If you think that there isn’t much to do in the rural Brecon Beacons area of Wales, think again. It’s a National Park so of course it has plenty of natural attractions, but there is also lots of history to discover.
Since it’s not possible to see everything in one trip, you are going to need to prioritize. Let me share the best things to do in the Brecon Beacons, so that you can plan your visit.
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- What are the Brecon Beacons?
- 10 Things to do in the Brecon Beacons
- #1 Go for a Hike or Walk
- #2 Check out the Castles
- #3 Chase some Waterfalls
- #4 Go Caving
- #5 See Some Ancient Sites
- #6 Head to the Lakes
- #7 See Cathedrals and Historic Churches/Priories
- #8 Go Stargazing
- #9 Explore the Waterway
- #10 Enjoy a Scenic Drive
- More Things to do Near the Brecon Beacons
- How Many Days Do You Need in the Brecon Beacons?
- Do You Need a Car to Explore the Brecon Beacons?
- Where to Stay in the Brecon Beacons
- Is the Brecon Beacons Worth Visiting?
- Expert Tips for Visiting the Brecon Beacons
What are the Brecon Beacons?
The Brecon Beacons are a mountain range in South Wales. They lend their name to the National Park established in 1957. It covers 519 square miles and also includes the Black Mountains.
Most of the national park is grassy moorland with scattered forests and pastures. There are so many different shades of green. In addition to the dramatic mountains, the area is known for its remote reservoirs, waterfalls, and caves. You’ll get scenic views around every bend.
It’s also a popular area for animals. You are bound to see Welsh mountain ponies and Welsh mountain sheep. In the skies, you might be able to spot a red kite, a peregrine falcon, or even a rare merlin.
The Brecon Beacons area is also used for military training. UK Special Forces, including the SAS and SBS hold training exercises, like the Fan Dance, here. We saw the military doing drills at some of the waterfalls we visited.
10 Things to do in the Brecon Beacons
One of the things I loved about the Brecon Beacons was the variety of things that you can see and do. It is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and those interested in history. Here are my recommendations for what to do when you visit the Brecon Beacons.
#1 Go for a Hike or Walk
You will want to bring your hiking shoes when you come to the Brecon Beacons as there are miles and miles of trails. While some trails are more difficult than others, there are plenty of options for all ability levels.
During our trip, we hiked up Pen Y Fan, the highest point in Southern Britain, and did the Four Waterfalls Walk. Both were challenging, so in addition to the beautiful scenery, we got a wonderful sense of accomplishment for completing the hikes.
Pen Y Fan Hike
While there are several different routes that you can take to go up Pen y Fan, we opted for the easiest one, which was still quite rigorous. After enjoying the sunset at the summit, we headed back down using the same path we had come up. Check out our guide to hiking Pen Y Fan.
Four Waterfalls Walk
The Four Waterfalls walk was actually more intense than Pen Y Fan. The paths to get down to each of the waterfalls were steep, but definitely worth it. We were having so much fun photographing the falls and chatting with other hikers, we spent about six hours in the area. My guide to the Four Waterfalls walk is coming soon.
#2 Check out the Castles
With around 600 castles at one point in Wales, it’s not surprising that there are several noteworthy castles to visit in Brecon Beacons National Park. You are probably not going to be able to see them all in one trip, so here are our favorites. Also, keep in mind there are some other castles just outside the Brecon Beacons that you might want to see too (more about those below in the things to do near the Brecon Beacons section).
Note: If you are not able to travel, you might enjoy these virtual tours of castles.
Carreg Cennen Castle
Up on the top of a hill, the dramatic ruins of Carreg Cennen Castle can be seen from a distance. From the parking lot, it’s about a 15 minute walk up to the castle. You can explore the ruins and take in the views of the lovely countryside.
The site may have been home to an Iron Age hillfort, but the first masonry castle was built in the 12th century by Lord Rhys. During the 13th century, the castle changed hands several times, but was under English control by 1283. Then Edward I granted the castle to John Giffard, who was probably responsible for the remodeled castle we see today.
