I’ve been living in my Mercedes Sprinter campervan, Sadie, for the best part of a year and post-lockdown, I decided that my first ‘big’ adventure would be to do a road trip round Wales. I spent six weeks exploring the south in my van, so I bring to you, vanlife adventures: your ultimate guide to the best spots in South Wales!
Planning a road trip round Wales
Before I left, I spent weeks (months really!) pinning to Google Maps the most awesome-sounding places that were featured on TV, in magazines, social media etc and slowly built up a rather mind-blowing Wales road trip, peppered with stops at mountains, gorges, beaches – you get it.
The original road trip round Wales in my Mercedes Sprinter campervan that I had planned on Google Maps (the green pins) would honestly take me a large chunk of the rest of my life, so I decided to just go at my own pace and do what I could in the six weeks that I had before having to return to the ‘Shire for a dear friend’s 40th.
Green pins are 'Want to go', blue pins are 'Visited'
Now, I’m not one for dashing from place to place just to get the pic and tick it off the list, I love to stay a few days in spots I really like and then just take it from there.
Very often, new and amazing opportunities arise that you hadn’t planned for, and it’s great being able to go with the flow.
In a nutshell, my six weeks snail’s pace began with me entering from England at Monmouthshire, travelling slightly north west over to Abergavenny and the Brecon Beacons, then back over to the south coast to Newport (had to get new brakes fitted!).
Then Sadie and I trundled down to Cardiff, Swansea, The Gower, Pembrokeshire, then east at Abereiddy through the middle, back towards England via Walton into Shropshire. The blue pins depict my actual route and stops.
How I travel in my campervan
I’m lucky in that I travel solo, therefore march to the beat of my own banjo, so pre-planning for me isn’t essential.
My travel mantra, having spent seven years living in and exploring Asia, is: ‘Never plan, never book’ and that’s mostly stuck with me for my van adventures, too.
I research places I like the look of, head in that general direction and then plan my stop on the day or the night before.
I really don’t like being tied/pre-paid into somewhere I don’t like or want to move on from.
Having said that, I did find myself in some rather popular spots in Wales at the height of summer with literally nowhere to park (or legally empty my cassette!)… cue minor panic… more on that…
How to find park-ups for campervans
Nash Point, Vale of Glamorgan
Living in my van and of course for my Welsh road trip, there are a few go-tos for me when finding places to sleep in a van and where one has let me down, another has stepped up and literally saved my ass from potential dogging spots or, in sheer desperation, resorting to spending stupid money on overpriced, over-commercial campsites.
I used a combination of the following to find places to park a van in Wales:
- Brit Stops (usually members only): Yearly manual
- Caravan and Motorhome Club Certified Locations (CAMC CL – members only): App and yearly manual
- Park4Night: App (free or pay to upgrade to use offline)
- Word of mouth from new van friends and kind locals
- Spotting places while driving
- Instagram hashtags.
The best spots for vanlife in south Wales
Top tip: I entered Wales from England via the Cotswolds and was lucky enough to witness the phenomenon of the Severn Bore coming in one June evening where I’d parked up at one of the Brit Stops pubs (White Hart, Newnham on Severn), right on the river Severn.
This was a great start to the road trip, so if natural phenomena like this and/or surfing is your bag, Google when the Severn Bore near Wales comes in and time your entry to Monmouthshire accordingly.
Here are my best spots for vanlife in South Wales. Enjoy!
What to see in Abergavenny
So many cool spots for a photo op!
A must-see if you like: Scenic walking/hiking, local history, epic nature, rivers, waterfalls and exploring.
This amazing place is said to have inspired William Shakespeare to write 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' and you can stumble across disused railway lines, arches, tunnels, epic views, rivers grassy walks, fairy falls, grassy glades and more.
Vans: You have to park in a tiny car park in a residential street which was full when I went, but I asked a friendly local and they said just park anywhere on the road, so I was happy with that!
