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One-week Borders and Wales by train itinerary

Explore Wales by train in just one week on this rail itinerary featuring castles, beaches and scenic views as you travel from Cardiff to Shrewsbury, Aberystwyth, Harlech, Llandudo and Chester.

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One-week Borders and Wales by train itinerary

Explore the Borders and Wales by train in just one week on this rail itinerary, featuring some of the region’s highlights – from castles and cable cars to steam trains and seaside towns. Starting in Cardiff, the route takes in the unpoilt Welsh Marches on its way to Shrewsbury before crossing back into Wales and travelling up the coast past Victorian seaside resorts and the mountains of Snowdonia (Eryri) on its way to Chester.

This Borders and Wales by train one-week itinerary will show you which trains to take, how much they cost, how to book and what to see, do and where to stay along the way.

The Borders and Wales by train map

One-week Borders and Wales by train itinerary map
The Borders and Wales by train map

Day 1: Cardiff

Start your Borders and Wales rail trip with a day in the Welsh capital, Cardiff. Travel through 2000 years of history at Cardiff Castle, which has been a Roman Fort, Norman Castle, Victorian mansion and Second World War bomb shelter. Take a peek at its ornate interiors with a tour of the Castle Apartments, and check out the views from the keep.

Visit the independent shops and cafés in Cardiff’s Victorian and Edwardian arcades. Wander through Bute Park’s arboretum and learn more about Welsh history at the National Museum Cardiff. This two-for-one museum has a natural history gallery on the ground floor and a gallery of paintings and sculptures from Wales and beyond upstairs.

Cardiff Castle keep in Wales
Cardiff Castle keep

Travel just outside the city centre to the redeveloped industrial docklands of Cardiff Bay. Explore the bay’s mix of modern architecture and historic buildings, like the Senedd parliament building, copper-fronted Wales Millennium Centre, red-brick Pierhead building and wooden Norwegian Church, before stocking up on some Fabulous Welshcakes.

Where to stay in Cardiff: The Hotel Indigo* on Queen Street has 116 stylish, modern bedrooms. They’re decorated with three different themes – Made in Wales, Welsh Industry and Music – using local materials and quirky curios. There’s also a Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar & Grill on the top floor with great views out across the city.

Read more: A weekend in Cardiff, Wales: 2-day Cardiff itinerary 

Historic and modern buildings in Cardiff Bay
Cardiff Bay

Day 2: Cardiff > Shrewsbury

The next morning, catch the train north across the border into England and the market town of Shrewsbury. The journey takes two hours, departing Cardiff Central at 08.49 and arriving in Shrewsbury at 10.52. Set among the Shopshire Hills nine miles from the Welsh border, Shrewsbury is a laid back, peaceful town once home to Charles Darwin.

Head back in time to the red brick 13th-century Shrewsbury Castle, where you’ll find the Shropshire Regimental Museum and views over the town from Laura’s Tower. Explore more of Shrewsbury’s history on its Historic Church Trail, which includes St Chads, the largest round church in the UK. Or visit the Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.

Half-timbered buildings in Shrewsbury
Half-timbered buildings in Shrewsbury

Shrewsbury lies in a loop of the River Severn and you can take a 45-minute boat trip from the English Bridge in one direction to the Welsh Bridge in the other. Or explore The Quarry, a 29-acre riverside park, and shop for local gifts and produce at the Market Hall.

Where to stay in Shrewsbury: The 16th-century Lion and Pheasant Hotel* combines a characterful historic details like oak beams, flagstone floors and fireplaces with a minimalist contemporary décor. It’s only a few minutes’ walk from the riverside and abbey, and has a 2 AA Rosette restaurant, cocktail bar and secluded courtyard garden.

Shrewsbury's English Bridge on the River Severn
Shrewsbury’s English Bridge

Day 3: Shrewsbury > Aberystwyth

Next head back into Wales and the coastal town of Aberystwyth. The journey takes around two hours, leaving Shrewsbury at 09.30 and arriving in Aberystwyth at 11.21. With its long sandy beach, Aberystwyth has been a seaside holiday favourite for generations.