When we visited the cave and lords chamber viewing platform were closed due to the social distancing limitations. I hope to make it back to see them and also do the scenic 3.5-mile circular walk by the castle.
Get more information about visiting Carreg Cennen Castle here.
Tretower translates to “place of the tower”. When you visit Tretower Castle, you get to see the ruins of the castle founded by the Picard family in the early 11th-century and a 14th-century residential house called Tretower Court.
The heart of the castle is its striking round tower, which was added in the 13th century. You can go inside the tower and climb one flight of stairs up to look down on the entrance. In addition to the ruins, you can still see the earthworks from the original motte and bailey castle.
Included in your admission to Tretower Castle is a visit to Tretower Court, a house adjacent to the castle. In the 15th-century William Herbert gave Tretower Court to his half-brother, Roger Vaughan, who did significant work on the building. It was used to entertain York loyalists during the War of the Roses.
In 2010, the house was restored. Some rooms are set up like they would have been during the late 15th-century. There are two levels to explore and also a recreated 15th-century garden with the Yorkist white roses.
Tretower Castle is a Cadw property, so Cadw and English Heritage members can visit for free. All visitors will need to book a timed-entry slot in advance (as of June 24, 2021). Get more information here.
Abergavenny Castle and Museum
In Abergavenny town center, you will find the castle which was founded in 1087. While most of the castle is just ruins, enough remains to imagine that it must have been an imposing fortress in its prime. The information boards around the site do a great job explaining more about the history along with interesting things for kids (and adults) to think about.
The keep was converted into a hunting lodge and more recently a museum that has exhibits about the area’s history going back to before Roman Times. There was also a recreation of a vintage shop and an Anderson shelter that you could go inside. These shelters would have been half buried in the ground with earth on top to protect people from bomb blasts during World War II.
It is free to visit Abergavenny Castle and Museum but there are limited hours. Get more information here.
#3 Chase some Waterfalls
The southwest part of the Brecon Beacons is known as Waterfall Country. The waterfalls on the Four Waterfalls walk are not the only ones to see here. If you enjoy chasing waterfalls, then also add these beauties to your itinerary.
At 88 feet, this is South Wales’s tallest waterfall. You may recognize it as the Bat Cave from the Batman The Dark Knight Rises movie. From the National Trust parking lot just north of Coelbren village, it’s a short (and sometimes steep) walk to the falls. After you admire it from the front, you can walk behind it and stand in the “bat cave”.
Start from the Dinas Rock parking lot on the Sychryd Trail and less than a mile later you will reach the falls. You will also have a good view of the famous limestone rock formation known as Bwa Maen across the river. It’s an easy route that is family and wheelchair friendly.
Sgwd Gwladus, Sgwd-y-Bedol, Sgwd Ddwli Isaf and Sgwd Ddwli Uchaf
The Elidir Trail is another hiking trail that will take you to four waterfalls. If you want to venture off the official trail, you can also see a fifth waterfall – Sgwd Einion Gam.
Including the excursion to Sgwd Einion Gam, the hike is almost 8 miles and considered moderate difficultly. You can park on the High Street in Pontneddfechan or on Pontneathvaughan Rd in front of the Angel Hotel. If you like wild swimming, be sure to bring your swimsuit.
#4 Go Caving
The Brecon Beacons has some of the most interesting and longest caves in Britain. Many of the caves in the area are not easy to access, so should be left for experienced cavers only (or those with a professional guide), but for beginners like us there is the The National Showcaves Centre for Wales at Dan-yr-Ogof.
At the National Showcaves, you can visit three different caves – Dan-yr-Ogof, Cathedral Cave, and Bone Cave. Dan-yr-Ogof has many unique rock formations like one that looks like a curtain, while the Cathedral Cave has huge waterfalls. The Cathedral Cave gets its name because the area in the back of the cave called the “Dome of St. Paul’s” is set up to host weddings.
