Aberystwyth, called the true capital of Wales by some, is a smallish town on the Ceredigion coast, just below the Dyfi estuary. Politically, it's in the heart of Nationalist Wales, and is the birthplace of Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Gymraeg, the Welsh Language movement. It is home to one of the oldest parts of the University of Wales, which is attended by some 9,000 students. It is also home to the National Library of Wales, one of the UK's few copyright libraries, meaning it has the right to claim a copy of every book published in Britain, which also means that it has one of the highest figures for books per head of population in the world. Its other notable - and notorious - feature is the remarkable number of pubs in the town.
Generations of first year students have been brought up on the promise of a pub for every week of the year. True in that there exist over 61 separate physical locations with public bars in the small Welsh town . Aberystwyth has a fairly unique student atmosphere - during term-time the vast majority of young adults are undergraduates and the remoteness of the location creates a more vibrant social life than experienced on most campuses.
'Aber' is at the end of the line, in many senses of the phrase. Direct trains run from Birmingham International. 2 hours from Shrewsbury, 3 from Birmingham. A branch line from Machynlleth provides connections to the coastal towns of West Gwynedd.
Arriva operates the only regular rail service to Aber. Arriva's service is sometimes criticized by locals and students. Arriva promises improvement.
There are two main routes to Aber by road: the A44 comes from the East, and the A487 goes North to South through the town. The best way to actually get there from any particular point is a subject of much debate. Buy a map and have fun. Minimum 3 hours from Birmingham, 2 hours 40 mins from Cardiff, 2 hours 5 mins from Swansea - highly dependent on the number of tractors on the roads.There is also a Park and Ride facility.
Arriva CymruExpress service 40 links Aberystwyth to Carmarthen daily (and hourly M-Sa), with some journeys extended to Swansea (service 20) and Cardiff (service 10). The X32 is the northern equivalent, providing a link to such exciting places as Machynlleth, Dolgellau and Bangor at least twice a day. Traveline: 0871 200 22 33
Aber is a very compact town; walking is by far the easiest way to get around.
If you require motorised transport, taxis are plentiful and relatively cheap.
Buses also run up Penglais hill (where the main University campus is) and to Llanbadarn Fawr (the other campus, and the Morrisons supermarket - largest of its ilk locally).
Parking is a problem in the centre of Aber, but a Park and Ride operates from Park Avenue, with a free bus service every 15 minutes M-Sa.
- The best thing to see in the town is probably the sunset. The view over Cardigan Bay on a summer's evening can be quite stunning. The best places to see the sunset are the long seafront Promenade (see also: Drink), any of the beaches that takes your fancy, the University plaza and the Arts Centre cafe located above.
- 1 Aberystwyth Arts Centre, ☎ . is the largest and busiest arts centre in Wales, boasting a theatre (312 seats), concert hall (900 seats), cinema (125 seats), studio (80 seats) and three gallery spaces. Has a programme of theatre and dance, live music, comedy, exhibitions and cinema. It also runs visual arts and performing arts courses for children and adults of all ages, as well as a dance school with over 500 students enrolled. Has a craftshop, a bookshop two cafes and a theatre bar.
- 2 Ruins of the Castle. Overlooking the bay, is pleasant enough to wander through during the day - there are also picnic tables scattered around the war memorial that shares the space. Don't go venturing there at night, though as the castle is used by less savoury persons after dark.
- 3 Constitution Hill. (and another fine vantage point for sunsets) accessible by funicular railway in season, and a brisk 15 minute walk up to the summit all year round. The views are tremendous, and there is a small museum and Camera Obscura, as well as the obligatory tea shop, at the top.
- 4 The National Library of Wales (from town, take the Penglais Road [the A487 toward Machynlleth] up Penglais Hill; turn right where signposted (after Bronglais Hospital) (the library is at the end of a 400 metre drive overlooking the town), ☎ , fax: . Reading rooms and Entrance Hall Exhibition Area open M-F 09:30-18:00, Sa 09:30-17:00; Gregynog Exhibition Gallery, Peniarth Gallery, The World of the Book open M-Sa 10:00-17:00. Free.