Where to stay at Clydach Gorge: Two Rivers CAMC CL – lovely, well-managed flat field near two stunning rivers. Wildflowers, mountain views. Call ahead.
Price: £15 for the CL, the gorge is free
Facilities: New and clean Elsan point, washing up areas, water, rubbish disposal.
The view from the office
A must-see if you like: Hiking, views, mountains, thrilling driving. A relatively easy hike up green and open Sugarloaf Mountain is obviously the main attraction, with super views from the top.
Vans: (Park4Night) This car park is fantastic, the views are spectacular. Get there early!
The drive up to the car park is pretty hair-raising if you’ve never driven very steep hills before and I wouldn’t really recommend anything longer than a MWB Sprinter as there’s one very sharp, steep hairpin.
Also, it's worth noting that the exit from the mountain road back onto the main road requires serious gumption, as it's on a virtual blind bend and traffic is coming FAST!
Where to stay at Sugarloaf Mountain: I didn’t stay the night here unfortunately, as I was staying at Two Rivers CL.
The best vanlife spots in the Vale of Glamorgan
Porthkerry Country Park, Barry
Another rare park-up under a Victorian viaduct
A must-see if you like: Viaducts, aqueducts, local history, dramatic scenery, scenic walks, pebble beaches and wildlife reserves, solitude.
A peaceful country park on the coast, a super gothic-feeling, mega-imposing viaduct. I enjoyed exploring the wildlife park, the pebbles on the beach are enormous and the area peaceful.
There’s also a lovely cafe, too – definitely grab a cake there while you’re at it.
Vans: (Park4Night) Free parking right under the viaduct. No facilities. This is one of the most eerie and dramatic spots I stayed at in south Wales.
As it is on the Park4Night app, I thought there’d be many other vans there being such a unique place, but I was the only one!
When the clouds, rain and night came in, I have to say it was pretty darn spooky. Just don’t look out the window covers if you’re alone!!
Can’t imagine how freaky it would be in winter… No booking required.
Price: Free – buy something at the cafe for good karma
Facilities: None, other than rubbish bins behind cafe
Nash Point, LLantwich Major
Park-ups right on the cliff edge like this are rare
A must-see if you like: Rugged cliffs and coast, fossil hunting, epic sunset views, coastal walks/hikes, lighthouses, meeting other van people.
Huge grassy space right on top of the cliffs next to the lighthouse, spectacular views overlooking the sea and sunset.
Go fossil-hunting on the amazing beach and look at the impressive strata formed over millions of years.
Vans: (Park4Night) Being able to park right on the cliff edge, enjoy my firepit and BBQ, and meet like-minded van people was a real tonic.
Allowing BBQs and open fires is amazing as it really adds to the feeling of ‘wild’ camping. One of my favourite spots on the journey. I didn't, but you're advised to call ahead in the summer.
Price: £15 per night
Facilities: None, except the locked toilet block is reserved for paying campers only.
Ogmore-by-Sea, Merthyr Mawr
A strange place, right out of The Lord of The Rings
A must-see if you like: Unusual natural phenomenon, beaches, lay-by views, estuaries Beautiful emerald green sort of tidal flats with an almost other-worldly (Middle Earth?! Hobbits?!)-type aesthetic going on.
Mossy-green estuary leading to an enormous beach.
Vans: (Park4Night) Scenic lay-by overlooking estuary. No restrictions at the time of writing.
As you leave the town and head inland, there’s a lay-by on the left with about enough room for two MWB Sprinters. The traffic is fast though, so I wouldn’t expect a peaceful night!
However it overlooks this beautiful spot and is a great place to stop and work for the afternoon, or chill before heading on. I didn’t stay overnight.
Where to stay in Abergavenny: (Brit Stops pub) The Watermill Pub just up the road; quiet, flat parking area specially for campers by a field full of horses. Call ahead.
Price: Lay-by and pub free, just be a good human and spend some money inside said pub.
