09 Sep What to do in Pembrokeshire (even when it rains)
Head as far west as you can in South Wales and you’ll find the county of Pembrokeshire. Home to a dramatic coastline, ancient castles, rambling countryside and historic market towns, there’s a lot to like in this wild Welsh landscape. Here’s my guide to what to do in Pembrokeshire (even if it rains).
Pembrokeshire is one of my very favourite parts of the UK for a short break. Situated in the far south-west of Wales, Pembrokeshire benefits from warm waters lapping at the shores of its many beaches. And dare I say it, they’re some of the very best in northern Europe. Whether you’re looking for smooth stretches of pristine sand, great surf, family-friendly rock-pooling or dramatic cliffside walking, I’d challenge anyone not to fall in love with this part of the coast.
Inland, small country farms create a patchwork landscape in between small but perfectly formed rural towns. And to the north, the sweeping expanse of the Preseli Hills provide a little contrast and exciting walking territory.
It’s a wonderfully diverse county that’s home to spectacular landscapes as well as charming little market towns and villages. It’s long been a popular place for holidaymakers, for good reason.
In this guide, I’m going to share some of the very best outdoor activities and spots to explore in Pembrokeshire. There are three parts to help you discover ideas to best suit your trip; brilliant beaches, wonderful walks, and castles and country towns.
Let’s get started.
About the weather in Pembrokeshire
I’ll be honest. I added (even when it rains) to the title of this post for good reason. The weather isn’t always perfect in this part of the world. You can never guarantee sunshine and blue skies in northern Europe, and Wales is no different.
But what I want to reassure you is that this shouldn’t put you off exploring South Wales. Pembrokeshire is absolutely glorious when the sun shines – whether that be for weeks of baking heat in the summer, or on a wildly beautiful winter’s day.
It doesn’t matter where you are though, grey days and rain can happen. And thankfully, there are plenty of outdoor activities in Pembrokeshire that are still hugely enjoyable even if the weather turns. Whatever the season, come armed with some inspiration and the right clothing, and little wet weather won’t spoil your stay. I always add all-weather footwear, waterproofs, a few warm layers and a brolly to my bag and then I know I’m prepared.
All the activities in this guide are great fun on a sunny day. But they’re still appealing in wetter weather provided you’ve got the right clothes and dive inside a cosy pub or coffee shop to dry out once in a while.
Where to stay in Pembrokeshire
This is almost a trick question, as there are so many good places to stay here.
One of the real perks of Pembrokeshire is that there is a huge range of places to stay. From boutique hotels to glamping spots, coastal caravan sites to rural campsite, you’re sure to find something to suit your holiday style.
My top tips are to choose somewhere rural if you want a quiet getaway, or a coastal town of village if you’ve got little ones or would prefer not to hit the road during your stay. With so many choices, it can be helpful to begin by picking some of the activities you’d most like to do and places you’d like to visit, and seek out a location nearby. Travelling from one spot to the next can take a little longer on the small country roads here, so make your base close to where you’d like to explore.
For summer escapes with a difference, we’ve sought out rural glamping spots when we’ve visited Pembrokeshire. It’s the perfect way to enjoy the peaceful of the countryside here, but also have a cosy spot to retreat to it the weather does turn on us. Most recently we stayed at the glorious Pembrokeshire Barn Farm – check out my shepherd’s hut stay review here.
Beautiful beaches: Enjoy the smooth sands of Pembrokeshire
Whether it’s a stunner of a summer’s day, a cold and crisp winter morning or grey skies overhead, I urge you to check out a beach or three. Pembrokeshire is home to some of the best stretches of sand I’ve ever found in the UK – unspoilt, spotlessly clean and truly beautiful. The drama of the coastline means it’s a great choice for a walk on a wet or blustery day, as there’s plenty to look at and keep you entertained. This coast is hugely popular with surfers, who love to get out when there’s a fresh breeze and crashing waves.
Here are four of my favourite spots.
For family-friendly fun in the sun, you won’t find much better than Saundersfoot. At low tide, this gentle sandy beach stretches for miles towards Tenby. With wooded hillside behind, rock pools to explore and a small harbour packed with fishing boats, there’s plenty to see and do. On a hot, sunny day it’s marvellous, but under moody skies and with the wind whipping up the waves it’s an atmospheric spot for a stroll.
There’s twice as much to enjoy in Tenby, with two large beaches – North Beach and South Beach.
