20 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Wales
Author Anietra Hamper traveled extensively throughout Wales in the fall of 2022 with photographer Ian Henderson exploring the best experiences, from the cities to the coast and countryside.
For such a small country, Wales has broad diversity when it comes to attractions, the outdoors, and history, with some of the most breathtaking coastal views in the United Kingdom. Some of the best places to visit are actually locations that encompass multiple experiences all in one place, like castles, beaches, villages, and notable landmarks including Thomas Telford-designed bridges.
As you plan your itinerary, it makes sense to start in one region, like North Wales near Snowdonia National Park and Anglesey, then work your way to other destinations along the Pembrokeshire Coast, south to Cardiff and the Glamorgan Heritage Coast.
From railways and mining excursions to living a part of preserved history by walking the castle walls surrounding Conwy, or taking in a national rugby game, you will have no problem filling a full itinerary.
Use our list of the top tourist attractions in Wales to narrow down your options.
1. Snowdonia National Park
Think of Wales, and you'll likely think of Snowdonia (Eryri), the beautiful range of mountains and hills located in the county of Gwynedd.
Consisting of 14 majestic peaks over 3,000 feet high—the most famous being the 3,546-foot Snowdon, the summit of which is accessible by train—Snowdonia can be seen as far away as Porthmadog on the west coast. The region remains one of the most popular vacation destinations in the UK, attracting some four million visitors a year.
When you're here, it's easy to see why the area has featured so heavily in local legends, including those based around King Arthur, who locals will insist was Welsh.
Snowdonia National Park (Parc Cenedlaethol Eryri) is also one of the most popular hiking destinations in Britain, boasting more than 1,479 miles of marked trails. Climbing is also popular here, as are mountain biking and horse riding.
However you get here, the views from the summit are incredible and extend from the coast all the way to Bala Lake.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Snowdonia
2. Brecon Beacons National Park
Brecon Beacons National Park (Parc Cenedlaethol Bannau Brycheiniog) encompasses one of the most beautiful parts of Wales. This hiker's paradise is bordered by two quite different sets of Black Mountains. The first, to the west, is the source of the River Usk, while to the east is the range that's famous for its wild ponies.
Most of the mountains in this 520-square-mile park are higher than 1,000 feet — with many in excess of 2,000 feet—and are named after the red sandstone that causes them to resemble the beacons of light once used to warn of invaders.
Be sure to explore the park's many caves and waterfalls, especially Henrhyd Falls at Coelbren, which is one of the best waterfalls in Wales. Just outside the park, near Abergavenny, you can tour a coal mine at Big Pit National Coal Museum. Other popular activities and things to do in the Brecon Beacons include mountain biking, horse riding, canoeing, sailing, fishing, climbing, and camping.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Brecon Beacons National Park
3. Cardiff Castle & National Museum Cardiff
Perhaps the most photographic of Wales' many castles, Cardiff Castle is a must-visit and one of the top things to do in Cardiff. Boasting still-intact sections constructed more than 1,000 years ago this splendidly preserved castle can take a few hours to explore. Be sure to allow plenty of time to do so in your Cardiff sightseeing itinerary.
Highlights include the State Apartments, notable for its informative displays relating to life in the castle over the ages, as well as the attractive old chapel. Other notable features include the well-preserved Banqueting Hall with its medieval murals and elaborate fireplace. A variety of guided tour options are available, along with an informative audio guide that can be picked up from the visitor center.
If there's still time after your castle adventure, try to squeeze in a visit to the National Museum Cardiff. Undoubtedly topping the list of the best things to do for free in Cardiff, this major attraction houses impressive collections focusing on archeology, zoology, and botany, as well as the arts.
The National Museum of Art is housed in the same building. This excellent art gallery features a number of works by some of the world's most important artists, including Old Masters and Welsh painters.
Address: Castle Street, Cardiff
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Cardiff
Read More: Top-Rated Day Trips from Cardiff
4. Gower Peninsula Beaches
You cannot visit Wales without carving out some time to hit the coastal beaches. The Gower Peninsula has some of the best beaches in South Wales and many of the most popular in the country.
Topping your list of places to visit should be Rhossili Bay, which has an expansive coastline for swimming and kitesurfing, with a good mixture of activities and opportunities for scenic walks, especially at sunset. You can find water sports rentals, a car park, restrooms, and a restaurant close to the beach.
Another great beach to visit is Oxwich Bay, which has the added scenery of the Oxwich National Nature Reserve surrounding it. This is a nice family and dog-friendly beach because of the calm water.
Some other Gower Peninsula beaches to consider are Llangennith Beach, popular with surfers; Broughton Bay Beach, an ideal place for beachcombers; and Three Cliffs Bay, which might win the prize for the best scenic views on the south coast.
