9 things to see and do in the beautiful Brecon Beacons


The Brecon Beacons are one of Wales’ most famous mountain ranges, named after the Old Red Sandstone peaks that surge towards the skyline from the billowing ridges and valleys that make up the Brecon Beacons National Park.  This area is made up of incredible mountainous scenery, with market towns, waterfalls, quarries, and wildlife burrowed into the vast, fantastic landscape.

The magnificent Brecon Beacons

The Brecon Beacons are a fantastic place to spend a holiday – it combines the prodigious terrain normally associated with Scotland and the unique culture and ancient language of the Welsh valleys to produce a truly remarkable place to visit.  Roam the ancient droving tracks across the gorse-laden ranges, watch red kites circle above and follow clear waters as they jump and tumble down mountainsides, through Georgian market towns, past Norman castles, and cascade into a plethora of waterfalls throughout the park.  The Brecon Beacons has a staggering array of natural beauty and captivating activities to explore – why not make it your next UK holiday destination?

Signpost in the Brecon Beacons

1. Climb Pen y Fan, the highest peak in South Wales

Let’s start at the top…quite literally.  Pen y Fan is the highest peak in South Wales, at 886 metres above sea level, and is owned and managed by the National Trust.  With some of the most spectacular views in the UK from its summit, it’s understandably popular with walkers and hikers who flock to this majestic mountain almost year-round.  The main hike takes around 3 hours, but despite it being a relatively straightforward hike, it’s advised that weather conditions are checked before ascending.  It may look like an easy climb, but knowing that the SAS do their selection march up the side of this proud peak can tell you that sticking to the National Trust route is your best bet.  Once you reach the summit, this fantastic mountain rewards you with panoramic views stretching over the Severn Estuary, Gower, Somerset, and beyond.

Pen y Fan, South Wales' highest peak

2. Take a detour to Crickhowell

It can seem as though the rolling landscapes and gorges of the Brecon Beacons can go on forever, but then you’ll happen upon market towns that sit defiantly in the vastness of the south Wales countryside that remind you that people have been living harmoniously within nature here for millennia.  Crickhowell sits resplendently on the river Usk, its motte and bailey castle still visible next to the stone-built market town and its 18th-century bridge, the longest stone-built type in Wales.  This beautiful little town packs a historic punch – most of its shops are still run by the families who established the high street, selling local produce and goods.  The famous ancient inn The Bear Hotel is run by one of Wales’ top chefs and has been serving locals and visitors coming through this rural idyll for 500 years. Alisby castle sits in the centre of Crickhowell, its 12th-century stone shell keep’s ruins still watching over the town at its vantage point over the Usk valley.

The bridge in Crickhowell

3. Sample what Penderyn Distillery has to offer

It’s not just the sights and sounds of the Brecon Beacons that you can enjoy during your visit to this arresting area.  Penderyn Distillery produces Wales’ most famous award-winning single malt whisky at the foothills of the famous mountain range, and the influence of the water sourced from these hills and the locally-grown malted barley used gives a real flavour of this area.  Don’t take our word for it, you can try for yourself with a whisky and chocolate tour, or why not take a Distillery Masterclass with a tour and a blind nosing whisky tasting lesson?

The Penderyn distillery where Welsh whiskey is made

4. Take a deep breath in Waterfall country

As the Ice Age retreated and these famous ridges were formed, so the water ran down the mountains, carving out some of the most fantastic waterfalls in the UK.  The Brecon Beacons National Park is dotted with some of the most beautiful falls, but they can be tricky to find and often involve hiking into the wilderness.  We advise taking the Brecon Beacons Four Falls Trail which takes in three waterfalls on the Mellte river and the famous Sgws yr Eira on the Hepste river, a rectangular drop that has access to walk behind the cascade.  The walk takes around 2 hours in all and you’ll need walking boots, but this will be a walk to remember.

A magnificent waterfall in the Brecon Beacons

5. Walk the Llyn y Fan Fach circular

Seasoned visitors to this area will tell you that Llyn y Fan Fach is one of the best circular walks in the entirety of the national park.  It’s a moderate 4-mile walk along some of the most epic Welsh scenery – the llyn, or lake, is nestled below the wild mountain ridge of Bannau Sir Gaer, and you follow the natural path of the river along Beacons Way past grazing sheep as curious kestrels watch from above.  From the lake, you can ascend the exposed ridge and walk all the way along and onto the Black Mountain, where you’ll be greeted with extensive and wonderful views in all directions.  Travel down the other side of this spectacular ridge and onto the pastoral land that spreads out for miles from this beautiful lake setting.

You can also feed your imagination here too, as Llyn y Fan Fach possesses one of Wales’ best-known folktales and legends; The Lady of the Lake.

