20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Wales
Wales, with a proud Celtic past and a vibrant Welsh-English culture, has long been a popular vacation destination. Today, countless visitors come to enjoy the lush scenery, magnificent castles, historic cities, and a delicious food and wine scene.
At the same time, Wales has a modern, safe, bustling metropolis and thriving metropolitan areas, like Cardiff, with its blend of the old and the new. The people are friendly and welcoming, and are proud of their cultural heritage.
During your holiday in Wales, make time to see the sights. These sights are the top attractions in Wales.
This imposing castle, once the fortress of Wales' ruling princes and now a highland estate, offers a breath of fresh air in a grey day in Wales. It's only a short distance from the small town of Caernarfon (officially the capital of Gwynedd, an enclave of Anglesey) but a visit to this historic castle can be quite a treat. Built between 1283 and 1287, Caernarfon Castle was begun after a threat of invasion from the English led to Wales' decision to move the capital from Chester to Caernarfon. The castle was remodeled and enlarged by Edward I in the 13th century, and it was heavily restored during the 19th century. These days you can visit the castle for free, but it's worth a visit if you're on a budget, as it's one of the more accessible castles in Wales.
Snowdon Mountain Railway
The train of the Snowdon Mountain Railway winds along a steep incline above a valley on the highest of the peaks that make up the Snowdon massif, the highest point in Wales at 1,085 meters. The railway, originally built as a railway for loading coal, starts in Porthmadog and winds up and up, taking you through three tunnels, five trestles, three switchbacks and more than 30 hairpin bends. Each year, between 500 and 1,000 passengers travel on the railway on a trip to Snowdon's summit. Of course the main attraction here is the views, especially at sunrise and sunset, and while you can get these views at ground level, from the narrow-gauge railway, which is operated by both Welsh and English railways, you really get to feel like you're at the top of the world. This is a must-do if you have your own car, but you can take a day-trip from Llanberis on one of the day coaches operated by either Welsh or English railways.
Built on the site of a former Roman fortification, Cardiff Castle was started in the mid-14th century by Edward, Prince of Wales, son of King Edward I. As one of the city's finest medieval buildings, the castle has played a central role in the history of the city of Cardiff. Home to the National Museum of Wales and the Captain Scobie collection, it also contains the history of the Industrial Revolution, housing a collection of fine paintings and European furniture. Constructed of dark, richly decorated limestone, the castle's impressive walls are punctuated by turrets, towers, battlements and numerous gates. Highlights of a visit include the interior, where you can view the prisoner's cell where the Angel of the North, a notable copper statue by Richard Serra, was displayed for 10 years. During the early years of the castle's history, it was used as a royal palace, and, in the 1600s, during the English Civil War, it was the site of a siege by the forces of Oliver Cromwell. Cardiff Castle Park, one of the largest in Britain, is an oasis of natural beauty at the heart of the city and is a popular site for picnics and games of football.
Snowdonia National Park
A stunning mountain landscape spread across the border of Snowdonia National Park, North Wales, this park takes its name from the snow that has fallen for thousands of years, providing a lush cover and source of fresh water. This green landscape is also home to impressive rock formations and views, including Caernarfon Castle, which was a stronghold for the great Welsh rulers. Hiking, biking, and mountain-biking trails are easily accessible from the various towns and villages on the coast, and for much of the time you can expect a landscape of rolling fields dotted with snowdrops, goldenrod, wild daffodils, orchids, and even (further south) aspen.
Like many of the popular holiday resorts in Wales, Llandudno is known for its entertainment and amusement parks, including the much-visited Great Orme. Llandudno can be reached by train from Cardiff, Manchester, London and points north. Direct trains are also available from Birmingham, Chester and Swansea, and onward travel by fast train from Wales. The town is also one of the least expensive in the UK and has a pleasant promenade that can be enjoyed by walkers as well as visitors by the sea.
The scenery in and around Brecon Beacons is varied and frequently dramatic. Heavy blanket bog is found on the southern side of the mountain range, but is replaced by wildflower meadows on higher areas. Even the highest peaks of the area are covered in beech forests. Things to do in the Brecon Beacons include visiting Cadair Idris, a famous beauty spot with the remains of an Iron Age fort and ruined church in the middle of a dense forest of ancient and exotic trees, the last remaining corner of ancient southern Scotland. It is the site of the most famous verse in Welsh, based on the story of Cain and Abel, and famous in the entire British Isles. Other noted places include Devil's Bridge and the nearby Roman site of Chesters. The Beacons are part of the Brecon Beacons National Park, administered by the National Trust. With limited access, the park is accessible from the A40 west of Builth Wells.
