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Trip to London with side trip to Wales/daytrip?

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Hello! My husband and I are first time visitors to England. We are traveling from Chicago to Heathrow in early October for 1 week. We are staying with a friend in London, and wanted to explore the rural areas of England, and possibly Wales. We are in our late-twenties (so we can walk around) with no children. I am a teacher, and he just graduated law school, so we are trying to be smart about our budget.
We are from a big urban city, and we want to explore the countryside, as well as see London. We like some museums, but also enjoy exploring neighborhoods and seeing off the beaten path places, as opposed to only the touristy things.

I've read so many forums here about renting cars, and we both enjoy road trips and were thinking about driving to Wales for a few days.

But, considering our time constraints, should we rent a car to drive out of London for a day trip to the countryside, if so, where would you recommend? We are also intrigued by Wales and seeing Cardiff--the castles, the uncommon destination, etc. Would it be worth it to take a train to Cardiff and spend the day and one night there?

I welcome all help! Thank you!

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