The photography guide to Wales South Wales
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South Wales photography guide

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Introduction

The south is the most populous area of Wales, mainly owing to its capital Cardiff and the industrial towns of the country.

This region has much to offer visiting photographers including world class seascapes, stunning astrophotography locations, tens if not hundreds of castles and historic landmarks, stunning waterfalls, and interesting architecture in the cities and towns.

Wales is certainly an up-and-coming destination for travel photographers seeking interesting and accessible landscapes without the tourist crush that rival European destinations now experience.

This guide showcases the best that south Wales has to offer. Pay us a visit and there will certainly be a welcome for you in the valleys.

Croeso - welcome - to south Wales!

Most popular South Wales photo spots


10 events


Travel

Unless your travel is strictly limited to one of the region's cities (Cardiff, Swansea, Newport), exploring south Wales via public transport is possible but incredibly impractical. You will need your own car.

Cardiff Airport is the only international airport serving Wales, about 20 minutes by car south west of Cardiff. The airport serves mainly short haul European routes, plus a single Middle East link via Qatar Airways. Bristol Airport, though across the border in England, is significantly better connected to major air hubs.

Those arriving long haul into London can drive along the M4 motorway towards Wales - Heathrow to Cardiff is around 2 hrs in good traffic; Heathrow to the Pembrokeshire coast is around 4 hours. National Express and Megabus also offer coach travel between Heathrow or Gatwick airports with the major south Wales towns and cities, usually Newport, Cardiff, Swansea, and Llanelli.

Train travel is limited to the major towns hugging the south Wales coast and is expensive, infrequent, and probably best avoided in favour of driving yourself.

The M4 is the motorway linking London with south Wales and terminates in Carmarthenshire. From here, a dual carriageway links the M4 all the way through to south Pembrokeshire. Main roads linking towns and cities are in good condition and easily drivable, however rural and coastal locations are often narrow, single track roads with passing points. It's helpful to make a mental note of where these passing points are in case you need to reverse to let someone through.


Events

Fireworks can be photographed at several events throughout the year. throughout the UK bonfire night is celebrated on November 5th, so events can typically be found on this date through the weekends either side of it.

In early summer, Caerphilly Castle plays host to the Big Cheese Festival, typically including a fireworks display on opening night in front of the castle. The castle also launches fireworks around bonfire night, so you have two opportunities each year to shoot fireworks at this stunning location.

The picturesque harbour town of Tenby plays host to multiple "Summer Spectacular" events in late July through August. These typically occur on Sundays, consisting of a live music festival during the day and a fireworks display in the evening. Visit Pembrokeshire provides all the details you need to know.

Sport, particularly rugby, plays a big role in everyday life in south Wales. The Six Nations rugby tournament takes place during weekends in February and March. The Welsh national team play their home games in Cardiff before an audience of 75,000, and tens of thousands more packing out the city's bars. To give you a sense of how much the city swells, bear in mind Cardiff only has 300,000 people living there. As a spectacle and an atmosphere it is something to behold; as a photographic pursuit it's perhaps best avoided unless you are a committed street photographer!

The National Airshow of Wales takes place each year in Swansea, usually on a weekend in July. This is a two day event requiring purchase of a ticket and a parking space if arriving by car. In addition to aerial displays, a large number of static displays - military and wartime vehicles, small aircraft, funfair rides and stalls - can be found along the beachfront road.


Cardiff

Cardiff is the capital of Wales, it's largest city and home to over 300,000 people. Formerly a port and industrial city, Cardiff is now known as a modern capital city growing in popularity with tourists.

The city centre has a world famous castle at its heart and a pedestrianised shopping district. Make sure to check out the architecture of the Victorian shopping arcades and central market. There are ample green spaces in the city most notably Bute Park, north of the castle.

Cardiff Bay is the former port that has been drastically modernised into an entertainment and dining hub. The Welsh government building - the Senedd - can be found here alongisde a small number of well preserved historic buildings.

Most of the city can be explored on foot, but local buses are frequent and cheap.

Southwest of Cardiff is the seaside town of Penarth with its stunning Victorian pier.

The Millennium Stadium - currently branded as Principality Stadium - sits in the heart of the city alongside the Taff river. It plays host to the Welsh rugby union team and the city is absolutely swamped when a match or other event takes place. If you are planning to travel to Cardiff for photography or leisure on such a weekend, be warned that the city is very crowded, hotel price are significantly hiked, and using the roads - whether its your own vehicle or hailing a taxi - is likely to be a frustrating experience.