- The National Library of Wales is one of the six legal deposit libraries in the British Isles and has a collection of more than four million printed volumes. In addition, it has collections concentrating in Welsh and other Celtic cultures. The Entrance Hall Exhibition Area and Gregynog Gallery feature regular exhibits, primarily of work by Welsh artists. The Peniarth Gallery and World of the Book feature changing exhibits of items from the library's collections.
A good place to start is the Tourist Information Centre at the seafront end of Terrace Road.
- The main pastime in Aber, at least for its student population, is drinking (i.e. 'the lash'). There are many fine public houses in the town, and many grotty ones, too. See 'Drink' for more details.
- If walking's your thing, then the countryside around Aber is beautiful. A popular walk is to Borth, about 5 miles up a hilly coastal path, which blessed with wonderful beaches. At the northern tip of Borth is Ynyslas, home to a nature reserve of sand dunes and a submerged forest. A short trip out of town by car or bus is Cadair Idris a popular hiking spot with spectacular view (if the weather is good).
- Watersports are another popular activity, but it's probably advisable to take part in organised outings as far as these go. The Irish Sea is famous for its undertow, and most years at least one foolhardy person gets sucked out to sea - usually after a drinking session.
- There are also boat trips out into Cardigan Bay, where dolphins can be seen in the waters, and seals on the islands. These are seasonal, so check at the tourist information centre for latest times and prices. Sea Fishing excursions can also be arranged in the harbour, a great day out with all equipment included in the charter.
- 1 Vale of Rheidol Railway (Rheilffordd Dyffryn Rheidol), Park Avenue, ☎ , fax: . Was the last steam line owned by British Rail until privatisation in 1989. It's now run by a charitable trust. The line climbs up the beautiful Rheidol Valley to Devils Bridge (Pontarfynach), taking about an hour in each direction. Devils Bridge is a major tourist attraction, the site of 3 bridges, each above the other, crossing the deep ravine of the Mynach river where it drops 300 feet to flow into the river Rheidol. Legend has it that the original bridge was built by the Devil as it was too difficult for mortal people to build. The Devil built the bridge in return for the soul of the first life to cross the bridge, but the Devil was tricked by an old woman who threw bread onto the bridge and her dog followed, thus becoming the first life to cross the new bridge. The railway is the best way to visit Devils Bridge as the roads are narrow and winding and parking at Devils Bridge can be a nightmare in peak season. If you're planning on spending a bit of time looking around in Devils Bridge (as well as the bridges and waterfalls there are a couple of pubs and some gift shops, and several waymarked walking trails) be sure to check the times of later trains with the guard when you get off.
Aberystwyth, and the region east to the Cambrian Mountains, provides and excellent base for cycling. The range of terrain ensures that there is something for any level of ability or appertite. The Ystwyth Trail follows a disused railway track and is easy going. The Rheidol Cycleway takes you along country lanes from Aberystwyth to Devil's Bridge, with an optional strenuous climb at the end for those who like a challenge. For adrenaline junkies, there is mountain biking in Nant yr Arian Forest.
- 1 Slater's bakery, 9 North parade Street, ☎ . Long established bakery. The great tasking pasties, pies and rolls make a perfect take-away snack.
- 2 Little Italy, 51 North Parade, ☎ . An excellent if rather oppressively cosy Italian restaurant. The steak is particularly fine.
- 3 Ultracomida Delicatessen, 31 Pier Street, ☎ . Regularly changing menu that includes panini to dine in (two large tables and a bar with stools in the back room) or take away for lunch. Also a delicatessen featuring local and imported foods.
- 4 Piazza Cafe, Aberystwyth Arts Centre. Fantastic range of home-made meals and cakes. Closed on Sundays. With a fantastic seated terrace that overlooks Cardigan bay.
- 5 The Pier Brasserie, The Royal Pier, Marine Terrace, ☎ . A mid-priced restaurant at the end of the Royal Pier. Serves decent food and has good views of the ocean and the Aber seafront. Has a deal currently running where you can get two good-sized pizzas and a bottle of wine for £20.
