“Fair, shining mountains of my pilgrimage,
And flow'ry vales, whose flow'rs were stars,
The days and nights of my first happy age…”
Excerpt from Henry Vaughan’s The Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains (1600s).
The Brecon Beacons National Park is an unbroken land of green valleys and formidable yet alluring mountain peaks. Rivers course through the land confirming the path of least resistance on down to the Bristol Channel and the oceans. It’s a fabled land of poets, explorers, miners and generations of farmers. Welsh culture, language, and traditions thrive across this deep area of Wales. Traces of the Brecon Beacons’ mining heritage can be seen all around, bear witness to natural wonders like waterfalls and alluring cave systems too – it’s a haven for outdoor lovers. Contrasting annual events like the Brecon Beacons Trail Running Challenge and the Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival offer very persuasive reasons to head to the region for a holiday.
Our guide is an introduction to the best places to visit in the area, whether they are natural wonders or an all-weather attraction. We have also selected some great restaurants and pubs for you to try out too, as well as highlighting one or two self-catering cottages for you to consider staying at during your holiday to the Brecon Beacons.
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Towns and villages
One of the most visited towns in the Brecon Beacons, Hay-on-Wye has earnt a reputation as being the place to head to for readers. The town is home to one of the best-known literary festivals in Europe, but beyond that event, visitors head to town for the sheer number of bookshops which cover every fiction genre and every subject under the sun.
From the Booker Prize to the homemade pamphlet, from the pantheon of all-time greats to the self-penned romance, all books in existence must, at some stage, have passed through Hay-on-Wye. It’s a pretty place too, full of eateries and modest live venues. Make some time to seek out that book you’ve been meaning to buy with a trip to Hay-on-Wye. Visit Richard Booth’s, The Children’s Bookshop, Boz Books, Hay Cinema Bookshop and dozens more.
Deep in the Usk Valley, this charming market town nestles in the long shadow of the striking Black Mountains. Tucked into the most easterly corner of the Brecon Beacons National Park, there are lots of wonderful cafes, restaurants, and shops in Crickhowell’s streets. With fantastic South Wales scenery, long walking trails and activities close by, this is a superb holiday destination. Visit the ruins of Llanthony Priory, or Tretower Court and Castle – an interesting day out for historians. For lovers of the great outdoors, a trip to Cwm Clydach Nature Reserve is a must. Crickhowell’s most famous son is the explorer Sir George Everest who mapped the Himalayas and gave his name to the world’s tallest mountain.
Abergavenny can be found on the ‘steppes’ of seven emerald hills close to the Sugar Loaf Mountain. Situated a short distance from the border with England, the town is affectionately known as the ‘Gateway to Wales’. Abergavenny is characterised by its busy market where you can buy local produce, art, and bespoke crafted fancy goods. Take some quality time out to slow down and indulge in the fresh mountain air of the verdant Usk Valley. Visit the motte and bailey Abergavenny Castle which houses the town museum. There is a second castle close by Grosmont Castle. There’s a cool place to see films too at the Baker Street Cinema.
Garn Farm is a great choice for a family day out, as there are outdoor play opportunities and woodland walking trails; you can follow Monnow Vale from here up to the Black Mountains too. Other local walks include a pleasant meander up Hatterrall Hill or the Black Hill (known as The Cats Back from its Welsh name - Crib y Garth), both offer impressive views over into England. Also consider excursions to Capel-Y-Ffin, Hay Bluff, the Mynydd Du Forest, and Grwyne Fawr Reservoir or visit Usk, Brecon, and Talgarth.
Beauty spots and walking trails
For life-affirming beauty, the Brecon Beacons is guaranteed to make your heart soar. The Central Beacons is home to the tallest mountains in the south of Great Britain. Many walkers make for the famous twin summits of Pen-y-Fan and Corn Du for challenge and adventure. The Brecon Beacons National Park is 520 square miles of pure wilderness and Welsh countryside. From the west into the east; the park is made up of the Black Mountain range, the Fforest Fawr massif and the Black Mountains – each of them a distinctive world of wonder different from the last.
The Brecon Beacons walks can be completed by visitors at all levels of ability, with a variety of interesting and spectacular landscapes to appreciate. Seek out deep, woodland gorges, caves, sinkholes and breathtaking waterfalls. Head down to the lowlands to hike along riverbanks and romp through the rolling green countryside. The rangers for the Brecon Beacons have a grading system for their walking trails from 1 to 5 in terms of challenge and terrain.
Difficulty: Easy to challenging Distance: 99 miles
First established in 2005, this 99-mile trail is broken into bite-size sections so you can select the parts that appeal the most or walk the full span over a few days (it takes most wayfarers eight days). When holidaying in the area you may like to walk a different bit each day! It’s possible. One end of the walk is at the Holy Mountain near Llanthony Priory and 95 miles later the trail arrives at Bethlehem. Highlights along the trail bring in Carreg Cennen Castle and Craig-y-Nos. The different sections vary between 10 and 14.5 miles and the terrain can be rocky and uphill with a challenge for everybody.
