Guide To Best Things To Do In Wales

One of the best things to do in Wales is visit at least a handful of its 600 castles. The country has more castles per square mile than any other place in the world. Wales also happens to have stunning scenery, so touring these historic treasures is a great way to get acquainted with the spectacular Welsh coastline and its mountainous interior.

Wales is the smallest of the four countries that make up the U.K. About 170 miles in length north to south and roughly 60 miles wide, Wales is about the size of the U.S. state of Massachusetts and has three regions: North Wales, Mid Wales, and West Wales. This guide covers highlights of North Wales and Pembrokeshire in West Wales.

One of the places where the Welsh landscape and history intersect is Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. If you love physical activity, scenic train rides, or charming villages nestled in idyllic spots, this iconic Welsh landmark has enough attractions to keep you blissfully busy for days. We offer up just a few of the many ways to enjoy the magnificent splendor of Snowdonia’s

In West Wales, Pembrokeshire National Park serves as one of three national parks in the country and has four distinct sections including the famous Caldey Island, the Daugleddau estuary, St. Bride’s Bay coast, and Preseli Hills. Perhaps more interesting is its popularity within the world of geology and science. As an area with 7 Special Areas of Conservation, a Marine Nature Reserve, 6 national nature reserves, and 75 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, this park not only draws visitors from all over the world, but scientists and scholars alike. Filled with naturally shaped rock formations and sea caves, this national park will remain a place of scientific interest for centuries to come. Also within the park lines are some of Wales’ most beautiful and iconic destinations like St. David’s peninsula, the village of Tenby, and Carew Castle and Tidal Mill. As an area as extensive and diverse as the Pembrokeshire National Park, this location warrants a detailed and organized trip, which we give suggestions for in this piece.

Cultural Lay of the Land

Wales is the smallest of the three countries that make up the island of Great Britain. While Wales shares much in common with its neighbors England and Scotland, the history of Welsh-English relations has been complicated to put it mildly. This ambivalence/animosity dates back for almost a thousand years, and is the result of centuries of power struggles.

Wales is a Celtic nation, meaning that the ancient Celtic (Central Europe origins) language and culture are still practiced. The heritage of the English is largely Anglo-Saxon (German origins) and Norman (Norse-French origins).

The nature of the relationship between the two countries is perhaps revealed in the name each country uses. The word “Wales” derives from the Old English “Wealys”, meaning a foreigner, whereas the Wesh name for Wales is “Cymru”, which means “brothers”.

From the 11th century until 1415, the Welsh fought with the English–and with each other. Wales officially became part of Great Britain in 1707…but relations between the two countries have been described as a friendly rivalry or downright contemptuous.
Politics aside, Wales has a rich history and culture, including its own language, customs, politics, holidays and music.

North Wales

Best Things to Do In Wales | Caernarfon Castle

Of all the castles in Wales, the one at Caernarfon has by far the most historical significance. The castle was originally built by the Romans in what is today Gwynedd county in north-west Wales. It was strategically built on the banks of the River Seiont and the Menai Strait to protect against enemies. The protection was necessary during the late 11th century up until King Edward I besieged the castle in 1283.

Low tide, western view of Caernarfon Castle in 1994. Photo: Herbert Ortner https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caernarfon_Castle_1994.jpg
Low tide, western view of Caernarfon Castle in 1994. Photo: Herbert Ortner
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caernarfon_Castle_1994.jpg

During his conquest of Wales, Edward I again began construction on the Caernarfon Castle. He used the castle to increase security and to act as the administrative center of north Wales. Because of its legislative importance, the castle and surrounding town of Caernarfon were enclosed by stone walls. They were used to keep enemies out, and to keep the Welsh subdued inside.

Photo: Meg Pier
Photo: Meg Pier

As construction continued and the site of the castle grew, the Welsh people of Caernarfon were displaced from their home. They would not receive compensation until three years later. A rebellion led by Madog ap Llywelyn in 1294 saw the temporary occupation of the castle to the Welsh. However, it was recaptured by English forces a year later. The unstable ownership of the castle led to many of the original building plans to never be finished.

The castle was left incomplete until the late 19th century when repairs were finally funded. Deputy-constable Llywelyn Turner was in charge of the renovation. Unfortunately, he controversially repaired the castle with new materials instead of preserving the existing stonework. Still, this castle is considered one of the greatest buildings from the Middle Ages throughout the entire world.

