This article was published on October 20th, 2019
As you explore Wales you quickly learn that this is a country where farming comes first. And it’s with good reason. For centuries the rolling hillsides of lush, green pastures have been ideal for farmers to raise cows and sheep. This is why Wales has become synonymous with lamb, beef, and dairy products, like Welsh honey ice cream. In fact, Wales is the largest exporter of lamb in the world!
The highways have historical significance too. What were once country roads connecting farms and villages, have been transformed into the national highway system. This has created an amazing scenic adventure by car. The highways are long and windy roads, in some spots becoming single vehicle traffic only areas as you go through the mountain passes or cross stone bridges, built hundreds of years ago.
The roads are also lined with beautiful rock fences. While they may appear to be aesthetic, these fences were built over a thousand years ago, during the iron age, by farmers to mark their pastures and keep sheep in their fields. Today, these historic fences are still maintained by the farmers.
Historic stone buildings dating back centuries dot the landscape. Many of these buildings are still in use today, standing the test of time. Stone buildings are common in Wales. For centuries, farmers cleared the land for farming and collected the boulders and rocks to build their homes, resulting in buildings that still stand today. Stone houses are common in the country, in villages, and even in the cities.
Throughout Wales there are quaint little hamlets and villages. Most are comprised of historic rock or lovely brick buildings. You’ll find boutique shops, general stores, art galleries, vintage and antique stores, Welsh ice cream parlours, pub houses, and coffee shops. It’s a great way to meet the locals and experience the warm, friendly, and authentic culture of Wales.
Along the western coastline there are quaint seaside towns and villages, points of interest, historic sites, and photo opportunities. It’s best to do your research ahead of time so you can plan out all your stops, like the chain of lakes where legends say King Arthur threw his sword.
The Snowdonia and Brecon Beacons National Parks are areas of wonder. The Snowdonia National Park has the highest mountains, not just in Wales, but all of Great Britain. The national park is popular with hikers and adventure seekers and offers six dedicated hiking paths to the summit where there are breathtaking valley views. Both national parks have been featured in many major motion pictures throughout the years.
While there are many points of interest and historically important landmarks, here is a look at some of the top places to visit in Wales to immerse yourself in history:
In the historic heart of the Welsh capital city, Cardiff, is Cardiff Castle. Cardiff Castle is the epicenter of Welsh history. A world history site, its roots go back to the Roman era, where the original timber walls were erected as early as 50AD. The rock walls would be added centuries later as Cardiff became a focal point for battles, control, and wealth. In the mid 19th century, the manor was build, which in a replica interpretation of what a medieval castle was thought to be like. The level of detail is impressive and a must-see experience. The original keep is also open to the public, offering spectacular scenic views.
Located in northern Wales, Conwy Castle is a stunning fortification. Built from 1283 – 1287 by Edward I after he conquered Wales, Conwy Castle is a medieval castle that more people envision. Strategically located on the hillside, the fortress overlooks the estuary, river, seaside, and rolling hills that surround it. It is only accessible by a mighty bridge. The thick walls protect the fully operational village of shops, restaurants, and homes, which are still in use today. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Conwy Castle is open to the public. Visitors can walk along the nearly mile-long castle walls to climb the some of the 21 lookout towers, peer through the windows where knights fought to protect the village, pass through the three gateways, and hide behind the aging parapets. Conwy Castle is also home to the smallest house in Britain, which is six feet wide and eight feet high, previously owned by a 6’3” local fisherman.
Set on the Welsh coast, Harlech Castle is a spectacular medieval castle. Part of Edward I’s 13th century ‘iron ring’, the fortress is located on the cliffside, high above Tremadog Bay. Now a world heritage site, the it is an incredible place to visit. A modern bridge is the gateway to the castle. The majority of the castle structure is intact and open to the public. You can climb up the towers, go into the dungeon, and re-enact defending the castle from the top of the walls. The views are incredible from the top of the towers. Over the centuries the hillside has become home to a small village with coffee shops, souvenir and antique stores, and wonderful restaurants.
Llechwedd Slate Caverns
Deep under the Snowdonia mountains in Gwyneed is the Llechwedd Slate Caverns. A Victorian-era slate mine, it was once a thriving mine with the steepest narrow-gauge railway in the UK, travelling over 500 feet underground. Today, Llechwedd has been transformed from a quarry to an adventure destination. There are 4X4 vintage military truck tours up the mountain tops, the longest zipline course in Europe, and the world’s largest underground trampoline experience. There are also daily mine tours exploring the history of mining in the area. There is also a village with a slate shop, souvenir shop, coffee shops, and a pub.
St Davids Cathedral and Bishops’ Palace
On the western most point of Wales is Pembrokeshire, the home of St Davids Cathedral and Bishops’ Palace. There has been a church on the site since the 6th century, and for over 1500 years, prayer and worship have been offered on a daily basis. The 6th century monastery was founded by St David, the patron saint of Wales, to train missionaries to spread Christianity to Ireland. The present cathedral was built in 1180 under the Norman bishop, Peter de Leia. The cathedral is built in a Roman style, with rounded pillars and mass shapes, with hints of Gothic in the pointed arches and wide spans. The shrine to St David was a popular pilgrimage site during the Middle Ages and today has become a favorite destination for visitors to Wales.
St. Govan’s Chapel
The story of St Govan remembers him as a Irishman in the 6th century, while folklore suggests he was a knight from the court of King Arthur. The legend tells the tale that Govan was on his way to Wales when he was attacked by Irish pirates of the coast. Govan ran to the cliffside and God saved him. Afterwards, he set up a monastic seaside hermitage in the cove, living his remaining life as a hermit. The location became an important site of worship, known as St. Govan’s Head. The now dry spring on the site was said to cure ailments; today it is used as a wishing well. Around the 14th century, a stone chapel measuring 20 feet by 12 feet was erected on the site. The chapel contains a bench, small altar, a small room, and what is suggested to be the imprint of Govan where God protected him during the Irish pirate attack.
While touring Wales, forget staying in standard cookie-cutter hotels. There are beautiful historic chateaus, country homes, and historically important buildings that were built centuries ago, that are filled with ornate carvings, artwork, antique furniture, and that have been retrofitted with today’s modern technology. Twr y Felin Hotel and the Chateau Rhianfa are two great recommendations.
There is so much to see and do in Wales, whether it be exploring castles, relaxing by the sea, or going on an adrenaline adventure. Make Wales your next gaycation destination with the help of Visit Wales.
As part of the United Kingdom, Wales is very distinctly Welsh—and it’s own special country. An exceptional part of Great Britain that shouldn’t be left off anyone’s visit to the UK. Check out Visit Britain as the best travel resource guide you could have when visiting Wales and Britain.