Things to Do in Wales
Overlooking the Menai Strait with its imposing polygonal towers, Caernarfon Castle (Carnarvon Castle) has been dominating the landscape in this corner of North Wales for nearly 800 years. Built for King Edward I on the site of a Roman fortress and Norman fort, the site is a popular tourist attraction for visitors interested in learning more about the history of Great Britain.
In many ways the ideal of a medieval castle, the imposing Conwy Castle (Castell Conwy) was built for Edward I in 1289, during his conquest of Wales. Featuring crenelated towers and soaring defensive walls, it stands on the River Conwy, near the rugged splendor of Snowdonia National Park. Today, Conwy Castle holds UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
Surrounded by leafy Bute Park, Cardiff Castle (Castell Caerdydd) boasts a history spanning two millennia. The hodgepodge castle is a jumble of different architectural styles, from the Norman-era keep to the faux-Gothic apartments. It is the former home of the prominent Bute family, who helped transform Cardiff into an influential industrial port.
Manorbier Castle has stood as a symbol of Welsh heritage for almost a millennium, but it’s often overlooked in favor of the country’s more famous fortresses. Today, the birthplace of medieval scholar Gerald of Wales offers historical immersion and coastal sightseeing, boasting views of the Bristol Channel and beyond.
Llandudno is the largest seaside resort town in Wales. The town continues to embrace its Victorian and Edwardian elegance along with its modern day characteristics. There are two beaches, the North Shore and the West Shore, where you can enjoy swimming, sunbathing, and other water activities. The Victorian Llandudno Pier, with its gorgeous sea views, is lined with retro stores, arcades, Punch and Judy stalls, shops selling traditional Welsh gifts, and ice cream shops.
The Great Orme, an impressive coastal landmark with nature reserve status, sits more than 650 feet above the sea. You can reach the summit on foot or by using the tramway. Visitors can also explore Conwy Castle, which was built for King Edward I at the end of the 13th century and is full of medieval history. If you're interested in more history, the Llandudno Museum delves into the heritage of the town and its evolution from an industrial town to a popular beach resort. There's also a zoo, a theater, a golf course, nature reserves, and plenty of hotels and restaurants.
For the quintessential British seaside experience, head to Barry Island(Ynys y Barri) in South Wales. Here you’ll find a sandy beach, traditional fairground rides, arcade games, and cafés serving paper-wrapped fish and chips. There’s plenty for both kids and adults at Barry Island, a popular destination for British vacationers for decades.
In Cardiff’s civic center, at the National Museum and Art Gallery, travelers can wander through 15 galleries dedicated to European art dating back 500 years while also learning about Welsh history and culture. Opened in 1927, the National Museum and Art Gallery is home to several Monet, Daumier, and Van Gogh masterpieces, as well as many notable Welsh artworks and historical artefacts.
Designed by Rod Sheard for the 1999 Rugby World Cup Final, the former-Millennium, now-Principality Stadium in Cardiff is one of the UK’s premium sporting arenas and live music venues. From its picturesque waterside position in the heart of Cardiff’s city center, the Millennium Stadium—which has also hosted the Rolling Stones—is now home to both the Welsh National Rugby and Football teams.
Sprawling along the Irish Sea coast and centered Mount Snowdon, Wales’ highest mountain, Snowdonia National Park is a rugged wonderland of grassy hills, medieval castles, and glistening lakelands. With ample opportunities for hiking and outdoor activities, it’s one of the most visited attractions in Wales.
Llandaff Cathedral is one of the oldest Christian sites in the UK. Built in the 12th century it offers visitors the chance to see a striking example of gothic architecture. It’s a must-visit for fans of historic buildings.
More Things to Do in Wales
Science is made fun and accessible at Techniquest in Cardiff, one of the UK’s best science and discovery centers. Get hands-on with interactive puzzles, more than one hundred exhibits, a science theater, and Planetarium that will captivate children and adults alike, in the scenic surrounds of Cardiff’s recently-redeveloped Cardiff Bay area.
With a mixture of English and French architectural styles, Cardiff City Hall is one of the most recognizable buildings in the city. Set in landscaped grounds, it’s open to the public and often used for wedding receptions and civic events.
