Best things to do in the Wye Valley & Forest of Dean

by Jan

The Wye Valley is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the UK which straddles the border of England and Wales.  Just to the east of the Wye Valley, you’ll find the picturesque Forest of Dean.  This beautiful area of ancient woodland covers the land between the Rivers Wye and Severn.

We stayed in Upper Lyndhurst in the Wye Valley when our holiday plans for Wales were cancelled because of lockdown.  This was the perfect base for exploring the Wye Valley and neighbouring Forest of Dean.  Both offer a stunning natural environment, as well as family attractions that everyone can enjoy.

Read on to find out what we got up to and our best things to do in the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean with kids.

Best things to do in the Wye Valley

Goodrich Castle

View of remains of Goodrich Castle, Wye Valley, UK

One of favourite family days out in the Wye Valley was a visit to Goodrich Castle.

Goodrich Castle is an impressive medieval castle on the outskirts of Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire.  It was built by English landowner Godric in the late 11th Century.  However, it was rebuilt and extended by French nobleman (and uncle of King Edward I), William de Valance in the late 13th Century.

Although only the ruins of Goodrich Castle remain, we were able to go inside and see how the castle would have looked in its heyday.  Our favourite parts were the very dark dungeon and the climb up the extremely narrow, spiral staircase in the keep.  From here, we could see for miles around over the Wye Valley and Herefordshire countryside.

The castle is managed by English Heritage who host seasonal family events throughout the year.  We had a spook-tacular time at Halloween listening to two actors telling ghostly stories!

Read more:  Exploring Goodrich Castle

Small boy looking from Castle arched window, Goodrich Castle, Goodrich, Herefordshire, UK

Symonds Yat Rock

Wye Valley View from Symonds Yat Rock, Gloucestershire, UK

High above the River Wye, with views sweeping over the Wye Valley, is the iconic viewpoint, Symonds Yat Rock.  It has the best views around and is one of the places you must visit in the Wye Valley.

You have a choice of five walking trails and one cycling trail at Symonds Yat.  We went early to spot Peregrine Falcons, who regularly come here, but were not in luck.  However, we did enjoy one of the family walking trails, which took us on a circular route through the woodland.

The Forestry Commission manage this beautiful, natural environment, which is another fantastic place to enjoy the great outdoors in the Wye Valley.

Two boys examing way marker at Symonds Yat Rock summit, Wye Valley, Gloucestershire, UK

The Wye Valley Visitor Centre

The Wye Valley Visitor Centre offers a choice of four family attractions, so is perfect if you’re looking for fun things to do in the Wye Valley.  Choose from an aMazing Hedge Puzzle, mini golf or Laser Tag.  They also have their own butterfly zoo.

You’ll find the Visitor Centre just outside Symonds Yat West.

Wye Valley Butterfly Farm

If you’re looking for family things to do on a rainy day in the Wye Valley, head to the Wye Valley Butterfly Zoo.  Here you’ll find a fantastic collection of exotic butterflies at different stages of their life cycle.

The Butterfly Zoo is open from 10am every day.

A visit to Ross-on-Wye

Inside St Mary the Virgin Church, Ross-on-Wye, Wye Valley, Herefordshire, UK

Ross-on-Wye is a pretty market town on the River Wye.  You can see the iconic spire of St Mary the Virgin Church from miles away.

Have a mooch in the independent shops, visit the Market House or take a walk around Prospect Gardens.  Then stop for lunch at one of the pubs or cafes.

King Arthur's Cave

View of two boys looking out from King Arthurs Cave, Wye Valley, UK

If you are looking for adventure in the Wye Valley, what about a quest to find King Arthur’s Cave?

King Arthur’s Cave is thousands of years old and archaeologists have even found remains of pre-historic animals there.  The cave has a double entrance, with two main chambers and are big enough to stand in.  It’s the largest of several limestone caves and ideal for mini-explorers.

You can do a scenic circular walk from Symond’s Yat East to King Arthur’s Cave.  Alternatively, you’ll find a car park at Doward.

Best things to do in the Forest of Dean

A sculpture trail at Beechenhurst

Winding river in Autumn Forest, Beechenwood Forest and Sculpture trail, Forest of Dean, UK

The first on our list of things to do with kids in the Forest of Dean is a visit to Beechenhurst.

Beechenhurst is a recreation centre near Coleford in the heart of the Forest of Dean and is certainly one of the best family attractions for children.

Nature-lovers and walkers will also love Beechenhurst.  It has 4 waymarked walking trails, which all lead through the ancient woodlands.  We chose the circular Sculpture Trail, which follows a path for 4.5 miles around the forest.

The trail has 17 artworks along the route, which were all inspired by the heritage of the area.  Some are exceptionally large and easy to spot, whilst other more subtle pieces blend with the natural surroundings.

It was a very wet day when we went, but the autumn colours of the forest still looked stunning.  If you have younger children, follow the shorter Gruffalo Trail and spot the characters in the woods.

If you have more time, Beechenhurst also has a Go Ape centre and climbing wall.

Boy standing next to Gruffalo Trail Sign, Beechenhurst Gruffalo Trail, Coleford, Forest of Dean, UK

Puzzlewood

Fallen trees and Scowls at Puzzlewood, Forest of Dean, UK

Without doubt, one of the best attractions in the Forest of Dean is Puzzlewood.

Puzzlewood is a magical woodland near Coleford in Gloucestershire.  It was created over hundreds of years as the result of extensive iron ore mining in the forest.

Boy Star Wars pose, Puzzlewood, Coleford, Forest of Dean, UK

With its ancient trees, gnarly roots and moss-cover rocks, Puzzlewood has a very otherworldly feel.  A forest trail follows for about 1.5 miles over stepping stones and wooden bridges, leading through gorges and under large, twisted trees.  It’s easy to see why this dramatic landscape has been the set for many fantasy films, including Star Wars, Dr Who and Merlin.