Note: As of June 25, 2021, the Bone Cave is closed because it is not possible to insure social distancing.
The National Showcaves Centre has more to offer than just caves and is ideal for kids. They have one of the world’s largest collections of life-sized dinosaur models, an Iron Age village, a museum, stone circles, and more.
It’s a popular attraction, so you will want to book in advance. Currently (as of June 29, 2021), you must have a timed-ticket to help manage capacity. Get more information here.
#5 See Some Ancient Sites
People have been living in the Brecon Beacons area for about 5000 years. You can see evidence of the past including standing stones, Bronze Age burial cairns, Iron Age hillforts, Roman ruins and more if you know where to look. Within the Brecon Beacons National Park, there are 357 Scheduled Ancient Monuments!
While we were in South Wales, we went to Y Garn Goch, which is actually two hillforts. The smaller fort was called Y Gaer Fach and the larger one was Y Gaer Fawr, which are each on separate summits on the same ridge.
Together these make up the largest hillfort in South Wales and you can still see the stones that made up the walls. It had been thought that these hillforts date back to the Iron Age, but new research argues that they may be Neolithic and have had a religious (not military) purpose.
To get to Y Garn Goch, use Garn Goch Hillfort Parking in google maps. There is a brown sign showing the way from Bethlehem Road. Once you park, it’s about a 15 minutes walk up to the smaller hillfort and then another 15 minutes up and down to the larger hillfort. The path is a bit steep and uneven so hiking shoes are recommended.
Some other popular ancient sites to visit in the area include Pen Y Crug Iron Age Hillfort and the Maen Llia Standing Stone.
#6 Head to the Lakes
Brecon Beacons National Park also has several lakes that you can visit. We went to Llangorse Lake which was carved out by glaciers in the last ice age and is the largest natural lake in South Wales.
The lake has a long and interesting history. In the 12th century, a manmade island thought to be the residence of the King of Brycheiniog was built. You can still see this island, called a crannog, which is the only one in Wales. Some people have also seen the mythical creature called Gorsey in the lake, but just like Nessie in Loch Ness most experts believe it is not real.
You can go boating or fishing (catch and release only) on the lake, but you will need to get a permit. It’s a nice area for wildlife spotting too. While a lot of the land around the lake is privately owned, there are some public foot paths but none go all the way around the lake. Swimming is not allowed.
Other lakes that you can visit in the area include Llyn y Fan Fach, Llyn Fawr, and Llyn Cwm Llwch.
#7 See Cathedrals and Historic Churches/Priories
Just like many other areas around the UK, there are plenty of historic places of worship to visit. Here are a few of the top ones to visit in the Brecon Beacons.
There has been a church on this site since Norman times but much of the Brecon Cathedral building we see today dates from the 13th and 14th centuries. It wasn’t raised to cathedral status until in 1923, making it one of Britain newest cathedrals.
Brecon Cathedral is open to visitors Monday to Saturday 10:00 am to 4:00 pm and Sundays from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm. Unfortunately, we arrived to late, so weren’t able to go inside.
Llanthony Priory is Augustinian abbey that was founded over 900 years ago. After two rebellions, the abbey was barely functioning when it was suppressed as part of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. The remaining ruins with the dramatic mountain background are a hidden gem.
It is free to visit Llanthony Priory, but you will need to drive down some rural roads to get there. Use postcode NP7 7NN to find it.
St. Edmunds Church in Crickhowell
This large 13th-century church has two stained glass windows by Charles Kempe. You can also see memorials to local families inside St. Edmunds Church.
St Ellyw Church in Llanelieu
While this 13th-century church is no longer used as a place of worship, it has a 14th-century rood screen and loft, medieval wall paintings, and 7th-9th century pillar stones. It’s been designated a Grade I listed building.