Visits to the castle can be coordinated through Cadw, the historic environment service of the Welsh government. Caernarfon Castle is open Monday through Wednesday, and Saturday and Sunday, with adult tickets at £5.20, family tickets at £14.70 and children between 5 and 17 tickets at £3.10.

Best Things to Do In Wales | Conwy Castle

Just a half hour from Caernarfon is the market town of Conwy, perched on the northern coast of Wales. It is enclosed by timeworn walls of a massive castle that dates back more than 700 years. Conwy Castle stands tall against the chiseled Snowdonia mountain range behind it. It overlooks an estuary where the mouth of the River Conwy meets the tide of the ocean. With walls that stand at almost 30 feet tall, it’s one of many defensive structures erected around the perimeter of Wales during the 13th century.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay
Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

The country was besieged by England after Prince of Wales Llywelyn the Great died in 1282. In an attempt to subdue the Conwy population and to provide military strength, King Edward I ordered an “iron ring of castles,” to surround Wales.

King Edward I enlisted his trusted architect James of St. George to build him a castle in Conwy. Although James of St. George had built multiple castles for King Edward I already, this was different. It took an astonishing six years to complete, from 1283 to 1289. Up to 1,500 laborers worked on its construction. It was protected by four 70-foot towers, the same height as the tallest point of the White House. It cost 15,000 pounds to build, which today equals about $30 million USD. A generous mix of limestone, grey sandstone, iron, and other resources, the eight 30-foot towers of the castle used to be a stunning white color. After hundreds of years, it now shows the classic signs of aging. The village developed into a flourishing market town, a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages. Stands and shops line the narrow streets of Conwy, offering plenty of Welsh culture to experience.

Today, there are many things to explore at Conwy Castle and the surrounding town of Conwy. At night, the castle towers are illuminated by spotlights and is for sure a site to see from afar. During the day, visitors can walk through the castle exploring the private chambers. They can even see the atmospheric chapel where medieval personages could secretly tune in to religious services. Considering all these medieval artifacts at stake, the castle was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986, and has been carefully preserved since.

Visitors can spend 2-3 hours visiting the castle Monday through Wednesday, as well as Saturday and Sunday. It is required that tickets be purchased 24 hours in advance and can be downloaded from Cadw.

Best Things to Do In Wales | Plas Mawr

Also in Conwy, is one of the only preserved Elizabethan town houses from the 16th century. It’s about a five minute walk from the Castle via Church St. or High St. Called Plas Mawr, or “Great Hall,” it’s tucked neatly behind a steep narrow lane, with more to it than what meets the eye. Despite its humble exterior, the interior boasts 17 rooms intended to impress!

Plas Mawr, Conwy. Photo: Stephen Colebourne, Flickr (https://tinyurl.com/y3xwye2k)
Plas Mawr, Conwy. Photo: Stephen Colebourne, Flickr (https://tinyurl.com/y3xwye2k)

Wealthy merchant Robert Wynn served in the royal court, fought for Wales in Scotland, and conducted merchant trade with Flanders. Once he had acquired enough wealth, he began construction of his dream townhouse, Plas Mawr. Between 1576 and 1585, the Plas Mawr town house was completed in three phases, costing Wynn about £800. His initials “R.W.” can be seen engraved into the plasterwork, family crests, and coats of arms throughout the house. With a passion for entertaining and advertising his prosperity, Wynn decorated his mansion in all the works. It still features original furniture, a fireplace painted to look like marble, and more than 27 different symbols incorporated into the ceilings and walls.

Painted plasterwork in the Great Chamber, Plas Mawr.
Painted plasterwork in the Great Chamber, Plas Mawr. Photo: Meg Pier

The most notable decoration within Plas Mawr is the extensive and embellished plasterwork. This original plasterwork can still be seen today in seven rooms of the house. With bright colors and authentic carvings, this was again a monument displaying Wynn’s great wealth. He also treated himself and his guests to fresh food and products from his own property, including its own brewery, bakery and dairy facilities.

