Discover a landscape formed by a meandering river that skirts the England / Wales border. Visit imposing ruins, inspect medieval masterpieces and get outdoors with our favourite things to do in the Wye Valley.
With so many wonderful things to do in the Wye Valley, it’s strange that it’s not as famous as other Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – that special demarcation bestowed on places deemed to be particularly beautiful, but not quite National Park worthy.
It’s not for a lack of activities. With a meandering river cutting a serene contour through the rolling green countryside, haphazardly marking the border between England and Wales, there’s a raft of things to do in the Wye Valley. Finding a particularly lovely section for a day canoeing is one of them, hiking the picturesque valley is another.
And we’re not alone in appreciating this remarkable area. Throughout history, the kings and queens of two fiercely independent kingdoms have long since recognised the strategic value of the Wye Valley. The result is an area dotted with castles and mysterious abbeys, some of which have long since surrendered to ruin, creating one of the most interesting places to visit in the UK.
So, for a collection of historically interesting locations, relaxing wild swimming and buzzing market towns, read on to discover our favourite things to do in the Wye Valley.
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IN THIS GUIDE
THINGS TO DO IN THE WYE VALLEY
1 – EXPLORE CHEPSTOW & ITS MIGHTY CASTLE
Perched high above the Wye River on dramatic limestone cliffs, Chepstow Castle is the oldest surviving, post-Roman stone fortification in Britain. Noting the strategic location between England and Wales, William the Conquer had the castle built in 1067, the year after the Norman invasion. While its mighty gates are not original, they have been dated back to 1190, making them the oldest wooden doors in Europe.
The best vantage point to see the castle is from across the River Wye. As a tidal river, the Wye can drop by almost 15 metres, enhancing the steep rocky ledge the castle is built upon. The town is also not to be missed. The 12th-century Roman doorway on St Mary’s church is worth a look as is the high street with its modern redesign and smart designer shops.
Read Next — Great walks along Hadrian’s Wall
2 – HIKE ALONG THE WYE VALLEY TRAIL
The Wye Valley Hiking Trail starts at Chepstow Castle and continues for 136 miles along the river and through the surrounding hills. The trail crosses ravines and gorges, meanders meadows and woodlands, and climbs to rugged and remote highlands.
Some of the most picturesque settings along the trail are found in the gentle riverside strolls. The areas around Tintern, Symonds Yat and Hay on Wye are the most attractive for a short hike. Download the maps here and tackle as much or as little as you fancy.
The mix of outdoor activities and lovely towns make the Wye Valley an excellent weekend destination in the UK for unwinding in a less-visited part of the country.
Read Next — Hiking in the Malvern Hills
3 – ROAM THE RUINS OF TINTERN ABBEY
Tintern Abbey was founded in 1131 by Cistercian monks who settled for a modest timber building. The abbey was later expanded by the wealthier and more ostentatious Marcher monks who settled for nothing less than one of the masterpieces of Gothic architecture. Tintern Abbey stood in glory on the banks of the Wye River until it was abandoned during the dissolution of the monasteries.
Today, the abbey is one of the most engrossing ruins in the country. Set a picturesque section of the valley, old walls containing majestic arches tower above the river. There are plenty of vantage points in the town, however, the hike up to Devil’s Pulpit (45 minutes) is well worth the effort. It’s a steep yet rewarding walk through a thick forest with twisted roots covered in moss and a sea of fern trees. The forest eventually parts to reveal a bird’s eye view of Tintern Abbey.
Annoyingly it’s cash only at the car park (£3 all day).
4 – EXPLORE THE CHURCH CONSUMED BY THE FOREST
Halfway up the hill opposite Tintern Abbey, a much younger – yet just as atmospheric – religious ruin sits in the advanced stages of decay. The result is a thoroughly evocative thing to do in the Wye Valley.
St Mary’s church was erected in 1866 and after a relatively short life, was destroyed by a fire in 1977. What remained from the fire is now a crumbling ruin that is slowly being overtaken by nature. Roots push through the floor and branches invade the old stone walls. The overgrown graveyard adds an extra element of intrigue with several strange tombs dotted around.
The church is privately owned and free to enter, however, the ruin is considered unsafe and entry is at your own risk. Even if you don’t decide to wander in, it’s more than worth a peek from the outside. Unlike Tintern Abbey, there’ll be no one there.
Read Next — A weekend in Hay-on-Wye
5 – ENJOY A DRINK WITH A VIEW OVERLOOKING THE RIVER
With such a beautiful setting, the Wye Valley offers numerous enviable locations along the river to enjoy a scenic pint or a leisurely lunch. Finding a perfectly set pub is one of our favourite things to do in the Wye Valley. Here are some of the results of our research.
