There are so many reasons why you must visit Rhayader, a historic market town in the Cambrian Mountains area of Wales.
Here you’ll find boutique shopping and rustic pubs as well as hiking, biking, historic dams and world-class stargazing.
It’s a perfect base for exploring the scenic Elan Valley Estate and the surrounding countryside and nearby Welsh towns.
Many visitors head to this small, crossroad town to experience a wide range of outdoor activities including hiking and mountain biking.
You really need to stay and play in the actual town itself to enjoy the boutique shops, traditional pubs and cute cafes.
Why you must visit Rhayader
Very few market towns in Wales are quite as strategically positioned as Rhayader. It’s considered to be the very centre of Wales.
Situated at the crossroads of the A44 and A470 and in the upper end of the Elan Valley, Rhayader is the first town on the River Wye. It acts as a busy crossroad between east, west, north and south.
The town has long been a hub for weary travellers and was used as a staging post for drovers and those travelling the long London to Aberystwyth route.
The town dates right back to the 5th century and has had a varied and turbulent historical timeline.
Some of the key historical events include the destruction of the Castle of Gwrtheyrnion and the growth of sheep and cattle drovers of the 18th and 19th century.
The town was also centre stage in the Rebecca Riots, a series of protests against economic conditions in the rural areas of Wales between 1839 and 1843.
You can still see the remnants of history throughout the town, with many beautiful historic buildings and features that have survived the relentless march of time.
Today, the town is an ideal hub for nature tourism and thrilling outdoor adventure experiences in Wales.
Unlike similar-sized market towns though, you have to work a little to discover the best parts of Rhayader.
It’s almost a reluctant outdoors destination with its unique selling points not shouted about nearly enough.
Don’t let Rhayader’s coyness deter you, this is a town with so much to offer as well as huge, untapped potential.
Discover boutique shopping in Rhayader
There’s a variety of independent shops and producers to be discovered in Rhayader.
Spend a morning browsing in the compact shopping area and hunt down local gifts and products.
As well as the usual essentials, you’ll find antiques, local crafts, pottery, upcycled clothing and unique souvenirs on the main shopping street.
Some of the shops in Rhayader include:
- Hafod Hardware
- Quillies Gallery
- Bob The Butchers Ltd
- Oriel Fach Gallery
- Clive Powell Bikes
- West Street Antiques Centre
- Number Eight Clothing
A great place to get unique souvenirs is at the rather retro Hafod Hardware. a traditional family-run hardware store that has been open since 1895.
Alongside DIY items, kitchenware and outdoor products, you’ll also find a range of Vintage style tourism prints of Mid-Wales, Rhayader mugs and chocolate bars.
Explore the Elan Valley Dams
Rhayader is the gateway of the glorious Elan Valley, home to the spectacular dams and reservoirs of the Elan and Claerwen Valleys.
This magnificent network of dams was built over a hundred years ago to supply water to Birmingham. They remain today, attracting thousands of visitors each year.
The dams are an extremely photogenic backdrop for walkers, photographers and cyclists. There are also some fabulous picnic spots near the dams.
There are 5 main dams that you can visit in the area. These include Claerwen, Craig Goch, Pen y Garreg, Garreg Ddu and Caban Coch.
Elan Valley dam open days
Start your Dam discovery by going to the Elan Valley Visitor Centre, located below Caban Coch Dam. Here you can learn more about the history and the building of the dams.
Entrance to the Visitor Centre is free, and the £2.50 parking charge covers you for the whole of the Estate’s car parks, all day.
You can even go inside one of the dams if you visit on one of their popular Dam open days.
Venture inside the Pen y Garreg Dam and up to the central tower. You’ll enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the dam wall which makes for some incredible photos.
Go hiking in Rhayader
Rhayader boasts numerous day hikes and long-distance hikes in and around the town.
If you are looking for more of a gentle stroll or a walk with the family, follow the signpost for the riverside walk.
It’s a relaxing and easy stroll next to the River Wye that also allows for some wildlife spotting.
If you want to make a morning of it, you can pack your own picnic and lay a blanket down near the river.
There are also several hiking trails in the nearby Elan Valley that range in length and difficulty.
If you are attempting any long walks, make sure you have proper hiking boots and always carry water with you.
Check out the Ramblers website for routes, guidance and advice on walking in Wales.
Elan Valley trail
One of the most popular walks in the Elan Valley is the Elan Valley Trail that follows the route from the old railway line. It’s one of the easier walks in the area as it’s a mostly flat linear trail and surfaced paths.
The Elan Valley Trail starts in Cwmdauddwr, just west of Rhayader. It finishes 8 miles further up the valley at Craig Goch Dam.
