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A weekend in Neath Port Talbot, Wales: 2-day itinerary

How to spend a weekend in Neath Port Talbot, South Wales: Discover the best things to see and do in Neath Port Talbot in this two-day Wales itinerary, featuring abbeys, castles, walks and waterfalls.

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A weekend in Neath Port Talbot, Wales: 2-day itinerary

AD: I was hosted by Dramatic Heart of Wales, but views are my own

Known as the Dramatic Heart of Wales, Neath Port Talbot is where the coast meets the countryside, setting the stage for some epic outdoor adventures, with rural scenery mixed in with historic sights, from ancient abbeys to 19th-century industrial sites.

To use an often overused phrase, this area of South Wales tucked between Swansea and Cardiff really is a hidden gem. It’s surrounded by well-known spots like the Gower Peninsula and Brecon Beacons (Bannau Brycheiniog) National Park, making it a good base for exploring the region. But there’s plenty to discover in Neath Port Talbot itself.

The region has a strong industrial heritage, from coal mining to tin plate and copper making, and the view of the Port Talbot Steelworks from the motorway is still most people’s first impression of Neath Port Talbot. But turn off and you’ll find waterfalls, ruined abbeys and castles, hiking and mountain biking, and miles of sandy beaches.

This two-day itinerary will help you plan a wonderful weekend in Neath Port Talbot, featuring some of the best things to do in the area as well as where to eat and stay.

How to spend a weekend in Neath Port Talbot

Aberavon Beach

Friday evening

Start your weekend in Neath Port Talbot by checking into Tan Yr Eglwys Cottages. These two self-catering cottages are located in the quiet hamlet of Cilybebyll, in a peaceful spot on a family farm surrounded by rural scenery. We stayed in the Barn Cottage, which sleeps 4–5 people in three bedrooms. There’s also the larger Barn Cottage which sleeps 6.

Both cottages have a cosy traditional feel, with a woodburner perfect to relax by in the evenings after a day of exploring. There’s a full kitchen, a patio area with a BBQ, and lots of extras for families, including kids’ toys and books. Owner Helen is full of useful information about the local area and has some great recommendations of what to see.

The Barn Cottage at Tan Yr Eglwys Cottages in South Wales
The Barn Cottage at Tan Yr Eglwys Cottages

If you arrive early enough, you can take a circular walk through the countryside around Cilybebyll. The 1.6-mile Cilybebyll Walk runs through woodlands and meadows, with views out over the Swansea Valley. It also passes St John’s Church at Cilybebyll, which dates from the 13th century and has an unusual circular churchyard.

Then head into Neath for dinner at The Welsh House. The restaurant is part of a small local chain with branches in Swansea and Cardiff. It focuses on supporting Welsh suppliers, with lots of regional produce on the menu, from Carmarthen ham to Caerphilly cheese.

If you want to get an insight into Welsh food, try their ‘Taste of Wales’ menu for two which includes dishes like lamb cawl (lamb and vegetable stew), Penclawdd cockles, Welsh rarebit and Welsh cakes. And there are local beers, spirits and soft drinks available too.

Welsh food at The Welsh House in Neath
Local chicken and leek dish at The Welsh House

Saturday morning

The following morning, start your day at Margam Country Park. This historic estate stretches over 850 acres and is a lovely open green space. But there are also some of the estate’s historic buildings still standing, including a castle and 12th-century abbey.

Margam Abbey was founded in 1147 and was home to a community of Cistercian monks. It was once one of Wales’ richest and most powerful abbeys, but by the time of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries only nine monks were left. The abbey was sold to Sir Rice Mansel, who built a large new house on the site, but kept the abbey nave in tact.

The exterior of Margam Abbey in Neath Port Talbot
Margam Abbey

Unusually the nave is still in use as a church today, and you can see original 12th-century details inside as well as later additions by the Mansels – including three William Morris Company stained-glass windows and the family chapel with its alabaster tombs.

We took a guided tour to learn about the abbey’s history and the stories of Margam residents buried in the churchyard. Around the church are some of the ruins of the original abbey, giving you an idea of its scale, including the 12-sided chapter house and undercroft. There’s also a small abbey shop selling local jams, chutneys, crafts and jewellery.

