Wales is a country of wild rugged beauty, stunning beaches, and warm, friendly locals. One of the most obvious differences between Wales and other countries in the UK is our language. In fact, Welsh is one of the oldest languages in Europe and is something that we're justifiably proud of.
Wales is famous for its imposing castles, and it was said that there was one castle every 12 square miles in the medieval ages, making Wales the most castellated country. From the 11th century Norman invasion to the 15th century when Owain Glyndwr's army rose up against the English, the country endured 350 years of conflict with England.
When planning a break in the UK, Wales should feature highly on your list of destinations. Within easy reach by rail, it’s a country well worth exploring, so read on for our top ten places to visit in Wales.
1. Snowdonia National Park
Covering an area of approximately 825 square miles in the northwest corner of Wales lies Snowdonia National Park. Easily accessible by train from Bangor or Betws-y-coed, this is the first and arguably, most impressive, of the three National Parks set within Wales, and is visited by around 10 million people every year.
Within the Park are several small villages, including the picturesque Beddgelert and Betws-y-Coed. These offer a choice of warm, welcoming hotels and guest houses that make the perfect base for exploring the wild beauty of Snowdonia.
The first thing to notice about this National Park are the mountains, with over half measuring more than 300 metres. Snowdon itself is an impressive 1,085 metres and is the tallest in Wales. Water, too, is a major feature of the Park, and over 700 km of rivers flow down the mountains and through the valleys. Llyn Tegid near the village of Bala is the largest natural lake in Wales.
All year round walkers arrive to challenge themselves with the steep slopes and tough climbs of Snowdon, but for those more enthusiastic about the view at the end, the Snowdon Mountain Railway takes you on a leisurely climb to the summit.
2. Caernarfon Castle
Easily reachable from Bangor station, Caernarfon Castle is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Wales, with the name often anglicised to Carnarvon Castle.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, construction on the impressive motte and bailey castle began in the 11th century and continued with Edward I of England replacing the older structure with the impressive stone building in the late 1200s.
The castle was intended to be a fortress and palace for the English king, and it served as such for many years. Playing a significant role in Welsh history, it was used as a prison during the Wars of Independence and the English Civil War, and it was also the birthplace of Edward II of England.
Although its design was dictated by the lie of the land, its towers and turrets were a dramatic symbol of England’s rule, and many of them still survive making this a must-see on your trip to Wales.
Cardiff, the capital of Wales and our largest city, is vibrantly multicultural with plenty of things to see and do. Whether you’re arriving by train or car, Cardiff has several of the top attractions that Wales has to offer.
Mention Cardiff to anyone and most thoughts turn to the glorious castle. Standing in the centre of the city, its 11th-century motte and bailey construction was dramatically added to in the mid-1800s by John, 3rd Marquess of Bute. Employing the architect William Burges, he began a transformative reconstruction of the castle in the Gothic Revivalist style. Richly decorated rooms, such as the Moorish themed Arab Room, two-storey banqueting hall, and the beautiful Roof Garden, with intricate carvings and lavish paintings, are open to the public, as are the surrounding landscaped gardens.
Cardiff Bay is one of the most widely visited places in the city, and with its cosmopolitan vibe, choice of places to grab a bite to eat, and boutique stores, it’s the perfect spot to stop and watch the world go by.
Just outside Cardiff, you’ll find St Fagans National Museum of History. Set in the tiny village of St Fagans, the open-air museum is home to a multitude of buildings and artefacts from across Wales, brought together on this one site. The buildings include farms, a mediaeval prince’s hall and a Victorian school. Not only is admission free, but the museum is dog-friendly, too.
With galleries, theatres, and everything you’d expect in such a cultural and historic capital, Cardiff should be on your list of places to visit.
4. Brecon Beacons National Park
Get off the train at Abergavenny railway station and you’re right on the doorstep of one of the natural treasures of Wales - the Brecon Beacon National Park.
Including the tallest peak in South Wales - Pen y Fan and the Black Peaks, the Brecon Beacons are named after the act of lighting warning beacons across the hills when invaders threatened.