Facilities: None for lay-by. I re-filled my drinking water at the pub having enjoyed a meal.
Amazing places to visit in the Gower Peninsula
This stunning area of south Wales is hugely popular in the summer months and for good reason. The massive beaches and scenery are epic, the weather was amazing when I went and the whole feeling is just charming.
Vans: The Gower is the place I found it the hardest to live in my van, as it’s really aimed at tourists and it’s pretty 'un-friendly’ vanlife-wise (ie: the locals are really nice, but there is a lack of welcoming van spots regarding off-campsite overnight parking – paid or unpaid).
There are virtually no relatively obvious places other than campsites (which were all full) that welcome vans overnight.
I, despite finding it super-tricky to get sites, stayed for nearly two weeks.
Here are the best places to visit on the Gower Peninsula:
A must-see if you like: Seaside towns, beaches, harbours, fishing, crab fishing, epic sunrise and sunset, wild/sea swimming.
Cool little seaside town with quirky shops (why not buy a hand-carved Welsh Love Spoon for your van? I did!), and a handful of bars and restaurants that overlook the bay.
Really lovely buzzy vibe, people fishing from the prom, sailing and enjoying drinks by the sea.
Vans: Busy, but surprisingly van-friendly at the time of writing, a few car parks around. Just pay the parking fees, respect the locals and laws, and long may the welcome continue.
Where to stay in the Mumbles: (Park4Night, word of mouth) Knab Rock car park, (no facilities as is a ‘standard’ car park and you pay by app, but there are public toilets around) which is right on the harbour. Stayed two nights and loved it.
Expect a buzzy evening vibe with other campers, people fishing from the prom, full car park, but peaceful after about 11pm. Epic sunrise if you park with your back doors facing the ocean.
Price: Charges 8am-9pm, £6 for the day
Facilities: Toilets open 8am-8pm.
You can literally walk for miles along Oxwich Beach
A must-see if you like: Sunrise, massive beaches, long walks, campfires on the beach, watersports, solitude, stunning scenery, meeting other van people. Oxwich Beach is gigantic, really beautiful and you can walk all the way to Three Cliffs Bay.
Vans: If you have a larger MWB van like I, you can’t park right next to the beach, but if you have a smaller type then you’re allowed almost on the beach. Really worth a stay as they also allow campfires on the beach. No booking required.
Where to stay in Oxwich Bay: (Park4Night, word of mouth) Oxwich beach car park is van-friendly.
Facilities: Toilets, rubbish disposal. Note that, despite being a beach, there are no showers or drinking water points.
Rhosilli Bay Beach, Worm’s Head and the Devil’s Bridge
The views from the National Trust car park over Rhosilli are insane
A must-see if you like: Spectacular beaches, walks, epic views, stunning scenery, surfing, enormous golden-sand beach with epic scenery from the cliffs and out to Worm’s head. Nice clean sand, loads of space.
Vans: National Trust-owned car park, strictly no overnight parking at the time of writing. Real shame as it is utterly breathtaking and would be divine to wake up to.
Where to stay at Rhosilli Beach: (Word of mouth) Visit the beach for the day, then drive off to nearby Llangennith and stay at Western Acre. Very friendly and welcoming owners, and awesome views from their peaceful field. No booking required.
Price: £15 a night
Facilities: Water refill, Elsan point, no EHU
Llangennith, west Gower
A must-see if you like: natural springs, quintessential local villages, peace and quiet. Cute little Welsh village with a wonderful natural spring-fed water point, historic church, surf shop and pub. Lovely walk through the hills to the main beach.
Vans: Expect small roads and the odd cow-induced traffic jam!
Where to stay in the Gower: If you want peace and quiet almost in the village, with a view and within walking distance to a pub, stay at Western Acre as above.
Pen-Clawdd, north Gower
What a find; a beautiful spot right on the estuary
A must-see if you like: Riverside/estuary locations, river/seaside towns, local vibes, fresh seafood (they’re famous for cockles!), dramatic tides, amazing sunsets.