North Beach is the smaller of the two but sits at the foot of the old town. This gives you great views of the harbour and colourful Georgian houses just above it. It’s an added bonus whether you’re setting up for a day of fun in the sun, or wrapping up with a warm brew from one of the nearby coffee shops in winter. South Beach is a stone’s throw away, and a vast expanse of pristine sand. There’s plenty of room here for kids to run wild, and rugged St Catherine’s Island – accessible only at low tide – provides added interest on a beach walk.
Freshwater West beach
A surfer’s paradise, Freshwater West is one of the wildest beaches on this part of the coast. The wide, sweeping bay is perfect for windy winter walks and meandering amongst the sand dunes. It’s an exciting contrast to many of the other beaches in Pembrokeshire as it’s not flanked with cliffs. Instead, a green landscape stretches beyond the beach, sand mingling amongst the vegetation. It’s a magical spot for a walk at any time of year, but it’s exposed location provides additional drama when winds and waves pick up.
I have a soft spot for this crescent-shaped bay. It was the first beach I ever visited in Pembrokeshire and one that left me wanting to explore more. Facing due west, it catches some exciting surf and gets the best of the afternoon sun. The low hills that surround Whitesands invite you to wander beyond the beach, and whilst you’ll likely be enjoying this spot with others it still feels wonderfully wild. Head here with a picnic when the sun is beating down, or with a thermos and a brew on clear winter days.
Wonderful walking: Bring your boots to Pembrokeshire
Walking is one of the best ways to explore this Welsh county. It lets you get close to the coast and enjoy some of its most remote and beautiful spots. Heading out on foot is another option you can enjoy whatever the weather or time of year. Under sunny skies, experience the vibrant colours of the clear waters and coastal wildflowers. On a grey day, seek out hidden gems or watch wild waves – whilst getting paths largely to yourself.
Explore the Pembrokeshire coast path
If you’re a regular reader of Girl with a Saddle Bag you’ll know that I’m very fond of a long-distance footpath. And the Pembrokeshire coast path is one of the best I know.
You could go all out on a trip to Pembrokeshire and tackle the entire 186 mile route from Amroth to St Dogmaels. Or, if that sounds a little epic, the route offers some fantastic inspiration for day walks or even short strolls.
I’d recommend investing in an Ordnance Survey maps of Pembrokeshire, or digital subscription to the OS App before you visit. It’s a great way to investigate the route and seek out some stretches of the path that you’ll like to try.
Walk from Saundersfoot to Tenby
If you’re looking to explore the area around Tenby, a circular walk taking in the old town plus nearby Saundersfoot is a great way to check out the surrounding countryside and discover the exquisite beaches that hug the coastline here.
We loved this walk from Countryfile, but added our twist by starting and finishing in Tenby to allow more time to explore the old town. Allow a good half a day for approximately 8 miles of walking – or add more time if you fancy a pub lunch or beach picnic part way.
A stunning circular walk to Porthgain
For a slice of history, as well as stunning coastal views, take a circular walk from the village of Trefin to Porthgain and back. This little coastal community is unlike any other on this stretch of coast. Porthgain’s reputation grew out of the slate industry, and during the mid-nineteenth century, a large harbour was constructed here to transport the highly desirable slate that was quarried nearby to a mass market.
Today it’s a sleepy hamlet surrounded by rugged cliffs and crystal clear waters, but many of its industrial buildings dating from the Victorian period can still be seen. Starting from Trefin, take a pitstop in Porthgain for a pub lunch or afternoon tea to give you time to soak up the atmospheric location.
Walk in the Preseli Hills
When you first think of what to do in Pembrokeshire, the chances are that high moorland and wild ponies probably aren’t in the picture.
But head a little inland and you’ll find the wonderfully wild Preseli Hills, a stretch of rolling moors and rocky outcrops that wouldn’t look out of place on Dartmoor or in the Brecon Beacons. Standing stones, frolicking foals, grazing sheep and ancient cairns scatter the hillsides – this is a landscape that has changed little in thousands of years.
If you’re looking for some serious walking, tackle the Golden Road that runs point-to-point across the spine of these hills. This 8 mile route takes in the highest points and can also be enjoyed as an out-and-back day walk or shortened as much or little as you’d like. Or, take a short stroll to the top of Foel Eryr for one of the best viewpoints.
