27 Awe-inspiring things to do in Wales
My mum was born in Wales and claims it is the most beautiful country in the world – I don’t disagree I loved Wales. Wales is a country of soaring mountains, deep valleys, strikingly rugged coastlines and heart-melting beauty. There are just so many things to do in Wales you will never be bored visiting this glorious country.
It has been a while since I was in Wales as there has been no travelling but I was reminded of the magnificent landscapes when a friend gave me a book to read called Here Be Dragons by Sharon Penman. I was immediately taken back to medieval Wales and couldn’t put the book down. This work of historical fiction inspired me to write about Wales and include a brief history of the country which the book made me want to search out.
A very brief history of Wales
The Welsh are fiercely independent people who retain aspects of their culture that are totally different from those of their English neighbours. Wales was brought into the Kingdom of England in 1536 and suffered greatly at the hands of the Normans rampaging over the island of Britain.
Today, Wales is seen as a Celtic nation. During the 1st centuries BC and AD, however, it was specific tribes and leaders who were named. By the time of the Roman invasion of Britain, four tribal peoples occupied areas of modern-day Wales: the Ordovices (north-west), the Deceangli (north-east), and the Demetae (south-west) and the Silures (south-east).
The Vikings did come to Wales around 852 and there were several Viking raids written about these raids in Gwynedd and Anglesey. However, they did not gain a foothold in Wales thanks to Rhodri Mawr who was the ruler of Gwynedd and led the Welsh in battling the Vikings trying to settle here.
Hywel the Good implemented many Welsh laws that were contrary to the English and he codified Welsh law in the Laws of Hywel Dda.
These laws were incredibly reasonable and compassionate when compared to the English. Hywel’s laws were based on common sense and the recognition of the rights of women. These days the Welsh fiercely guard their ancient traditions and the Welsh language was revived in the late 20th century and is now taught in most schools. The British government worked with the Welsh people to create The Welsh Assembly in 1997 which finally gave the Welsh decision-making authority over most local matters.
Welsh is a Celtic language in the same family as Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic, Cornish, and Manx. It’s spoken in two dialects these days: Northern and Southern Welsh. The six regions widely considered Celtic nations are the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man and Brittany in France.
The Welsh language is spoken by over half a million people in Wales and according to the Wales Guidebook, just under 30% of the population in Wales can speak some Welsh but only a smaller proportion, around 15%, actually speak the local language daily. The Welsh Government recently announced plans to ensure that the language has a million speakers once again by 2050.
Wales is known as the Land of Song singing is part of Welsh identity and tradition and the sport of Rugby is where the average person can hear some legendary Welsh singing. If you watch a Welsh rugby match one of the things you will hear and see is the Welsh breaking into song and not just a top of the charts pop number there are songs that are traditionally sung like the hymns Calon Lân, Cwm Rhonnda, Gwahoddiad that you may also hear at a standard Welsh wedding or funeral around the country.
The Welsh national Anthem is sung in Welsh and there is The National Eisteddfod of Wales that is a celebration of the culture and language in Wales. It is held every year in August at different locations around the country.
- 27 Awe-inspiring things to do in Wales
- A very brief history of Wales
- Best things to do in Wales – Great attractions to discover in Wales
- Visit the Castles of Wales
- Towns, Villages and Citys to visit in Wales
- Try some traditional Welsh dishes
Best things to do in Wales – Great attractions to discover in Wales
Wales is a country made for exploring, hiking, mountain climbing, art, music and food here are 99 of the best things to do in Wales.
A line from the 1941 Oscar-winning adaptation of Richard Llewellyn’s novel How Green Was My Valley, a story about a Welsh mining community at the turn of the 20th century, reads: “Singing is in my people as sight is in the eye”. Singing is part of Welsh identity and tradition which dates back to the 12th century.
At this time, music and poetry had great cultural significance, with folk traditions enabling stories to be told. Singing and reciting poetry – sometimes to music, when it is known as cerdd dant in Welsh was often part of this. The Welsh language is so lyrical that it probably greatly influenced the bardic traditions historians say.
In fact, Welsh was apparently used as the basis for the Elvish language in JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings partly due to its melodic, ethereal nature.
If you head to Wales make sure you take the opportunity to hear some Welsh singing and celebrating. Wales has many festivals, concerts and events encompassing all types of singing – including the National Eisteddfod, which travels to a different venue each year; the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod (where Pavarotti made his first international appearance); Festival No. 6 at the Italian-inspired Portmeirion village; and one of opera world’s most prestigious events, the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World biennial competition.
Famous Welsh singers include Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, Charlotte Church, Dave Edmunds and Duffy to name a handful
Rugby is Wales’ national sport and it helped to create Welsh nationhood. Rugby union is the national sport of Wales and is a great influence on Welsh culture. Try and get tickets to the Principality Stadium in Cardiff to experience Rugby international weekends and enjoy some real Welsh partying.
