Aberystwyth: An icon of Welsh culture

26 January 2022

This charming and lively university town has something to offer everyone, from active young families to those who enjoy slower-paced, more relaxing getaways.

As with any coastal town, the sea is a vital feature, and the beaches in Aber all serve different purposes. South Beach is vast, stony, and dog-friendly, whereas North Beach is more your classic sunbathing beach (weather permitted, of course).

A small section of beach between the two is perfect for rock pooling and the elevated promenade is a wonderful spot for some crab fishing. 

There are also active surfing, kayaking, and swimming clubs that make the most of Aber’s seaside position. Dolphins are known to come close enough to see clearly from the promenade, a rare and magical sight.

Now, before I begin sharing the other wonders of this area, I must declare my bias. I lived in Aber for five years while studying at the university and loved every moment of it.

Hopefully, by sharing the experiences I had while in Aber, I’ll inspire you to book a trip and visit this one-of-a-kind town.

A Welsh cultural hub

Aberystwyth claims the unofficial title of the Cultural Capital of Wales and this accolade is deserved for a few reasons.

The town is home to the National Library of Wales, the oldest university in Wales, and is a cultural link between the North and the South of Wales.

A good way of getting to grips with the town would be walking the length of the beautiful promenade before “kicking the bar”.

It’s a tradition that began over a century ago where you kick the white metal barrier on the far northern end of the promenade after you’ve completed the walk.

Male students trying to get the attention and affection of the nearby sleeping female students is where this tradition is thought to have been started.

Today, everyone who completes the walk is invited to do the same.

The promenade walk showcases many of the great features of the town which I’ll tell you more about: the Castle, the Royal Pier, Constitution Hill, and the fabulous selection of restaurants and pubs.

At the right time of day, you’ll also get to see the breath-taking sunset as the sun disappears beneath the waves of the Irish Sea.

It’s especially true during midwinter when the town is invaded by tens of thousands of starlings.

These huge, mesmerising flocks are silhouetted against the evening sky as they weave in and out from under the pier – they’re truly a sight to behold.

History and the castle

Let me begin by telling you a bit of the town’s history and showcasing one of its most iconic landmarks.

Aberystwyth is located on what was a border region between three different Welsh Kingdoms around 1,000 years ago.

Usually, the town was controlled by the House of Dinefwr but was often attacked and captured by the Kingdom of Powys to the east or the Kingdom of Gwynedd to the north.

This battle-scarred history eventually led to the construction of Aberystwyth Castle.

The castle ruins are an iconic landmark of the town. Located right in the centre of the town, it’s elevated over the rocky beach and provides an open area for all to enjoy.

There’s no entrance fee to the castle and many locals, students, and visitors alike relish the grounds to walk their dogs, enjoy some food on the benches, or wait to watch the stunning sunset.


Pubs and restaurants

Interested in more of a boozy trip to Aber? Take it from an ex-student: there are certainly plenty of options.

Whether this claim is an urban myth or a bona fide reality, it’s a fact that there’s a wide and diverse selection of drinking establishments for you to visit.

Bottle & Barrel has a quirky and cosy interior and is perfect for exploring a huge selection of ales, many of them brewed in Wales.

Despite its smaller size, the pub also has a garden with outdoor heating, a classic arcade machine, and often has a very chill Golden Retriever mooching around.

What more could you want?

The Cambrian is the classic student pub. Known for its countless different cocktails, it’s a must for any pub crawl.

The walls are essentially the menu. A huge section of the bar’s walls is covered by artistic representations of the different cocktails on offer.

There are some other great options for meals out. The Glengower is a pub in name but restaurant by the quality of the food they serve, plus it is located right on the promenade.

If you are feeling brave and want to try to use a bit of the Welsh language in a natural environment, Byrgyr is a great burger restaurant that encourages Welsh learners to practice their skills.

But if you’re in the mood for some Mediterranean cuisine, The Medina (which is very accommodating to Vegans), Little Italy, and the Olive Branch are all highly recommended.


The Royal Pier

The Royal Pier was the first pleasure pier built in Wales and was opened in the 1860s. Today, you’ll find a nightclub, a pub, a restaurant, a chippy, a large snooker room, and an arcade.

There’s also lots of outdoor seating with magnificent views, both out to Cardigan Bay and back looking at the Aber promenade.

The Inn on the Pier (Inn-on to its locals) is a top-tier Aberystwyth pub in its own right. Plenty of TVs for sport, a super-quick kitchen for snacks and pizzas, and regular quiz nights make it a favourite with tourists and locals.

Like Inn-on, the upstairs restaurant is a great place to relax and dine with the company of friends and family.

Final mentions

There are so many more aspects of the town you must experience.

Aber is flanked by two large hills: Constitution Hill to its north and Pen Dinas to its South. Both have well-marked out paths which lead to stunning views of Aber, the surrounding areas, and Cardigan Bay.

Consti is also served by a classic cliff railway which transports visitors from the bottom of the hill to the café and bar at the top.

Bwlch Nant yr Arian is only a few miles away from the town if you’re up for some stunning walking and bike trails.

It’s also at the forefront of the recent efforts to increase the population of Red Kites in the UK. Birds are always flying over the hilltops and forests, but for a closer encounter, you need to go during feeding time.

There’s so much more that this town has to offer. I’m sure this itinerary has inspired you to visit this truly unique coastal town.