Please sign in to post.

Car vs Public Transport in Wales - solo travel

HI all

There seems to be a lot of support for renting a car for Wales travel, even for US tourists. It's definitely something I am considering but I noticed that just about every post I've read about renting a car involved two or more people - so there was always much discussion on having a co-pilot, particular as an occasional reminder that the driver needs to stick to the correct side of the road. For my trip, I will be solo.

Trip details currently - this summer, starting in N. Wales and then eventually heading down the western coast to Pembrokeshire. Duration is 8 days (car being picked up on the first day and dropped off the morning of day 9 when I arrive in Cardiff).

Right now, I figure the pros are - a) flexibility in travel, b) more flexibility in where I stay overnight as I won't be stuck to towns with public transportation, c) not wasting time waiting for scheduled trains/buses, d) easier time transporting luggage and e) maybe covering more places/stops.

Cons would be a) traveling solo w/no passenger to help in directions, b) not able to pay more attention to the scenery during travel and relax, c) never having driven on the other side of the road or in a foreign country, and d) I've only ever driven automatics so my rental options will be slimmer.

If it helps, places I'm currently considering visiting while there are Llangollen, Conwy, Llandudno, Snowdon/Snowdonia, Caernarvon, Porthmadog, Portmeirion, Aberystwyth (steam train to Devils Bridge), Tenby, St. David's, and Pembroke Castle. Additional places I'm interested in, time dependent, are Bodnant Garden, Betws-y-Coed, some other steam trains, Harlech Castle.

So for any tourists who went the car route, or other tourists who specifically took public transport in Wales - how was your decision? Any one do either of those options solo?

Thanks much for any help!

Posted by
320 posts

I'm confident driving in reverse conditions (i.e. In America with an automatic) but I would share your concern about doing this on you own. 1. Because this part was f Wales does not have straight forward highways - you zig zag around a lot. 2) all the signage will be bilingual and in North and West Wales they tend to put the Welsh first which can be disorientating for a first timer 3) Sat Nav signals have a tendency to drop out in the remote areas and can leave you unsure of where to go, 4) you'll be travelling in the school holidays when the roads are likely to busier.
Rather than public transport, which is not the best in the areas you want to go to, have a browse at some tours - try out some local ones who will know the best places to go and things that RS wouldn't cover.

https://www.visitwales.com/holidays-breaks/sightseeing-and-tours/road-trips-10-sightseeing-tours-of-wales
Some really small group tours available

Posted by
1723 posts

Yes, a car would make getting around much easier - especially in remote areas. On some back roads, you may have to reverse to a passing place but, if you stick to A and B roads, you would not have this problem. Read what I have written in the Glasgow to Holyhead post as that is also relevant to you. Euston to Chester will be a very fast journey - much of it at 125mph on a train that will tilt slightly to take the bends at speed. If you click the following link, you will see a streeview of a main ‘A’ road that is typical of these roads in Wales. You might to advance it to see how your brain works driving on the left. (It is the A40 between Crickhowell & Brecon).https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@52.845394,-4.1149533,335m/data=!3m1!1e3!5m1!1e1

Posted by
2066 posts

A co-pilot does come in handy as an extra set of eyes to read road signs. For the places you’re visiting, driving would be much easier than trying to figure out public transportation to get to the same locations. A GPS with updated maps works well, as does google maps downloaded to your phone for offline use. The google maps works well for those small places that are not on your GPS maps. Rent an automatic, specified when reserving the car. Each evening, look over your route for the following day, that why you’ll have an idea of the towns you’ll be passing through. That should help reduce some anxiety.

Posted by
22 posts

Thank you! I will def. check google maps and the group tours as some ideas to try out. The one place that is causing the biggest hick up to my public transportation goals is getting from Aberystwyth to anywhere in Pembrokeshire later in the afternoon of a Sunday, so the car rental option might still be in play as well as hiring a driver for that portion of the trip. Will explore all of these ideas!