We walked the Golden Road on an atmospheric August day with our head in the clouds at some points but enjoying spectacular sunlit panoramas of Pembrokeshire at others. We’d highly recommend it regardless of the weather, provided you’re a well-prepared walker.
Castles and country towns
Ancient walled towns. Check. Magnificent castles. Check. Picture-perfect coastal villages. Check.
When it comes to what to do in Pembrokeshire, I’d be remiss not to mention some of its most charming country towns and extraordinary fortifications. I’ve brought both together here, as where there’s a castle there’s very often an interesting town to explore.
The old town of Tenby
Of all the gems along the Pembrokeshire coast, Tenby is one that shines brighter than most. With its walled town, Georgian harbour, spectacular beaches and rainbow coloured houses, it’s one of the most recognisable and loveable towns in South Wales. What it lacks in size it more than makes up for in personality, things to do and enticing spots to eat and drink. Perfect for a beach day, its equally enjoyable to meander along the streets of the old town, explore its historic sites or embark upon a coastal walk. Check out castle hill for ancient remains in an imposing location, or St Catherine’s Island with its Napoleonic fort perched high above South Beach.
Visit Pembroke and it’s castle
Wales punches well above its weight when it comes to castles, and Pembroke Castle is one of its most awe-inspiring. The enormous structure sits on top of a rocky outcrop almost completely surrounded by water, and whilst the structure you see today is largely Norman, its roots stretch back to the Roman period. Book tickets to see inside and explore some of the renovated interiors. Alternatively, circumnavigate the castle on one of a handful of pedestrian paths for some impressive vistas.
Whilst you’re here, give a little time to the town of Pembroke too. Like Tenby, it’s a walled market town with bustling high street. Look closer and you’ll find winding alleys tucked away that’ll take you out to the old walls, peppered with interesting buildings and architectural features. There are some good-looking lunch and coffee spots here too, perfect if you want to take your time to explore.
Book tickets for Pembroke Castle at pembrokecastle.co.uk
Small but stunning Solva
The most remote of my recommendations here, what Solva lacks in size it more than makes up for in natural beauty. This tiny fishing village occupies a prime position at the head of an inlet near St Brides Bay. It’s the most perfect natural harbour, with the village sheltered from the open sea by a few twists and turns of the River Solva. Stroll along the harbourside until the open sea comes into view, admire the boats that call the harbour home and stop for a coffee or a sundowner looking out over the water.
The city of St Davids
St Davids is proud of its status as the smallest city in the United Kingdom. It’s actually the size of a small market town, with a winding high street and selection of country pubs to match. Only the city’s cathedral belies its modest appearance at first glance. Built in the twelfth century, it’s a staggering piece of medieval architecture that appears out of nowhere in far south-west of Pembrokeshire.
There’s a surprising amount to take in at this unassumingly little spot. I’d recommend a morning meander with lunch or a coffee stop – or an early evening stroll and an al-fresco pub dinner like we did.
Check out Carew Castle
Not far from Pembroke lies another of this region’s most magnificent buildings, Carew Castle. Perched on the edge of the pocket-sized village of Carew, it’s possible to spot stonework from many of this castle’s different incarnations over the past two thousand years. From Roman roots, it has spent time as both a Norman stronghold and an Elizabethan mansion. With a checkered past to uncover and fantastically well-preserved remains, it’s one of the best castles to explore in this part of Wales.
You’ll need a ticket to enter the castle itself, but I’d highly recommend stopping by even if you’re not planning to a make a day of it. Set on the banks of an enormous millpond, the surroundings are just as impressive as the building. An accessible public footpath hugs the banks of the pond and takes you to the restored tidal mill at its far end. It’s worth the short walk to see the castle set in the surrounding landscape and imagine it in times gone by.
Book tickets for Carew Castle on the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park website
Pembrokeshire, there’s so much to do
Hopefully, this post has given you plenty of ideas to start planning your own trip to Pembrokeshire. But think of it just as a taster. There is so much more to do in this peaceful part of South Wales. And crucially, don’t forget that there’s a wealth of things to explore in Pembrokeshire come rain or shine – provided you’re prepared with the right outdoor clothing and pinch of enthusiasm. A little drizzle shouldn’t discourage you from exploring this entrancing county, and trust me. It’s worth it for that moment when the sun peeps out and paints this beautiful landscape in technicolor.
We’ll be heading back here again, and I hope I’ve inspired you to do the same.