From the magnificent Welsh mountains to medieval castles, and picturesque coastal towns to historic canals: this Collection guides you through the stunning heart of Wales. Following the National Cycle Route 8 from Holyhead to Cardiff, you will explore some of the best cycling routes the UK has to offer.
Spanning 257 miles in total, this multi-day adventure is a dream for cyclists. As the majority of the route follows traffic-free trails and bike paths such as former railway lines like the Lon Las Menai, Lon Eifion, the Mawddach Trail and the Taff Trail, you are able to fully enjoy the vast Welsh landscapes as you ride.
This Collection is known to be one of the toughest cycling routes in the UK so try to fit in some extra training before you go. You will climb over 4,790 meters during the course of seven days into the stunning wilderness of two national parks: Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons. As some parts are off-road, we recommend leaving your slick racing tires at home in favor of a hybrid or touring bike with thicker tires.
Ranging in length from 30 to 50 miles (50 to 80 kilometers), the routes in this Collection are manageable for any rider with a good level of fitness. If you are looking for an even heftier challenge, you can combine some of the routes. Each day finishes in a town or city with plenty of good accommodation options: whether you prefer to stay in hotels, B&Bs, or campsites.
The route starts in Holyhead, the largest town on the island of Anglesey and one of the most northerly points of Wales. Situated on the coast, Holyhead is a bustling port town, with regular ferries running to Ireland. It also has good rail connections with the rest of the UK with direct trains to London, Manchester, Birmingham, and Cardiff.
For information about visiting Wales, visit: visitwales.com
For train tickets and timetables, visit: thetrainline.com/stations/holyhead
Day one of your cycling adventure takes you through decades of history: from medieval churches to 19th-century architectural wonders and Roman forts.
The first day of cycling is a gentle introduction to the cycling adventure. The road falls and rises gradually but you will not climb higher than 330 feet (100 meters) in the first day.
Starting from the coastal town of Holyhead on the Isle of Anglesey, the first 25 miles (40 kilometers) lead you through quiet country lanes. This peaceful section of the route is relatively remote until Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, so remember to pack enough snacks and water with you.
Soon, you will leave Anglesey via the awe-inspiring Menai Suspension Bridge and reach Bangor, the oldest city in Wales. Today, Bangor is a university city with some good pubs and restaurants.
Just outside of Bangor, you will join the Lon Las Menai, a traffic-free former railway line. This 4-mile section leads through luscious woodland from the quaint old harbor village of Y Felinheli. From the trail, you can enjoy beautiful views over the Menai Strait and of Anglesey on the other side of the water.
At the end of the Lon Las Menai, you will reach your final destination of the day, a royal town on the eastern shore of the Menai Strait and the gateway to Snowdonia National Park - Caernarfon. The town has a rich Roman history, the remains of which are still visible today. Caernarfon also has many good accommodation options with a large range of hotels and B&Bs. There is also a campsite just out of the city at Cwm Cadnat Valley campsite, for more information, visit: ukcampsite.co.uk/sites/details.asp?revid=2695
This section of the route takes you to enchanting Roman castles, through meandering country lanes and to legendary fish and chip shops in sleepy coastal towns.
Beginning the day from Caernarfon, the first 12 miles (16 kilometers) of the route are a gradual climb up to 490 feet (150 meters) along the Lon Eifion railway path on the Llyn Peninsula. Extending 30 miles (48 kilometers) into the Irish Sea, the Llyn Peninsula is a designated Area of Outstanding beauty thanks to its enchanting forests and spellbinding coastal views.
Next, you can enjoy a downhill stretch and quiet minor roads that take you to Criccieth, a small seaside town with many attractions. Here, you can explore the ancient ruins of Criccieth Castle, enjoy an ice cream on the beach, or tuck into delicious fish and chips.
From Criccieth, the road climbs inland once again before looping around and descending into Porthmadog, an industrial coastal town. The unassuming town has garnered criticism for its concrete-heavy buildings, but nonetheless boasts wonderful views of the sea.
Leaving Porthmadog, the route follows the sea before turning inland towards the final destination, Penrhyndaudraeth. The last miles follow a flat railway line past Minffordd before arriving in Penrhyndaudraeth. The small town’s name means “peninsula with two beaches” and the town is a relaxing place to unwind after a day of cycling. Here, you will find a range of accommodation to suit any budget that is comfortable to rest your legs ready for day three.
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Day three is one of the most challenging days of cycling from Holyhead to Cardiff. You will cycle 42 miles (68 kilometers) and gain 3,930 feet (1,200 meters) in elevation. But, the hard work is worth it: amazing landscapes and sweeping views of the Snowdonia National Park await.
Leaving Penrhyndaudraeth, the day begins by following a hilly coastal road. On a clear day, the hilltops offer spectacular panoramic views of the sea.
Next, you can relax and enjoy a downhill ride into Barmouth, a seaside holiday town where the Welsh mountains meet the sea. The route takes you over Barmouth Bridge, a grade II listed single-track wood railway that crosses the River Mawddach estuary. Remember to bring some small change as the toll bridge costs 70p in each direction.
After crossing the bridge, you will follow the estuary towards Dolgellau. There is a short climb and then this 8-mile section of the route is mostly downhill towards Dolgellau, a pretty market town that lies on the River Wnion.
After leaving Dolgellau, you will reach the biggest challenge of the day and one of the toughest sections on any National Cycle Route - a climb from sea level to 1,320 feet (400 meters). The tough climb leads through grassy farmyards and beautiful countryside. Your effort is rewarded when you reach the top - the mountain views are breathtaking.