I just happened to stumble across this place by accident – it’s a large, mostly flat car park that looks right out over the Loughor Estuary.
It’s a buzzy spot with local eateries and a nice vibe at sunset and the Pen-Clawdd locals all turn out to watch the show from the car park, and watch the river rise from a trickle to a full flow.
Apparently, if you get there on a full moon, you can watch the wild horses swim the river from the land that gets cut off!
Vans: A great spot next to the river, perfect for if you need a stopover for an evening or two, lovely views if you park with the back doors to the river. Just spend money in the town and be respectful so they stay van-friendly.
Broughton Bay Blue Pool, west Gower
More south Wales beaches that go on for miles...
A must-see if you like: Enormous beaches, coves, cliff walks, paddling, rock pools, natural phenomena.
Yet another jaw-droppingly massive beach, again, you could walk for miles, tides permitting. Lovely golden sand, extensive cliff-top walks with breathtaking views and of course, the Blue Pool in south Wales.
You have to check the tide tables, as at certain times, the Gower Blue Pool can only be accessed via a pretty steep, rocky cliff-top route. The water is clear and blue – ‘No tombstoning!’ the locals beg tourists!
It can be deceptively shallow depending on the amount of sand washed in there. Also note strong rips and currents.
Vans: Day parking only
Where to stay in the Gower: I only spent the day here and moved on from the area over to Kidwelly Quay (Park4Night, Brit Stops, word of mouth) for the night; it’s a small, quiet, free, council-owned, van-friendly car park.
All you have to do is call Kidwelly Council to let them know you’re staying, and spend some money in the village. There’s a nice little garden and it’s right on the estuary, good 4G.
Price: £5 for beach parking, Kidwelly car park is free
Facilities: Creperie van in the summer at the beach car park
4G: Poor at Broughton, fine at Kidwelly.
A secret spot in Carmarthenshire
A seriously cute Welsh village that's worth a stop
A must-see if you like: Castles, history, Dylan Thomas, pretty villages, river stops Can’t not include a Welsh castle! I was driving through and decided to stop here for an afternoon as it was so scenic.
There's an easy sign-guided walk around the village, pointing out places of interest and where poet Dylan Thomas lived and worked. Nice sea views.
Vans: Free parking right next to the river/estuary under the castle.
Where to stay in Carmarthenshire: I moved on from Laugharne and entered Pembrokeshire. Spent a few nights at Coastland Holiday Park (CAMC CL) – very limited options in the area at peak season, all sites fully booked and 'No overnight parking' signs everywhere. Call ahead.
Facilities: EHU, Elsan, water, recycling and a small laundry room
The best places for vanlife in Pembrokeshire
Bosherston Lily Ponds and surrounding coastline
The view over Bullslaughter Bay
A must-see if you like: Lakes and ponds, beach coves, places of historical interest, stunning scenery and views, rock-climbing, long coastal walks.
Bosherston is fantastic, for such a tiny little place there’s so much to see and do!
Firstly you can’t miss the Bosherston Lily Ponds, a truly stunning walk around the ponds and if you’re lucky you might see otters! (I wasn’t).
Paths lead to Broadhaven Beach which is sandy, clean and SUP- and kayak-friendly.
A fantastic day adventuring also awaits along the coast where you can walk or cycle miles and explore Saint Govan’s Chapel, Saint Govan’s Point and Green Bridge.
Vans: Sadly there’s no overnight parking at any of the coastal car parks.
Where to stay in Pembrokeshire: Bosherston Camping (Park4Night). This is a large farmer’s field and is so worth a stop. Every morning and evening a cheery farmer drives around on his quad and collects the cash, otherwise there’s an honesty box that, hopefully, people respect.
Lots of tents, campervans and really good vibes here. No booking required. Note that very large motorhomes/caravans might struggle to get through the campsite gate.