Accommodation: Where to Stay on the Gower Peninsula
5. Devil's Bridge and the Hafod Estate
Located 12 miles from the seaside town of Aberystwyth, Devil's Bridge is actually three bridges spectacularly stacked atop each other. The oldest (and the lowest) dates from the 11th century, and the newest was built in 1901. They span the Rheidol Gorge, where the River Mynach plunges 300 feet into the valley far below.
Be sure to follow the Falls Nature Trail to the bottom. It's a bit of a climb back up—especially those steep, slippery steps of Jacob's Ladder, the segment leading to the oldest bridge—but the views are incredible.
Afterward, visit Hafod Estate, 200 acres of lovingly restored woodlands and 18th-century gardens once considered the finest in Britain. While the manor house is long gone, visitors can enjoy pleasant hikes along well-marked trails past waterfalls, ancient trees, and the estate's old, walled formal gardens. And if you're looking for an idyllic cottage vacation, the wonderful old Hawthorn Cottage allows guests an unforgettable accommodation experience.
Address: Hafod Estate Pont-rhyd-y-groes, Cwmystwyth, Ystrad Meurig
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Aberystwyth
6. Wales by Rail
Wales was once famous for its mining operations, in particular, the mining of slate used for the roofing, which is still so common here. While the majority of these mines and quarries have closed, many of the narrow-gauge railways used to shift goods (and later, Victorian-era tourists) around the country have been restored and now provide scenic excursions.
Today, there are several heritage railway lines that reach some of the country's most popular landmarks, including mountains, seaside towns, and castles. Many of the bigger lines, such as the 14-mile-long Ffestiniog Railway running through Snowdonia National Park, offer unique train driving courses and volunteer opportunities to add to the experience.
7. Caernarfon Castle
Built by King Edward I in the 13th century as a seat for the first Prince of Wales, Caernarfon Castle (Castell Caernarfon) is one of the largest such fortifications in the country. With its 13 towers and two gates, this massive castle is recognized as one of the most impressive—and the best-preserved—medieval fortresses in Europe.
Occupying the site of an even older Norman castle, Caernarfon Castle dominates the waters of the River Seiont and the Menai Strait on one side, and is protected by a moat on the other. The castle's royal heritage continues to this day, and in 1969 it was the scene of Prince Charles's investiture as Prince of Wales.
Also of interest is the Royal Welsh Fusiliers Museum (admission included), notable for the 14 Victoria Crosses on display.
Address: Castle Ditch, Caernarfon
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Caernarfon
8. Principality Stadium
The pride of Wales rests in the people's enthusiasm for the game of rugby, so if you have a chance to take in a national game at Principality Stadium in Cardiff, it will be the highlight of your trip. Feel the Welsh patriotism as you attend a game with 74,000 rugby fans harmonizing the national anthem while donning their team jerseys and revving for fierce competition.
Joining the fun at Principality Stadium gives you a sense of Welsh culture in a way that other attractions cannot. The game of rugby means more to the Welsh than just a sporting event. It was created in the 19th century as a way for the Welsh to come together as a country and improve life by lifting their status as a nation.
Games are usually played from the fall through the spring, but if you visit outside of the season, you can still book one of several tours of the stadium.
9. Conwy & Conwy Castle
Located on the north coast of Wales, just a short distance from Manchester, the small Welsh town of Conwy offers something for everyone: a stunning castle, medieval architecture, and plenty of great shopping.
The best views of Conwy Castle (Castell Conwy) and River Conwy, with its suspension bridge designed by Thomas Telford, are from the 13th-century town walls built by King Edward I to keep the Welsh at bay. Besides touring the castle, one of the most unique experiences to enjoy here is walking the castle walls that surround the entire city. It is free to do, and you can get on and off in different sections. This vantage point offers the best views of the city and harbor.
The National Trust's Aberconwy House is Conwy's only surviving 14th-century merchant's house and one of the first buildings constructed inside the town walls. Other interesting homes are the Elizabethan Plas Mawr and the Smallest House in Great Britain.
Address: Rose Hill Street, Conwy
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Conwy
10. Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
Surrounded by water on three sides, Wales has more than its fair share of dramatic coastline. Some of the most imposing is found along the coast of the Pembrokeshire Peninsula, which juts out into the Irish Sea, much of it falling within the boundaries of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park (Parc Cenedlaethol Arfordir Penfro).
You can best explore this magnificent scenery on foot along the dramatic Pembrokeshire Coast National Trail, finding villages like the picturesque little resort of Tenby, still partially enclosed by its medieval walls.
Other Pembrokeshire coast highlights are Pembroke Castle, St. David's Cathedral (in the town of the same name), and idyllic fishing harbors such as Laugharne, where Welsh poet Dylan Thomas lived for much of his life. His boathouse home above the bay is now a museum.