Fireplace in the hall, showing the quartered arms of the Wynn family, surrounded by badges and caryatids. Photo: Hchc2009 via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plas_Mawr#/media/File:Detail_of_plasterwork_at_Plas_Mawr.JPG

Tickets are available for purchase up to 24-hours before visitors plan to arrive. Adult tickets cost £6.50, “junior” tickets for 5 to 17-year-old cost £3.90, while children under 5 receive free entry. There is also a senior (65+) discount at £5.20. Visitors typically spend 2-3 hours at the town house, which is open Monday through Wednesday, as well as Saturday and Sunday.

Best Things to Do In Wales | Snowdonia National Park

Established in 1951, Snowdonia National Park covers 823 square miles of vast and unique landscape. It is commonly known as “one of Britain’s breathing places,” and is also considered the Adventure Capital of Europe. It has the highest mountain in both the country and England at 3,560 feet, with the largest natural lake in all of Wales.

Unlike most national parks which are uninhabited, Snowdonia is home to six towns and 26,000 people. Included within the park is the seaside village of Aberdyfi, the quarry town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, and the historic market town of Dolgellau. Perhaps the most popular tourist towns, Beddgelert and Betws-y-Coed, are also a major attraction within Snowdonia. While these towns only make up a small percentage of Wales’ population, the close quarters and beautiful scenery make it a flourishing attraction.

Sheep climbing the steep mountain side in Snowdonia National Park.
Sheep climbing the steep mountain side in Snowdonia National Park. Photo: Meg Pier

Best Things to Do In Wales | Hike in Snowdonia

Snowdonia National Park offers an ample amount of walking trails, with different options for people of all abilities. Experienced hikers can choose from eleven “hard strenuous walks” ranging from 3.5 to 10 miles long. Intermediate hikers can choose from sixteen different “moderate paths,” including the famous four-mile Panorama Walk in Barmouth. For those who just want a relaxing stroll through the scenery, visitors also have the option to take “leisurely walks.” People with disabilities or who wish to take it slow and easy can choose from seven different “access for all walks.” Snowdonia has made it easier with the “Snowdon Walks” app which gives detailed directions and tracks your progress. Other outdoor activities available include cycling, climbing, water sports, fishing, and horse riding.

Best Things to Do In Wales | Summit Snowdonia By Train

For those who want to appreciate the thrill of summiting Snowdonia without actually straining life and limb, do it by train! From Clogwyn Station in the picturesque village of Llanberis, make a two-hour round-trip journey to the summit. Once there, you’ll have a 30-minute stop at the station to view the park from its highest point.

It is a 20-minute ride from Caernarfon and a 25-minute ride at the A55 junction to Bangor. Visitors can park at the park-and-pay for £4.00 for four-hour parking, £8 for eight-hour parking, and £12 for 12-hour parking. Visit https://www.snowdonia.gov.wales/home to plan your amazing trip!

Villages of Snowdonia | Betws-y-Coed

The small village of Bewts-y-Coed (pronounced BET-uhss uh COYD) may be worthy of a day-trip in itself with plenty of attractions and sites to explore. Meaning “prayer house in the wood,” Bewts-y-Coed has a meager population of 564. Centuries of history tell it’s story after being founded around a monastery in the 6th century.

Enjoy a picnic on the village green used by the local football team. Be surrounded by exquisite 19th century buildings, tourist shops, and hotels while you eat. Just a short stroll away is the famous church of St. Michael’s. Built between the 14th and 15th century, this church has a stunning and ancient beauty. One of its most notable features is the stone effigy of Gruffydd ap Dafydd Goch. As brother of the last native Prince of Wales, he is depicted in armour from the 14th century. On the grounds is an ancient graveyard, where headstones stand amidst giant ferns and wildflowers.

A worn and washed out gravestone at St. Michael’s, Betws-y-Coed.
A worn and washed out gravestone at St. Michael’s, Betws-y-Coed. Photo: Meg Pier

Of the many sites to see, Swallow Falls in the Snowdonia National Park may be first on your itinerary. You can enjoy a quick 15 to 20-minute walk to start your day. The drive from Betws-y-Coed is 5 minutes away by car along the A5. For those who may prefer public transportation, there’s a bus that runs every two hours at the Betws-y-Coed Post Office for a 7-minute ride to the Falls.

