Bannau Brycheiniog (The Brecon Beacons) is a national park in the mountainous region of South Wales. Covering an area of 519 square miles, the park is known for its flat-topped peaks, glacial valleys, forestries, lakes and waterfalls. The natural beauty of this park makes it a popular tourist destination in Wales.
There are a variety of things to do in Bannau Brycheiniog which include exploring the wilderness on foot, bike or horseback, learning about history at castles and ancient monuments, trying watersports on the lakes and reservoirs, riding the famed railway or even a spot of whisky tasting.
The park is also home to a wide range of flora and fauna. On a trip to the Beacons you might see Welsh ponies, red kites, buzzards and of course, plenty of sheep!
Whatever you interest, there is something fun to try on your visit to the Brecon Beacons.
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The Best Things To Do In The Brecon Beacons National Park
Growing up in the South Wales town of Merthyr Tydfil, I was lucky enough to call the Brecon Beacons my (extended) backyard. I got to know the mountains, forestries and reservoirs inside out as I explored all they had to offer.
On 17th April 2023, to mark the 66th anniversary of the area, the national park changed its name to the original Welsh name of Bannau Brycheiniog. The name translates to ‘The Peaks of Brychan’s Kingdom’ and refers to the old kingdom of King Brychan. The name change aims to honour its Welsh heritage and the new (old) name coincides with a management plan designed to address climate and biodiversity concerns within the park.
In this guide, I’d like to share the top things to do and best places to visit in the Brecon Beacons National Park/ Bannau Brycheiniog.
1. Hike a Mountain
By far the most popular thing to do in the Beacons (Bannau) is conquer one of the many mountain peaks the national park has to offer. The Beacons mountains span across the full width of South Wales and are divided into several different regions – The Black Mountain in the west, Fforest Fawr and the Central Beacons across the middle and the Black Mountains in the east.
The highest and most popular peak is Pen y Fan which stands at 886m tall and is found in the Central Beacons. The most iconic hill in the Black Mountains of the east is the Sugar Loaf, whilst arguably the prettiest hike in the Brecon Beacons is a loop of Llyn y Fan Fach and Llyn y Fan Fawr in the west.
Looking for a Guide? If you want a Mountain Leader to guide you on your mountainous adventure, please contact me here. I can lead you and your friends on any hike around the Beacons, sharing local knowledge on flora and fauna and leaving you to simply kick back and enjoy the views.
2. Walk to a Waterfall
Another popular activity in the Brecon Beacons is visiting one of the many beautiful waterfalls. In the west of the park there is an area known as Waterfall Country, which contains more waterfalls per square mile than anywhere else in the country.
In Waterfall Country you can enjoy the Four Falls Trail, a pretty walk along two rivers culminating at Sgwd yr Eira. This is a large waterfall that allows brave visitors the opportunity to walk behind the waterfalls. Waterfall Country is also home to Henryd Falls, which is famed for being Batcave in The Dark Knight Rises film and the Elidir Trail which is reputedly home to a magical fairy kingdom.
In the Central Beacons there are yet more waterfalls to explore along the lesser known Blaen-y-Glyn Falls Trail or perhaps you might want go in search of Pen y Fan’s secret waterfall. Learn more about all the waterfall walks in the Brecon Beacons in this guide.
3. Visit a Castle
With over 600 castles in Wales you won’t struggle to find a castle to visit during your Brecon Beacons trip. On the very western edge of the park you can find one of the parks more well known castles – Carreg Cennen. Built in the 1200s, this is a fun castle to explore with the family as, although the castle is mostly in ruin, there is a secret underground tunnel to investigate. Also, the view from the towers are spectacular.
A more modern castle can be found in the town of Merthyr Tydfil which sits just outside the Central Beacons. Cyfarthfa Castle is a castellated mansion that dates back to 1825 when it was home to the Ironmaster, William Crawshay. For a period it also functioned as a school and this is where I spent my early high school years. Today it operates as a museum.
Other castles to visit include the medieval Hay Castle in the northeast, the circular keep of Tretower Court or Crickhowell Castle in the Central Beacons and the much fought-over Dinefwr Castle in the west. Just outside the park, en route to capital of Cardiff you can also find the beautiful fairytale castle of Castell Coch.
4. Cool Off in the Rivers and Lakes
Dotted around Bannau Brycheiniog are lots of pretty lakes which are certainly worth investigating. The easiest lake to visit is Llangorse Lake, which is the largest natural lake in Wales. Head to Llangorse Lake to enjoy fishing, sailing or water skiing. There are also beautiful walks to enjoy here ranging from easy strolls along the lake allowing visitors to appreciate the birdlife, to hikes up onto Llangorse mountain for amazing views over the Brecon Beacons.