As elsewhere in Wales, adventurous travelers can find unique places to stay, including classic old farm cottages, gypsy caravans, or vintage railcars.
Accommodation: Where to Stay along the Pembrokeshire Coast
11. Bookstores in Hay-on-Wye
Whether you consider yourself a bookworm or not, a visit to the bookstores in Hay-on-Wye will be a memorable experience. Hay-on-Wye is renowned for its literary scene and the annual Hay Festival, which brings in well-known authors from around the world.
This small town, with a castle on the hill and charming winding streets, has more than two dozen bookstores. The area has historical and global literary significance, which you will find evidence of as you walk the quaint streets and see references to its moniker as the Town of Books.
This walkable town is worth a day, or at least an afternoon, of your time. After you find a good read to take home, stroll into the small boutiques or find an outdoor café to enjoy the town's ambience and live music that is often playing on the street corners.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Hay-on-Wye
Portmeirion is a beautiful hotel resort and visitor attraction on the coast of Snowdonia National Park in Gwynedd, North Wales. Built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975, Portmeirion was designed to resemble a quaint Italian fishing village. Visitors staying overnight get the whole place to themselves once the gates are closed, when they can explore its beautiful gardens, fountains, church, and the coastal paths of the lower village.
This stunning attraction has been the location for numerous films and TV programs, including the 1960s cult show, The Prisoner, and should definitely be included on your Wales sightseeing itinerary.
The resort's restaurants come highly recommended. A variety of shops are also located here, some selling the famous Portmeirion pottery.
You can explore this unique village, as well as other attractions on the Portmeirion, Castles, and Snowdonia Tour. This is a small-group, full day tour in a mini bus with a maximum of 15 participants.
Address: Minffordd, Penrhyndeudraeth, Gwynedd
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Portmeirion
13. Beddgelert & Betws-y-Coed
The Welsh are certainly a friendly lot. And nowhere is this truer than in the many picturesque small villages that dot the Welsh countryside. Two of the very prettiest—and friendliest—are located within easy striking distance of Snowdonia National Park: Beddgelert & Betws-y-Coed.
Just a 30-minute drive apart, these two postcard-perfect riverside villages make for a great day trip. They each offer a slice of that traditional Welsh hospitality in their quaint B&Bs, guesthouses, inns, tearooms, and restaurants, and are often heralded as among the most picturesque villages not just in Wales, but all of the UK.
Located at the junction of the Colwan and Glaslyn rivers, Beddgelert is especially favored by hikers using the village as a base from which to tackle Snowdon itself. A number of gentler trails and paths are also easy to access here and are great for those wanting a stroll that takes in spectacular mountain vistas. Failing that, an easy stroll through the village itself is rewarding, or you can jump aboard the heritage Welsh Highland Railway for a scenic train ride to Porthmadog or Caernarfon.
Betws-y-Coed also makes for a great base for a Snowdonia adventure. Set in the Gwydyr Forest, it's particularly pretty in spring and fall when the changing seasons turn the vegetation here into a riot of color (it's also quieter during these less touristy times). In addition to the many fine examples of historic buildings located within the village, be sure to take a stroll to its nearby waterfalls, including Conwy Falls.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Beddgelert
Read More: Best Small Towns in Wales
14. National Slate Museum & the Big Pit
Wales is a nation built in mining and, as such, has done a remarkable job of preserving its mining past. Of the many things to do related to this rich history, none can quite match the experience of visiting one of these mines in person.
Located in Caernarfon, the fascinating National Slate Museum offers an in-depth look at the workings of a 19th-century slate quarry, along with accompanying machinery and workshops, including a huge still-working waterwheel. A great deal of attention is also placed on the conditions for workers and their families, along with live demonstrations of the mining process.
Situated within Breacon Beacons, the Big Pit National Coal Museum offers a glimpse into the nation's other most-mined material and the lives of those who worked here. Highlights of a visit include exploring the well-preserved old buildings and homes on the site.
Blaenavon is also home to an old ironworks that's worth exploring, home to the "Big Pit" blast furnaces and foundries. Also worth a visit, Rhondda Heritage Park actually allows visitors to descend to "pit bottom" in an old miners' elevator. These Black Gold Experience Underground Tours are even led by former coalminers, adding to the authenticity of the experience. There's also a replica village to explore, portraying everyday life for mining families.
15. Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Llangollen Canal
It took 10 years to design and build the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct that carries the Llangollen Canal across the wide valley of the River Dee in northeast Wales. Even today, it's considered a significant feat of civil engineering and is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The 18-arch bridge is built of stone and cast iron, its arches soaring 100 feet above the river, and is more than 1,000 feet in length. In 1801, when the aqueduct was built, canals were an important means of transport for manufactured goods and raw materials, and aqueducts were a more efficient means of carrying them across deep valleys than staircases of canal locks.
