12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Wales
The smallest of mainland Britain's component countries, Wales offers many wonderful reasons to visit. The south includes cosmopolitan Cardiff, a good base from which to begin exploring the rest of the country. With its splendid castle, arcades, and historic buildings, it's a city with plenty of places to visit and things to do. When you're ready to venture further afield, you'll find an abundance of attractions, including more than 400 castles and fortifications, gardens, breathtaking scenery, and heritage railways. However you decide to spend your time in Wales, rest assured you're in good hands; the Welsh are some of the most interesting, easygoing people you'll find anywhere.
Think of Wales, and you'll likely think of Snowdonia, 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. 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 is also one of the most popular hiking and climbing destinations in Britain, and extends from the coast all the way to Bala Lake.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Snowdonia
2 Brecon Beacons National Park
Brecon Beacons National Park 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 famous for its wild ponies. Most of the mountains in this 520-square-mile park are higher than 1,000 feet, 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. Just outside the park, near Abergavenny, you can tour a coal mine at Big Pit National Coal Museum.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Brecon Beacons National Park
3 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, with the oldest dating from the 11th century and the newest built in 1901. They span the Rheidol Gorge, where the River Mynach plunges 300 feet into the valley far below. 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 experience.
4 Wales by Rail
Wales was once famous for its mining operations, in particular the mining of slate used for the roofing still so common here. While the majority of these mines and quarries have closed, the narrow-gauge railways used to shift goods (and later, Victorian-era tourists) around the country have been restored and now provide scenic excursions. More than 10 heritage railway lines reach some of the most popular landmarks, including mountains, seaside towns, and castles, simply by jumping on a steam train. 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.
5 Caernarfon Castle
Built by King Edward I in the 13th century as a seat for the first Prince of Wales, Caernarfon Castle is one of the largest castles in the country. With its 13 towers and two gates, this massive castle is recognized as one of the most impressive and 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. Its royal heritage continues to this day, and in 1969, it was the scene of Prince Charles's investiture as Prince of Wales.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Caernarfon
On the north coast of Wales, just a short distance from Manchester, Conwy offers something for everyone: a stunning castle, medieval architecture, and plenty of shopping. The best views of Conwy Castle 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. 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.
7 Pembrokeshire Coast
Surrounded by water on three sides, Wales has more than its fair share of dramatic coastline. Some of the most imposing is to be found along the coast of the Pembrokeshire Peninsula, which juts out into the Irish Sea. You can explore it 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
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 has been the location for numerous films and TV programs, including the 1960s cult show, The Prisoner.
9 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, overlooking 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 40 UK Champion Trees, judged the best examples of their kind in Britain. The elegant Georgian Pin Mill was moved here from Gloucestershire.
Address: Bodnant Rd, Tal-y-cafn, Colwyn Bay
10 Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Llangollen Canal
It took 10 years to design and build the aqueduct that carries the Llangollen Canal across the wide valley of the River Dee in north east Wales, and it remains even today a feat of civil engineering, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 18-arched 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. It's not for those with acrophobia, as the 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.
Location: Llangollen Wharf
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), while 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
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. The best views of the town and its surrounds 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.
More Must-See Destinations in and near Wales
The lively 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 Chester, a charming walled city on a canal.