Compact, multicultural Cardiff is one of Britain’s leading urban spots, renowned for its Victorian shopping arcades, vibrant nightlife, top hotels and sleek skyscrapers. So, it may come as news that the Welsh capital also lays claim to a number of unspoiled, first-class beaches right on its doorstep. Stay at one of the city’s best boutique hotels and then get out exploring. From popular surfing spots to under-the-radar coves, we’ve asked our local insiders to recommend their favourite locales along the Vale of Glamorgan coast.
Rest Bay Beach
Just 20 miles from Cardiff, the southern coast of Wales is home to Rest Bay Beach, a popular surf haunt among its locals. Maybe you’re after the perfect swell to flaunt your aquatic prowess, or maybe you’re content to sit on the sandy shores and watch the action. Either way, it’s wide, wild and watersports mad. Two surfing schools rent out gear, though if you’re cautious of the Atlantic’s brutish waves, consider hiring a body board instead. Wiped out? Head to the Rest Bay Café Bar for a pick-me-up with panoramic views. Recommended by local insiders Annis Ince and Holly Brace
Known as Pebble Beach to tourists (and Cold Knap Beach to those in-the-know), the steep, stoney shoreside is flanked by hilly walks. Located just 9 miles southwest of Cardiff, there’s also a harp-shaped lake, a small outdoor skate park, plus a dozen cafés where you can tuck into a fresh favourite: fish and chips. History buffs, take note: the so-called tourist trail is in fact the former site of the Cold Knap Lido, a filled-in outdoor swimming pool built in 1926. Photographs signposted around the area show off its heyday. Recommended by local insider Annis Ince
The sleepy coastal village of Southerndown is a far cry from Cardiff’s jam-packed streets – which are some 25 miles away. The village overlooks three beaches, but only one embodies that traditional British seaside experience. Known as Sandy Bay to most, and ‘Coney Beach’ to others, this golden sandy strip also boasts an amusement arcade, donkeys for hire to ride on the beach, and rock pools teeming with crabs and other crustaceans. Surfers can be regularly spotted riding the breakers, while pale-faced swimmers brave the cold. Camping sites line the bay, though Sandy Bay Campsite offers unrivalled views of the Bristol Channel at night. Recommended by local insider Annis Ince
Three Cliffs Bay Beach
This beach is located some 50 miles from Cardiff, but getting there is part of the fun. Comprising a sizeable chunk of the Swansea coast, this area consists of sand dunes, salt marshes and – of course – three trademark cliffs that jut into the sea, providing the ideal backdrop for picnickers craving a picturesque setting. Take the public footpaths inland and you’ll find mossy hill walks peppered with castle ruins. Sharpen up your Instagram filter just a bit and you might well mistake it for Hawaii. Recommended by local insider Annis Ince
Every summer, tourists flock to the popular Barry Island Beach but miss out on Bendricks Beach, which is tucked discreetly behind a trading estate. Its main claim to fame is the fossilised dinosaur prints embedded in ancient rock formations, though you’ll have to track them down yourself as they’re not signposted. It’s a dog-walker’s paradise, better equipped for cliff walks and crab-spotting than swimming, due to turbulent currents. Recommended by local insider Holly Brace
Penarth Beach packs all the fun of a family-friendly seaside resort, save for everybody’s least favourite thing: overpriced food. The restored art deco pavilion dominates the skyline, offering cheaper alternatives to the bars in town, and houses a movie theatre (once a ballroom in the 1900s) that hosts viewings on the regular. The beach itself is popular for fishing and fossil-hunting. Recommended by local insider Holly Brace
Tresilian Bay is pretty wild and sequestered, thanks to the sweeping chalk cliffs that overshadow its rock-and-shingle shores – but it’s well worth the trek (and a kayak once you’re there). Start at Llantwit Major Beach and take the heritage coastal path eastward. A number of guard posts left over from World War II break up the walk, as well as Tresillian House, a former inn reputedly frequented by smugglers. The low tide reveals two limestone caves, carved deep into the cliff’s bowels, and churns out driftwood and slimey tangles of Japanese knotweed – an invasive plant that grows in the area. Dog-lovers rejoice: pooches are welcome year-round. Recommended by local insider Holly Brace
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