Hike the Brecon Beacons National Park
Brecon Beacons National Park is a 520 square mile park and is home to two sets of Black Mountains to the east is the range famous for the Welsh wild ponies and to the west is the source of the River Usk. Many of the mountains in the range are over 1000 feet with many higher than 2000.
In the Beacons, you can explore caves and waterfalls especially Henrhyd Falls at Coelbren. On the park borders near Abergavenny, you can tour a coal mine at Big Pit National Coal Museum. The park is superb for adrenalin junkie activities such as mountain climbing, dirt bike riding, intense hiking, horseback riding, fishing, camping, canoeing and sailing.
Wales is a nation built in mining and, as such, has done a remarkable job of preserving its mining past. 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.
Explore Snowdonia National Park
This is where you will find the challenging hike to the top of Mount Snowdon where you will be treated to some jaw-dropping views. Snowdonia National Park covers over 1000 square miles of
is a challenge is one of the oldest parks within Wales and a stunning place to explore. With almost 1000 square miles of pristine beauty, you can visit the breeding centres for birds of prey in the Dovey Valley, climb or take the mountain railway to the top of Mount Snowdon or go ziplining at Cader Idris.
Make a stop at the famous Tŷ Mawr tearoom which is 200 years old and situated in the village of Rhyd Ddu at the foot of Snowdon. The cosy tearoom can seat about 18 people and serves Dutch coffee, various teas, homemade soup, Welsh rarebit, Welsh cream tea and much more, including Dutch pancakes.
Explore Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
The Pembrokeshire Coast Path is a spectacular 186-mile-long National Trail covering some of the most varied coastal scenery in Britain, stretching from St Dogmaels in the north to Amroth in the south. Both the Wales Coast Path and the International Appalachian Trail follow the route of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
Highlights on the coast include Pembroke Castle the birthplace of Henry VII, the founder of the Tudor Dynasty, and Britain’s only welsh King. You can explore the charming fishing harbour of Laugharne where the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas lived and visit his old home which is now a museum. There are simply so many things to do in Pembrokeshire you will be spoiled for choice.
If you want some beach life you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to this area. There are over 50 of them in total. And according to Visit Pembrokeshire, almost all have won awards. It’s easy to understand why Pembrokeshire claims to have the best beaches in Wales. There are also some rumours that Vikings came to this part of Wales to either trade or settle.
Take a boat out to Skomer Island, less than a mile off the Pembrokeshire coast. Between April and July, Skomer is well known for its puffins, but there is so much more to this National Nature Reserve – including Manx shearwaters, dolphins, seals, and razorbills.
The best places to find Atlantic puffins in Ireland
Visit the Gower coastline
Gower was the first place in Britain to be named an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. With cliffs and woodlands ringed by sparkling beaches, the Gower peninsula is a haven for walkers and nature buffs.
Gower’s most iconic sight is Worm’s Head a rocky promontory that juts out into Rhossili Bay. You can walk out to Worm’s Head but make sure you check the tides as it is only reachable for 2 hours on either side of low tide.
Rhossili regularly makes lists of the world’s best beaches with its three miles of golden sands. You can watch the paragliders soar above you or just enjoy the beach. Check out Three Cliffs Bay for a great it isn’t a great swimming beach due to the strong currents but you will almost feel alone in the world in this quietly beautiful spot.
Walking the North Wales Pilgrims Way
In the 12th century, Pope Callixtus II declared that three pilgrimages to Bardsey Island gained the same spiritual benefits as a single journey to Rome. The North Wales Coastal Path as it has become known as is a 75-mile along the northern coast of Wales to Anglesey.
Decorated with three massive and famous castles that immediately grab tourists’ attention the Wales Coastal Route is peppered with Welsh treasures. Bardsey is a remote island off the Llŷn Peninsula in North Wales that still attracts pilgrims into the 21st century, and the journey there along the main medieval route (the Wales coastal path) is a wonderful trip through some of the most jaw-dropping landscapes in the UK, with some beautiful ancient churches to discover.
The northern arc of Cardigan Bay – much of it in the Snowdonia National Park – is one of outstanding beauty. With stunning beaches surrounded by seaside villages like New Quay, Aberystwyth, Borth, Tresaith, Aberaeron, Llanon and many more this is where you go to enjoy a Welsh summer.
Tresaith which is a tiny village on the coast has a legend that it was founded by 7 Irish sisters (saith is Welsh for 7) that sailed across the Irish sea to get away from an evil father. Landing on the Ceredigion coast, they met and fell in love with seven local farmers and lived happily ever after.
According to tradition, St David – the Patron Saint of Wales – was raised on the Ceredigion coast, and later performed his most famous miracle at the Synod of Llanddewi Brefi, in Ceredigion’s Cambrian Mountains. Ceredigion has several ancient holy sites which are in use today, including healing wells and early churches.
