 feet in just half a mile and is a scheduled ancient monument. The countryside surroundings are beautiful and the locks are a haven for wildlife with coots, moorhens, swans, herons and the odd kingfisher calling this area their home. There is a great circular walk and short activity trails for kids and it's worth popping into the craft shop and Vistors centre with a lovely cafe serving locally sourced meals, coffee and fair-trade teas. The centre is free, dog friendly and there is just a minimal parking charge.


fourteen locks


9. Stunning memorials to the miners

There are a couple of different memorials dotted around South Wales which tells the mining history of each town or colliery, which undoubtedly shaped the landscape of Southern Wales. There are two that I recommend as they are all located in countryside locations with family-friendly trails and walks. 

1. The Guardian at Six Bells

The Guardian statue which stands at 66ft tall is a beautiful and thought-provoking monument to the miners who lost their lives in the Six Bells Colliery in 1960. The statue which was designed and created by artist Sebastien Boyesen is beautiful & will be appreciated by all ages and towers over the site of the former colliery which is now Parc Areal Griffin and there is a lovely 2.5mile family-friendly Guardian trail walk. There is free parking nearby 

2. Sultan the Pit Pony, Parc Penallta

My boys love visiting this enormous earthwork sculpture in Parc Penallta which sits on the site of the old Penallta Colliery and is now a lovely country park. This land sculpture pays homage to the ponies that worked down the pits and is one of the largest figurative earthwork sculptures in the UK. It was created by Welsh artist Mick Petts using 60,000 tons of coal shale and stone to construct this 656-foot long artwork. In the Parc is also the High Point Observatory which offers fantastic 360-degree panoramic views of the surrounding countryside & is a favourite with my kids. There are also plenty of geocaches in the area along with 3 easy to navigate trails. There is plenty of parking with a small charge. 


Guardian Six Bells


10. Chasing Waterfalls

Everyone knows about the Four Waterfalls Walk in the Brecon Beacons but the Welsh Valleys has its own fantastic waterfall walk that is a lot quieter and a little easier for kids to enjoy. Pen Pych waterfall walk in Blaencwn. There is plenty of free parking at Pen Pych forest car park at the base of the hike. The walk goes through some stunning forest with a river running below and smaller waterfalls before the larger one comes into sight. There are also picnic benches halfway along with views points and it's great for dogs and young children, plus you are rewarded with a fantastic waterfall at the end. Here is a blog post explaining the hike in more detail. 

There are also smaller waterfalls at Cwm Clydach Countryside Park which has a lovely lakeside cafe and circular walk, Parc Cwm Darran which is a pretty tucked away countryside park and Pistyll-Goleu waterfall in Llanwanno Forest. 


Pen Pych Waterfall


11. Take a stroll in one of many Countryside Parks

We are very lucky in South Wales to have access to a variety of outdoor spaces from forests, mountains, countryside parks and coastal regions. Most of our countryside parks have free (or minimal charge) parking, cafe and family-friendly trails. Some of our favourite parks in the area which are worth spending a few hours exploring are - Dare Valley Park which is home to Gravity Bike Park, mountain hikes and lakes. Parc Bryn Bach, also offers additional activities such as archery and bushcraft as well as having hike trails and mountain biking. Parc Slip Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve offers a relaxing space to have a stroll and look out for local wildlife and birds from their bird hide. Cwmcarn Forest is another unique outdoor space as it offers a 7 mile Forest Drive which takes you to some fantastic viewpoints and adventure play areas in a breathtaking part of South Wales. 


wild mushrooms


There is, of course, an array of other things you can get up to in South Wales, including exploring the stunning coastal paths and Cardiff city centre, as well as trig points and mountain summits and if Geocaching if your thing then South Wales is a great base for that. I hope this post has given you some ideas and inspiration to come and explore this part of Wales.  

11 comments:

  1. This will great adventure list for kids. They will surely enjoyed it a lot. And I'm sure this kind of marks their very great and memorable adventure.

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  2. Southern Wales is a perfect place for a family getaway. It’s clear to see that the kids really enjoyed themselves here too!

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  3. That little forest hut looks so awesome and your kids look like they are having a ball!

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  4. Wales is such a gorgeous place to visit with plenty to do. I didn't need much persuading, I'd love to take the kids.

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  5. There is so much to do and explore in Whales. Looks like a great place to take the family..the castles are amazing.

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  6. I've heard so much about Wales but I've never been! I can't wait to visit it, can't wait!!!

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  7. Love this! Such a great trip idea and so fun to see!

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  8. Wow it looks like there is tons of adventures to be had there!

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  9. I've bookmarked this page as we have not been to all the places you have mentioned here and we are not that far off as well for a day trip

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  10. We love Wales, we have a caravan sited in North Wales & have only ever been South once when we went to Bluestone Wales for a week. But I think we need to head down south next year for some exploring whilst we're away

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  11. So many reasons to visit Southern Wales. I need to visit Newport Wetlands when I next visit my sister. So lucky to live in beautiful country with new places to visit all of the time. Hope all okay xxx

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Lovely comments

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