Take a stroll along Aberystwyth’s mile-long Victorian promenade and visit the oldest pier in Wales, built in 1864. Grab an ice cream and try your luck on the slot machines, and look out for the impressive starling murmurations on summer evenings. Visit the seafront ruins of Aberystwyth Castle, built by the English in the 13th century to keep the Welsh out.

Aberystwyth seafront at sunset
Aberystwyth seafront

Climb up Constitution Hill for sunset, or take the easier route to the top on board the Aberystwyth Cliff Railway, a electric funicular dating back to the 1800s. Constitution Hill is also home to the world’s largest Camera Obscura, which gives you a 360-degree view along the coast. Or visit the National Library of Wales to see the world’s smallest book.

Where to stay in Aberystwyth: The Gwesty Cymru Hotel & Restaurant* is right on Aberystwyth’s seafront, overlooking the pier and just a short walk from the train station. Rooms are smart and neutrally decorated, with local artworks and oak furniture to add character, and they have a café and wine bar with a seafront terrace.

Aberystwyth Cliff Railway in Wales by train
Aberystwyth Cliff Railway track

Day 4: Aberystwyth > Harlech

Then catch the scenic Cambrian Coast Line for the three-hour journey north to Harlech. Depart Aberystwyth at 09.29, change at Dovey Junction near Machynlleth half an hour later and arrive into Harlech at 12.26. There are stunning views along the way as you travel through Snowdonia (Eryri) National Park and cross the estuary at Barmouth.

Explore Harlech Castle, one of the country’s most impressive medieval castles, built by Edward I in the 13th century and perched on top of a cliff to protect it from invaders. Take a walk on Harlech’s huge sandy beach, which has been made a National Nature Reserve for its sand dune ecosystem. Or play a hole or two at beachside David’s Golf Club.

Hilltop Harlech Castle in North Wales
Hilltop Harlech Castle

Or take an afternoon trip to the Italian-style village of Portmeirion – the closest station is at Minffordd, 15 minutes from Harlech. Portmeirion was the creation of eccentric Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis, who rescued old buildings from around the UK which were due to be demolished and created a unique, colourful village, with a hotel and restaurant.

Where to stay in Harlech: You can’t get a better location than the Harlech Castle Apartments. These five apartments next to the gatehouse each sleep two, with fantastic views of the castle and the sea and mountains beyond. They’ve been recently converted, and have an en-suite stylish bedroom, cosy lounge and fully-equipped kitchen.

Colourful buildings in the the Italian-style village of Portmeirion in North Wales
Colourful buildings in Portmeirion

Day 5: Harlech > Llandudno

The next day’s journey will vary depending on whether you are visiting when the Ffestiniog Railway is running. This historic steam railway runs several routes, including the ‘Mountain Spirit’ from Porthmadog to the former mining town Blaenau Ffestiniog. Services run between late March and the end of October but not necessarily every day.

When the Ffestiniog Railway is running, first take a regular train for the 25-minute journey to Porthmadog, which leaves Harlech at 08.25 and arrives into Porthmadog at 08.50. Then change onto a Ffestiniog Railway steam train. The trip takes 70 minutes, leaving Porthmadog at 10.45 and arriving in Blaenau Ffestiniog at 11.55, with beautiful scenery.

On days when the Ffestiniog Railway isn’t running, you’ll need to take the Llew Jones Coaches 3B bus for the journey between Porthmadog and Blaenau Ffestiniog instead. This runs around once an hour (excluding Sundays) and takes around 30 minutes.

The Ffestiniog Railway on a Wales by train trip
The Ffestiniog Railway

When you arrive in Blaenau Ffestiniog, you have a couple of hours to explore the town and have lunch. One of the most popular things to do is visit the Llechwedd slate caverns, a mile north of Blaenau Ffestiniog. As well as running a deep mine tour 500 feet underground there’s also underground zip-ling and Bounce Below’s giant trampolines.

Then take the train from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Llandudno, departing at 14.39 and arriving at 15.52 (there’s also a train three hours later if you want to explore the caverns for longer). Llandudno is another of Wales’ Victorian seaside resorts, fronted by the sandy North Shore Beach with its promenade and pier. There’s also the quieter West Shore Beach.

