Last Updated: September 14, 2023
Nestled on the rugged coast of Ceredigion, Aberystwyth sits neatly between the cathedral city of St Davids in Pembrokeshire and the surfer’s paradise of Aberdaron. It’s the starting point of the popular and historic Coastal Way. Aberystwyth means quite literally the mouth of the river Ystwyth. It’s not surprising that the pretty Ystwyth river culminates here. It flows from the ‘Green Desert of Wales’, the barren uplands of the Cambrian Mountains. Remote sandy coves, river valleys, quiet market towns and arid mountains are as off-the-beaten-track as Wales can get.
Aberystwyth is the cultural capital of West Wales. The University of Aberystwyth, the Aberystwyth Arts Centre and the National Library of Wales are all at home here. Geographically, Aberystwyth is relatively isolated from the rest of Wales, but it is self-sufficient and boasts facilities expected from a larger town, including lots of bars (over 50 in one square mile), cafés and restaurants. In the old part of the town, little stone cottages line the streets interspersed with quaint coffee shops serving traditional Welsh desserts like Pwdin Eva, Bara Lawr and Bara Brith. Pop down to the bay and admire the stately candy-coloured seafront houses.
You’ll soon hear that Welsh is widely spoken in Aberystwyth. The locals are very proud of their heritage. Catching a show at the Arts Centre, hearing the male voice choir perform, or simply soaking up the sunset over Cardigan Bay are must-do experiences.
The Ceredigion coastline is packed with charming towns and villages which hold magical stories of knights, mermaids, shipwrecked kings, princesses, ghosts, fairies, medieval monks and mischievous, devil-tricking old ladies.
The Ffordd yr Arfordir is a great way to discover Aberystwyth and its surrounding areas. The path leads you 180 miles through pretty villages, castle ruins galore, spectacular beaches with smatterings of colourful huts, and cloud-piercing mythical mountains.
Stop and explore the National Trust’s Georgian villa, Llanerchaeron, designed by the heralded architect John Nash. The beautiful villa has remained unaltered for over 200-years, and the walled gardens, lake and farmyard are set in the gloriously woody Aeron Valley. You’ll no doubt pass languid seals lazying on sun-heated rocks and dive-bombing puffins hunting for fish. Take your camera; there are hundreds of Instagrammable moments. Ensure that you rest your weary legs and enjoy experiencing local fare in one of the many bars along the way.
Ensure that you walk the beach of Borth at low tide when a prehistoric forest bares its gnarly stumps from the drowned kingdom of Cantre’r Gwaelod, described as the Welsh Atlantis. The tale tells of the guardian of the sea defences, Seithennyn, a friend of the king charged with the all-important role of shutting the sea gates every night. One night Seithennyn, who liked a tipple, forgot to shut the sea gates. It was a particularly stormy night. The spring tides flooded Cantre’r Gwaelod, forcing people to flee to the hills to safety. Locals say that on a calm day, you can still hear the church bells.
International Storytelling Festival and the National Library of Wales
Each year, Aberystwyth hosts an International Storytelling Festival. You can join a walk or guided tour and listen to accomplished storytellers telling local tales. Walk in the footsteps of princes and maidens and saints and sinners as you explore the fascinating insights about ancient lost gardens, castle ruins, folkloric lands, fairies, peaceful woodland glades and lovely sandy beaches.
Start the fascinating journey at the Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru, the National Library of Wales and discover priceless manuscripts, maps and books that record these historical legends. The library holds over six and a half million books, periodicals and manuscripts and the largest collections of portraits, maps, archives and photographs. Throughout the year, you can enjoy various events hosted by the curator and guest presenters.
Aberystwyth Cliff Railway and Constitution Hill
Constitution Hill undoubtedly has the most extraordinary views of Aberystwyth, 26 mountain peaks, the bay and out to the Irish Sea, but its snaky walk up the 130-metre cliff face is pant-inducing. The quickest and easiest route to the top is the Aberystwyth cliff railway with its undulating track and tilted carriages.
It’s in the Guinness Book of Records as being the world’s longest funicular electric railway. When it originally opened in 1896, it was operated by an expensive water balance system. The Victorians would have been welcomed by a colourful bandstand, ballroom, tearooms, and a camera obscura.