The final leg of the ride is a beautiful downhill section which finishes in Corris, a village on the outskirts of Snowdonia National Park. In Corris, you will find The Slater’s Arms, a cozy pub to enjoy a well-deserved pint and hearty meal. There are also various accommodation options, including a Llwyngwern Farm campsite just on the outskirts of the village.
Enchanting waterfalls, magnificent mountains, layers upon layers of green hills: today you will enjoy the stunning landscapes of Snowdonia National Park.
The day begins with a gentle descent into Machynlleth, a historic town that claims to be the “capital of Wales” as it was the seat of Owain Glyndwr’s Welsh Parliament in 1404. We recommend you stock up on energizing snacks and plenty of water here, as a remote and long climb awaits you as you leave Machynlleth.
Heading east from Machynlleth, you will follow the Afon Dulas river as it gently climbs into the mountains. As the road leaves the river, the real challenge begins. There is a grueling 8-mile climb into the breathtaking Snowdonian mountains. When you reach the spectacular Wynford Vaughan Thomas Memorial and viewpoint and see the Sustrans milepost, you have reached the top.
You can now enjoy your hard work as the road gently drops and climbs through Snowdonia National Park. The route leads through some of the most stunning scenery in the whole of the UK, with towering mountains and rolling hills in every direction.
Finally, the route joins the River Severn, the longest river in the UK, before gently dropping downhill into Llanidloes. This quaint historic town is the first town on the River Severn. It has many restaurants, pubs, and comfortable places to stay. You can find good value accommodation in Llanidloes here: booking.com/city/gb/llanidloes.en-gb.html
Day five of cycling from Holyhead to Cardiff gently leaves the Snowdonia National Park, following the River Wye as it meanders towards the luscious Elan Valley.
Leaving from Llanidloes, the route begins with the longest climb of the day to the village of Llangurig, a small village lying on the River Wye. The River Wye is regularly considered to be the prettiest river in the UK. Its clean waters are home to many rare wildlife species such as King Fishers and Dippers.
Next, you will follow one of the most beautiful roads of the National Cycle Route 8. The quiet road is virtually free from traffic as it gently winds up and down through peaceful countryside before arriving in Rhayader, a picturesque town.
Rhayader is the gateway to the spectacular scenery of the Elan and Claerwen Valleys. Here, the landscape is characterized by its vast reservoirs and impressive damns.
From Rhayader, the route continues along the River Wye into the Elan Valley. Between Rhayader and Newbridge on Wye, you will join an old coach road that can become particularly muddy after rain. You might prefer to join the A470 until Llanwrthwl if you are a confident road cyclist.
The route now follows the beautiful River Wye for the next 40 miles (64 kilometers) as it twists southwards. After around 15 miles (25 kilometers) of gentle hills, you will reach Builth Wells, a small town on the banks of the River Wye.
Builth Wells has various accommodation options as well as restaurants and supermarkets to replenish your energy ready for the sixth day of cycling.
Starting from Builth Wells, day six will take you deeper into the heart of the Wye Valley before climbing into another of Wales’ scenic national parks - the Brecon Beacons. With 48 miles (78 kilometers) to cover, this is the longest section of the seven-day cycling route.
The day begins with a flat and picturesque section along the River Wye. After arriving in Glasbury, a village on the river, you will experience the first climb of the day - a sign of the nearing Brecon Beacons.
From Glasbury, you will follow country lanes that rise and fall into the Brecon mountains. The next town after Glasbury is Brecon, a market town situated just within the Brecon Beacons National Park. Here, you can find a wide variety of pleasant cafes, restaurants, and shops to refuel before the biggest climb of the day.
Leaving Brecon, you will follow the River Usk before joining the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. Here, you may be lucky enough to see a rare King Fisher bird and other magnificent birds of prey that call the canal home.
After leaving the canal, the route continues along the Lon Las Cymru down a railway path and forestry track and through the green countryside of the Brecon Beacons.
Next, the route climbs up to the impressive Talybont and Pontsticill Reservoirs, vast man-made lakes that supply water to thousands of people. You’ll cross historic viaducts, rusting forges, disused water-wheels, and former train platforms, all paying homage to the area’s industrial past.
The final stop for the day is Pontsticill, a historic village known for the Brecon Mountain Railway and its location on the edge of the Pontsticill Reservoir. Here, you will find various guesthouses and B&Bs, as well as two local pubs; the Red Crow Inn and the Butchers Arms.
Your final day of cycling is a gentle route along the Taff Trail. Having left the mountains of the Brecon Beacons behind, you will descend 2000 feet (610 meters) with only 920 feet (280 meters) of ascent.
The day begins with a long downhill stretch along the Taff Trail, a former railway line which follows the River Taff through the green rolling Brecon countryside.
With the mountains behind you, the first town you will reach is Merthyr Tydfil, a large town just north of Cardiff. Legend says that the town is named after a daughter of King Breychan, Tydfil, who was killed at Merthyr by pagans in 480 AD. The town’s rich history is still visible through its ancient castles and buildings, such as the Cyfarthfa Castle. There are also many good restaurants and cafes to stop for food.
Next, continue along the Taff Trail as it follows the river and passes through small villages. The trail skirts around Pontypridd before continuing to drop towards Cardiff. Finally, the epic adventure comes to an end at Cardiff Bay.
The capital city of Wales offers plenty of attractions and sites. It is worth spending a few days in the city to make the most of its cultural and historic offerings such as Cardiff Bay, Cardiff Castle, and the Cardiff National Museum. For more information on things to do and see in the city, visit: visitcardiff.com
With direct trains to London Padington, Bristol, Birmingham, and Manchester, Cardiff is well-connected to the rest of the UK. For more information about train timetables and tickets, visit: thetrainline.com/destinations/trains-to-cardiff