Pembrokeshire

Pembrokeshire is one of the most visited counties in Wales. Renowned worldwide for its rugged coastline - almost all of which can be accessed via the Wales Coast Path - your possibilities here for seascape photography here are among the best in the world. These seascapes are also becoming a popular location for astrophotography when skies are clear - with no other land for tens of miles offshore, the lack of light pollution and attractive foregrounds combine for excellent nocturnal shoots.

The traditional seaside town of Tenby is a busy destination for tourists during the summer months. In the off season you can find a lot of reasonably priced accommodation here, and Tenby is well placed for exploring the south Pembrokeshire coast or north towards Carmarthenshire.

Off the west coast of Pembrokeshire is Skomer Island, a wildlife reserve accessible by boat from late spring to early autumn, best known for its thousands of puffins. Birdwatchers from around the world visit this small island, and it provides a very special photo opportunity to those who visit.

Pentre Ifan, a neolithic burial chamber, is found a few miles from the north Pembrokeshire coast and was constructed from the same Preseli bluestones found at its considerably more famous relative, Stonehenge. The Preseli hills in north Pembrokeshire offer hiking opportunities. The highest point, Foel Cwmcerwyn, is 536 metres above sea level.


Carmarthenshire

Carmarthenshire is a county at the heart of south Wales, often overlooked in favour of its more celebrated neighbours - Pembrokeshire to the west, Swansea Bay and the Gower to the south, and the Brecon Beacons to the east. However, Carmarthenshire is worthy of a visit in its own right and rewards travelling photographers with some of the lesser-seen wonders of south Wales.

Carmarthen, the historic town which gives its name to the county, sits on the river Tywi (in English: Towy). Modern day Carmarthen was once known as Moridunum, a Roman town and fort believed to be founded around AD 75 and as such it is claimed to be the oldest town in Wales. The surrounding valleys are rich with pastoral scenes, castles and historic landmarks.

The National Botanic Garden of Wales is found just off the A48 road (the main artery through the county), open all year round with a spectacular glasshouse - the largest of its kind in the world. On a pleasant spring or summer day, those with a passion for nature photography could spend a whole day here.

Llanelli is the largest town in the county, situated on the coast to the south with several historic buildings and pleasant green spaces for walks and photography. Several notable photo spots punctuate your journey from Carmarthen to Llanelli such as Kidwelly Castle, Pembrey country park and Burry Port Harbour - famous as the landing site for Amelia Earhart when she became the first female aviator to cross the Atlantic.

Venturing north of the county toward Ceredigion to the west or the Brecon Beacons to the east takes you into the county's pastoral heart. The occasional castle or historic building will keep an architecture photographer interested, but this is landscape photography territory - meandering country roads, rolling hills and small forests with the occasional family of wind turbines.


Swansea Bay & The Gower

The Gower Peninsula was the United Kingdom's first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Its beaches are regarded among the best not just in Wales, but anywhere in the United Kingdom. Most notable among these are Rhossili, Oxwich and Three Cliffs.

The ruins of several castles can be found on the peninsula such as Pennard Castle which occupies a hilltop point above Three Cliffs Bay.

Inexperienced drivers in the region should exercise a little extra caution driving here. Though Swansea is a well developed and modern city, the roads heading west towards the Gower become narrow and winding as you reach the coast. Wild animals, mainly sheep, often venture onto the road, particularly on higher ground such as the moorland roads traversing the peninsula. And finally, the police seem to be especially vigilant about excess speed in this part of the world.

Astrophotographers blessed with a clear night will enjoy superb photo opportunities at many of the Gower's beaches. Rhossili in particular has become so popular for astrophotographers that the village pub dims its exterior lights at night to aid with stargazing. The National Trust site at the top of the cliff comes alive with vibrant colour each summer as hundreds of thousands of flowers bloom - their sunflowers have become an Instagram mecca.


Brecon Beacons National Park

This national park comprises 520 square miles of the best landscape scenery south Wales has to offer, with several photogenic lakes, woodland and forest areas, and the peaks of the eponymous Brecon Beacons including Pen Y Fan, its highest peak at 886 metres.

Waterfall country, on the western edge of the national park, is home to several notable waterfalls including Henrhyd Falls which famously doubled as the entrance to the Batcave in the Christopher Nolan movies.

One of the park's best kept secrets is the Red Kite Feeding Station near Llanddeusant. Each day hundreds of birds are fed by a farmer who provides a viewing area for a small number of tourists - or photographers of course - to view these birds of prey swoop and claw at their dinner - a memorable sight for any wildlife enthusiast.

The park is flanked by the market towns of Llandovery and Brecon, each with a small selection of historic buildings suitable for a keen architecture photographer.


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Curated By

Mathew Browne Admin
CTO of PhotoHound. Author "Wales in Photographs".
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