Where to stay in Llandudno: Escape Boutique B&B* is a stylish but friendly base in Llandudno. Its nine individually decorated rooms mix Victorian features with vintage furniture and colourful murals, and there’s an honesty bar and tasty breakfasts.

Looking out over Llandudno, Wales
Looking over Llandudno

Day 6: Llandudno > Chester

Climb to the top of Great Orme, a limestone headland overlooking the town with panoramic views of Anglesey and Snowdonia (Eryri). It has a Country Park and Nature Reserve, as well as the remains of a prehistoric copper mine. Take a hike to reach the top or get there the easy way on either the historic tramway or the Llandudno Cable Car to the summit.

Then travel back back across the border into England and the city of Chester, departing Llandudno at 12.52 and arriving in Chester at 14.10, with a change at Llandudno Junction. Chester is packed with history, dating back to the Romans who knew it as Deva Victrix.

The Eastgate Clock in Chester
The Eastgate Clock

Explore the remnants of Roman Chester with a walk along the two-mile-long Roman city walls which circle the city, and visit the ruined Roman Amphitheatre and Roman Gardens. Admire the Eastgate Clock, built on top of a bridge to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, and shop the double-decker black and white shops of the Rows.

Where to stay in Chester: The Grosvenor Hotel* is full of old-fashioned glamour, from its doormen in top hats to the lobby’s sparkling crystal chandeliers. This five-star hotel is right in the heart of Chester and has a Michelin-starred restaurant and luxurious spa.

Read more: A weekend in Chester: 2-day Chester itinerary

Boats on the River Dee in Chester
The River Dee

Day 7: Chester > Cardiff

Spend the morning seeing more of Chester. Visit its abbey-turned-cathedral and climb to the tip of the tower for one of the best views of the city. Take to the water on a boat trip along the River Dee or walk along the Shropshire Union Canal, passing narrowboats and red brick mill buildings. Or meet the locals at Chester Zoo, one of the UK’s largest zoos.

Finally, finish your Borders and Wales by train itinerary by travelling south back to Cardiff. The direct 14.15 train from Chester arrives at Cardiff Central at 17.12.

Along the way the train passes the impressive Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and runs through the Shropshire Hills and Herefordshire countryside. From Cardiff you can catch a train on to London (around 2 hours) or other UK destinations. Or if you’re flying home, you can reach Cardiff International Airport from the city centre by train or bus in around an hour.

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

More time?

If you have more time to spare, it’s not far from Chester to the cool northern cities of Liverpool (45 minutes) and Manchester (1 hour 10 minutes), which are both known for their industrial heritage, music scene, nightlife and famous football clubs.

Or if you’re finishing your trip in Cardiff, you can catch the train along the south coast to pretty Pembrokeshire seaside towns like Tenby, Saundersfoot and Manorbier (2–3 hours).

The Royal Albert Docks Liverpool
Liverpool’s Royal Albert Dock

How much does it cost?

When you’re planning a Wales rail trip, you can either book individual tickets or get a railpass, which can be a better deal if you’re under 28/over 60, want more flexibility or are booking late. Here’s how prices break down for the two different options on this route.

Individual tickets

Ticket prices depend on how early you book and if you’re booking a specific train or want to be flexible. There are three main fare categories: Advance, Off-Peak or Anytime. Advance are cheapest and can be booked 8–12 weeks in advance, but are non-transferable so you’re tied to a specific train. Off-Peak services are valid on any train outside weekday peak hours. And Anytime are most expensive but can be bought on the day and used on any train.

Black and white buildings in The Rows in Chester
Black and white buildings in The Rows

Using the cheapest Advance fares, the cost of trains on this route starts at £145 per person:

  • Cardiff > Shrewsbury: from £23.80
  • Shrewsbury > Aberystwyth: from £9.50
  • Aberystwyth > Harlech: from £18.60
  • Harlech > Llandudno: from £13.70 (plus £44 for the Ffestiniog Railway)
  • Llandudno > Chester: from £7.60
  • Chester > Cardiff: from £27.50

You can also save a third on all rail fares with a Railcard*. These cost £30 with different versions for 16–25s, 25–30s, Seniors and Disabled People. You can also get a Two Together railcard for two named adults travelling together, or a Friends and Family Railcard for up to four adults and four children. Both UK and overseas residents are eligible.

