In modern times Aberystwyth has become a Welsh educational centre. The population is around 12,000, but is swelled by an additional 9250 students associated with the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. The world's first department in international politics was established in Aberystwyth in 1919.
The town is situated near the confluence of the rivers Ystwyth and Rheidol, about midway down the length of Cardigan Bay. Although the name suggests otherwise, only the River Rheidol actually passes through the town - the River Ystwyth only just skirts the town, following the reconstruction of the harbour.
Aberystwyth has a pier and a fine sea-front which stretches from Constitution Hill at the north end of the Promenade to the mouth of the harbour at the south.
Aberystwyth is a major tourist centre and a cultural link between the north and south of Wales. Constitution Hill is scaled by the Aberystwyth Electric Cliff Railway giving access to fine views and other attractions at the top, while much of the finest scenery in Mid Wales lies within easy reach of the town. This includes the wilderness of the Cambrian Mountains, whose valleys contain forests and meadows which have little changed in centuries.
Although the town is relatively modern, it contains a number of historic buildings, including the remains of the castle and the 'imposing but fantastic structure' of the old buildings of the University College of Wales nearby. The new university campus overlooks Aberystwyth from Penglais Hill to the east of the town centre.
The architecture is a mix of Gothic, Classical reival and Victorian, and the town is sometimes referred to as 'the Oxford of Wales'.
The town is generally regarded as the capital of Mid Wales, and several institutions have regional offices there. Perhaps the most important of the public bodies located in Aberystwyth is the National Library of Wales. The library also incorporates the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales, one of six British regional film archives. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, which maintains and curates the National Monuments Record of Wales (NMRW), provides the public with information about the built heritage of Wales.
The remains of an Iron Age fortress on Pen Dinas, a hill overlooking Aberystwyth, indicate that the site was inhabited before 700 BCE. However the recorded history of Aberystwyth may be said to date from the building of a fortress on the present Castle Hill, in 1109. Edward I rebuilt Strongbow's castle in 1277, after its destruction by the Welsh. Between the years 1404 and 1408 Aberystwyth Castle was in the hands of Owain Glyndŵr, but finally surrendered to Prince Harry (the future King Henry V of England). Shortly after this the town was incorporated under the title of Ville de Lampadarn (the ancient name of the place being Llanbadarn Gaerog, or the fortified Llanbadarn, to distinguish it from Llanbadarn Fawr, the village one mile inland). It is thus styled in a charter granted by Henry VIII, but by Elizabeth I's time the town was invariably termed Aberystwyth in all documents. In 1647 the Parliamentarian troops razed the castle, so that its remains are now inconsiderable, though portions of three towers still exist.
The Cambrian Railway line from Machynlleth reached Aberystwyth in the 1860s closely followed by rail links to Carmarthen which resulted in the construction of the town's impressive station. The railway's arrival gave rise to something of a Victorian tourist boom and the town was once even billed as the 'Biarritz of Wales'. During this time a number of hotels and fine town houses were built including the Queens Hotel. One of the largest of these hotels, 'The Castle Hotel', was never completed as a hotel but following bankruptcy was sold cheaply to the 'Welsh National University Committee', a group of people dedicated to the creation of a Welsh University. The University College of Wales (later to become the University of Wales, Aberystwyth) was founded in 1872 in this building.
The Vale of Rheidol Railway narrow gauge line from Devil's Bridge was constructed in 1901 and 1902, intended to ship mineral traffic, primarily lead, from Devils Bridge down to Aberystwyth for trans-shipment. By the time it was finished the lead mines were in a deep downturn and it therefore came to rely largely on the tourist industry. The railway opened for passengers in December 1902.
On the night of Friday 14 January 1938, a storm with estimated wind speeds of up to 90mph struck the town. Most of the promenade was destroyed, along with 200ft of the pier. Most properties on the seafront were damaged, most severely on Victoria Terrace.
Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg held their historic first protest in Aberystwyth, back in 1963, and here also the first ever independent Welsh Evangelical Church was established (see Evangelical Movement of Wales). Aberystwyth hosted the National Eisteddfod in 1865, 1916, 1952 and 1992.
Arriva Trains Wales provide a roughly two-hourly service over the scenic Cambrian Line to Shrewsbury and Birmingham via Machynlleth and Mid Wales. Connecting services from Machynlleth also provide a link to Gwynedd's west coast.
Aberystwyth is also a hub for Wales's TrawsCambria bus network, with regular direct services to Bangor, Cardigan, Carmarthen and Cardiff. A daily National Express coach to London and Birmingham also exists.