Whether you’re after farm-to-fork dining, coastal hikes or historical discoveries, Wales is the perfect destination for intrepid travellers. Here’s how to make the most of it this summer
With its dramatic cliffs and stunning coasts, towering peaks and vast national parks, Wales offers some of the most awe-inspiring backdrops for outdoorsy holidays in the British Isles. Here are some of the best things to do in Wales.
Hike through mountains and parks
Wales’s reputation as a hiker’s paradise is unquestionable, with its wealth of treks for all abilities, and there’s no better place to start than Snowdonia National Park. Hike all the way to the top of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), the tallest mountain in England and Wales, at 1,085 metres, or hop on the Snowdon Mountain Railway for a 2.5-hour round trip to the summit and back, which includes a 30-minute stop to take in the views. Views across the Llynnau Mymbyr lakes from the Yr Wyddfa Horseshoe peaks on Snowdon’s eastern side are a sight to remember.
For lighter walks, head to Bannau Brycheiniog National Park (formerly known as the Brecon Beacons; the park reclaimed its Welsh name in April 2023 to celebrate the 66th anniversary of the area’s designation as a national park).
The main attraction here is Pen y Fan mountain, with its distinctive horizontal lines giving it its distinct pyramid shape. Park in the Pont ar Daf car park on the A470 for a gentle ascent or follow the more challenging Pen y Fan Horseshoe route to trek along the ridge of a glacial valley and traverse four of the mountain’s peaks. Head deeper into Bannau Brycheiniog National Park and you’ll find waterfall hikes, designated mountain biking routes and the Llanddeusant Red Kite Feeding Station, where you’ll get to watch the majestic raptors during their feeding time.
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Walk along the coastline
For charming seaside towns and incredible vistas, you can follow the signposted, 870-mile Wales Coast Path — stretching from Wales’s border with the English city of Chester in the north to Chepstow in the south.
One day you could be marvelling at the gushing Dyserth Waterfall, between the towns of Rhyl and Prestatyn, and the next you could be walking along the Anglesey Coast Path stretch, being accompanied by rare Manx shearwaters flying overhead. Steps, stiles and footbridges are there to make your hike easier, while many stretches feature railways so you can take the train whenever you’re too tired to walk.
From the seaside town of Aberystwyth in west Wales, you can also follow the scenic, 45-minute nature trail that leads to Devil’s Bridge Falls, a spectacular waterfall amid the Mid Wales Cambrian Mountains. The highest in Wales, these tiered waterfalls have five major drops and intervening cascades, adding up to 91 metres in total drop. Step on the iron footbridge for an extra-Instagrammable selfie amid the greenery.
Explore picture-perfect castles
Wales has more castles per square mile than any other country in Europe — 427, including Iron Age hill forts and ruins that go all the way back to Medieval Welsh princes and English kings.
Start with UNESCO-listed Conwy Castle in North Wales, commissioned by Edward I in the 1200s. One of the most magnificent medieval fortresses in Europe, Conwy is well preserved, containing the most intact set of medieval royal apartments in Wales. Also commissioned by Edward I in the 1200s, and protected by UNESCO, Beaumaris Castle on the island of Anglesey is another must-see. Its moated outer ward, guarded by 12 towers and two gatehouses, is a highlight.
Other castles worth a visit are Caernarfon Castle in northwest Wales, which hosted Prince Charles’s Investiture Ceremony in 1969, and gorgeous Harlech Castle, set in the seaside community of Harlech, North Wales, which crowns a rocky crag overlooking verdant dunes.
Dance, socialise and get creative in a nature reserve
Head to Candleston Park, within the Merthyr Mawr National Nature Reserve in south Wales, to attend a carefree festival in a lush setting. Between the Trees literally takes place amid trees, but it’s not just nature you’ll get to enjoy here.
A wide range of scientific, creative, literary and wellbeing activities and workshops are on offer, including discussions with authors and poets, hands-on science workshops (with topics ranging from insects to plants and fungi) and artistic activities such as using plants to make stunning headpieces. You can also catch live traditional, indie and contemporary folk music performances. The line-up this year includes Seth Lakeman, Tarren and Anna Anise. Between the Trees 2023 is set to take place from 25 to 27 August.
Reconnect with nature and other people at a feel-good festival
The Big Retreat Festival in Lawrenny village, Pembrokeshire, guarantees the ultimate feel-good experience for those looking to get in touch with nature.
Every June, the festival offers more than 300 experiences — including yoga, workshops, woodland foraging, feasting, arts, bushcraft, live music and more — all meant to nourish your soul. And afterwards, you can bask in the peace and quiet of a meditation session and the soothing sounds of a gong bath.
Unleash your inner child tobogganing or spinning on a thrill ride
Looking for a bit of excitement? Hop on an exhilarating toboggan ride in the coastal town of Llandudno, North Wales. The Llandudno Ski and Snowboard Centre’s 575-metre toboggan ride is the longest in Wales and is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat. During winter, you can get the same kind of adrenaline rush here snow tubing down the hill. The large inflatable rings can be ridden individually or linked together so you can swish through fresh snow alongside your friends.
For some classic amusement park fun, visit The Dinosaur Park in Tenby, which offers dinosaur trails, a golf course, and games for the whole family, or Barry Island Pleasure Park on the coast at Barry Island in the Vale of Glamorgan. This is where you’ll find Aerospace, the tallest, fastest ride in the UK, spinning at 75mph, 65 metres above ground.
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Wander around chocolate-box villages
Of the thousands of small towns and villages in Wales, Portmeirion, in the north of the country2, is one of the prettiest. Created by British architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, the village replicates the beauty of a charming Italian town. This is where Italian-style mansions blend with gothic towers and baroque facades, all making for #nofilter kind of scenery.
The fishing village of Tenby in southwest Wales is also well worth a visit. Dotted with brightly coloured houses and surrounded by a medieval stone wall, it’s part of Pembrokeshire Coast Path, a 186-mile stretch of the Wales Coast Path, marked by pristine beaches and ultra-quaint corners waiting to be photographed.
Many more cute villages await, including Tintern, in Monmouthshire, with Tintern Abbey (its monastic ruins) stealing the show, and Port Eynon, a seaside village in Swansea on the southern tip of the Gower Peninsula, which was once a flourishing oyster port and salt farm. Most villages come with lovely cafes and pubs, ideal for some much-needed refuelling post photoshoot.
Enjoy tea and Welsh cakes at an enchanting cottage
While in the Snowdonia region, don’t forget to stop by the Ugly House, nestled in the greenery on the side of the road between the villages of Betws-y-Coed and Capel Curig. Picturesque rather than ugly (some say ‘ugly house’ is a tweaked version of the name of nearby River Llugwy), the house was built in the 15th century and is said to have served as a shelter for thieves and robbers who preyed on passers-by.
Whatever the case, the cottage is now the place to be if you’re looking for a beautiful setting to enjoy a proper al fresco Welsh cream tea, complete with traditional bara brith and Welsh cakes. Alternatively, choose from a selection of delicacies, including homemade quiches and Scotch eggs. Browse through the brunch menu and daily specials at uglyhousetearoom.co.uk.