#8 Go Stargazing
The entire national park was named an International Dark Sky Reserve in February 2013 because of the sky quality and natural darkness. In some spots (under favorable conditions), you will be able to see deep sky objects with just the naked eye. Some of the best places to do stargazing in the Brecon Beacons are Llangorse Lake (also mentioned above), Usk Reservoir, Pontsticill Reservoir, and the National Park Visitor Centre.
Keep in mind that during the summer, it may not get fully dark until 10:00 pm or later. We were doing so much walking and sightseeing, by that time we were tired. If you want to go stargazing, you will need to pace yourself so that you will have enough energy.
#9 Explore the Waterway
The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal follows the line of the Usk Valley through the Brecon Beacons National Park, from Brecon to the Pontymoile basin. If you want to get out on the water, you can rent a narrowboat or canoe. There are also boat tours you can join. Those that want to stay dry can walk along the canal or cycle. It’s a popular area for wildlife too, so keep your eyes open for buzzards, red kites, herons, dragonflies, and more.
Get more information about the canal here.
#10 Enjoy a Scenic Drive
You don’t have to hike to get sweeping views of the area. There are many roads that will take you through beautiful areas of the National Park. As you drive to the various attractions, you will see some of these, so you may not feel the need to do a separate scenic drive.
Some of my favorite roads in the Brecon Beacons were the A470 and the A4059. While it will be tempting to stop often and take photos, only do so where there is sufficient room. Also, keep an eye out for animals as we saw several sheep and horses on the roads.
More Things to do Near the Brecon Beacons
While you can easily fill you time with things to do in the Brecon Beacon, there are a few other attractions nearby that you may want to squeeze into the itinerary.
While you can visit several castles inside Brecon Beacons National Park, if you are a castle-lover like me, you will also want to see some of the castles nearby. Trust me, these are worth the drive or maybe you can see them on your way in or out of the area.
Some have said that Raglan Castle is the finest castle ever built by the Welsh. It has a unique design where its great tower is surrounded by a moat with the rest of the castle on the other side.
The castle has a noteworthy history as well. It was owned by the powerful Herbert and the Somerset families and also was the childhood home of Henry VII. During the English Civil War the castle was held on behalf of Charles I but was taken by Parliamentary forces in 1646 and then destroyed. The Somerset family did not want to restore the castle, so it remained in ruins.
When you go to Raglan Castle you can explore the ruins and walk around the moat. When we visited (June 2021) it was not possible to climb any towers due to social distancing limitations, but I have heard the views are spectacular.
Raglan Castle is a Cadw property, so Cadw and English Heritage members can visit for free. All visitors will need to book a timed-entry slot in advance (as of June 24, 2021). Get more information here
If you want to visit a castle that looks like it’s right out of a fairytale, you need to go to Castell Coch, also called “The Red Castle”. It does not look like your typical British castle, instead it has a distinct European flair to it, and has been used as a filming location for several movies including Wolf Hall and for the television show Doctor Who.
The first castle on this site was built around 1081 by the Normans. It was abandoned and a new stone fortification was built in the late 13th century. That was destroyed by a rebellion in 1314. In 1760, the castle ruins were acquired by John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, and his family worked with the architect William Burgess to restore the castle in the 19th century.
When you visit Coch Castle, you see an elaborate medieval castle that was created during Victorian times. The audio guide does an excellent job of telling you about each room in the castle and the history. If possible, allow time to walk around the area outside the castle too.
Castell Coch is a Cadw property, so Cadw and English Heritage members can visit for free. All visitors will need to book a timed-entry slot in advance (as of June 24, 2021). Get more information here.
Caerphilly Castle is the largest castle in Wales and the second largest in Britain (behind only Windsor Castle). You might have seen it in a few Doctor Who episodes.
Established in 1268, it has massive walls, a great hall, tall towers, and along with water defenses that cover 30 acres. It’s had a tumultuous history. Caerphilly Castle has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. The famous leaning tower was hit during the Civil War.
When you visit, you can go inside the keep, see the Great Hall, and climb to the top of the tower for panoramic views of the area. It’s a good place to learn about some of the techniques and equipment used to defend castles in medieval times. They also have a few dragons which kids will love.