As well as the forest trail, Puzzlewood has a small collection of farmyard animals and an inside play area.  Puzzlewood is a popular attraction and certainly one of our top things to do in the Forest of Dean with kids (or without!)

Clearwell Caves

Two boys in Clearwell Caves Adventure, Forest of Dean, UK

Less than 5 minutes from Puzzlewood are the Clearwell Caves.  This is a natural cave system, which has been extensively mined for over 4,500 years for iron ore.  Today Clearwell Caves is an underground museum offering visitors a trip underground where miners once worked.

Follow through a labyrinth of passageways and caves and imagine what life would have been like for the miners.  You can also learn about the Lesser Horseshoe bats who live in the caverns.  (Don’t worry, we didn’t see any!)

Being underground, Clearwell Caves is one of the best things to do on a rainy day in the Forest of Dean.

Dean Heritage Centre

View of Dean Heritage Centre buildings across pond, Forest of Dean, UK

Set in 5 acres of beautiful Forest of Dean countryside near Soudley is the Dean Heritage Centre.  The exhibits at the Heritage Centre are displayed in five galleries in a beautiful historic building, overlooking Mill Pond.

Each gallery has exhibits depicting different eras of the Forest of Dean’s past.  Starting as early as pre-historic times, you can learn about the history of the area and the lifestyles of the people who lived and worked there.

As many exhibits are indoors, the Dean Heritage Centre is another of the best attractions to visit on a rainy day in the Forest of Dean.  However, there’s also several outside exhibits, such as a cider mill and Victorian school.

Two boys sitting on Wooden chair flanked by two large Dragon Sculptures at Dean Heritage Centre, Forest of Dean, UK

Dean Heritage Centre is in a very picturesque setting and has several trails leading into the woods.  We followed the short Gruffalo trail by the stream.  It has a series of carved sculptures, which tell the story of Julia Donaldson’s popular forest character and friends.

If you’re looking for somewhere to eat, the Water Mill Café at the Heritage Centre, serves homemade cakes and food.  Or you could head to the picnic benches overlooking the pond.

Soudley Ponds

Boys kicking through Autumn leaves on Walk at Soudley Pond, Forest of Dean, UK

Soudley Ponds is a picturesque nature reserve in Cinderford. It comprises of 4 interlinked ponds in the Forest of Dean and is ideal for a family nature walk.

The pathways round the ponds are flat and surfaced, so very accessible.  However, if you want a more challenging walk, take the steep path up to the Blaize Bailey viewpoint.  From here you’ll have far-fetching views over the River Severn.

Either side of the ponds are wooded areas, with tall Douglas Firs.  Little bridges crossing the ponds and tiny streams add to the charm of this stunning landscape.

There’s plenty of ducks and waterfowl, but you need a beady eye if you want to spot a kingfisher.  If you’re lucky, you may also spot deer or wild boar.

Soudley Ponds is directly opposite the Dean Heritage Centre, so it’s a good idea to combine a visit to both.  We parked at the Dean Heritage Centre and walked from there, but other free car parks are also available.

Cannop Cycle Centre

Cannop Cycle Centre, Forest of Dean, UK

If you prefer cycling to walking the Cannop Cycle Centre is just five minutes from Beechenwood in the Forest of Dean.  From here you have a choice of several cycle trails, all at different levels.  The family cycle trail follows a former railway lines, which we always love, as I don’t like hills!  This route is 9 miles, but is level and accessible to all ages.

Alternatively, you can do a shorter family cycle trail on Hicksters Way Loop at Beechenwood.  For the more adventurous cyclist, you’ll find a choice of off-road cycling routes.

More things to do in the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean

View from Symonds Yat Rock, Wye Valley, Gloucestershire, UK

Autumn is a great time to visit the Wye Valley, as the whole area is a mix of russet, gold and amber.  Our forecast was rain.  However, it hardly rained and certainly not enough to stop us exploring.

Obviously, we didn’t have time to visit all the best things to do in the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean.  Next time, we hope to try some more of the adventure activities.  Canoeing on the River Wye has got to be top of our list.  Or maybe the assault course at the Forest of Dean Adventure?

The kids were also keen to visit the international Birds of Prey Centre.  And I am sure we’d all be happy to return to Puzzlewood!

Practical information for a visit to the Wye Valley:-

Getting to the Wye Valley

The Wye Valley is an easy drive from London via the M40 or M4 or from the North via the M5.

If you are coming by train, you can get from London to Ross-on-Wye in about 3 hours.

A map of things of things to do in the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean

Below is a map of the best places to visit in the Wye Valley with kids.

You can save the map to use when you are there by clicking the star to the right of the title.

You can later find the map by going to your Google Maps app and selecting the saved icon.

Accommodation in the Wye Valley

AirBnb accomodation cottage lounge, Wye Valley, UK

The Wye Valley has a great choice of self-catering accommodation and hotels.  We stayed in a cottage in Upper Lydbrook, which was a great base for visiting the Wye Valley.

You’ll find a great choice of holiday homes, hotels apartments, and guest houses on Booking.com.

What are your best things to do in the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean?  We’d love to hear from you in the comments box below:-

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2 comments

Avatar for Jan
Keri | Ladies What Travel 2nd March 2021 - 1:55 pm

Such a lovely part of the UK! Can’t wait to go exploring again… #MustSeePlaces

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Avatar for Jan
Holidays from Hels 12th January 2021 - 4:39 pm

Great post! I love the Wye Valley, especially the mysterious Puzzle Woods. So glad to have some ideas for new places to visit. King Arthur’s cave and Soundley Ponds are now firmly on the list for our next trip.

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