Being sandwiched between Pembrokeshire, Brecon and Cardigan, Carmarthenshire rarely comes to mind when planning a holiday in Wales. But there’s more than meets the eye with this county! If you give it a chance, I know you’ll be wonderfully surprised by the many things to do in Carmarthenshire.
With its glacial lakes, ancient parklands, miles of gardens and undulating mountainscape, there’s an undeniable reason as to why the county has been named the “Garden of Wales”. The area is also home to the world’s largest single-span glasshouse, at The National Botanic Garden of Wales.
On top of all this, there are several ancient castles, the only Premonstratensian monastery in Wales and sweeping beaches. All of these boast centuries of history, beautiful scenery and activities to suit all ages!
So, without further ado, let me introduce to you the many extraordinary things to do in Carmarthenshire for your next holiday in Wales!
Where is Carmarthenshire?
Carmarthenshire is ideally situated for travellers looking to explore all of South Wales. It spans from Carmarthen Bay in the south, the Cambrian Mountains in the north and the Brecon Beacons in the west. There are three main towns; Carmarthen, Llanelli and Ammanford, and all are great for shopping, theatre and nights out on the town.
There are several transport options to reach Carmarthenshire. If you’re driving, come along the M5, M6, M42 or M50. You can also reach the major towns by bus or rail.
Gardens in Carmarthenshire
The National Botanic Garden of Wales
The National Botanic Garden of Wales is perhaps one of the most enjoyable things to do in Carmarthenshire for both children and adults. You can spend the day running around gardens, watching birds of prey or exploring the old ice house. Visitors can also discover the recently finished Regency Restoration Project.
The Regency landscape is now in the garden’s Waun Las National Nature Reserve, where you can see a tranquil bluebell woodland, tumbling waterfalls, and a weir.
You’ll also come across two lakes on this walk around the reserve: Llyn Mawr and Llyn Felin Gat. The former is one of the largest lakes at the Botanic Gardens. It’s over 65,000m3 in size. On the othe rhand, Llyn Felin Gat has a natural-looking cascade and a wooden-rustic bridge. This is perfect for watching the water cascading beneath you!
- Address: National Botanic Garden of Wales, Middleton Hall, Llanarthne, Carmarthenshire, SA32 8HN
- Entry fee: Children under 5 are free; Children age 5-16 are £6; Adults are £12.50
- Cafe: Located in the Stable Block is the Botanica Cafe
Any fans of the hit TV show, A Discovery of Witches, will recognise Aberglasney Gardens as the gardens for Sept-Tours – the home of the de Clermont family. But Aberglasney Gardens has been a source of delight and pride for locals for many years. For these reasons, the gardens should be on your list of things to do in Carmarthenshire on your next holiday in Wales.
Aberglasney is situated in Llangathen and is concealed within the valley by a surfeit of bushes and trees. But when you drive through the gates, a path of bluebells and daffodils leads to an exquisite mansion. Built in the Regency style, the house boasts a classic Grecian design with a grand entrance, cornices and symmetrical bay windows!
Inside the mansion is a sub-tropical garden called the Ninfarium! This means an indoor sub-tropical garden with a glass roof. The house is also used for events and exhibitions throughout the year, including an art gallery by local artist, Elaine Graham. This artist happens to be my godmother!
Beyond the property lies 10 acres of gardens and woodlands. It’s famed amongst locals for its detailed walled garden and expansive ponds. There’s even rare flora here, including candelabra primulas and red blossomed camellia. But for me, the best bit about the Aberglasney Gardens is the Tea Rooms overlooking the Pool Garden.
- Address: Aberglasney Gardens, Llangathen, Carmarthenshire, SA32 8QH, UK
- Entry fee: £9.75 per person; Children under 16 enter for free
- Cafe: The tea rooms overlook the wonderful pond and serve locally sourced cuisine
- Dog-friendly: Dogs are not permitted
Castles in South Wales
Dinefwr Park and Castle
A lot is going on at Dinefwr Park. There’s a folkloric castle within the parkland, a National Trust Wales property called Newton House, a deer park, and miles of sweeping countryside walks. For this reason, it’s one of my favourite things to do in Carmarthenshire and is ideal for a day out in the Welsh countryside. From all these points in the park, you can see Dinefwr Castle. The castle is owned by Cadw and dates to the 12th century to when it was the chief seat of the Kingdom of Deheubarth. It’s an imposing fortress overlooking the Tywi Valley, meandering Tywi River and the technicolour dream coat of villages – Llandeilo.