Built in 1470, the ruins of Caerphilly Castle are among the oldest in the world. The towers and arches, together with its seven-story keep, are as impressive today as they must have been at the time of its construction. Although much of the building has now fallen into ruins, the grounds are open to visitors, and the walls and gates still allow glimpses of the castle's inner workings. The building still has two prisoners cells, as well as a jail with strong, forbidding walls and deep cells where prisoners were kept during the Middle Ages. The nearby town of Caerphilly has many historic buildings and a scattering of quaint old shops. If you're in the area be sure to visit the Roman-era Aquae Sulis on the site of the original hot springs.
Blaenau Ffestiniog is one of Wales' most magical towns and home to a giant Christmas tree decorated with lights and more than 5,000 festive lights, as well as a Santa Claus and a magic forest. It is located in the mountainous countryside and has lovely views across the surrounding areas. One of the most beautiful parts of Blaenau Ffestiniog is the Rhydtlaen river valley, which is full of pretty stone buildings that were part of the Trennant Estate, a coal-mining area that dated from the mid-19th century. Aside from shopping for Christmas presents, Blaenau Ffestiniog is an interesting place to visit in the summer months, when there is a fairground, restaurants, craft shops, etc. Other activities include exploring the valleys on foot, horse riding, rock climbing, caving, hiking, and fishing.
Chepstow Castle was the birthplace and home of Lord Nelson, the famous naval hero of the British victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. Highlights of a visit include the fine interiors, which include some of the finest rooms in Britain, and a small exhibition on the great man's life and times. His life and works are well documented and remembered with a number of things to do in and around the castle, including a re-creation of the 1,500m naval battle between Admiral Lord Nelson and the French fleet.
Llanberis (translated as "meadow by the lake") is an amazing mountain lake in Wales, the highest, most alpine lake in Europe. It lies 10 kilometers (6 miles) west of Pen-y-Pass, in a deep, glacial cirque on the northern side of the Cambrian Mountains. It is formed by a dam built across the Afon Llanberis (River of Flowers), which drops over a series of spectacular waterfalls, before emptying into the Dysynni river at the bottom of the valley. The lakeside, in the Snowdonia National Park, is surrounded by dense conifer forests, including the renowned Llyn Cwellyn. Some experts believe that the site was used as a stronghold by Neolithic people and had once been inhabited by one of Britain's earliest tribes, the Dolian's (who constructed roundhouses on the mountainside), or possibly by earlier populations that fled from Atlantis. Although public access to the lake is not permitted, its changing mood makes it one of the most fascinating landscapes in all of Britain. At times it is almost silent and forbidding, yet with the fall of the snow it turns into a frozen scene of incredible beauty, showing off its spectacular scenery with impressive displays of snow-capped mountains and frosted trees. You can get to Llanberis on foot, by bike, on horseback or in a small plane. There is no rail service to Llanberis, but buses run along the main road to the mountain, from Beddgelert, Bettws y Coed and Colwyn.
A restored and atmospheric English village in the Wye Valley, Portmeirion is an original, beautifully designed, tourist town. It's home to architect Cliff Richard Edwards' most famous project and the renowned Portmeirion Pottery Studio. The studio sells handmade stoneware pottery and hand-painted tiles from an old pottery that has been in the same family for the last 100 years. The designer's most famous project was the London Pavilion, an enchanting hotel that has been extensively rebuilt and now houses luxury shops, boutiques, restaurants, and pubs that are perfect for both honeymoons and lavish celebrations. More of Richard's masterpieces can be visited at his studio, where visitors can watch the clay figures being formed and can buy highly-decorated hand-made tiles and sculptures. Don't miss the beautifully restored village and its unique atmosphere.
Astride the romantic River Severn, this town is best known for the historic castle built here in the 12th century to protect the Welsh borders. Today, it remains an impressive, if somewhat humdrum, royal residence, and a popular family destination with a number of things to do in Caernarfon including touring the castle and the Prince of Wales' modern makeover of the town.
A mere village in rural west Wales, Machynlleth is steeped in history as the birthplace of William Shakespeare and the home of the renowned Welsh poet and writer, William Morris. The year 2016 marks the 500th anniversary of the Bard's birth. The town's mother church, St Mary's, was once a pilgrim shrine, visited by the first two English kings, Edward the Confessor and William the Conqueror. Even though the church is now empty and neglected, remnants of its former glory can still be seen today. Worthwhile trips here include the Bard's Way long-distance walk, a wild and beautiful path which takes in the site of the Bard's home and the poet's burial place.