Those interested in wild swimming will have to work a little harder to access wild swimming lakes, but three of the best are Llyn Cwm Llwch and Llyn y Fan Fach/Fawr. Llyn Cwm Llych is found in Cwm Llwch valley on a route that takes you to Corn Du and Pen y Fan and Llyn y Fan Fach/Fawr are found at the base of the Carmarthen Fans.
If you prefer to splash about on a river you can’t go far wrong with the River Wye in the beautiful Wye Valley or the River Usk near the market town of Brecon.
5. Explore the Reservoirs
As well as beautiful lakes, the Beacons also has a large amount of pretty reservoirs to explore. Some of the reservoirs, such as Pontsticill Reservoir, are a playground for watersports enthusiasts. On the northern edge of this reservoir is Parkwoods Outdoor Centre (Dolygear) who offer kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, canoeing and raft building amongst other things.
But perhaps the Brecon Beacon reservoirs are best known for their Victorian valve towers and overflow drains, which look particularly dramatic when the water levels are high. View the valve towers at Talybont, Pontsticill and Llwyn-on reservoirs.
6. Ride the Railway
The Brecon Mountain Railway is a narrow gauge steam railway that offers visitors the chance to ride along part of the original Brecon to Merthyr railway, which closed in 1964.
The journey starts in Pant, Merthyr Tydfil and travels into the Brecon Beacons National Park to Torpantau, which is the summit of the original line. The railway uses a collection of vintage steam locomotives to tow all-weather carriages along the length of Pontsticill Reservoir, with the return journey taking around 1.5 hours.
There is a delightful tearoom at the main station along with a workshop where you can see the steam locomotives being repaired. The railway is open between April and October.
7. Try Canyoning
Another way to enjoy the outdoor beauty of the Bannau Brycheiniog is to try canyoning or gorge walking. This is the best thing to do in the Brecon Beacons on a rainy day because you’re gonna get wet anyway! There are several locations to enjoy this activity and various providers to choose from.
A fun full-days canyoning is spent scrambling up the Sychryd Gorge from Dinas Rock to the beautiful Sychryd waterfall. Climb behind the waterfall and take the plunge with a cliff jump to finish off. Other route options include the River Mellte in Waterfall Country and the Blaen y Glyn gorge.
8. Go Caving
How about exploring the underground world of Bannau Brycheiniog? Providers such as Parkwood Outdoors offer guided caving tours where you can squeeze in, around and under the vast network of cave systems.
If you would prefer something a little more relaxed, then instead pay a visit to Dan yr Ogof National Showcaves Centre. Here the large caves have pathways and lights to lead you around this incredible underground world. The vast caves at Dan yr Ogof have won multiple tourism awards and you can even get married there, if that’s what you’re into!
9. Stroll the Canal
For an altogether more relaxing activity in the Brecon Beacons, pay a visit to the Brecon – Monmouthshire canal. Here, life takes on a slower pace as the waterway meanders for 35 miles along the Usk Valley.
A great section to walk starts in Brecon and finishes at Brynich Aqueduct, passing several bridges, a lock and old lime kilns along the way. Another option is to walk from Pontymoile Basin to Five Locks Flight, again passing several stone bridges as well as the Cwmbran Tunnel.
Autumn is the perfect time of year to stroll the canal as the trees that line the water turn gorgeous hues of orange and red.
10. Taste Wales’ only Whisky at Penderyn Distillery
Are you a single malt fan? If so, be sure to visit the producers of award-winning single malt whiskies and spirits, Penderyn Distillery. Penderyn are the the only commercial whisky distillery in Wales and one of the smallest distilleries in the world.
The distillery offers hour-long tours to educate visitors on the history of Penderyn and how their unique whisky is made. They have a tasting bar to sample some of the fine spirits on offer and a shop to purchase bottles to take with you.
For whisky connoisseurs, the distillery also offers a masterclass which provides a more in depth tour, along with whisky tasting and Welsh cakes. What more could you want?!
Buy your Penderyn whisky here!
11. Explore Ancient Historical Sites
The landscape of the Beacons was carved by ice millennia ago. However, the park has also been home to people for thousands of years. Evidence of Bannau Brycheiniog ancient history can be seen at several sites around the park.