Posted by
1723 posts

Sundays can be a problem with fewer services and the railways often have engineering work. Anyway - no railway exists going directly from Aberystwyth to Pembrokeshire.

A bus service does operate between Aberystwyth & Carmarthen on Sundays - and being a Traws Cymru service T1 - it is free on the weekends. From Carmarthen, it is possible to catch a train westwards into Pembrokeshire.https://www.traveline.cymru/timetables/?routeNum=T1&direction_id=1&timetable_key=0T1MFMGZ

A company called Richards Brothers operates the so called T5 service on the behalf of Traws Cymru on a more westerly route:>
Aberystwyth > Aberaeron > Cardigan > Fishguard > Haverfordwest. I think that they only operate a Sunday service between the first Sunday in May and the last Sunday in September.https://www.richardsbros.co.uk/local-bus-services/

First Cymru operate an hourly bus service Haverfordwest > Pembroke (348 & 349) > Tenby (349) but not on Sundays.

Posted by
994 posts

My mother traveled solo to Wales several years back as her grandmother came from Wales. She never had a problem finding a private driver and always enjoyed their company and comments. One even invited her back to his house and his wife made them tea. One of the places she stayed was Aberystwyth, another was Newtown. I don't remember the rest. I have taken the train from Chester to Bews y Coed and really enjoyed my day trip. I have also rented a car, but always with someone to be my navigator. I love Wales and know you will really enjoy your trip. When I visited Caernarvon we drove over to Anglesley Island and had a wonderful day.

Posted by
13299 posts

I saw a bit of Wales (Cardiff and some of the places you want to hit in northern Wales) in 2017, using public transportation. I day-tripped into the country from Bristol once and Chester twice, which was more limiting than actually sleeping in Wales. I agree that you've thought this through well and identified the key decision-making criteria. I suspect accomplishing what you want to do in 8 days will be challenging without a car, but you can probably manage it (probably not all the optional places) if you're willing to spend the money on town-to-town taxis when the going gets tough. A lot of the beauty spots and many of the embarkation points for the historic trains are in rather isolated areas with infrequent bus service. You may be transferring from bus to bus sometimes with a substantial layover, and that is a time-consumer.

How do you feel about a lunch of something like packaged nuts? A good mid-day meal often goes by the boards for me when I need to pay careful heed to bus schedules. Not just in Wales have I had to choose between a sit-down lunch and hanging around for many extra hours or moving on, hungry. However, I am not an early starter, so I may be painting too pessimistic a picture here. You'll certainly have a great time, because Wales is beautiful.

Posted by
1 posts

I can't really offer any help on this as I am considering the same! I'm traveling solo to Wales July 4-8 and then catching a ferry to meet up with family traveling to Ireland. I've gone back and forth about using public transportation, hiring a driver or driving. I'd prefer not to drive but I've got such a short time and after considering, I've gone ahead and rented a car. I'm a bit nervous but I think after the 1st day, it'll be okay. I rented an automatic and will make sure I have routes mapped out in advance.

Posted by
31 posts

We are interested in this question too. We visit our son in London every summer (since 2013) and we usually look for another part of the British Isles to explore too. This week I started looking for ideas on Rick's Forums, and Wales + Liverpool sounds perfect for this year.

As I look at maps, comments, and Google Earth, it looks the Wales part is more suitable to travel by car. (And there are 2 of us.)

But how are the roads in Wales? Similar to England or to Ireland?
(In 2016, we drove 4 days in Ireland one week and 3 days in the Cotswolds the following week. Driving in south/west Ireland was very stressful; many one lane roads, always scraping the car and tires with vines. I said "If only the lanes were 12 inches wider!" And in the Cotswolds the lanes were a foot or two wider, which made a huge difference.)

And would you get a car in Liverpool, Chester, or ?

This will probably be a 4 day excursion from London (Clapham) during the last week of June.