- 1 Scholars, 10 Queen's Road, ☎ . Local favourite among students, often with live bands at the weekend, and with a decent selection of beers. The Guinness is usually good as it is ordered regularly and so doesn't sit in the pipes.
- 2 Rummers, Bridge Street, ☎ . Rowdy traditional pub with nice walls and slate floors. It opens late at the weekends. Live music of varying quality on Friday and Saturday. Tuesday is cheep vodka night, this is the most important event of the Aber week. Good place to finish a night out if you don't fancy dancing to cheesy music on a sticky dance floor
- Glengower Hotel, 3 Victoria Terrace, The Promenade, SY23 2DH, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A nice bar on the sea front. Quiet in the evenings but gets busy on nice days. The beer garden offers stunning views of the sunset and perhaps a couple of dolphins too but, beware, the sea is a cruel mistress. It is rumoured that the late Liz Taylor's grandaughter worked behind the bar.
- 3 The Angel, 57-59 Great Darkgate Street, ☎ . This dank and grimy dive is ideal if you're looking to indulge your dark side. With warm pints and the worst toilets you've ever dreamed of it's not one to take your granny to. The rock and fetish nights held in the back room are popular. Probably the cheapest pub in the town.
- 4 Y Cwps (The Coopers Arms), Northgate Street, ☎ . Recently renovated (although not dramatically) the Cwps - as it's generally known - has a long relationship with Welsh language campaigns and music.
- 5 The Inn on the Pier, Royal Pier, Marine Terrace, SY23 2AZ, ☎ . Although 'The Pinn' isn't the nicest place for a drink - and certainly won't be somewhere you'll find a real ale - it is on the Pier jutting out into the bay and offers a truly unique experience, especially in a storm!
- 6 The Ship and Castle, 1 High Street. The Campaign for Real Ale pub of the year in 2011, this recently-renovated bar features a rotating set of ales, well-informed staff and a cozy atmosphere. Is very popular so can get packed on weekends, but definitely worth checking out if you're visiting.
- 1 Midfield Holiday and Residential Park, Southgate (about a mile out of town on the Devils Bridge road), ☎ , fax: . Quiet camping and caravan site on a hillside overlooking the town, fantastic views of Aberystwyth and Cardigan Bay. Free wifi.
- Aberystwyth University (during vacation periods only), ☎ . from £18 per night for a single room.
- The Shelley Town Residence, 19 Prospect St, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 2-minute walk from both the beach and Aberystwyth town centre. £30 per night.
- 2 Harry's Hotel & Bistro, 40-46 North Parade, ☎ .
- 3 Llwynygog Guest House, 33 Queens Road, SY23 2HN, ☎ . 2 minutes’ walk from the beach. £52 for 2 persons.
- 4 Maes Y Mor, 25 Bath Street, SY23 2NN, ☎ . 2-minute walk away to beach and the bus and train stations are also nearby. £28-35 single.
- 5 The Glengower Hotel, 3 Victoria Terrace, The Promenade, SY23 2DH, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Bar and free wifi.
- 6 Marine Hotel, 49-52 Marine Terrace (Right on the prom), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Single: £38 - £65.
- 7 Nanteos Mansion Country House Hotel (Nanteos Hotel), Nanteos, SY23 4LU (2 miles outside Aberystwyth; the nearest train station to Nanteos is Aberystwyth.), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. £75 per person = £400.
- 8 Brynhyfryd, Clarach Road (Aberystwyth centre is approx 1.2 miles.). £159-350.
- 9 Gwesty Cymru, 19 Marine Terrace (Right on the prom), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Great Welsh Hotel £60-72 (single).
Aberystwyth offers a very safe environment and is probably one of the few places remaining in Britain where an unlocked door doesn't guarantee burglary.
Friday and Saturday nights can be a bit boisterous during the summer, though incidences of drink related violence are still far less than in large cities.
Also, the sea can be a cruel mistress (see above: Glengower Hotel).