View the boisterous, foaming waters as the stream collides with a rock, separating it in two to create the illusion of a swallow’s tail. The admission prices seem unprecedented with only a £2 fee for adults, and £1 for visitors 14 and younger! Afterwards, choose from 59 unique restaurants within 5 miles of the Falls to replenish some energy.

An overhead view of the swift rapids of the Falls. Photo: Pixabay
An overhead view of the swift rapids of the Falls. Photo: Pixabay

Lastly, stop by the Dolwyddelan Castle, another fortress built by Llwelyn the Great between 1210 and 1240. It’s a 14 minute drive away from the village of Betws-y-Coed via A470. This castle is not only beautiful but has a significant historical background. As part of his conquest to vanquish all of Wales, King Edward I captured the castle in 1283. He quickly began further construction to fortify his new possession. Using English architectural influence, Edward I constructed an additional tower and acquired stone cannon balls for further defense.

Seen from the top of the climb on the path between Blaenau Dolwyddelan and Dolwyddelan itself. Photo: Andrew, Flickr
Seen from the top of the climb on the path between Blaenau Dolwyddelan and Dolwyddelan itself. Photo: Andrew, Flickr

Tickets for the castle sell for £3.00. It features a family ticket option for £8.10 which admits two adults and up to three children under the age of 16. Stop by to see a piece of history still standing tall after centuries of conflict and construction.

Villages of Snowdonia | Beddgelert

Also in Snowdonia is the wonderful village of Beddgelert which covers 86 square miles of pure beauty and fun. The River Glaslyn and River Colwyn merge together to cascade below the famous 17th century arched stone bridge, rightly called Beddgelert Bridge.

The River Glaslyn and River Colwyn flow quietly beneath the 17th century Beddgelert Bridge. Photo: Meg Pier
The River Glaslyn and River Colwyn flow quietly beneath the 17th century Beddgelert Bridge. Photo: Meg Pier

Legend has it the town was named after the faithful hound “Gelert” who was slain by Llywelyn the Great. He thought Gelert had killed his baby, but the courageous hound had just killed a wolf to protect the baby. Llywelyn supposedly never smiled again, and to this day remains a raised mound in Beddgelert called “Gelert’s Grave.” However, it was discovered that the landlord of the Goat Hotel likely created the grave to increase tourism in the late 18th century. Today, we know it was most likely named after a Christian missionary named “Celert” during the 8th century. Still, Gelert’s Grave remains a major tourism attraction and is definitely worth seeing.

Folk legends aside, the village of Beddgelert is in close proximity to countless activities and sceneries, like the Moel Hebog. Meaning “Bare Hill of the Hawk,” a pointed summit rests at the top of the mountain. With easy access to a car park next to the mountain, the hike leads to a view of the western side of Beddgelert. For a less strenuous activity, visit the Sygun Copper Mine located one mile from Beddgelert. What was once the main source of minerals for Wales, can now be experienced through audio-visual tours of the underground mine.

Afterwards, get back out into nature and visit the world’s fastest zipline at Zip World Velocity, or take a ride on the popular Welsh Highland Railway to Caernarfon or Porthmadog! Other available activities for the adventurous include visiting the U.K.’s best downhill mountain bike tracks at Antur Stiniog; fishing at the Glan Morfa trout fishery packed with rainbow trout; or renting modern mountain bikes from Beddgelert Bikes. This village is definitely worthy of a visit; with plenty of activities, it might take you a few days to get through it all!

Best Things to Do In Wales | Portmeirion

The village of Portmeirion offers an entirely different ambiance from Snowdonia, less than a half hour south of Beddgelert. Portmeirion was built far more recently–between 1925 and 1975–by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. He modeled Portmeirion after the style of Italian villages. “Port-” refers to its location on the coast and “-meirion” refers to the county of Merioneth. This village is delicately placed on the inlet of River Dwyryd and is only one mile away from the Minfford railway station.

Williams-Ellis created an architectural bricolage, using various types of materials in the buildings. These include parts of demolished structures and works by other architects. This subsequently made him a main influencer of postmodern architecture in the late 20th century. In 1964, famous architecture critic Lewis Mumford commented on William-Ellis’ Portmeirion. He called it “an artful and playful little modern village” that brings a “happy relief” from the “rigid irrationalities” of the modern world.