Built in the 13th century, Caerphilly Castle (Castell Caerffili) is a lasting reminder of medieval times in modern-day Wales. Located on the edge of Brecon Beacons National Park, overlooking the town of Caerphilly, it draws history buffs and curious visitors from the world over who come to step back in time to understand life in the Middle Ages.
Originally built as a place of worship, the Norwegian Church Arts Centre is now a local art gallery and café, which regularly hosts live music sets from its advantageous spot on the water at Cardiff Bay. Travelers can also enjoy panoramic views of the Bay from the outdoor terrace of this strikingly white Arts Centre, a building quite unlike any other in Cardiff.
Tintern Abbey—immortalized in the title of a Wordsworth poem—was the first building of its kind in Wales, originally founded in the 12th century by Cistercian monks, before being rebuilt in a gothic style a century later. Nowadays, it’s a Grade I-listed and impressively-preserved (albeit roofless) medieval attraction on the banks of the River Wye, within easy day trip distance of Cardiff.
Brecon Beacons National Park’s wild, windswept landscape appeals to those who like to explore unspoiled countryside. The scenery in this part of Wales has remained unchanged for many generations, and the park welcomes hikers, mountain bikers, horse riders, keen fishermen, and watersports enthusiasts from far and wide.
Llandaff is a centuries-old town that lies within the city limits of Cardiff. It’s famous for its cathedral—one of the UK’s oldest Christian sites—under which early Roman burial sites have been discovered. It is said that ghosts and spirits, such as the White Lady, haunt Llandaff and roam the local woods. Beware!
Originally built in the 11th century, the Grade I listed Pembroke Castle is one of the oldest Norman castles in Wales and the birthplace of King Henry VII. Strategically situated on the rocky banks of the Pembroke River, visitors can enjoy views from the 80ft high Great Keep, gaze into the dungeons below, and explore the underground Wogan’s Cavern.
Originally built for a Welsh prince in the 13th century, Powis Castle is now one of Britain’s finest stately homes. Behind the red sandstone façade, which is surrounded by spectacular Baroque gardens and a deer park, visitors can explore elaborately decorated 17th century dining halls and state rooms, before admiring the collection of Indian artefacts in the Clive Museum.
Take a trip back into the Victorian era at Llechwedd mines amid the wild hills of Snowdonia, where quality slate has been produced since 1836. Now part museum, part activity center and part working quarry, Llechwedd’s original Victorian mine is open for guided tours; the UK’s steepest cable railway leads 656 ft (200 m) underground to a subterranean world of lakes and vast chambers accessed through tunnels carved out by hand. Temperatures underground are at a constant and cool 12°C, so dress warmly as tours last an hour.
Back on the surface, a mock-Victorian village is manned by costumed characters who run a traditional tavern, blacksmith and retro souvenir store. There are regular demonstrations of slate splitting, a skill still executed by hand as it was in the mid-19th century. The workshop is found in the former Victorian quarry offices, where skilled craftsmen fashion slate address signs and placemats to sell as typically Welsh keepsakes. Youngsters can try their hands at decorating slate or bounce around in the world’s only subterranean playground, and outdoor activities at Llechwedd include zip lining and extreme cycling down sheer mountain tracks – the latter suitable for expert bikers only.
Rhuddlan Castle (Castell Rhuddlan) was built by King Edward I in the late 13th century as one of his iron ring of fortresses designed to control the Welsh. It is located in northern Wales just a few miles from the town of Rhyl on the coast. The River Clwyd was diverted into a canal in order to connect the castle to the sea almost three miles away, and remains of the river gate can still be seen today along the outer ring of walls. The castle was built with a concentric walls within walls design and has a twin towered gatehouse on the western side.
The main entrance is at the northwestern end of the dry moat. Though much of the castle is in ruins today, you can still see pieces of the foundations of the great hall, kitchens, private apartments, and a chapel. In the outer sections, there are few remains of the granary, stables, a smithy, the treasury, and a goldsmith's workshop. A modern set of stairs has been added to allow visitors to climb the castle walls and get a better view of the castle and surrounding areas.
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