SARACEN’S HEAD, SYMONDS YAT
Nestled under Symonds Rock on the banks of the river, The Saracen’s Head is a popular spot to stop for a drink. And it’s easy to see why. Taking up a spectacular position opposite a steep wooded gorge, and with a large deck to take full advantage of the view, it’s one of the most picture-perfect spots on the river.
THE BOAT INN, PENALT
With a lovely terraced garden leading up to a waterfall cascading down an imposing rockface, The Boat Inn is possibly the most idyllic riverside pub in the Wye Valley. Technically in the village of Penalt, it’s much more fun to access it via the footbridge from Redbrook.
THE RIVER INN CAFÉ, GLASBURY
In a relaxed informal setting with a large deck overlooking the river, The River Inn Café is a great spot to enjoy lunch after a long day rowing on the river. They also have a very cool bunkhouse for groups of 14 or less if you want to hit the river early.
THE ANCHOR INN, TINTERN
The tables in the beer garden at The Anchor Inn are just far enough away from the river that you can’t actually see it. Nevermind, the real attraction here is the abbey which stands imperiously over the pub, looking down disparagingly on irreverent drinkers.
6 – TAKE TO THE RIVER WITH A PADDLE
The Wye River cuts a course through the valley, dissecting green fertile landscapes as it straddles the border between Wales and England. It’s the pulse of the valley and seeing it from a kayak is one of the best things to do in the Wye Valley.
The best section for canoeing or kayaking in the upper Wye is the tranquil paddle between Glasbury and Hay on Wye. In the lower Wye, Ross on Wye to Symonds Yat is the most picturesque. There’s nothing too challenging except for some small rapids that might deliver the faintest touch of adrenaline, otherwise you’re in for a very leisurely day out.
Downstream of Symonds Yat it gets a little trickier with some faster rapids as you head towards Chepstow. This section is best for people with a bit of experience under their oars. All the information is in our kayaking on the River Wye article.
7 – SOAK UP THE VIEWS FROM SYMONDS YAT ROCK
At a tight bend in the River Wye, Symonds Yat Rock overlooks one of the best views in the Wye Valley. High above the valley floor, the river bends through the surrounding countryside with fantastic views far off into the distance. From the viewpoint, there are several marked walks around the headland and down to the riverfront. If you take the path down to the river, keep an eye out for the house featured in the Netflix hit Sex Education.
The Saracen’s Head, directly under Symonds Yat Rock, has one of the best locations on the river to stop for a drink. Pull up a table and relax in the beauty of the Wye Valley. There’s a hand ferry which allows you to cross to Symonds Yat East on the other side of the river, however, it is often closed.
Symonds Yat Rock is a very popular spot, that’s all very organised and structured. So, it can get absolutely rammed, especially in summer. The tight one-way road up to the rock can become a frustrating bottleneck, so try and visit off-peak.
Read Next — The best hikes in the Cotswolds
8 – WALK THROUGH HISTORY AT GOODRICH CASTLE
Goodrich Castle was established shortly after the Norman invasion of England. It’s halcyon period, however, came in the 13th century when it was expanded into a luxurious residence for royalty. After falling in the late 17th century, the castle has withered into a picturesque ruin ever since, nestled into a wide curve of the River Wye.
There’s enough of the castle left to provide a good impression of what it must have looked like at the height of its power, but with enough ruined decay to give it a mysterious atmospheric feel. The excellent audio guide takes you room by room to explain the castle in an informative and entertaining manner. The tour finishes at the top with excellent views over what would have once been its proud dominion.
After hours, the gates remain open for foot traffic so, while you can’t enter the castle, you can walk around it without anyone else around.
Read Next — Hidden gems in Cornwall
9 – WILD SWIM & PICNIC BY THE BANKS OF THE WYE
Enjoying the river on a wild swimming excursion is one of the best things to do in the Wye Valley. With such a picturesque river and some excellent gravel beaches, there are plenty of spots to enjoy the great outdoors.
Some of the best spots include the area below the Iron Bridge at Redbrook; the canoe slip in Kerne Bridge; downstream of the suspension bridge at Sellack; under the bridge at Brewardine; and at The Warren in Hay on Wye.
For a relaxing dip with a good spot for a picnic head to Sellack. From the village, it’s a 10-minute walk past a church and over farmland to a lovely spot with a great pebble beach. For a float downstream start at Kerne Bridge and put in a few strokes as the current carries you to Lower Lydbrook, then hike back (3.5 kilometres).