Difficulty: easy Distance: 1.5 miles
This cool circuit takes in a diverse range of habitats as you head around a lake to Craig-y-Nos Castle. Views down over the Upper Swansea Valley punctuate this lovely trail past treelined ponds and through copses. Craig-y-Nos Castle was built in the 19th century for the socialite Adelina Patti. The performer made her mark on the estate - very famous in her day for her singing, she gave her last performance for the families of fallen soldiers in the Great War at the Royal Albert Hall in 1914. Visit the bandstand and see a monogram at the white bridge that crosses one of the lakes.
Difficulty: moderate to challenging Distance: 4 to 10 miles
Pen-y-Fan is the tallest mountain in the Brecon Beacons (886 metres), there are four main routes to the summit: ‘The Motorway’, ‘The Beacons Circuit’, ‘The Cwm Llwch Walk’ and toughest of all ‘The Horseshoe Ridge’. The Motorway is so named as it’s the easiest one and is a great choice for young families. The views from the peak are unforgettable. Take precautions before setting off and during your expedition such as taking plenty of water, carrying waterproofs and insulative clothing.
Don’t miss: Sugar and Loaf Mountain, Blaen-y-Glyn, the highest waterfall in the Brecon Beacons - Henrhyd Falls, Nant Llech Valley, and Llangorse Lake.
Places to visit
The labyrinth of caves of Dan-yr-Ogof are some of the very best to visit in the UK. First discovered as recently as 1912, the caves have been adapted for visitors who can now walk through the caves on level walkways. See the cathedral, the rasher of bacon, the angel and the alabaster pillar (where a stalactite and stalagmite met in the middle). There is a shire horse centre and a dinosaur park on the surface as well to make your day out at the show caves.
The Brecon Beacon’s coal mining heritage is evident everywhere you go, nowhere is this more evident than at the awesome Big Pit, which is a fully preserved example. Guides take you below the surface to the mines where all the machinery is still in situ. You can learn all about the life of the Welsh coal miner all the way up to the early 1980s. It’s a fascinating experience for all the family.
One of South Wales’ most iconic castle ruins, Carreg Cennen Castle. You can only imagine the hardships these castle walls have endured, its battle-hardened faces still guard a sheer clifftop location. Close to Afon Cennen at the western end of the Brecon Beacons National Park, there’s a small visitor centre and facilities to help you enjoy a morning or afternoon taking in the views from the castle walls. The farm below breeds longhorn cows which can be seen in the fields below the fort.
Places to eat in the Brecon Beacons
If you like fine dining experiences, The Walnut Tree Inn near Abergavenny is the place to head to. With a wide range of interesting meals made with locally grown ingredients. Formal dining is a real treat and this is a welcoming establishment to enjoy the best in Welsh and English cuisine, alongside one or two exotic additions. Book ahead to avoid disappointment; The Walnut Tree Inn gets full weeks in advance during busy periods.
Also visit: The Felin Fach Griffin, and The Three Horseshoes Inn
This is the way to enjoy a pint of ale or a glass of wine with a plate of quality food. A roaring fire, the dog at your feet, the day’s newspaper, green Brecon Beacons' views. There’s also a restaurant at the Kestrel if you fancy something a little more formal. Delicious Welsh fare awaits!
Also visit: The Bank, and The Royal Oak
Sometimes you need a light lunch or a cooked breakfast during the course of a day out. The joy of eating out is that you can each have something different, and also cafes in the Brecon Beacons are often located in amongst beautiful settings. The Hours Café & Bookshop in Brecon blends one of the best pastimes with a light lunch, and that’s reading. So browse the shelves and tuck into a salad and literary classic just for the fun of it.
Also visit: The International Welsh Rarebit Centre and Coffee #1
Things to do in the Brecon Beacons
The Brecon Brecons is frontier land for extreme sports hobbyists – whether you are heading to the region for some serious mountain biking, climbing, hiking and trail running, there are training schools and vast swathes of Welsh wilds to command. Beyond that, you can go try caving, gliding, hang gliding, archery, kayaking and a whole host of other activities in the Brecon Beacons.
The Black Mountains Gliding Club near Talgarth is where to go If you have always fancied flying in a glider. The non-motorised plane surfs the thermal wind currents in virtual silence and if you don’t fancy going for a lesson yourself, they are fun to watch come and go. It’s one of the best ways to see the Brecon Beacons in all its unspoiled glory. Tutors offer training to visitors of all abilities, so consider a visit during your holiday in the Brecon Beacons.
If you are an experienced caver, you can engage a volunteer through official channels to guide you through the system beyond the National Show Caves of Wales at Dan-yr-Ogof. It’s quite a challenge to go get through the caves here but the reward is seeing some interesting parts of the natural labyrinth, some of which were only mapped in the 1960s. You can also book training courses for cavers at all levels of accomplishment.
Go to the Black Mountains Cycle Centre for freeriding and downhill biking trails through wild woods. This is adrenaline-junkie heaven and with the on-site facilities and trainers, you can learn mind-splitting techniques to employ when you are out in the forests and valleys of the Brecon Beacons. Hire bikes or bring your own! Visit the FAQs so you prepare in advance.
More things to do
We have a vast collection of holiday cottages throughout the Brecon Beacons National Park and the Black Mountains. Whether you are looking for a place to stay in the countryside or in the Brecon Beacons towns we have properties large and small just for you. We have glamping choices and properties for those with extra mobility requirements. Visit our collection to discover your perfect holiday home in the Brecon Beacons.
Brecon Beacons cottages
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing,
please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.