In addition, there’s a circular walking route taking visitors around the National Nature Reserve, which holds an 800 acres estate. This has over 300 trees at least 400 years old, plus ancient pastureland, valley views populated with fallow deer and rare white park cattle. These cattle date back to the myth of the Lady in the Lake at Llyn Y Fan Fach which is only a few miles from here.
- Address: Dinefwr Park, Newton House, Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, SA19 6RT
- Entry fee: Yes (if you park in the car park, which is £5); No if you park in Llandeilo and walk up to the castle via the local footpath
- Cafe: There is a cafe next to Newton House
Dryslwyn Castle sits atop an isolated rocky knoll in the Tywi Valley. It is positioned halfway between Llandeilo and Carmarthen. Dryslwyn Castle was also an important seat of the ancient South Wales Kingdom of Deheubarth. In 1287 it witnessed the conflict between the Welsh and English forces and is considered the most important remaining structure built by a Welsh chieftain.
You can also see the dominating Paxton’s Tower on the opposite hill from this castle. The hike up to Dryslwyn is clearly defined, albeit challenging. Be prepared to barter with the immovable resident sheep.
- Address: Dryslwyn, Carmarthen, SA32 8RW
- Entry fee: There’s no entrance fee
- Cafe: No cafe
A country road leads to Llansteffan Castle, and on one side, there’s green farmland overshadowed by a grand manor house. The other side is a dense jungle of trees. There’s no mistaking it, you’re in the heart of the Welsh countryside here! The view from the castle reaffirms this with its rolling hills in one direction and the sea and sand of Tywi Estuary and Carmarthen Bay in the other. For no other reason, Llansteffan should be at the top of your castles of Wales list!
This site has been occupied since prehistoric times, and its rugged stone walls date from the 12th century. Despite its ruined state, there are a few well-preserved buildings. One thing is for sure, Llansteffan Castle still maintains its ability to intimidate, making it one of the best castles in South Wales. Immediately below Llansteffan Castle is Llansteffan Beach, complete with sea-front cafes, a children’s play area and a Wales Coastal Path route. This path leads to the lesser-known Scott’s Bay. Unfortunately, the Bay is only accessible at low tide.
- Address: Llansteffan Castle, Church Rd, Carmarthen, SA33 5JX
- Entry fee: No entrance fee
- Cafe: There is a cafe at the bottom of the hill by Llansteffan Beach
Carreg Cennen Castle
Haunting, dramatic and ghostly, Carreg Cennen Castle appears to be the real-life version of Weathertop – the eerie summit where the Ringwraiths stabbed Frodo in Lord of the Rings. Situated atop a limestone precipice nearly 300ft above the River Cennen, this ruin dominates the skyline for miles. The castle overlooks spell-binding views of the Carmarthenshire and Brecon Beacons countryside, and translates as ‘castle on the rock above Cennen’.
The Carreg Cennen Castle walk is about 5.5 miles for those looking to embrace the Welsh countryside. This walk starts from the castle car park. It then drops down to cross the river Cennen before rising on the other side through bucolic woodland and then on into open moorland.
- Address: Carreg Cennen Castle, Trapp, Llandeilo, SA19 6UA
- Entry fee: £4 for adults; £3.50 for children
- Cafe: There is a tearoom open until 5 pm
Protruding out of the score of hills blanketing the parish of Llanarthne, Paxton’s Tower is a grand neo-Gothic design that’s been ostentatiously garnishing the countryside since the 19th century. Once the colour of pink, the tower was built by William Paxton to remind voters of everything they could have had if they had voted for him in the local elections. From here, you can see the National Botanic Garden of Wales (formally Paxton’s Middleton Hall Estate). The Gardens are just a few minutes down the road from here. In addition, both Dinefwr Castle and Dryslwyn Castle are visible from here, which – put together – make for a lovely day out exploring castles in South Wales.