By Mike McBey - Portmeirion, Wales, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=86187990
By Mike McBey – Portmeirion, Wales, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=86187990
Photo: Meg Pier

This quaint little village is filled with hotel rooms, self-catering cottages, shops, a cafe, tea-room and a restaurant. Visitors can get a whole tourist experience without even leaving the premises. Portmeirion has been popular with celebrities too— Beatles manager Brian Epstien enjoyed staying in the hotels quite often. Beatle George Harrison enjoyed his 50th birthday there in 1993 and was interviewed for The Beatles Anthology documentary at the village. Band member Paul McCartney is also on the lengthy list of famous visitors to Portmeirion. Musician Jools Holland also made a visit to the village and became infatuated with it. He had his studio and buildings at his home modeled after the design of Portmeirion.

Take it from the stars, this village is an iconic destination for tourists of all kinds. Despite it’s Italian influences, there is still some Welsh history preserved in Portmeirion. The Castell Deudraeth, first recorded in 1188, was opened as an 11 bedroom hotel and restaurant in 2001 by Welsh opera singer Bryn Terfel. Thanks to the European Regional Development Fund and the Wales Tourist Board, this village remains as one of the most popular tourist attractions in Wales.

Best Things to Do In Wales | Pembrokeshire

Best Things to Do In Wales | Tenby

After spending time on the mainland, take a trip to the coast and choose from 2 ½ miles of soft sandy beaches in Tenby. Located in Pembrokeshire and just a train ride away from Pembroke, Carmarthen, and Swansea, this town is the ultimate destination for a beach day.

Tenby’s rich and ancient history is worth noting— first taken over by the Normans in the early 12th century, Tenby was a place worth fighting for. It was routinely sacked by Welsh forces in 1153, 1187, and finally in 1260 by the famous Llwelyn the Great. After the conquering by Llweyln, town walls made from 13th century stone were constructed for protection that still stand. Today, the enclosed settlement is now known as the “old town” and is distinguished by its tall towers and gates. During the late Middle Ages, Tenby served as an essential port for trading. Merchants from Bristol, Ireland, France, and Spain brought over wool, skins, canvas, coal, iron, and oil. The Portugusese even brought over the first oranges in all of Wales to Tenby in 1566! A large D-shaped tower called the “Five Arches” still stands today after being built in the mid 16th century.

Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/TimHill-5727184/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=2444775">Tim Hill</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=2444775">Pixabay</a>
A sandy beach on the coast of colorful Tenby. Image by Tim Hill from Pixabay

The Tenby Museum and Art Gallery have kid-friendly exhibits where children can dress up as pirates. The Art Gallery features stunning 19th-century pieces from Gwen and Augustus John. It also has more recent works by Elizabeth Haines or Denis Curry. Children receive free admission when accompanied by an adult, with regular admission prices costing £4.95. Although it is closed until January 2021, the museum and art gallery’s winter hours are 10 am to 4 pm, Tuesday through Saturday.

Get a taste of what life was like for a merchant in the 15th century and check out Tudor Merchant’s House. Visit the Merchant’s Shop, or play “house” by dressing in period costume and playing with 15th-century toys. View the painted cloths depicting real-life scenes from the 15th century, showing some insight into the Tudor family’s chaotic stay at the house. Tickets are available at £6.00 for adults, £3.00 for children, and family discounts at £15.00.

Decorative wall hanging in the first floor living area, Tudor Merchant’s House. Photo: Glen Bowman, Flickr
Decorative wall hanging in the first floor living area, Tudor Merchant’s House. Photo: Glen Bowman, Flickr

Finally, make sure you visit the Tenby Lifeboat Station, located on the eastern harbor since 1852. Used for rescue throughout times like World War II, this station has had 21 launches and 9 lives rescued from the sea. It still houses a Tamar-class boat called Hadyn Miller, as well as a D-Class lifeboat called the Georgina Taylor. While the need for the use of these boats is little these days, it’s still available for water rescues and distress calls from the sea.

Best Things to Do In Wales | Caldey Island

From Tenby, take the ferry during the spring and summer to the exquisite island of Caldey. Only 2 ½ miles from Tenby’s port, this small island of 538 acres has an alluring religious background. With more than 1,500 years of just recorded history, Caldey is considered one of Britain’s holy islands as it is now inhabited by Cisterian monks.