The ruins of Margam Abbey
Part of the abbey ruins

Don’t miss the Stones Museum in the abbey grounds. This small museum in one of the oldest church schools in Wales displays 28 important stones and crosses discovered around the abbey. They include Roman road milestones, ornately carved Celtic crosses and Latin-inscribed memorials – plus a gargoyle which expels rainwater out of its backside!

From the museum, head out into the park to explore. There are several walking trails including the 2.25-mile Pulpit Trail with panoramic views out as far as North Somerset. Keep an eye out for the resident deer too. Or if you’re feeling adventurous there’s the Go Ape treetop adventure trail or kayaking and paddleboarding on the lake.

Exhibits inside the Margam Stones Museum
Inside the Stones Museum

You can also take a look inside Margam Castle. Wales is famous for its castles, but this is more modern than most. It was built in 1830 for Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot in Tudor Gothic style. The interiors were gutted in a fire in the 1970s, but its grand staircase and cavernous rooms have made it a popular film location, including for Doctor Who.

Occasional tours of the castle are available which let you see some of the rooms normally closed to the public – and hear some of the building’s ghostly tales. There’s also a café at the castle where you can pick up sandwiches, cakes and snacks, as well as a pizza van.

Grand staircase at Margam Castle near Port Talbot
Margam Castle’s impressive staircase

Saturday afternoon

Neath Port Talbot is part of Wales’ ‘Waterfall Country’, which has some of the country’s highest concentration of waterfalls, caves and gorges thanks to the River Neath and its tributaries. A few miles north of Margam is Aberdulais Tinworks and Waterfall, now run by the National Trust (opening hours are limited so check in advance).

The River Dulais flows through a narrow gorge at Aberdulais, providing power for the mill which produced copper, textiles and tin plate. In the 19th century, Aberdulais’ tin was exported around the world, but the industry declined after the American government put heavy duties onto imported tin plate to protect their own manufacturers.

Aberdulais Falls

You can learn about the site’s industrial history, with stories from people who once worked there. The original waterwheel is still in use too. It’s been running for 400 years and can still generate electricity. The mill and waterfall were painted by JMW Turner in 1795, and the painting is on display at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.

Nearby is another waterfall painted by Turner – Melincourt (Melincwrt) Falls. There’s a 5-mile Turner Trail between them if you want to visit both on foot, or otherwise it’s a short drive. There’s free parking just off the B4434 by the start of the walk to the falls (ignore Google Maps which tries to send you up steep Waterfall Road above the falls).

Melincourt (Melincwrt) Falls in Neath Port Talbot Wales
Melincourt (Melincwrt) Falls

Melincourt Falls is an 80-foot-high waterfall – just missing out on being the highest waterfall in Wales by 10 feet. It’s part of the Melincourt Nature Reserve, an unspoilt area that’s home to over 20 species of ferns, including the rare Tunbridge Filmy Fern.

The falls are a 10–15 minute walk through a lush, green, steep-sided valley. The walk is fairly easy but it can get a bit slippery close to the falls. It’s a lovely walk, with birds singing and the river trickling by, and you often get the falls to yourself. Look out for bluebells in spring and birdlife like Pied Flycatchers, Wood Warblers and Wagtails.

Then travel back towards Cilybebyll for dinner at the Dyffryn Arms, a traditional country pub on the road between Neath and Pontardawe. It serves up a mix of classic pub dishes and international flavours, from steak and ale pie to teriyaki prawns and Thai stir fry.

Fern at the Melincourt waterfall
Fern at the falls

Sunday morning

The next day, travel into Neath to explore Neath Abbey. Today the ruins of this 12th-century abbey are tucked away behind industrial units by the Tennant Canal. But it was once the largest abbey in Wales, home to 50 monks, and later the site of a grand mansion house. You can see the remains of both today, though they were hidden for years.