Guided walks in the Elan Valley are also available through the year if you want to walk with a local expert? Visit the Elan Valley events calendar for upcoming guided walks.
Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail
Offa’s Dyke Path is a national, long-distance footpath that broadly follows the Wales–England border for 182 miles.
It runs along the ancient Offa’s Dyke, an 8m high earth embankment built in the 8th century by King Offa that acted a boundary between Wales and England
The trail is within easy reach of Rhayader and offers keen walkers some of the Cambrian Mountains most awe-inspiring scenery.
Fear not, you don’t need to attempt the entire trek, you can easily pick small sections near Rhayader for scenic day hikes.
Race around the pump track
It’s only right that the biking capital of the UK has its very own pump track to play on. Pump Track Wales is the UK’s first split sprint pump track and offers daring visitors a thrilling ride.
The track can be used by suitably proficient BMXers, skaters and rollerbladers and includes a series of slopes, banked turns, hips and berms.
Track design also allows riders to race against each other, splitting either way on a mirrored circuit back to the start.
Whilst it’s advertised as being suitable for all riders from beginners to pros, It’s really important to ride within your own ability.
Previous pump track experience would be preferable as there are some challenging features on this track.
Whilst I approached the track with a ‘challenge Anneka’ mentality, it was hard to escape the reality that I’m a middle-aged woman on a very small bike. I don’t think I’ll be taking up BMXing anytime soon.
Experience Stargazing in the Elan Valley
If the conditions are right, there are some incredible stargazing opportunities in Rhayader and the Elan Valley. Here you find offers world-class stargazing and immersive dark sky events.
In 2015, the Elan Valley Estate became the first privately owned and publicly accessible park in the world to achieve International Dark Sky Park status.
If you fancy a late-night gazing at the stars, there are several sites you can visit including Claerwen car park, Craig Goch, Teifi Pools and Pont Ar Elan.
Love astrophotography? You can photograph the vast cosmos in a beautiful setting with low light pollution in the Elan Valley.
The Elan Valley Astronomy Group holds regular meet-ups at night in the Elan Valley visitor centre to educate visitors on the night sky and give people a chance to explore it through telescopes.
Drive the mountain road from Rhayader to Cymystwyth
Love scenic drives? You’ll be blown away by the winding mountain road from Rhayader to Cymystwyth. It’s been described by the AA as being one of the most scenic drives in the world.
The B4518 road links Cwmystwyth and Rhayader and is one of the dreamiest drives in Wales.
Experience some of the wildest landscapes in Wales as the road twists and turns through remote valleys.
It’s an ideal route for sightseeing, travel photography, or stopping for a romantic picnic.
Feed red kites at Gigrin Farm
Wild red kites are one of the wildlife highlights of Rhyader and the surrounding area and can be spotted across the landscape.
They are a remarkable bird of prey with angled wings and a distinctive forked tail.
You can see local red kites being fed at Gigrin Farm every day. They dramatically swoop in to pick up pieces of meat that are thrown for them.
It really is wonderful to see these impressive birds perform breathtaking aerial stunts.
If you have a decent camera and lenses, I recommend bringing them to get some incredible wildlife shots.
Discover cycling routes in Rhayader
Rhayader is keen to position itself as the home of biking in the UK thanks to its mix of spectacular on and off-road cycling routes that are suitable for a range of biking abilities.
There’s a variety of long-distance, off-road and circular routes in and around Rhayader, with several routes leading into town.
Some of the popular cycle routes in Rhayader include:
- Route 825 – 66-mile cycle route that starts in Rhayader and predominantly runs through Powys. It’s a mix of mountain roads, trails and valleys.
- Radnor Ring – 84-mile circular route with a mix of on and off-road cycling through the beautiful scenery of the Cambrian Mountains.
- Route 81 – 118-mile route that runs from coastal Aberystwyth all the way to Wolverhampton. The section that runs through Wales is called Lôn Cambria.
Make sure to also check out the Sustrans website for help with cycle route planning and information.
Mountain Bike Wales tour
Want to be guided through the most beautiful scenery in the area? Take a guided bike tour through the nearby Elan Valley with Mountain Bike Wales.
Let expert bikers Phil and Polly guide you through rugged landscapes and rocky trails on two wheels.
Go on a guided tour with MTB and bike through rivers, over hills and along bridleways as you traverse some pretty epic landscapes.
Grab a GoPro and make sure to get some snaps and footage of your thrilling bike journey through some of the most isolated parts of Wales.
Rhayader Museum and Gallery
The Rhayader museum is volunteer-run and is dedicated to the heritage of Rhayader and the surrounding area.