Today, a café that serves delicious hot chocolate, a bowling green, and various commemorative buildings welcome you. Guinness Book of Records number two is the world’s largest camera obscura. The impressive 14-inch lens takes a birds-eye view of over 1000 square miles of land and seascape in a 360-degree sweep. The spectacular view reflects onto the circular screen in the darkened viewing gallery.
Aberystwyth Castle was originally a timber castle that was later reinforced with stone.
It changed hands frequently as the Normans warred with the Welsh. In 1136 The castle fell to King Owain Gwynedd. According to scholars, the castle continued to change ownership until it was captured by Llywelyn the Great in 1221, who razed the castle and built another. Owain Glyndwr took possession of the new castle in 1404, but the English soon recaptured it. In 1408, the castle was struck and began to fall into disrepair. In 1637 King Charles I designated the castle as a royal mint. Eight denominations were produced from local silver, all of which carried the emblem of the Prince of Wales feathers. Finally, in 1646 Oliver Cromwell’s troops demolished the building rendering it unusable.
Aberystwyth Castle was once ranked among the greatest in Wales. Although the castle has fallen into ruins, you can still amble through the towers, rooms, and grounds overlooking the Ceredigion coast.
Ynyslas National Nature Reserve
The Ynyslas National Nature Reserve is nothing short of remarkable and provides homes for many rare plants, animals, and birds. The dunes are being constantly moved and shaped by the wind and sea. During the summer, the sand dunes are swathes of colourful wildflowers, including the rare early marsh orchids, liverworts and mosses, which are not found elsewhere. At low tide, the remains of ancient tree trunks mysteriously appear, which are the inspiration behind the folkloric tale of the lost land of Cantre’r Gwaelod. The nature reserve spans 2000 hectares and has limited accessibility in the form of wooden jetties.
The Dyfi estuary is a collection of important mudflats, salt marsh and sandbanks. You’ll see busy birds of prey such as the hen harrier and the peregrine falcon. You might also catch a glimpse of the white-fronted goose that flies from Greenland and Siberia to experience the warmer Welsh winters. Southeast of the dunes is Cors Fochno, the largest raised peat bog in the UK that started forming in 5500 BC when the floodplains were covered by forest. The bog is covered with a vibrant tapestry of gold and red sphagnum mosses. The rare insectivorous sundews, the rosy marsh moth and small red damselfly plants grow here with abandon.
Aberystwyth Pier and Promenade
Aberystwyth promenade is one of the longest in the United Kingdom. The promenade is an impressive one and a half miles long and perfect for an evening stroll along the shingly beachfront. You’ll find some typically British beach attractions peppered along this glorious stretch of coast with a paddling pool, bouncy castle and traditional donkey rides. The bandstand is used regularly for music, bands, choirs and other performances throughout the summer. The Victorian pier was once an impressive 242 metres long, but time and storms have battered it to a much-reduced length of 90 metres. The pavilion is a popular venue with a collection of cafés, an amusement arcade, traditional Welsh pubs, pizza and ice cream parlours. Old lamp posts are strung with lights and flags from fifty nations fly in the sea breeze.
Cambrian Coast Railway Line
If you fancy a lazy day, the Cambrian Coast Railway Line is just the ticket. Just board the train nice and early and meander slowly through the breathtaking rugged mountain terrains, colourful market towns, castles and World Heritage sites, tunnels and the spectacular coastline. You might be lucky enough to spot dolphins, porpoises and a number of wild birds of prey playing or hunting in the wild surf of the Irish Sea. Parts of the railway line are gravity-defying as they cling to cliffs and burrow deep into tunnels. You might want to stop at Barmouth and explore the longest timber viaducts and the Mawddach estuary, or experience a narrow gauge steam railway or just stop for a spot of lunch.
According to local legend, the devil visited Ceredigion in the 11th century. He stumbled upon a confused old lady who had lost her cow on the other side of the river. In a bid to buy her soul, the devil said he’d build her a bridge in exchange for the soul of the first living thing that crossed it. When he had built the bridge, the canny old lady threw a stale loaf of bread across the river, which her dog chased, thus being the first living thing to cross the new bridge. The devil was so embarrassed about being outsmarted by a little old lady; he has never been seen again in Wales. Various walks take you across the bridges and to the breathtaking waterfalls.
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