Posted by
1723 posts

nanjowood - It might have been better to start a new post rather than latch on to this older one. Anyway, consider taking the train from Paddington to Cardiff - pre-book specific train ahead for cheapest ‘advance’ fares. www.nationalrail.co.uk Check into hotel in Cardiff and see Cardiff Castle, Caerphilly Castle (by local train), *St.Fagans Castle & Museum - bus 32A for the short journey. Also visit Cardiff Bay - 1 mile S of city centre. *This place is very big and takes several hours to see properly.

After say 2 days in Cardiff - pick up a hire car and then head into the more sparsely populated parts of Wales. (Of course, you could pick up a hire car in London and drive down. If doing that, I would not have a hotel in the city centre due to parking issues and a complicated traffic system with horrible cameras waiting to snap you in a bus lane).

When you look at a map, you will see M roads = motorways - just like an Interstate. The next type of road in the pecking order is an ‘A’ road followed by a ‘B’ road followed by an unclassified road - where you may have to reverse to a parking place. So, basically, you can avoid the very narrowest roads if so desired. Go on Google Maps & look at the roads on Streetview. Here is an example of the A40 just SE of Brecon. It is typical of the ‘A’ roads that you will find in much of Wales.https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.8929255,-3.252097,3a,75y,264.53h,87.83t/data=!3m5!1e1!3m3!1sfe6Enmk9ekMqGtuX-_W96w!2e0!6s%2F%2Fgeo3.ggpht.com%2Fcbk%3Fpanoid%3Dfe6Enmk9ekMqGtuX-_W96w%26output%3Dthumbnail%26cb_client%3Dmaps_sv.tactile.gps%26thumb%3D2%26w%3D203%26h%3D100%26yaw%3D280%26pitch%3D0%26thumbfov%3D100!5m1!1e1

https://www.visitwales.com

Posted by
2066 posts

Nanjowood - the motorways and the “A” road’s are fine. Like Cornwall, there are many places where the road isn’t quite 2 full lanes, or a 2-way road where the flowers are brushing on both sides of the car. When the GPS says turn onto unnamed road, that’s a good indication the road will be narrow. Most traffic circles are straight forward, but some of the larger ones, with 6 or 8 exits, can be a little nerve wracking to navigate.

Posted by
22 posts

I posted an update to this and then I think I accidentally deleted it !?

So after a lot of research (and I mean A LOT) and looking into all the recommendations on here, I decided to rent a car. This was two-fold. I want to see too many things so there is a time crunch, and the booking of private tours was a bit cost prohibitive for what I wanted to do.

To help make this decision I did find that after tracking all the places (for the most part) via Google maps - the roads were almost 99% two or more lanes and a comfortable width and fairly straight forward give or take a rotary. There have been two routes I have found that were very narrow - one between Llangollen and Conwy that I was able to track a detour around, and another on the coast of Llyn Penninsula that I haven't found a detour for yet.

As a plus of driving I can do side stops on the way that wouldn't have been possible given the time constraints of public transportation such as Valle Crucis betw. Conwy and Llangollen, Bodnant Garden, The Ugly House, or the Fairy Glen around Betws Y Coed, Castle Dolwyddelan between Porthmadog and Conwy, and Beddgelert betw Porthmadog and Caernarfon. Also I have now built in time for 1.5 days of driving down the coast from Llyn Peninsula to Aberystwyth and further down towards Pembrokeshire. I haven't finished plotting out my time in Pembrokeshire and I'm a bit more worried about the roads in that part and also where I will park in Cardiff for the final days of my road trip so whether this is a good idea is still up in the air :)

Now I just need to figure out how to pronounce the double "lls).

Posted by
5108 posts

This article should help you with the welsh pronunciation!

https://cuhwc.org.uk/book/export/html/199

For the “LL” put your tongue towards the roof of your mouth with the tip of your tongue behind your front teeth the make a breathy, slightly spitty “CL” sound. Your breath should blow down the sides of your tongue. See! It’s easy!
Good Luck!