- Address: Paxton’s Tower, Llanarthne, Carmarthenshire, SA32 8HX
- Entry fee: No entrance fee
- Cafe: No cafe
Talley Abbey is the true definition of a hidden gem in South Wales as it’s the only Premonstratensian Abbey in Wales. On top of this, Talley Abbey’s skeletal ruins are surrounded by a cute ensemble of stone cottages, comprising the 19th-century village of Talley, two lakes and three woodland walking routes.
The area is shrouded in royal history, with its beginning stemming from Rhys ap Gruffydd, who gave this land to the emerging French monastic order. Centuries later, Henry Tudor stayed in the village on his way to fight King Richard at the Battle of Bosworth. So, if you’re looking for solitude and complete immersion in the Welsh countryside, add Talley Abbey to your list of things to do in Carmarthenshire for your next holiday in Wales.
- Address: Talley, Llandeilo, SA19 7YY
- Entry fee: No entrance fee
- Cafe: No cafe
Towns in Carmarthenshire
Laugharne’s crowning jewels are the Dylan Thomas boathouse and the town’s Dylan’s Birthday Walk. However, there’s much more to Laugharne than the Welsh poet, including an undulating coastal walk that leads to Llansteffan Beach and Laugharne Castle.
Situated on the River Tâf estuary, Laugharne Castle is a 12th-century establishment with ties to the Normans, the Tudors, the English Civil War and peace treaties. Now it’s considered one of the most romantic ruins in Wales with its domed roof and a circular stairway. On top of this, the town has ties to both Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley. In addition, there are some wonderful pubs and shops to nose around.
- Address: Laugharne Castle, King St, Laugharne, Carmarthen SA33 4FA
- Entry fee: Laugharne Castle – £4.20 for adults and £2.50 for children; for Dylan Thomas Boathouse, it’s £4.75 for adults and £2.00 for children
- Dog-friendly: Dogs on leads are welcome in Laugharne Castle
Come and explore Wales’ very own Balamory town by spending the day browsing Llandeilo’s independent art galleries, cafes – including The Hangout – and boutique shops. Despite its proximity to the Brecon Beacons, this market town has remained relatively quiet. This means there’s a strong sense of local community, and visitors can enjoy the charming row of colourful houses in peace.
- Address: Llandeilo town centre has an SA19 postcode
Estates in Carmarthenshire
Newton House is a Grade II* listed building owned by National Trust Wales. It is said to be the most haunted property in their care. This house has remained in the same family for over 300 years. The family happen to be the descendants of Lord Rhys.
Newton House was first built in 1660, and throughout the years, it has undergone numerous changes. In the 1850s, a fashionable Gothic facade was added to the house’s exterior, which can still be seen today.
At the back of the house, a fountain garden overlooks the deer park. If you’re lucky, you might spot a few of the majestic creatures! Inside, you’ll find the couch used in Downton Abbey – pictured below!
- Address: Newton House, Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, SA19 6RT
- Entry fee: Yes, the car park is £5
- Cafe: There is a cafe next to Newton House
- Dog-friendly: No
Gelli Aur Country Park
Comprised of 60 acres of woodland, Gelli Aur is a country park surrounding the Golden Grove mansion. It is halfway between Llanarthne and Llandeilo. The park features a number of nature trails, a 20-acre deer park and a 10-acre Arboretum.
The mansion itself has had a chequered history. It was once the largest and most important estate in South West Wales with 50 acres, including five castles and 12 manors. It has been closed for many years now, but with funding from Visit Wales, it is being restored to its former glory. Today, parts are open to the public.
- Address: Golden Grove, Carmarthen SA32 8LR
- Entry fee: £4 to enter the Arboretum
- Cafe: Yes, next to the car park
- Dog-friendly: Dogs on leads are welcome
Where to Eat in Carmarthenshire
Several cafes, pubs and restaurants in Carmarthenshire are worth visiting. For a luxurious Michelin Star restaurant, try Mansion House Llansteffan.
For locally sourced cuisine and delicious Vegan dishes, head to The Warren in Carmarthen or The Hangout in Llandeilo. Wright’s Food Emporium in Llanarthne is a five-minute drive from Paxton’s Tower, Dryslwyn and The National Botanic Garden of Wales. They serve organic wholefood dishes and have a shop full of local ingredients and fresh homemade bread!
Do any of these things to do in Carmarthenshire stand out to you?
Will you make a visit to this county? If so, let me know in the comments below.