It’s hard the imagine that after the Industrial Revolution the abbey was used as a copper smelting factory. The site was slowly covered in industrial waste and then eventually abandoned. And it wasn’t until the 1920s that amateur archaeologists from the Neath Antiquarian Society started to excavate it, uncovering an atmospheric ruin.

The remains of 12th-century Neath Abbey in South Wales
Neath Abbey ruins

If you follow the River Clydach from the abbey it takes you through a tree-lined gorge containing some of the remnants of the town’s old ironworks, founded in 1792. They once produced ships and steam engines. Now you can see what’s left of its two towering blast furnaces and overgrown buildings, and there’s a nature trail leading to a waterfall.

Next travel on to the small village of Pontrhydyfen – made famous as the birthplace of actor Sir Richard Burton. Burton was born here in 1925 as the 12th of 13th children, though he was brought up by his sister in Taibach in Port Talbot after his mother died.

Pontrhydyfen village, the birthplace of Richard Burton

You can follow a 5.4-mile Richard Burton Trail around the village, with information panels detailing his childhood and career. Or just take the first stretch across the Y Bont Fawr (‘The Big Bridge’) and look down on his childhood home by the River Afan. This former aqueduct was where an iconic photo of Richard Burton and his father was taken.

Just across the bridge is Bethel Chapel, where a memorial service was held for Burton after his death in 1984. It’s now the Bethel Chapel Café, a non-profit, family-run café where you can call in for lunch dishes like soups and sandwiches, or tea and homemade cakes.

Y Bont Fawr ('the Big Bridge') a former aqueduct in Pontrhydyfen
Y Bont Fawr

Sunday afternoon

Pontrhydyfen lies on the edge of Afan Forest Park, an ancient woodland in the Afan Valley which covers 48 square miles. It was once used for coal mining, and you can find out about its history at the South Wales Miners Museum, a small volunteer-led museum inside the park where you can take an ‘underground tour’ to get a taste of life as a miner.

Today the park is used for walking and cycling. And it’s a favourite with mountain bikers, with six trails ranging from 6km to 70km at different grades of difficulty, plus an extreme-graded bike park. Bikes are available to hire if you haven’t brought your own too.

You can also explore on foot, with several different marked trails starting from the Afan Forest Park Visitor Centre. Some of the shorter ones you can fit into an afternoon are the 1.25-mile Old Parish Road and the 3-mile River and Railway Line, which runs through tunnels and along the old route of Brunel’s South Wales Mineral Railway.

Mountain biker in Afan Forest Park (photo © Martin Ellard Photography)

Finally, finish your weekend in Neath Port Talbot at Aberavon Beach. This three-mile stretch of golden sand overlooking Swansea Bay is one of the longest beaches in Wales. Its wide, flat sands make it a popular place for kite surfing. And out on the water you can try out surfing (or just watch the pros in action), windsurfing and kayaking.

It’s also a great place for a beach walk, with a waterfront promenade that is also a section of the Celtic Trail (a Welsh cycle trail which is part of the National Cycle network). Pick up an Italian gelato from Remo’s, who use double cream and Welsh milk in their 42 flavours. Or go for freshly cooked fish and chips from Franco’s and eat them on the beach.

Sandy Aberavon Beach in Neath Port Talbot
Aberavon Beach

Map of things to do in Neath Port Talbot

Click on the map to open an interactive Google Maps version

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How to spend a weekend in Neath Port Talbot, South Wales: Discover the best things to see and do in Neath Port Talbot in this two-day Wales itinerary, featuring abbeys, castles, walks and waterfalls | Wales travel | Weekend in Wales | South Wales itineraryHow to spend a weekend in Neath Port Talbot, South Wales: Discover the best things to see and do in Neath Port Talbot in this two-day Wales itinerary, featuring abbeys, castles, walks and waterfalls | Wales travel | Weekend in Wales | South Wales itinerary

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Tuesday 23rd of April 2024

There’s so much to see and do here. Love all the hiking and I had no idea about the amount of waterfalls in the area.

Lucy Dodsworth

Tuesday 23rd of April 2024

The waterfalls are beautiful! And I was surprised how much more there was to do in a fairly small area too.