The Beacons is home to several standing stones, the most impressive of which is Maen Llia. This mighty sandstone block near Ystradfellte stands at 3.7m in height and likely acted as a territorial marker.
Pen-y-Crug Iron Age Hill-fort, just northwest of Brecon is the most intact hill-fort in the area and dates back to around 800BC. Wander round the earth and stone ramparts and enjoy extensive views of the Brecon Beacons. This is a great spot for photographing the Central Beacons.
Another ancient hillfort can be seen near Pengenfordd, at the site of Castell Dinas (Castle Dinas). Only the ramparts of this castle now remain but in its day it was the highest castle in Britain. Learn more about visiting this site on a walk of Waun Fach.
12. Gaze at the Nightsky
Bannau Brycheiniog National Park has such little light pollution that it was accredited as an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2012, one of only six areas in the UK. This makes the Brecon Beacons a top location for stargazing, where you can see the Milky Way with the naked eye.
The best places for star gazing include the National Park Visitor Centre, Usk Reservoir, Llangorse Lake and Llanthony Priory. If you want to get out into the mountains to appreciate the night sky, try this four hour guided night hike.
Some top stargazing accommodation options to consider are:
- Aber Glamping stargazing tents have clear panels so you can lie back and enjoy the stars from the comfort of your own bed.
- By the Wye glamping offer luxury safari tents perched high up in the tree tops for the best nightsky views.
- Bryniau Pel Cottage is located in the darkest part of the park and even provide a portable telescope and stargazing guide for guests.
13. Enjoy a Horse-back Adventure
With over 600 miles of bridle paths and tracks spread across thousands of acres of hills and fields, the Brecon Beacons is the perfect place for a horse-riding adventure. There are options for all abilities and experiences that range from a couple of hours to complete 7 day holidays.
In the Black Mountains, try Tregoyd Mountain Riders and for great views over the Central Beacons try the Llangorse Multi-activity Centre.
14. Learn About the Industrial Heritage
South Wales has a big coal mining history and played an important part in the Industrial Revolution. Blaenavon, a town on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, was a leading producer of iron and limestone which was distributed all over the world. Blaenavon’s importance in the Industrial Revolution has been recognised by UNESCO who inscribed it as a World Heritage Site in 2000.
At the Ironworks visitors can see 18th and 19th century furnaces, kilns, railway systems and workers cottages. The Big Pit National Coal Museum was a working coal mine from 1880 to 1980 and today this heritage museum offers underground tours to see what life was like for thousands of coal miners.
Another town that played an important role in the Industrial Revolution was Merthyr Tydfil. Evidence of this history is scattered throughout the town and is best displayed at Cyfarthfa Castle and Ynysfach Engine House. Along the Taff Trail walkers can witness old blast furnaces and the impressive Pontsarn viaduct.
15. Enjoy a Scenic Drive
As a mountainous region, there are no shortage of scenic drives on offer throughout the park, but if you’re a motor enthusiast there are two roads that shouldn’t be missed. Gospel Pass is the high point of a 22-mile stretch of road that winds its way between Hay-on-Wye and Llanvihangel Crucorney, past Hay Bluff and the mesmerising Llanthony Priory.
Another very windy mountain road is the A4069 Black Mountain Pass which passes through the Tywi Valley. The fun on this road begins shortly after leaving Brynamman and doesn’t stop much before finishing in Llandovery. For those who want scenery without the single track roads, don’t miss the A470 between Merthyr Tydfil and Brecon, where you can get up close to the peaks of the Central Beacons.
16. Try Zip-lining
If you want to take the adrenaline levels up a notch then why not try a little zip-lining during your visit? In the heart of the Beacons, Parkwoods Outdoor Dolygaer offer a small 100m zip wire over the Nant Callan valley which is a good introduction to the world of zip-lining.
For those looking for something more extreme, head to Tower Colliery in the Rhigos mountains on the outskirts of the national park. This former coal mining site has been given a new lease of life by Zip World and now boasts the fastest seated zip line in the world. There are four parallel lines in two zip zones to get stuck into and if that’s not enough there’s also the Tower Kart Coaster which is a one-of-a-kind for Europe.
17. Explore the old Churches, Cathedrals & Priories
Dotted around the national park are a selection of working and ruined religious buildings. In the market town of Brecon, be sure to visit Brecon Cathedral and Heritage Centre. In Crickhowell check out the 13th century St Edmunds Church, whilst in Llangorse pay a visit to the small St Gastyn church where my grandparents got married!
In a quiet valley of the Black Mountains, you can find Llanthony Priory which is a ruined Augustinian priory. The surrounding ridges provide great hiking opportunities and the priory is even home to a cellar bar and hotel, if you fancy stopping for the night.
18. Visit the Red Kite Feeding Station
In Llanddeusant, visitors have the opportunity to witness Red Kites dive and compete for food at the Red Kit Feeding Station. At regular times throughout the week, these majestic birds come into feed whilst visitors can safely observe from a dedicated hide close to the action.
Red Kites can often be seen whilst out walking in the Brecon Beacon hills but to see them in larger numbers is amazing. This is a great activity in the Brecon Beacons for families and also for photographers hoping to get a good snap of these beautiful birds of prey.
Check the website for opening days and feeding times here.
19. Get on ya Bike!
For those preferring to travel on two wheels, there are lots of biking routes to explore in the Beacons. For families wishing to cycle away from the main roads, there are five traffic-free routes that venture around the reservoirs and along the canal towpaths. Learn more about these routes here.
Expert mountain bikers should explore the mountains around Crickhowell and Talgarth whilst beginners should opt for tracks around Brecon, Sennybridge and Talybont-on-Usk. For a dedicated mountain bike park with an optional up-lift service (and a serious amount of fun!), beginners and experts should visit Bike Park Wales on the southern edge of Merthyr Tydfil.
20. Visit the Most Haunted Pub in Wales
The Skirrid Mountain Inn in Llanvihangel Crucorney is reputed to be the oldest and most haunted pub in Wales. At 900 years old and with a long and dark history, the Skirrid Inn is a fascinating place to visit in the Brecon Beacons.
Dating back to the Norman Conquests of the 11th century, the pub was once used as a courthouse and execution place, with evidence on the beams of where the hangman’s noose once laid. With so many reports of ghostly activities, you can now reserve a spot on a ghost hunt. Would you dare spend a night at this haunted Inn?!
The Skirrid Inn is a great place to finish off a hike up nearby Skirrid Mountain.
21. Visit an aircraft crash site
Bannau Brycheiniog has been the location for military training exercises for decades. The beautiful rolling landscapes and ever-changing weather offers challenging terrain for military exercises. Unfortunately this has proved too challenging on many occasions and so the Brecon Beacons is home to 40 aircraft crash sites.
There are large wreckages at some of these sites and it’s possible to visit them through embarking on short walks. Crash sites of note include the Wellington Bomber at Waun Rydd which can be accessed from the Upper Blaen-y-Glyn car park in the Central Beacons.
Where to Stay in the Brecon Beacons
The Brecon Beacons has several cute market towns and villages to use as a base for exploring the national park. There aren’t many large chain hotels but instead, you will find a selection of bed and breakfasts, pubs/Inns, glamping and camping opportunities.
As a central location, you can’t go far wrong with the town of Brecon. The beautiful Camden Lodge B&B offers exceptional service, with large, clean rooms that have delightful views over the hills. To experience the charm of a cosy, local pub try the Usk and Railway Inn at Sennybridge. This is a fabulous location for mountain bikers looking to get out in the hills.
If you’d prefer to be based near the Black Mountains in the east, opt for the Ty Croeso Boutique B&B which is an exquisitely renovated Victorian building located near the small town of Crickhowell. In the west, Cwtch Bach is a gorgeous stone bricked holiday home perfect for exploring The Black Mountain region.
For a luxury glamping experience try the Cuddfan, whose bell tent located along the banks of the river Grwyne offers a real escape back into nature. For more luxury glamping ideas take a look at this guide to glamping in the Brecon Beacons.
How to Get Around Bannau Brycheiniog
The national park is a rural region and many of the activities are set in remote locations, therefore the use of public transport will be difficult in many places and not possible in others. The best way to get around the Brecon Beacons is by using a car.
For the best deals on rental cars check out Rentalcars.com
Brecon Beacons Things to do Summary
The Brecon Beacons or Bannau Brycheiniog in Welsh, is a national park in South Wales that is known for its mountains, lakes, waterfalls and reservoirs. The park is a great place to enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking, canyoning and horse riding.
The Beacons has a vast underground network of caves to explore and a fascinating history to uncover. Visit ruined priories, abandoned castles and ancient hill forts or sample Welsh whisky, ride the railway and appreciate the night sky from one of the darkest areas of the UK.
So if you’re wondering what to do in the Brecon Beacons hopefully this guide offers some inspiration to start planning that trip.
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