Visit the Castles of Wales
Wales has the most castles per square capital in Europe so there are plenty to choose from. There are around 45 castles in Wales which is a vast amount for such a small country. There are four castles in Wales that are UNESCO World Heritage sites and they include: Beaumaris, Conwy, Caernarfon, Harlech and the attendant fortified towns at Conwy and Caernarfon in Gwynedd, North Wales. UNESCO says these are the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th-century military architecture in Europe.
Read about 11 of Wales’s best Castles here
Heading to the Isle of Anglesey, one of the first towns to visit is Beaumaris to see the gorgeous pier and impressive castle. Although the castle was never finished, it is still remarkable to photograph with its layered walls and watered moat.
A castle that is intrinsic to the make-up of a place is one that towers over the town and can be seen on arrival, from anywhere within the town, and upon departure. That’s Conwy Castle and it’s a striking castle to witness considering it was built over 700 years ago.
Harlech Castle was a military stronghold that can be seen from miles away with its high location and is another striking castle of Edward I’s to gaze at especially with Snowdon, Wales’s highest peak, in the distance. Take the floating footbridge to explore in detail.
Last but not least, the castle to make up the four castles of the UNESCO World Heritage Site is Caernarfon Castle which has certainly made an impact on British history.
The two investitures of the Prince of Wales of the 20th century occurred here including that of Prince Charles. An investiture ceremony is when someone has been rewarded an honour and receives it from the Queen or a Member of the Royal Family. In 1969 the ceremony was held to acknowledge the new Prince of Wales, Prince Charles in the manner of a coronation.
Cardiff has been the capital city of Wales since the 1950s yet has always served as a powerhouse for the world trade of Coal, been home to dynasties and Earls and Cardiff Castle has been the target of attacks and occupation.
Neighbouring Cardiff is the town of Caerphilly, home to a great mountain and medieval castle and a gateway to the South Wales Valleys. Caerphilly Castle is the largest castle in Wales and the second largest in the United Kingdom, after the royal residence of Windsor Castle!
The site covers 30 acres containing towers (including the leaning tower of Wales), bridges and walls. The main fortress is surrounded by water, built purposefully for defences in the 13th century. Visits to the castle today can be explored independently or guided. Watch out for the Green Lady, a scorned woman who haunts the grounds of Caerphilly Castle.
In the town of Pembroke, in the county of Pembrokeshire, is the medieval Pembroke Castle, rising over the town and the Pembroke River and featuring Norman motte-and-bailey, fighting platforms, huge walls, arrow slits and gateways.
The most famous fact about Pembroke Castle is that it was the birthplace of Henry VII, the only Welsh-born King of England and father to the infamous King Henry VIII.
Don’t forget to pay a visit to Cardigan Castle which is host to a range of permanent and temporary exhibitions, focusing on its history – and that of the surrounding area. The Castle is home to the Eisteddfod Exhibition celebrating Welsh artists. Take a stroll back in time along the winding pathways of the stunning Regency-style gardens that just burst with colourful blossoms and rare plants.
Towns, Villages and Citys to visit in Wales
Nestled on the northwest coast of Wales, Portmeirion is a purpose-built village modelled on Italy. It was built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975. Visitors to Portmeirion must pay an entry fee or if they stay overnight in the village the fee is waived and they can explore the whole village when the gates are closed without hordes of tourists.
Portmerion was featured in the 1960s cult show The Prisoner and you will see many areas featured in that TV show. The village has some lovely shops where you can buy the famous Portmeirion pottery.
Anglesey is separated from mainland Wales by the mile-wide Menai Strait and it can be reached over the Menai Suspension Bridge. From the minute you cross one of the bridges you’ll see stunning landscapes, unspoilt coastlines and picturesque towns and villages that are just waiting to be explored.
Much of the Anglesey coastline has been declared an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and come there are fabulous beaches, where you can go rock pooling in windswept bays. There are miles of scenic walks, water sports and cycle paths to explore.
The smaller Holy Island, linked to Anglesey by a 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.
Llandudno is the largest seaside resort town in Wales and it is on the north coast with sweeping views across the Irish Sea. Llandudno’s promenade is free of those awful tatty tourist shops and cafes which are behind the seafront – those Victorians did something right here. You can also take a heritage tramway to admire the seascapes.
Spend a day in Tenby
One of the prettiest seaside towns I’ve had the pleasure of visiting is Tenby in West Wales. Situated on the Pembrokeshire coastline on the western side of Carmarthen Bay, this beautiful little-walled town is the ideal place for a stroll around. It is both a harbour town and a popular seaside destination thanks to the stretches of sandy shoreline.
Tenby is a town dating back over one thousand years and still retains much of the 13th-century medieval town walls along with the Five Arches Barbican gatehouse, St Mary’s Church dating back to the 15th century and the National Trust’s Tudor Merchant’s house, a popular tourist spot and the oldest standing building in Tenby. Aside from these, you can also visit the ruins of Tenby Castle and, if the tide is low, you could visit St Catherine’s Island with its 19th-century fortification, although the fort itself is closed to the public.
One of the best things to do in Conwy is to steal a bird’s eye view of the Conwy Suspension bridge built in 1826 by Thomas Telford. The suspension bridge is one of the earliest suspension bridges ever built and is designed to blend in with the medieval look and feel of the castle. Don’t forget to stop by St. Mary’s church while you’re in Conwy. The church is even older than the castle and dates back to 1190 when it was part of the Cistercian Abercony Abbey.
Conwy is also curiously home to the tiniest house in Britain! Make sure to stop by and explore all 6 feet of the house which was once home to a 6’3” tall fisherman. Of all the whimsical things to do in Conwy, my favourite part was soaking up the atmosphere of this quaint little seaside town by ordering a basket of fish and chips accompanied with some steamed mussels and eating them along the banks of the Conwy Estuary with views of sailboats and the castle walls mysteriously looming in the background.
It’s one of the biggest towns in Mid Wales and home to the University of Aberystwyth and the Aberystwyth Arts Centre.
A visit to Aberystwyth has to include a stroll on the mile-long Victorian promenade and the oldest pier in Wales built in 1864. Then hike up Constitution Hill for stunning views or Pen Dinas Hill to visit an Iron Age hillfort.
A visit to Aberystwyth Castle built to keep the English out of Wales is also in order or perhaps you might enjoy the Aberystwyth Camera Obscura on top of Constitution Hill which will give you a 360-degree view of the landscape around Aberystwyth. The Camera is accessible via the Cliff Railway which is the longest cliff railway in Britain.
Cardiff is a fascinating city and there are so many things to do in Cardiff. One of the most popular visitor destinations is Cardiff Castle, where you can discover 200 years of history in the heart of the city. There are two wonderful museums in Cardiff that you can explore for free, the National Museum and St Fagans. If you like to get outdoors then take a stroll over the beautiful Cardiff Bay Barrage, or why not book a boat trip out to Flat Holm Island.
Visit Devil’s Bridge Falls
Devil’s Bridge has been a tourist attraction for over 100 years and the village is small but interesting. The main attraction is the Three Bridges built one on top of the other. The English name Devil’s Bridge was probably first used when Thomas John, owner of the Hafod Estate, started enticing visitors to his new hunting lodge.
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.
The name Devil’s Bridge begins with the tale of the devil building a bridge he demands payment of the first living thing to cross the bridge. The old lady needs to get her cow back and she manages to outsmart him by sending her dog across the bridge.
Along the Nature Trail to the falls, you will follow in the footsteps of the monks of the past and enjoy views of the spectacular 300 ft waterfalls deep within the Rheidol gorge. This is not an easy walk and there are many stairs to conquer.
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Llangollen Canal
It took 10 years from 1801 to design and build the aqueduct that carries the Llangollen Canal across the wide valley of the River Dee in northeast Wales and it is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The 18-arched bridge is built of stone and cast iron over 1000 feet in length with soaring arches over 100 feet above the river. This is the longest navigable aqueduct in Great Britain and the highest in the world. There is a very narrow walkway for pedestrians to cross but the best way to see it is by renting a canal boat to cruise the waterways.
You could also take horse-drawn canal boats that take tourists on a tree-shaded stretch of the canal from nearby Llangollen Wharf or if you like a bit of adrenaline take a canoe trip with a guide across the aqueduct.
A National Trust property, this is considered one of the most beautiful gardens in Britain. A highlight of the garden is the grand formal terraces with incredible views across the River Conwy. The Laburnum Arch is believed to be the most famous garden structure in the Country. It is a curved walkway of about 50 yards covered with laburnum flowers in late May and early June.
In Spring the gardens are filled with blooming rhododendrons and a wide variety of plantings fill the gardens with colour year-round. There is a Georgian Pin Mill that was moved to the garden from Gloucestershire along with 40 varieties of UK Champion Trees.
Try some traditional Welsh dishes
Ten years ago it was difficult to find traditional Welsh cooking in the larger Welsh cities of Swansea or Cardiff but an initiative called “Wales, the True Taste” was created to celebrate Welsh cuisine throughout the country, each year producers are awarded accolades for products they create from Welsh ingredients.
Some dishes to try would be the obvious Leek and Potato soup, Conwy Mussels – said to be the best in the world, Glamorgan sausages and of course Welsh Rarebit.
You can read more about the most popular Welsh foods at this link
As you can see the best of Wales will be found in its landscapes, mountains, valleys and of course its people. So don’t neglect visiting Wales.
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