Harlech beach in North Wales
Harlech beach

The railpass option

There are various rail passes available, and which you’re eligible for depends on where you live. If you live outside the UK, you can can get a InterRail/Eurail pass (InterRail is for European residents and Eurail is for non-European residents) or BritRail pass. They work in a similar way and cover either a set time period or a certain number of travel days.

For the Wales by train itinerary, the best InterRail/Eurail option is the One Country Great Britain pass for 5 travel days within 1 month (£220 adults, £191 youths aged 12–27 or £198 seniors over 60). Or the best BritRail option is the BritRail Pass for 8 Consecutive Days (£258 adults, £206 youths aged 16–25 or £219 seniors over 60).

Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay, Wales
Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay

Transport For Wales* also offers its own rail passes which are available to both UK and overseas residents. The best option for this itinerary is the Explore Wales Pass, which gives you unlimited travel by train and bus within Wales and along the border.

The pass costs £104 for adults, £52 for children aged 5–15 and there are discounts for Railcard holders. The pass only cover 4 days of travel within a period of 8 days though, so you’d need to book one journey separately (day two is probably the cheapest).

Passholders are recommended to make seat reservations – though it’s probably only worth doing for long-distance services or at busy peak times so you’re guaranteed to get a seat – which you can do for free at any UK train station up to two hours before departure.

Please note the Ffestiniog Railway is privately owned so isn’t covered by any rail passes.

Llandudno's Great Orme Tramway
Llandudno’s Great Orme Tramway

How to book

There are a variety of websites where you can book UK train journeys, but some charge a booking fee. To avoid fees you can book with Transport for Wales* and either use a mobile ticket on your phone or collect them from a ticket machine or a counter at the station. Or if you have an international credit card you can book with The Trainline for a small fee.

Tickets for the Ffestiniog Railway must be booked directly with them, and you need to call their Booking Office to book a single journey as these can’t be booked online.

Don’t want to do it yourself? You can also book a custom trip based on this Borders and Wales by train itinerary through our partners Byway,* the flight-free holiday platform, which includes transport and accommodation.

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Explore Wales by train in just one week on this rail itinerary featuring castles, beaches and scenic views as you travel from Cardiff to Shrewsbury, Aberystwyth, Harlech, Llandudo and Chester | Wales rail itinerary | Wales by train | Wales and the Borders | Wales train tripExplore Wales by train in just one week on this rail itinerary featuring castles, beaches and scenic views as you travel from Cardiff to Shrewsbury, Aberystwyth, Harlech, Llandudo and Chester | Wales rail itinerary | Wales by train | Wales and the Borders | Wales train trip

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Tuesday 12th of March 2024

Oh, this looks like such a wonderful adventure! I am so interested in doing this with my husband. I am curious how you got around in each city, did you walk or use cabs for the sightseeing? Are your hotel suggestions close to the city sights??


Sunday 13th of March 2022

We would love to do this. I am Welsh and live in Canada and these stops are places I visited in childhood. We are confused about your train prices though. The cheapest I can find from Cardiff to Shrewsbury is 55.00 which is a huge difference to the amount you have posted. Do you book throught the National Rail website.

Lucy Dodsworth

Monday 14th of March 2022

Hi Kate, I usually book direct with Transport for Wales and you'll need to book in advance to get the cheaper fares – they used to be released 3 months in advance but with the disruption in the last few years it's currently 6 weeks, so if you look then you should get a cheaper price (I'm seeing £21 for the 08.50 in 6 weeks from today).

Mark Warrick

Wednesday 30th of June 2021

Thanks for this! I am actually planning a very similar itinerary and some of your tips will come in useful. I have to say, the Advance fares are very reasonable, aren't they?

Lucy Dodsworth

Monday 5th of July 2021

Glad it was useful! Yes the Advance fares are really good, though I'm finding with reduced services at the moment you do need to book as soon as you can as they're selling out quite fast.