Wales is a land steeped in beauty, a land of imposing mountains and rugged coastlines, rolling hills, and lolloping lambs. Read on for the 12 prettiest small towns in Wales, from Conwy to Portmeirion.
Boasting more castles per square mile than anywhere else in Europe, we sure know a thing or two about cool buildings over here. Alongside Conwy Castle, the town’s most unique feature is the Smallest House in Great Britain, just 72 inches wide and occupied right up until 1900 by a fisherman who stood at 6 feet, 3 inches tall. Since it will take you all of 20 seconds to explore the house’s interior, we recommend a visit to the finest surviving Elizabethan townhouse in Britain, Plas Mawr, for a different kind of blast from the past.
Menai Bridge (Porthaethwy)
Set against a backdrop of the Snowdonia mountain range, the glittering waters and green coastlines of Menai Bridge (which translates to "Porthaethwy" in Welsh) give this town one of the loveliest settings in the country. To get the most out of your visit, stroll along the Belgian Promenade, built by Belgian refugees as a token of thanks during the First World War. After a visit to St Tysilio's Church on Church Island, wind around the coastline and beneath Thomas Telford’s towering 98-foot suspension bridge. If you’ve got the stomach for it, take a high energy Rib Ride among the whirlpools and shipwrecks of the treacherous Menai Straits, before finishing off with fresh seafood at award-winning restaurant Dylan’s.
In Wales you’re never far from either mountains or coast, but to enjoy both at once is a blessing. Overlooking the Menai Straits and mountainous mainland Beaumaris Castle, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town jail (Gaol), meanwhile, is now a museum and said to be the most haunted spot on the Isle of Anglesey.
If you’re here during the warmer months, take a Seacoast Safaris trip around Puffin Island for views of Penmon lighthouse and the chance to get up close and personal with the island’s resident colony of Atlantic gray seals. It gets chilly out on the water, so when you’re back on dry land, warm up at the charming Beau’s Tea Room, or Little Chili Shop if you need more of a kick.
Designed and built over five decades starting in 1925, the Italianate-style village of Portmeirion pays homage to architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis’ love of the Mediterranean. Among the piazzas and colonnades you’ll find glorious vistas around every corner, all peppered with the fanciful details synonymous with Sir Clough. When you’re ready for some peace and quiet, you can explore about 19 miles of woodland trails in The Gwylt, in addition to some of the most secluded beaches in Wales.
An adult day ticket costs 13 pounds, though it’s also possible to spend the night in one of two hotels or a self-catering apartment.
Considered the gateway to Snowdonia National Park, Betws-y-Coed has a distinctly Alpine feel. The most arresting aspect about it is the River Lligwy; flowing through the heart of town, it cascades over boulders as it descends beneath the Pont-y-Pair bridge.
While you're here, we recommend following the trail upriver, where you’ll mingle among the sheep before reaching Swallow Falls. On your return to town, warm up with a cone of chips from Hên Siop Pont-Y-Pair, best enjoyed while perched on a riverside boulder.
Caernarfon Castle may have been a symbol of Welsh oppression for hundreds of years, but today the town has the highest percentage of Welsh speakers in the country. After exploring the old town, located within the castle walls, chat with the locals at the 16th-century tavern, Black Boy Inn. Picking up a few Welsh phrases will go a long way here, so don’t be scared to give it a go!
Translating to "Gelert’s grave," the postcard town of Beddgelert is located right in the heart of the Snowdonia National Park. Take a gentle stroll along the River Glaslyn to pay your respects to the town’s legendary hound (don’t forget to stroke the bronze figure’s head for good luck) before enjoying a riverside lunch at Caffi Colwyn.
For the most spectacular views of Snowdonia, visit by taking the Welsh Highland Railway from Caernarfon.
Situated at the base of Mount Snowdon, Llanberis is a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts keen to conquer the country’s tallest peak. To start your day right, fill up with a hearty breakfast at Pete’s Eats before making your way towards the Llanberis Path; locals may consider it the easiest route up Snowdon, but do respect the mountain and the region’s capricious weather. Short on time? Book ahead for a spot on the Snowdon Mountain Railway, which will take you to the summit.
The colorful seaside town of Tenby is a jewel fit for a Pembrokeshire pirate (who you can learn all about on a tour with Town Trails of Tenby). Tenby’s Welsh name, which translates to "Little Fortress of the Fish," pays homage to the town’s quaint little harbor. From there, take a boat ride out to the holy island of Caldey Island, where Cirstercian monks have lived in peace and tranquility since Celtic times. Back on dry land, Tenby has an abundance of beautiful beaches, while its medieval walls still stand ready to be explored.
Hay-on-Wye (Y Gelli Gandryll)
In the 1970s, resident Richard Booth traveled to the U.S. to rescue books from its rapidly dwindling libraries, then brought them back to the old firehouse in Hay-on-Wye to set up his first bookshop. This prompted other residents to follow suit, thus cementing Hay-on-Wye as a Town of Books. Today you can hunt for treasures among approximately 20 bookstores that cater to every interest imaginable, from all things horror at Murder and Mayhem to The Poetry Bookshop, Britain’s one and only store for second-hand poetry. Be it rare, vintage, or obscure, you’ll find whatever book your heart desires, as well as those it never knew it needed.
Hay-on-Wye is also home to the Hay Festival of Literature, referred to by Bill Clinton as a "Woodstock of the mind." Don’t forget to pop into Shepherds for a sheep’s milk ice cream—for sustenance, of course.
If the poetry bookshop was your most important port of call, the home and final resting place of poet Dylan Thomas is an unmissable addition to your trip. Paying homage to Thomas’ "Poem in October," a seven-stanza poem about his 30th birthday, visitors celebrating their own special day are encouraged to take the Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk and enjoy the same route Dylan took as he mused on his love of Laugharne and getting older. From here you’ll enjoy views of the Estuary, Dylan’s Boathouse, the Gower, Devon, Caldey Island, and Tenby.
Home of the world-famous Tintern Abbey and set in the Wye Valley’s Area of Outstanding Beauty, tranquil Tintern is the perfect note on which to end your Welsh adventure. Having stood defiantly for nearly 500 years, the Abbey’s ruins are testament to the timeless romance of these rugged lands, which served as the subject in William Wordsworth's poem "Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey."