Wales is a beautiful country that's often overlooked by visitors to the U.K. in favor it more popular neighbors. But Wales has a lot to offer, from white sand beaches to tall mountain peaks to vast wilderness areas, as well as colorful cities and charming small towns. Here are some of the best destinations in Wales, from Cardiff to Snowdonia National Park.
Cardiff, the capital of Wales, is a vibrant city with a lot to see and do like the historic Cardiff Castle, the vast National Museum Cardiff, and several beautiful parks. Dyffryn Gardens, a 55-acre collection of botanical gardens located outside the center of town, is a must-do, especially in the spring and summer. Cardiff is also known for its nightlife and restaurants, and there's plenty of shopping for those who prefer to skip the sight-seeing. The city is a good starting point for any trip to Wales, so allot a few days to explore its neighborhoods and to book a boat trip to nearby Flat Holm Island.
Snowdonia National Park
The glacial peaks and sloping valleys of Snowdonia National Park are one of Wales' most iconic sights. The park, located in the northwest of the country, is home to Mount Snowdon, which attracts hikers throughout the year. Visitors can also summit the mountain via the historic Snowdon Mountain Railway (and hope to catch a glimpse of Ireland from the top). The park is popular for camping, fishing, cycling, and hiking, but there are also numerous small villages and historic sites, like Cymer Abbey, to explore. Snowdonia is huge and best accessed by car, so it can take at least a few days to see the area, especially if you plan to camp.
Brecon Beacons National Park
Brecon Beacons National Park is Wales' other famous national park, this one located in the center of Wales, just north of Cardiff. The park draws nature lovers year-round, particularly those interested in walking and cycling through the scenic mountains and wide-open countryside. It's popular with families and kids won't run out of activities, from horseback riding to boating to caving. Many visitors pitch a tent or book a glamping site, but you can also find many charming cottages for rent throughout the area's villages.
Located in Caernarfon on the River Seiont, Caernarfon Castle is an impressive medieval fortress that dates back to the 11th century. It was built by Edward I over the course of 47 years and still stands tall more than 700 years later. Today, visitors can explore the rooms and grounds throughout the year (with opening hours varying by season). The Royal Welsh Fusiliers Museum is also part of the castle and is included with admission. Don't miss the Caernarfon Town Walls and the Segontium Roman Fort located nearby.
Conwy's most iconic attraction is its 13th-century castle, but the northern town has many attractions and activities for visitors of all ages. The town is also home to the Smallest House In Great Britain, Aberconwy House, and Plas Mawr—a restored Elizabethan townhouse that offers daily tours. Conwy has a scenic harbor, inviting travelers to walk along the water or seek out waterside restaurants, and there are plenty of small hotels and B&Bs for a longer stay. Numerous beaches are located a short drive away, too—look for Colwyn Bay Beach or North Shore Beach.
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park has some of the most amazing coastline in the U.K., stretching around the southwest area of Wales. The coast is dotted with colorful towns, like the harbor village of Tenby, and there are amazing stretches of wild open space to explore (the park features more than 600 miles of trails). Rent a car and journey along the coast, stopping in various towns along the way. Don't miss the offshore islands, including Skomer Island, home to a colony of puffins, which can be accessed by boat tour. The coast, of course, also has some of the best beaches in Wales, from Marloes Sands to Saundersfoot Bay.
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, built by Thomas Telford and Williams Jessop during the industrial revolution, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that entices visitors interested in history or simply in its scenic surroundings. You can walk or boat across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, both of which take around 45 minutes, or you can book a more leisurely boat tour from Llangollen, which takes several hours. While in the area, stop by Chirk Castle and Valle Crucis Abbey, the remains of a 13th-century Cistercian monastery.
Venture northwest to the Isle of Anglesey, an area of Wales known for its picturesque beaches and historic sites, which include Beaumaris Castle and the surrounding medieval town. The scenic island can be accessed by car via a suspension bridge and it's a good pairing with a visit to Snowdonia National Park. Look for amazing hikes, including the 130-mile-long Isle of Anglesey Coastal Path, as well as great cycling and golf courses with unparalleled views.
To experience a quintessential Welsh town, head to Llantrisant, located on the River Ely. The town showcases the Royal Mint Museum, the remains of Llantrisant Castle, and the Welsh Mining Experience—a heritage museum that exhibits the country's history with coal mining. The surrounding area is quite beautiful, with lots of nature spots to discover. Look for Brynna Woods, which is perfect for a country stroll, and Garth Hill, a small peak that attracts a lot of hikers. Llantrisant is an easy day out from Cardiff via car or public transportation, but visitors can also stay for a few days to see life outside the big city.
Part of the National Trust, Bodnant Garden is a massive botanical garden that can be found in the Conwy Valley. It was established in 1874 and is filled with plants collected by famous explorers like Ernest Wilson, George Forrest, and Harold Comber. With plants and flowers suited for all seasons. It's open year-round, but you should plan your visit based on which plants you want to see in bloom (including the famed laburnum arch). You can access the gardens by car, or opt to take a train to Llandudno Junction before hopping a bus to the front gates. Book a timed ticket in advance online to help skip the lines.
It may seem strange to find an Italian-style village on the north coast of Wales, but Portmeirion is a charming tourist destination that's great for a day trip or a long weekend. The village, created by Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis from 1925 to 1976, is open daily, with several shops and restaurants, as well as two hotels and a few holiday cottages. There are free guided walking tours and land train tours of the surrounding Gwyllt woodlands offered during the high season, and the sub-tropical gardens alone are worth the price of admission to the village. Portmeirion is best accessed by car, but travelers can also take a train all the way from London.
"Gavin and Stacey" fans will be familiar with Barry Island, a seaside resort community known for its beach and the Barry Island Pleasure Park. It's best seen in the summer when the beach is lively and the amusement rides are open. It has a vintage feel and the Barry Tourist Railway takes visitors on a 40-minute ride around the island. If you're a TV fan, look for one of the "Gavin and Stacey" location tours, which showcase the show's various sets.
Venture out to the edge of Swansea Bay to find Mumbles, a beachfront area known for its connection to Dylan Thomas. There you'll find a Victorian Pier, numerous shops and restaurants, and the historic Oystermouth Castle, which is worth a visit just for the views. There are numerous beaches to explore, including the family-friendly Llangennith Beach and the wilder Three Cliffs Bay Beach. Mumbles can be a day trip from Swansea, but there are also several adorable waterfront B&Bs for those who want to stay a few days.
Wye Valley, found along the eastern edge of Wales near the border of England is a proclaimed Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and an ideal stop for those who love the great outdoors. The expansive area, which surrounds the River Wye, is known for its walking trails, which range from long-distance treks to short strolls, as well as its canoeing and boating. Don't miss the ruins of Tintern Abbey, Monmouth Castle and Military Museum, and the many small towns that dot the valley.
Devil's Bridge Falls
Found in Ceredigion and located not far from Aberystwyth, Devil's Bridge Falls is one of Wales' most famous natural attractions. Three bridges overlook a series of cascading waterfalls, which have inspired writers like William Wordsworth for centuries. Most visitors opt to stroll along the nature trail to see the falls, which takes about 45 minutes and requires a ticket to enter. It's best for active travelers, although families with kids won't have any trouble. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes and bring rain gear.