Once the largest town in South Wales, Newport is now a vibrant city with an awesome history. Famous for its docks, the Roman remains in nearby Caerleon and its association with the 19th-century Chartist movement, Newport is full of cultural surprises.
South Wales is absolutely packed with castles, many of which were used to secure the Normans’ position in the borderlands after the invasion. Newport Castle is one of the later ones and overlooks the river Usk. Built in the 14th century, it was sacked only one hundred years later in Owain Glyndwr’s failed rebellion.
Unveiled in 199o, sculptor Peter Fink’s enormous steel wave, on the banks of the River Usk, was commissioned to commemorate the city’s role in the steel industry. Very much of its time, the Wave has become a symbol of Newport and is well known throughout the area.
One of the most famous feats of early 20th-century engineering, the Transporter Bridge carried passengers over the River Usk. A campaign to restore the bridge was extremely successful, and visitors can now follow in their Edwardian forebears’ steps.
A really traditional Welsh indoor market, the Market Hall is the perfect place to pick up a few Welsh Cakes or a nice loaf of Bara Brith (Welsh fruit bread). The Market Hall was built in 1887 to replace an earlier smaller building and was the buzzing heart of the city.
St Woolos (Gwynllyw in Welsh) was a 5th-century saint who established a religious community on the site. The building you see today dates back to the 9th century, with later additions. On the eastern wall is a plaque showing the boundary of the original borough.
In November 1839, thousands of Welsh miners and ironworkers marched on the city’s Westgate Hotel to support the Chartist political movement which demanded rights and vote for all men, and more equality in government. Unfortunately, soldiers were waiting for them and at least 22 men were killed. Ten of these were hurriedly buried in the St Woolos churchyard and a plaque commemorates their martyrdom.
The history of Newport is surprisingly fascinating. Its story is told within this most unassuming building. As well as being a museum, it is also an art gallery housing an extensive collection of classical and contemporary art including the works of several extremely well-known Welsh painters.
Now fallen into disuse, the Westgate Hotel was the site of the 1839 Newport Chartist Uprising – the bullet holes are still visible in the walls. Once the finest hotel in town, it is now a rather sad site but with an incredibly important history, although in the last month it has been sold and hopefully will be returned to its former splendour in the near future.
A short drive outside the city is the Roman city of Caerleon, or Isca Siluram, which translates as ‘Fortress of the Legion’. It was home to the Second Legion Augusta, and today is a beautiful village packed with Roman remains. Don’t miss the legion’s bathhouse, the museum or the amphitheatre – all of which are within walking distance of the village centre.
This fascinating piece of the Monmouthshire Canal is located in Rogerstone, a short drive from the city centre. It is a flight of 14 locks to allow narrowboats to descend the hillside. Crucial to the coal industry, this pretty canal carried the precious cargo down to Newport and to the docks for export. A great place for a leisurely walk, Fourteen Locks was originally built in 1799.
Built in 1821 and used until 1922, this pretty white building with its fiercely bright light helped sailors avoid the rocks of the Severn Estuary. Now located within a wetlands reserve – so perfect for bird watching – it was originally on an island. The farmland surrounding it was reclaimed in 1856.
Situated on the banks of the River Usk, close to the city centre, the River Front Arts Centre opened in 2004 with a concert featuring Welsh singing sensation Katherine Jenkins. This aesthetically unusual building (once voted Wales’ second-ugliest building) now host many concerts, dance classes and art exhibitions.
One of the National Trust flagship houses, this majestic mansion dates to the mid-17th century. Home to the Morgan family, it has been described as one of the outstanding houses of the Restoration period in the whole of Britain, and it is a real beauty. Enjoy a traditional cream tea in the converted stables and discover all the eccentricities of a most interesting family.
With splendid views over the estuary, perched on a hill behind elegant walls and fine ironwork gates is Belle Vue Park. A classic Victorian park, it stands on land donated by Lord Tredegar. Filled with exotic perennials and specimen trees, there is a fabulous little café at its centre – perfect for a coffee break.
The Murenger is a lovely example of black and white architecture, but do not be decided by its apparent Tudor origins. Although a building has been on the site since the 16th century, the mock-Tudor style is a legacy of the Edwardian era.
The discovery of the Newport Ship, a 15th-century trading vessel, made national news in 2002. Preserved in the mud of the River Usk, the Newport Ship is currently in underwater storage until its future can be decided. During the summer, the ship is on display to the public, thanks to the Friends of Newport Ship, so if you’re lucky, you may just catch it.
This luxury hotel and golf club located a few minutes’ drive from the city centre was home to the 2010 Ryder cup and 2014 NATO summit. With spa facilities, golf courses with amazing views across Monmouthshire and Newport, it is the perfect place for a luxury break or afternoon tea.
Newport’s most recent addition, Friars Walk opened in 2015 and sits across the road from the Riverfront. Full of shops, bars and some of the better restaurant chains, Friars Walk replaced the older concrete-jungle city centre, which had fallen into disrepair. With a bowling venue and multi-screen cinema complex, it’s a great place to entertain the family – parking is really easy, too.