There can be lots of canoes on the river, so ideally swim before 9:30 or after 5:30 pm when most have gone.
Wild Swimming — River Thames // Lake District // Cornwall
10 – INSPECT MEDIEVAL TREASURES IN HEREFORD
The Mappa Mundi, housed in the Hereford Cathedral, is one of the world’s most important medieval treasures. Constructed on a single sheet of calfskin, the map was made around the year 1300 and displays the world as it was known at the time. With Jerusalem in the centre, the map is a Christian-focused representation of history, geography and human destiny. It’s interesting to see the real thing, but the replica translated into English helps communicate the understanding of the world held in the 14th century.
While in the Hereford Cathedral, poke your head in the chained library – the largest surviving of its kind in the world. Books were chained to the shelves with shackles just long enough to allow the books to be read, but not stolen.
After visiting the Mappa Mundi and providing you haven’t stolen any books, grab a top-quality coffee at King Street Kitchen and a takeaway lunch if you’re picnicking on the river.
11 – PERUSE THE BOOKSHOPS OF HAY ON WYE
Free from the restraints of 17th-century chains, the bookstores in Hay on Wye are made to be savoured and enjoyed, particularly during the Hay Festival at the end of May, when international authors descend on the town. Hay is a wonderful place to hang out for a couple of days and a cerebral thing to do in the Wye Valley.
For more details check out our article on how to spend a weekend in Hay on Wye including our favourite indoor and outdoor activities in this book-loving gem.
12 – DRIVE UP GOSPEL PASS TO THE BLACK MOUNTAINS
Strictly speaking, Gospel Pass isn’t in the Wye Valley but, being a mere border technicality, and a spectacular location, we felt it would be irresponsible to exclude it from our list of things to do in the Wye Valley.
The road to Gospel Pass follows the long, narrow, steep-sided Ewyas Valley with views over the rolling country on one side and the Black Mountains on the other. The single-track road is the highest in Wales and reaches its zenith at the Hay Pass car park. From here you can take the steep hike up to Hay Bluff, the highest point in the area.
Continue further along Gospel Pass and you arrive at the superbly atmospheric Llanthony Priory where the crumbling ruins are set against the rugged Black Mountains. It’s a thoroughly scenic spot to stop for a pint even if it’s not quite in the Wye Valley.
Read Next — The best walks in the Lake District
WHERE TO STAY IN THE WYE VALLEY
With so many things to do in the Wye Valley, staying as centrally as possible is important. But with such a beautiful stretch of river, it’s no surprise that many of the best accommodation places in the Wye Valley take advantage of this scenic location.
There’s also plenty of unique accommodation options, like this treehouse hideaway for instance. Alternatively, check out CozyCozy who provide hotels, holiday rental and quirky stays in popular destinations.
Here are some more suggestions from us for great places to stay in the Wye Valley.
THE WILD HARE
Enjoy elegant spaces and relax in the tranquil country garden of this recently refurbished property. The food is locally sourced, and their hearty breakfast is a great way to kick off a full day of activities in this excellent location.
HAY ON WYE
THE SWAN AT HAY
Soak up the glamour of this Georgian building with elegant individually designed rooms, loads of style and a top location near the centre of town. There’s two bars to choose from and the relaxed bistro overlooks the lovely garden and patio
ROSS ON WYE
THE BRIDGE HOUSE
Luxury accommodation in Ross on Wye on a working farm with direct access to a lovely woodland section of the river. The breakfast is a winner and the service from the host makes this a perfect location for a weekend getaway.
MAP / THINGS TO DO IN THE WYE VALLEY
For all the Wye Valley attractions mentioned in this article, download our map so you have them ready to go when you’re out exploring.
How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.
HOW TO GET AROUND THE WYE VALLEY
There are regular train services to Hereford from Birmingham, Manchester and London. However, the Wye Valley is a large area with limited public transport options.
From Cardiff you can take tours into the Wye Valley and Brecon Beacons, but to see all the places to visit in the Wye Valley listed above, a car is required. Both parking and driving are generally easy in this part of the country. We recommend rentalcars.com if you are looking for a hire car in the area. Click on the below link to check prices based on your home location.
CHECK PRICES — RENTALCARS.COM
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As London based travel bloggers, we’re often exploring exotic destinations far from home, but there’s a wealth of great experiences to be had within the UK. Here are some of our favourite guides to our home country. For more see our Britain page.
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