Caerphilly Castle is a Cadw property, so Cadw and English Heritage members can visit for free. All visitors will need to book a timed-entry slot in advance (as of June 24, 2021). Get more information about visiting here.
Paxton’s Tower was originally part of the Middleton Estate and used as a banqueting hall. It was built as a memorial to Admiral Lord Nelson and had stained glass panels dedicated to him. Those panels have been removed and are now with the Carmarthen Museum.
While you can’t go inside the striking tower, it is worth visiting to get a closer look and take in the views of the countryside. From the parking lot, it’s a short walk across a field to Paxton’s Tower. There is no charge to visit or park here.
You can spot Paxton’s Tower from miles away, but we had a bit of difficulty finding the way to drive to it. Put “Paxton’s Tower Lodge” in your GPS and that takes you to the cottage next to it and you will see an area to park.
Blaenavon Ironworks is the best preserved 18th-century ironworks site in Western Europe. It was the filming location for the popular BBC series Coal House and it’s part of the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape UNESCO World Heritage site.
In the beginning, back in 1789, Blaenavon Ironworks used the power of steam to blow air into its huge blast furnaces. Then, about 100 years later, Sidney Gilchrist Thomas invented a method to remove phosphorus from iron ore.
This change decreased the cost and increased the speed of the production of steel and transformed the industry. Production ceased at the site in the early 1900s and it was marked for demolition in 1970. Luckily it was taken into state care and saved for the nation.
When you visit Blaenavon Ironworks, you can see the ruined furnaces alongside the impressive remains of the foundry, cast house and water balance tower that raised wagons 80 feet into the air. You can also learn more about the workers through the authentically furnished cottages and the recreated ‘truck shop.’
Blaenavon Ironworks is a Cadw property, so Cadw and English Heritage members can visit for free. All visitors will need to book a timed-entry slot in advance (as of June 24, 2021). Get more information here.
Big Pit National Coal Museum
This museum includes a real coal mine and is also part of the Blaenavon World Heritage site. You can take a multi-media tour of a modern coal mine with a virtual miner in the Mining Galleries, and check out the exhibitions in the Pithead Baths and Historic colliery buildings. Then go 300 feet underground where hundreds of men, women, and children once worked to extract the precious mineral that kept furnaces and fires lit around the world.
It is free to visit, but you must book a ticket in advance (as of June 28, 2021). Get more information here.
National Botanical Gardens of Wales
We spotted the unique architecture of the Lord Foster’s glasshouse from a distance and wondered what it could be. It’s part of the National Botanic Garden of Wales. They also have a range of themed gardens, a nature reserve, and the British Bird of Prey Centre.
How Many Days Do You Need in the Brecon Beacons?
With all the things to do in Brecon Beacons (and surrounding area), you will want more than a weekend. We spent five days exploring the Brecon Beacons area, and we had a hard time fitting in everything that we wanted to do. It gives us a good reason to go back.
Do You Need a Car to Explore the Brecon Beacons?
Yes. Many of the attractions are located in remote areas that cannot be reached by public transportation. Be sure to read my guide to driving in the UK if you have not done it before.
Where to Stay in the Brecon Beacons
You’re not going to find any many hotels in the Brecon Beacons, but that’s not a bad thing. There are plenty of charming bed and breakfasts, pubs, small hotels, and vacation rentals to choose from.
As attractions are spread out around the area, you will need to drive regardless of where you choose to stay. If you want to stay close to a town, then look around Brecon, Abergavenny, or Crickhowell. We stayed in a converted loft outside of Brecon.
Is the Brecon Beacons Worth Visiting?
Yes! It’s an area that will take your breath away with the scenery and has plenty to keep you entertained. It’s also budget-friendly. We enjoyed our time in South Wales and will definitely be back.
Have you been to the Brecon Beacons?
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Last Updated on August 2, 2021