Evidence of life on the island goes back between 7590 BC and 5710 BC where human bones were found in a cave called Ogof-yr-Ychen. In addition to the human remains, early neolithic bowls and shells were found and are preserved in the Tenby Museum and Art Gallery. Other caves on the island also show early signs of life like Potter’s Cave, found in 1950 by a monk. Carbon dating revealed that two human skeletons found in the cave date back to the Middle Stone Age (15,000 to 5,000 BP), and the Romano-British period (around 43 AD). Today, an abbey, or building inhabited by monks, still stands after its construction began in 1910 by Anglican Benedictine monks. It went on to be purchased in 1929 by Belgian Cisterians. In all of Wales, this chapel is considered as the most complete example of the Arts and Crafts movement. Guests have the opportunity to write down their personal prayers on small pieces of paper, leaving a part of themselves on the island even after they’ve left.

Caldey Island exists in Carmarthen Bay on the northern side of the Bristol Channel. When the tide is high, ferries depart from the Tenby harbor every half hour. Experience true island life where the post office has its own stamps and they even have their own currency, the Dab! Like many other locations in Wales, Caldey Island’s economy is based on tourism, as well as their sale of perfumes and chocolate.

Afterward, stop by the colonial-style tea-shop on the green for some refreshments on your way to the Caldey Lighthouse, built-in 1829. This magnificent landmark should be on everyone’s to-do list on Caldey Island. When it was built in the 19th century, the lighthouse was used to guide coastal traffic involved in the trading of limestone and coal. It also identified the Bristol Channel to help sailors avoid confusion with the English Channel. Its round, limestone tower stands at 56 feet, with walls 3 feet thick at the base. The light itself stands tall at 210 feet above sea level and has been automated since 1927. While you can’t go inside the lighthouse, view its beauty on the summit of the island and look out across the blue waters.

The island is open from Easter to the end of October, weather permitting. Ferries run between the island and Tenby Harbour every 15 minutes from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday. From mid-May to mid-September, visitors can also visit the island on Saturdays. Tickets can be purchased at the Caldey Island Kiosk at Tenby Harbour. Tickets are £14.00 for adults, children 14 and younger for £7, and a family discount of two adults and two children at £35.00. The ride is only 20 minutes and guests are dropped off and picked up at Priory Beach on the island.

Best Things to Do In Wales | Carew Castle

Photo: Meg Pier

Back on the mainland and in Tenby, another one of Wales’ beautiful castles makes its way on this list for its detailed history, current attractions, and many sightings of ghosts.

The history of this castle goes back 2,000 years, with excavation evidence showing signs of life from the Iron Age, Dark Age, and a collection of Roman pottery. Constable Gerald de Windsor was the first to build a fortification made of earth and wooden stakes. However, the current stone castle was later built by Nicholas de Carew, hence the name. During the late 15th century, improvements were made to the castle by Sir Rhys ap Thomas (1449-1525). He implemented multiple Bath stone windows and made alterations to both the east and west ranges. The castle turned from a Medieval fortress to an Elizabethan manor through the efforts of Sir John Perrot (1530-1592). He built the large northern range featuring tall windows that overlook the millpond. The castle was occupied during the Welsh Civil War and for a few years after that but was ultimately abandoned in 1686. Ownership of the castle was given to the National Park Authority in 1983, leading to great restoration efforts to preserve the buildings and increase public access.

Today, the many great spirits to occupy the castle may still roam around. From a Celtic warrior to a kitchen boy who bangs pots and pans, Carew Castle has been the hotspot for many paranormal investigations over the years. In fact, it’s still open to groups and organizations for overnight investigations. Perhaps the most intriguing ghost stories are of Princess Nest, the most beautiful woman of Wales, and the Barbary Ape. The ghost of Nest, or the “white lady,” is said to drift from room to room, roaming the ruins in the daylight or illuminating under the full moon. On dark stormy nights, the Barbary Ape may make himself present. After being taken from the Barbary Coast by Sir Rowland Rees during the 17th century, the ape was trained to follow Rees’ every wish and command. Sadly, when Rees’ servants checked on him one early morning, they found him dead, with the ape never to be seen. Legend has it that the ape never left the castle and is still seen and heard by visitors.