With endangered flora and fauna, peat bogs that are so crucial in our battle against climate change, and dramatic landscapes, this National Park has plenty going on every single day. Tours of the Park’s cave system, stargazing adventures and guided climbs up the tallest mountains will encourage even the novice walker to get out and explore.
On the northeastern point of the Brecon Beacons, just on the border between Wales and England lies the glorious market town of Hay-on-Wye, often abbreviated to Hay. For bibliophiles everywhere, this is the place to come and is home to over twenty bookshops. Over ten days at the end of May, more than 80,000 visitors enjoy the annual Hay Festival. Hay also hosts the music and philosophy festival HowTheLightGetsIn every May, and this regularly sees famous faces giving talks, including Philip Pullman, Sarah Pascoe, and Noam Chomsky.
With almost 150 listed buildings, luxury hotels and restaurants serving cordon bleu menus, this delightful town is well worth a visit.
Lying on the west coast of Wales is the popular seaside resort of Aberystwyth. Easy to get to by rail, the sweeping promenade draws the summer tourists and stretches from the harbour in the south to the dramatic rise of Constitution Hill in the north. The promenade is dominated by the impressive pier, reaching out over the waves of the Bay. Its original length was 242 metres, but due to the wild storms that have battered this beautiful coastline, it has been reduced.
Aberystwyth Castle with its imposing flint flecked walls was one of the greatest of the Welsh castles. Now, however, its ruins are scattered throughout the town thanks to Oliver Cromwell’s slighting of important buildings in the mid-1600s.
Whether a relaxing break by the sea or enjoying the attractions, is your thing, Aberystwyth has it all.
Just along the coast from Aberystwyth, lies the picturesque town of Aberaeron. Unusually, the town was the vision of one man - the Rev. Alban Thomas Jones Gwynne, and he began the plans in 1805. Starting with a harbour, houses for the workers, and a school for their children, the town took shape. Gwynne saw crafts as an integral part of life in Aberaeron, and he included a bootmaker, blacksmith, baker and hat maker in his designs.
Bordering the harbour, the buildings’ Regency architecture offers a classic elegance unusual in Wales, and their brightly painted facades make this pretty town a lovely place to visit.
Tenby has been one of the most popular seaside towns in Wales since the early 1800s. Tenby harbour boasts a beautiful beach or you can head out to sea on a mackerel fishing trip from here. There’s also the option of visiting Caldey Island, an oasis of calm owned and run by a community of Cistercian monks. It will take you about 20 minutes by boat to get there.
With two sweeping golden beaches - Castle Beach being named by the Sunday Times as the best in the UK - pretty pastel-coloured houses, and numerous independent boutiques, it’s no surprise that visitors still flock to the town.
9. St. David’s Cathedral
St David’s, on Wales’ Pembrokeshire coast, is the UK’s smallest city and the resting place of the patron saint of Wales. Given city status in the 1100s, the vast, impressively preserved cathedral overshadows the small settlement. Founded in 589, the monastic community grew, and although attacked numerous times, continued to survive. In 1115, Bishop Bernard began work on a new cathedral, and after Pope Calixtus II bestowed a papal privilege upon the site, it became the centre of pilgrimage for the Western world, necessitating a larger, more impressive cathedral.
The Pembrokeshire Coast is the third National Park in Wales and this stunning maritime landscape incorporates rugged cliffs, secluded beaches, and inland waterfalls leading to wooded estuaries. With rare flora and fauna, this ecological wonderland should be top of everyone’s to-do list.
10. Conwy Castle
The North Wales town of Conwy is popular with tourists who flock to the town to see the glorious Conwy Castle. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the organisation considers it one of Europe’s best surviving examples of 13/14th-century military architecture.
Towering over Conwy, the defensive castle walls surround the town, and using the spiral steps in the towers, visitors are able to walk an entire circuit of the walls - nearly 1.5 km. The great Mount Snowdon can be seen in the distance, with the mediaeval streets of Conwy and harbour mouth lying far below.
Spanning the river near the castle is Thomas Telford’s suspension bridge. Finished in 1826, its construction echoes the design of the castle turrets, making an impressive sight. Now owned by the National Trust, only pedestrians are allowed to cross the bridge.