The displays have a strong, local focus and take a look at a range of historical and heritage elements, including the Elan Valley dams and Celtic and Roman jewellery.
Here you’ll find ceramics, glass, jewellery and textiles made by local artists, old photos, and objects from daily life.
Where to eat in Rhayader
Whilst there are a number of independent cafes and pubs in town, the dining selection can be a little limited with similar menus across establishments.
More eating options in the town, or the presence of a trendy delicatessen, or contemporary wine bar would be advantageous for Rhayader.
You’ll be spoiled for choice for drinking options in Rhayader though, it has more pubs per head of population than anywhere else in the UK.
The usual pub food can be found across town, with fish and chips, pies and burgers gracing most of the menus.
There’s a handful of independent cafes including the quirky Lost Arc Cafe and the old Swan Tea Rooms, for coffee, cakes and lunch.
Lovely places to eat in Rhayader include:
- Ty Morgans
- The Lamb & Flag
- Elan Hotel Restaurant
- Triangle Inn
- Crown Inn
Tŷ Morgan’s Bistro
Tŷ Morgan’s is a modern guesthouse situated in the centre of Rhayader. It’s also a relaxed cafe by day and inviting bistro by night serving a range of freshly cooked meals.
I would recommend starting your day by feasting on their hearty Welsh breakfast. Especially if you’re going on a vigorous cycle route that day!
The Triangle Inn
The Triangle Inn is a snug, 16th-century inn with low ceilings, a real fire and local ales.
Visiting The Triangle will offer a proper pub experience in Wales, with a hint of rustic charm.
The menu is typical of the kind of gastropub offerings in the area. Choose from pub classics homemade curry, burgers, fish and chips and lamb shank.
Lost Arc Cafe
Blink and you might miss this quirky community cafe and music hall. The unassuming exterior of the Lost Arc Cafe belies its kooky, shabby chic interior.
Feast on a selection of homemade dishes including breakfasts, cakes, subs, salads and soups.
Make sure to order their homemade Welsh Rarebit that oozes with cheesy goodness with a hint of Welsh ale.
Where to stay in Rhayader
Rhayader has a brilliant range of accommodation if you’re looking for somewhere to stay for the weekend? There’s a lot of high-quality accommodation in the Cambrian Mountains area.
Choose from local hotels, self-catering cottages, traditional B&B’s, quirky AirBnb’s and camping sites.
You can find a hotel to suit your budget and length of time by using online price comparison sites such as Booking.com to find the best hotel deals in the area.
Places to stay in Rhayader include:
Mid Wales Holiday Lets
For self-catering accommodation in Rhayader, look no further than the award-winning Mid Wales Holiday Lets.
Stay in stylish apartments right in the heart of Rhayader with a range of accommodation options to suit groups, couples and families.
Depending on your group size and needs, choose from Glandwr House, The Old Drapers, The Bakehouse and The Cwtch.
Mid Wales Holiday Lets are constantly striving to improve their customer offerings.
The property was originally built in 1902 and has been lovingly restored and renovated to contain 3-holiday apartments.
Their apartments are a very high standard, with group travel, accessibility and customer service in mind.
It’s the small touches like fresh milk in the fridge and a welcoming Bara brith that really make a difference here.
Self-catering accommodation Rhayader
Cycling and hiking groups can take advantage of a number of features including a washing machine and drying cupboard for wet kit, bike hire, Secure bike storage and activity deals. Pets are allowed on request, though charges may be applicable.
If you’re looking for a couple’s break or family getaway, Mid Wales Holiday Lets offer homely comforts in a contemporary setting.
You’ll find a range of amenities and features including a fully equipped kitchen, luxury bedding, TV, WiFi and a wall-hung fire.
Penbont House is located around 20 minutes away from Rhayader, in the middle of the Elan Valley. It’s a quiet stay in the Welsh countryside surrounded by nature.
This cute B&B is right by the Pen y Garreg Dam, so you can stroll down the dam to take some early morning shots.
Enjoy delicious homemade cakes and food in relaxed surroundings.
Afternoon tea is also available and consists of freshly prepared sandwiches, cakes, scones and tea or coffee.
It has been carefully refurbished and extended to provide 5 ensuite rooms, as well as a light and airy conservatory and tea rooms.
Is Rhayader worth visiting?
Thanks to Rhayader Town Council and Rhayader 2000 for partnering with me for this content.
As you can see there are many reasons Why you must visit Rhayader. It’s a historic and scenic town that’s ideally located to explore the Elan Valley.
What do you think of my guide To Rhayader? Are you planning to visit this charming Market town? Let us know in the comments below.
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