Posted by
1723 posts

You appear to have done excellent research. When going to Pembrokeshire, I would consider heading for St.David’s first. Later, go to south Pembrokeshire and be sure to visit Tenby - accommodation is unlikely to have parking. The coast west of Tenby is spectacular. Try & find Bosherston and park by the church and walk via the lily pools to the coast - then walk east to Barafundle Bay. (If going via Pembroke town - the roads are OK but via Stackpole - can be narrow).

Consider a hotel on the edge of Cardiff that does have parking. Plenty of buses to the city centre but beware that ‘Cardiff Bus’ do not give change. Places to visit = Dyffryn Gardens, Cardiff Castle, Caerphilly Castle, Castell Coch, St.Fagans Castle & Museum - which needs several hours. Cardiff Bay is also worth a look.

Posted by
320 posts

There's a nice B&B called the Old Post right by the garden entrance to St Fagans which has parking if you want to avoid Cardiff City Centre.

Posted by
1723 posts

If staying in the B&B at St.Fagans village, a half hourly bus service (32A) goes into the City Centre run by ‘Easyway’. Note that this bus does not call at the bus stop by the B&B but at the one 3 minutes walk away on Cardiff Road. (An infrequent ‘NAT’ bus service does call at the bus stop by the B&B).

Posted by
31 posts

Thanks, James and Jaime, for explaining the highway system.

There seem to be plenty of A roads, which seem just fine to drive on (with an automatic transmission).
And driving a few miles, here and there, on B roads will be okay, in order to reach special destinations.
I think having a car will allow much more flexibility.

Posted by
22 posts

Thanks for the additional tips and that pronunciation website - need to do some practicing so I don't sound like an idiot when I arrive (or at least, less of an idiot) :)

Posted by
1 posts

Thank you all for the informative tips and maps on this post!

beckyr527 and nanjowood I would love to hear an update about how your travels were as I am undertaking a similar plan in September. This will be my first time in Wales (having been to England many times) and my first time driving in the UK as well. I am also looking to go to St. David’s and Pembrokeshire before returning the car in Cardiff. I will be starting out from Nottinghamshire with the car. Many thanks!!

Posted by
22 posts

Hi all - thanks again for all the tips. I'm here posting so I lived to tell the results of the trip :) Myself, the car, and the good people from Wales all survived my driving though I may have traumatized a cat (he or she is fine), some sheep (they are too), a couple of garbage barrels, and my shoulders with a strong grip at 10 and 2 for days on end.

Having driven during "peak" tourist season I don't really have anything to compare it to for other times of the year. I was picked up at my hotel in Conwy by the Enterprise team at Llandudno Junction. I had requested a smaller economy car given lane sizes, but ended up with an estate car-type since automatics are hard to come by apparently. I drove from Conwy to Llandudno, Betws y Coed, Llangollen, Porthmadog, Caernarvon, thru Snowdonia, over to the Llyn Peninsula, down the coast to Aberystwyth, to Saundersfoot and all over Pembrokeshire, then over to Cardiff and around the Wye Valley and Gower Peninsula, before returning the car to the central Cardiff location. I started solo in the north before meeting with friends in the south, one of whom lives in the UK and was a helpful navigator for Gower and Pembrokeshire.

My first two days were a bit tense - I used post-its on my dash with arrows pointing towards the left as a reminder of where to look (I bet you Welsh residents feel relieved to know post-its were keeping you safe). The one thing I had been sure to do before leaving was map out, via google maps street view, almost all my routes (at least up north) so I had reassured myself the roads I was taking were two lanes - but apparently the car's built in satnav didn't follow the same path Google maps did, because on day one I ended up in some farmland single lane dirt road with grass running down the middle, barely big enough for the car to fit thru outside the Bodnant Gardens area. I immediately switched to using my phone's google maps thru the bluetooth as my go-to resource.