When European holidaymakers flock to the coast, the last place they are likely to think of visiting is Colwyn Bay, a Welsh resort located in the heart of a beautiful, unspoiled part of the country, 10 miles north of Conwy. The area has a long history, with Conwy Castle as its most famous monument. Mention Colwyn Bay and people are likely to conjure up a gray and stuffy coastal town. There's an assortment of British seaside resorts in the area. But the good news is that this sheltered bay is now one of the most scenic places to vacation in the United Kingdom, thanks to the renaissance in development that has transformed this sleepy bay into an attractive seaside retreat that rivals even the best in mainland Britain. Things to do in Colwyn Bay include sea bathing, horse riding, jogging, fishing and golf, with links course nearby. The marina is an ideal spot for watersports, while the Dulas Bay Golf Course has been singled out as one of Wales's premier 18-hole championship courses.
The Gower Peninsula
The Gower Peninsula in the northwest corner of Wales is connected to the mainland by the 5,200-meter (5.7-mile) Gower Lighthouse. Its sheer cliffs are an ideal setting for many walks, ranging from leisurely rambles to challenging hikes to the summit of highest point on the peninsula, Trelawny Hill. The peninsula's subtropical climate and mild, temperate climate make it popular for walking and cycling, but also for golfing and sailing. Close to Swansea, the national rugby union team is based at Principality Stadium, which has a capacity of 67,000 and is the home of the English rugby league team.
Thought to be the capital of England, Bangor was founded in 699, not far from Ireland, by the Saxon King Offa. Over the centuries, this once-significant city's population declined with the conversion of the surrounding countryside to arable land. Today, the city has two cathedrals, dating back to the 9th and 11th centuries and is home to a university. Bangor is surrounded by the Brecon Beacons National Park and is set at the mouth of the River Dee, which runs through the town, emptying into the Irish Sea. Sights to see include the 13th century Cathedral of St. Michael and the 11th century St. Deiniol's and Bishopscourt Cistercian Monastery. The National Aquarium is located just outside the city center. Golfers can enjoy the course at Symmond's Inn and Golf Resort, featuring landscaped hills and fairways.
Brecon Beacons National Park
Brecon Beacons is a national park of stunning beauty with high heathland, lakes and rocky hills interspersed with ancient woodland and heath. It is bordered by the River Usk in the east, Meilyn in the south, the A40 in the west, and the Welsh-English border in the north. The park is one of the most popular areas for walkers in Britain with over 9,000 km of paths, as well as by snow-bikers. Climbs and walks in the park are classified into five types: easy; moderate; difficult; very difficult; and extreme. There is a narrow path from the parking lot near the car park, which leads around the perimeter of the park, and numerous footpaths within. Among the highlights of the park is the Black Mountains in the west. Some of the most popular walks in the park include: The five-day hike from Cwmcwm and Upper Manifold in the south-west, to Pen-y-Fan and the Three Castles in the north, takes in the peak of Craig y Cilgwyn and the tips of Llanberis and Crib Goch.
The Welsh language (known as Cymraeg) takes a special role in the life of this picturesque small town in the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. Its claim to fame is the unique Christian "Legendarium" (Chapel of the Storybooks) at the "Other" end of the town. It's decorated with panels depicting Welsh stories from the era of Llewelyn ap Gruffudd, the father of Welsh nationalism, and Llewelyn's famous descendant, Owain Glyndwr, whose campaign to re-assert Welsh independence brought his rebellion to a climax here. Other sites of interest in the town include the unique St Cadoc's Church, dedicated to a 6th-century Welsh saint, and the main pedestrianized shopping street, Cardiff Road, lined with many interesting shops.
A gorgeous small town in Wales, Pontypridd is not only an attractive place to visit, but also has a vibrant nightlife with pubs and restaurants, and plenty of shops and tourist attractions. Pontypridd has received good press in recent years for being voted one of the coolest towns in the UK. Best of all, Pontypridd is full of lively outdoor activities. There are a number of cycling routes which can be enjoyed either in the rolling countryside or on the river Taff in the town centre. The town boasts a number of lovely attractions, including many picturesque Victorian streets, and the National Botanic Garden, a delight to visitors and locals alike. Pontypridd also has the usual array of facilities, including shops, hotels, and eating and drinking places.
In 1965, a bookstore in Hay-on-Wye that had been out of business for a decade re-opened and published the first paperback edition of "The Holy Grail". Fifty years later, the world has changed, but Hay-on-Wye remains a delightful place. It is not a town of towers and towering cathedral-like buildings. Rather, it is small, atmospheric, very pretty, and full of mystery. It has medieval buildings, Victorian architecture, and a medieval castle that towers over the town. In addition to its quaint town center, there are a variety of parks and lakes, each one perfect for a morning walk.