This one is the longest navigable aqueduct in Great Britain and the highest in the world. A narrow walkway with a railing allows pedestrians to cross the bridge, but it's far more fun to cross it on a canal boat.
If you are reluctant to give it a go on your own, you can take a Canoe Aqueduct tour. It's not for those with a fear of heights, however, as your boat sits high on the shallow canal, and it's a long way down to the river.
For a less vertigo-inducing ride, horse-drawn canal boats take tourists on a tree-shaded stretch of the canal from nearby Llangollen Wharf. A fun alternative is to take a guided kayak tour across the aqueduct.
Location: Llangollen Wharf
16. Cardiff Arcades
Few experiences in Wales match the day of shopping that awaits at the Victorian Arcades in Cardiff. These elegant glass-covered arcades have been an iconic part of the capital city since the 1800s. They were built in the Victorian era to protect shoppers from bad weather conditions.
There are several dozen arcades around Cardiff, each with its own unique flare, with the oldest being the Royal Arcade. Inside, you will find small boutiques, shops with jewelry and housewares, cafés, and mom-and-pop stands selling homemade Welsh cakes from generations-old recipes. A nibble on some of these tasty sugar-dusted treats, while you shop, is highly recommended.
Separated from mainland Wales by the mile-wide Menai Strait—spanned by the Menai Suspension Bridge (1818)—the Isle of Anglesey is home to a number of quaint, small fishing villages sprinkled along its more than 100 miles of attractive coastline. Along with its sandy beaches and landmarks such as South Stack Lighthouse, the island's mild climate makes it popular for day trippers and campers alike.
The smaller Holy Island, linked to Anglesey by bridge, is a popular holiday resort with two promenades (one of them 1.5 miles long). Tiny Salt Island offers great views and a chance for some bird-watching. Finally, one of the world's most famous photo ops is on the railway platforms of the town with the world's longest place name: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllandysiliogogogoch.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Anglesey
Read More: Best Beaches in Anglesey
18. Tintern Abbey
One of the most spectacular attractions in Wales is walking among the ruins at Tintern Abbey near Chepstow. This historical and architectural treasure was built in 1131 by Cistercian monks, and while much of it has been destroyed, in part by order of King Henry VIII in the 1500s, there is enough preserved to marvel at its massive structure.
After your time walking the grounds at Tintern Abbey, make your way to nearby Chepstow Castle. The castle sits on the cliffside of the estuary banks of the River Wye and is the oldest fortification in Britain. Walk through the matrix of corridors and passageways that were constructed in 1067 and be sure to see the oldest castle doors in Europe, which are perfectly preserved here for visitors to see up close.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Chepstow
Dubbed the "Queen of the Welsh Resorts," Llandudno is the largest seaside resort town in Wales. Located on the north coast with views across the Irish Sea, this picture-perfect tourist destination lies between the Welsh mainland and the Great Orme, a peninsula inhabited since the Stone Age.
The town's unique promenade is free of the usual seaside shops and cafés, which were wisely placed behind the seafront to ensure Victorian visitors a more peaceful experience. Take a stroll on the bustling Llandudno Pier, which is the longest in Wales, jutting out into the sea at nearly 2,300 feet.
The best views of the town and its surroundings are from the Great Orme, easily accessible by a heritage tramway. Well connected by rail and road, Llandudno is a good base for touring Wales' spectacular North Coast.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Llandudno
Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Llandudno
20. Bodnant Garden
A National Trust property, Bodnant Garden is one of the most beautiful gardens in Britain, created over many years by generations of the McLaren family and brought to its present heights by the 2nd Lord Aberconway.
Highlights of the spectacular gardens are the grand formal terraces, spectacular views across the River Conwy to Snowdonia, and the famous Laburnum Arch. This curved walk of about 50 yards is covered with laburnum, whose abundant, long blossoms cover it in cascades of yellow in late May and early June.
Spring is also when the Dell, a deep valley where trees tower above streams, is abloom with rhododendrons. But the wide variety of flowering plants assures that the gardens are filled with color throughout the whole season. Among the trees are 42 UK Champion Trees, judged the best examples of their kind in Britain.
The elegant Georgian Pin Mill was moved here from Gloucestershire. A tearoom is located on-site and comes highly recommended.
Address: Bodnant Road, Tal-y-cafn, Colwyn Bay
More Must-See Destinations in and near Wales
The lively Welsh capital city of Cardiff is a good place to begin your trip and a good base for exploring South Wales. Cardiff is not far from the interesting port city of Bristol, just across the border in England. When you're exploring the beautiful mountains and countryside of North Wales, consider popping across the border again to visit the attractions in Chester, a charming walled city on a canal.