For the rest of the trip everything was mostly uneventful except for any time I encountered a road with hedgerows because that seemed to automatically = single lane - will I fit? Is anyone coming the other way?

Also, only other complaint - the national speed limit is crazy. There are roads that are narrow, twisty, steep, and somehow 60 mph. I'm sorry to anyone that had places to go that I slowed down with my obstinate dedication to 40 (and occasionally 35) MPH.

*Helpful tip - usually sheep are behind fencing or hedgerows but when you go over the cattle grates in the ground (like heading towards Worm Head, thru certain parts of Brecon Beacons etc.) they can free-range right into the road. They seem to only do so 2x2 so you will have to wait a bit till they wander off and go slowly since they seem a bit indecisive once their in the road about where their going.

That all being said - the people of Wales, unlike here in the US (particularly in Mass) do not rely on their horns like we do and despite my slowness and probably occasional confusion on figuring out rotaries (round abouts? traffic circles?), never honked at me , never yelled at me, or rarely tailgated me - so a big thank you to all.

I had the opportunity to see so many places and things I never would have otherwise due to location and time limits of public transportation. And my car rental was VERY affordable compared to what it would have cost for me to do private tour guides. And the views along the way were to die for (just not literally). So I def. recommend particularly if you have someone else do the driving for you :)

Posted by
1723 posts

Many thanks for coming back Becky to say how it went. Yes, the speed limits are crazy - especially as you are allowed to go up to 60 mph down country lanes but some parts of the motorway (interstate) are only 50 mph - such as the M4 between Port Talbot & Swansea. (It is to cut down on air pollution from cars - as they pass the stinking Port Talbot steelworks town)!

The roads on Gower can be especially challenging. I was driving over the high ground on Gower last year and came across a cow half asleep in the middle of the road - despite having a huge range of land where he/she could have laid down.

You can’t always trust satnavs as some simply mark your start & end points and just connect them up by the shortest possible road route - even if it is some backroad with grass growing in the middle. It is always best to have a proper road atlas which will clearly show the different grades of road. You were wise to check out your routes on Google maps before leaving home in order to know what t expect. They are also useful for navigation.

I am sure the trip has enriched your life and that you have plenty of interesting conversation material for your friends & relatives. Some of the counties that you visited (Caredigion, Pembrokeshire & Carmarhtenshire) are shown in videos on the following website - which is really for selling houses in the areas mentioned. (Scroll down for ‘location films' if interested). https://www.homeonfilm.com

Posted by
4218 posts

Also, only other complaint - the national speed limit is crazy. There are roads that are narrow, twisty, steep, and somehow 60 mph.

As it would be impossible to approach a high speed on such a road, there is no point in attaching a specific speed limit to it. There may well be advisory limits on the bends although on a minor road these might not be signed either.

Posted by
22 posts

Marco - Coming from the US - all roads have a specific speed limit (well, in all the places I've visited or lived) - so a road like that in say - the White Mountains of NH - would probably be 30/35/40/45 depending on just how steep/windy/narrow etc. which is what I'm more used to. So there were points on roads like - like the A4120 outside of Aberystywth when I was driving to Devil's Bridge I was surprised there were stretches that had the white and black national speed limit signs, where I was going between 30 and 45 and 45 seemed like really pushing it, that I would then be passed by motor cycles at much higher speeds when there would be a small passing area (and I was shocked that the passing area was allowed there). Obviously its all a comfort level, familiarity, and common sense, but I'm just used to tighter guidelines :)

Posted by
1723 posts

Great Britain has the lowest road death rate of any country in Europe per head of population. (Bulgaria & Romania are at the bottom of the list). Motorcyclists are a real ‘pain; - especially in mid Wales where they like to use the twisting roads through the mountains for speed runs. Most come from cities in England.