A winters view from the Llyn y Fan Fach circular

6. Stop off at the Red Kite Feeding Station

This fantastic venture, set up by the Brecon Beacons National Park and the Welsh Red Kite Trust, will be celebrating its 20th anniversary next year, and what an amazing twenty years it has been!  In the 18th century, the red kite, which was seen as vermin, was all but wiped out across the UK.  Local landowners in the Brecon Beacons set up an unofficial program to protect the destruction of these beautiful birds of prey some 100 years ago, and now there are 300 breeding pairs in Wales.  The feeding stations are set up so that you can sit in hides and watch the birds naturally compete for food as they would do in the wild – this is the perfect time to take photographs of the kites, too, rather than disturbing them in their nesting grounds.

Visit the Red Kite Feeding Station in the Brecon Beacons

7. Enjoy the market town of Brecon

The bustling market town that gives its name to the National Park is a fantastic spot to enjoy a spot of lunch, some shopping in local stores, and taking in its fascinating and varied history.  Situated north of the Beacons and just inside the national park, this town is a cultural and practical hub for other outlying hamlets, with a popular cattle mart, two military schools, and home to the 160th Wales Brigade, as well as being the starting point for the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, running peacefully towards Pontnewydd, Cwmbran.  This delightful Georgian-fronted market town, which has its own cathedral, is best known for the world-famous Brecon Jazz Festival.  Normally held in August (although currently virtual due to the coronavirus), and has run for over 3 decades, this brash bash is host to jazz musicians across the globe, and the entire town is filled with music – from cafes and restaurants to market stalls and carnivals.

© Hawlfraint y Goron / © Crown copyright (2021) Cymru Wales

8. Skip to the Welsh Borders and lose yourself in the culture of Hay-on-Wye

Sitting on the northernmost tip of the Brecon Beacons, and on the border with Hereford, Hay-on-Wye is famous for hosting one of the world’s best literary festivals –  The Hay Festival of Literature and Arts takes place every year and the 30 bookshops of the town open their doors for the legendary event.  Writers, philosophers, and artists have been frequenting this festival since it started in 1988, and the famous guests and inspirational surroundings have earned Hay-on-Wye a place on the global map.  The literature festival isn’t the only attraction of Hay-on-Wye; the town has a fascinating and rich history that dates to medieval times, with Hay Castle being a lingering reminder of the long-standing feud between these small border towns and their Saxon neighbours. It is also surrounded by an outstanding landscape and many SSSIs, including The Warren, where you’ll find cheeky otters and curious kingfishers. Back in the town, the infamous Globe Theatre – known locally as the Globe at Hay – which is the focal point of the literary festival is a world-renowned venue for music and the arts.

The famous Globe theatre in Hay-on-Wye

9. Y Pigwn Roman camps

We’re back out into the wilds of the National Park, and although this area is littered with evidence of neolithic and iron age settlements, Y Pigwn is a reminder of the Roman conquest of this area of Wales and the camps that were set up on the high ground to keep the Southerners at bay.  Now, you can follow an excellent app that guides you across the Roman road atop Trecastle Mountain and around the pair of marching camps’ remaining ramparts, understanding what once lay high above the Usk reservoir.

Y Pigwn Roman Camps

Gareth Robinson is General Manager at Quality Cottages. Quality Cottages is a leading Wales-based holiday lettings agency established in 1961.

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Comments (9)

  1. Ben says:

    Many years ago I did a Duke of Edinburgh expedition, I think it was silver, in the Brecon Beacons. When we were taken there on the minibus I wasn’t really looking forward to it. It was just another thing that the school told us would be good for us.

    The next morning everything changed. We got out of our tents to see a really beautiful autumn sunrise and we had three fantastic days of walking. Suddenly it didn’t seem like a chore at all.

    Our group said that we’d meet up and go back. We’re all still in touch so maybe we will make it happen.

    • Lovely story. Sounds like a familiar tale when you’re not looking forward to something but something takes your breath away.

      Hope you and your group can make it back soon!

  2. Julie Humphrey says:

    Climbing a peak like Pen y Fan is one of the best things you can do. No matter how jaded you are by everyday life as soon as you start climbing you’ll feel so much better.

  3. Jeff G says:

    My wife’s just read this and reminded me that 3 years ago I promised her a booking weekend in Hay-on-Wye. Maybe after July 19th. Somehow browsing bookshops with a mask on doesn’t seem right.

    • Hi Jeff, yes Hay-on-Wye is a great place to re-visit. I wouldn’t worry about waiting until July. It’s likely that in Wales the advice will be to continue wearing masks until at least next year, so don’t let this stop you.

  4. Yes, we absolutely endorse this comment! Pen y Fan has a healing quality about it.

  5. saree says:

    Great places to see. I loved this list a lot. Waterfalls are my favorite spot what ever country it is.

  6. Alan says:

    Probably, I’ve been blinded by the Scots & Irish, never knew that the Welsh distilled whisky. I’m open minded willing to give it a go.

    • We honestly don’t think you’ll be disappointed. And if whiskey isn’t your thing, and you’re not into single malts, they also do a range of gin, botanical gin, brown rum, vodka, and Welsh cream liqueur, too. Tough job, but we’ve tried them all for consistency and we have to say, they are all very good!

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