Price: Seasonal campsite £5, Bosherston Lily Ponds and surrounding areas are free, ie no entry fee.
Facilities: Water taps, Portaloos. No EHU or Elsan, but for that price what can you expect. An ice cream van comes round each evening.
A must-see if you like: Dramatic coastline, sand dunes, surfing, spectacular views on the approach to the beach.
This lovely large beach is breathtaking and even though it was peak season when I went, there was space for everyone to walk, relax and hike amongst the dunes.
When I visited it was red flag, so there were no watersports, but it’s heralded as one of the best surf spots in south Wales.
Vans: Small car park (not sure of cost) free bays on the road right next to the beach
Where to stay for surfing in Wales: I was just passing through and carried on my journey towards Marloes. As with most coastal car parks in Wales, there were ‘No overnight parking’ signs up everywhere.
Facilities: Trailer in the car park serving fast food
Marloes Sands Peninsula
A must-see if you love: Rugged coastal paths and beaches, hiking, epic views, solitude. Breathtaking views from the coastal path, be prepared for the Welsh wind from now on!
This place really does feel wild compared to the previous section of the south Wales route, there are huge fields, narrow country lanes, big sky and little cottages peppered here and there.
There’s a sort of sense of loneliness there and it was very atmospheric, calm (despite the mad wind!) and well worth a stop if you want to really feel the raw side of Wales.
Vans: Narrow lanes to negotiate but nothing too stressful.
Where to stay in south Wales: West Hook Farm (Park4Night). Farmer’s field on a slight slope, lovely views across the bay, and sunrise and sunset. Best to book as people stay here before heading to Skomer Island.
Facilities: Coin-op showers, washing up, gas camping outlet, Elsan, toilets.
Newgale Beach, Pembrokeshire
Drone shot of Newgale Beach and Campsite ©Emma Orlando
A must-see if you like: Amazing beaches, buzzy campsites right on the beach, surfing, coastal hikes.
One of my favourite places on the trip, the approach to Newgale beach and campsite is breathtaking, and instills a sense of excitement as you drive down the hill.
Vans: A really great place to stop if you want to meet other vanlifers, flat pitches and right next to the beach – quite a rare find!
Where to stay in Pembrokeshire: Newgale Campsite (Park4Night). Having stayed in Marloes, a very rugged and rural part of Pembrokeshire for a couple of days, this was the polar opposite: a busy and fun place with plenty of other campers and – best of all – just over the road from Newgale Beach.
There is a real ‘holiday’ vibe here, with people from all walks of life enjoying the site and beach. No need to book.
Price: A VERY reasonable £8 with no EHU.
Facilities: You’re allowed raised firepits and BBQs, there are hot showers for 50p for 10 minutes, toilets, Elsan, water.
Abereiddy Blue Lagoon
Drone shot of the beautiful Eco Caerhys Campsite at The Blue Lagoon, Abereiddy ©Emma Orlando
A must-see if you like: Wild swimming, coasteering, adventure, unusual natural phenomena.
The last stop on my south Wales road trip, this did not disappoint.
Firstly, the Blue Lagoon is stunning, and definitely worth a stop and a swim – the water is a beautiful teal blue and there are different levels of cliff to jump off if you love a good adrenaline rush.
Vans: It, along with many other ‘touristy’ places, is probably best to get there early morning or go in the evening as the beach car park was packed. Some very narrow – and sometimes steep – roads.
Where to stay in Pembrokeshire: Some friends and I parked up at Eco Caerhys Camping for the night (discovered while driving). A lovely rustic field owned by a friendly and welcoming couple, lots of space for campers and tents, with epic views of the Blue Lagoon Bay and sunset. They also allow campfires and BBQs.
Facilities: No EHU or Elsan. Water refill and recycling available.
For more pictures and stories of my vanife adventures in Wales and beyond, check out my Instagram @what_katie.did
Meet my Mercedes Sprinter campervan, Sadie a unique, off-grid Sprinter van conversion
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