Probably the most aesthetically pleasing attraction at Carew Castle is the Tidal Mill, one of only five in the UK, and the last restored tidal Mill in Wales. Of the two Mill wheels, one dates back to 1801, but there is documented evidence of the Mill existing around 1542. From the time the Mill was revived in the late 18th century due, the Mill was constantly used until it ceased operations in 1937. While the Mill is no longer in use, we can thank the Historic Buildings Council on Wales, the Pembrokeshire County Council, and the Pembroke Rural District Council for its renovation in 1972. The Mill remains available for viewing accompanied by an exhibition, audio commentary, and interactive displays that show how the Mill worked while in use.

The Mill, the castle, and a Medieval bridge with a picnic area are all placed along the path of a mile-long circular walk. Guests with disabilities are not left behind as the path is suitable for wheelchairs and buggies that can be rented. Visitors with disabilities get a 25% discount on standard day admission prices, and those in wheelchairs and one caretaker are allowed free access. Well-behaved dogs on short leads are also invited. Free parking is available in the main Castle car park and a second car park on the north side of Millpond.

Guests must book their visit in advance on the Carew Castle website. Tickets are available for £6.00 for adults, £4.00 for children, and a family discount for £16.00. It is open daily, all year round, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Best Things to Do In Wales | Marloes Sands Beach

Fantastic rock formations!
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No matter what’s going on in life, everybody needs a good beach day. If you’re looking for a quiet place to relax and reflect, or if you want to release some energy climbing rocks, Marloes Sands Beach can adhere to all your needs. Located in Marloes, Pembrokeshire, and at almost a mile long, there are many secluded areas to choose from on the warm, golden sands. While the adults sunbathe, the kiddos can explore the many rock pools and go exploring for shrimps, starfish, crabs, and more. Remember to return all sea life and rocks back to their original resting place, of course! Park at the National Trust car park (£3 for a half day, £6 for a full day) and enjoy the scenic 10 to 15-minute walk down to the shore. You may pass some geologists, fossil hunters, or surfers making their way down too. Geologists aren’t the only ones fascinated by the rocky landscape, as the sandstone and volcanic rocks create magnificent rock formations with jagged folds and faults. Also on the beach are the Three Chimneys, which are three vertical lines of Silurian sandstone (from 443.8 million years ago) and mudstone that has been formed over millions of years.

Explore the many amenities within close proximity to Marloes as well, including climbing a few rocks to discover Albion Sands. At low tide, one can spot the remains of a wrecked ship piercing through the sand and water. On the opposite side of Albion, head to Gateholm island during low and middle tide for another secluded area, but check the tide times so you don’t get stuck out there! While there are 11 different restaurants within 5 miles of the beach, we highly recommend stopping for a bite to eat at Runwayskiln. With only a 9 minute walk from the beach, the traditional farm buildings of Pembrokeshire overlook Marloes Sands, with the Runwayskiln Cafe located right in the center. Eat where the Runwa family brewed Runwa’s Dale Ale with toasted barley from a kiln back in the 1500s. Within five miles of the beach is also Skomer Island and West Blockhouse, a 19th-century artillery fort still standing. Take a moment to admire the wildlife around Marloes Sands Beach and the close surrounding areas— as a distinguished Marine Conservation Zone, you are sure to spot marine life like seals, porpoises, and dolphins, or on the mainland birds worthy of birdwatching.

While there are no facilities on the beach itself, toilets can be found along the path to the beach from the car park, or head over to Marloes village where there are restaurants and pubs. Remember: make sure you check the tide times before going to Marloes Sands Beach. At low tide, there’s plenty to enjoy, but at high tide, the beach may disappear right beneath your feet!

Best Things to Do In Wales | Picton Castle & Walled Garden

Picton Castle & Gardens Facebook.
Picton Castle & Gardens Facebook. Photo: Katy Davies

 

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Rarely do we find a 13th-century castle so well maintained with a garden so diverse like we do at Picton Castle and Gardens. Originally built by a Flemish knight, this castle has been the property of many prestigious families, starting with the Wogan family who reconstructed parts of the building between 1295 and 1308. His design was considered unusual as there was no interior courtyard like other castles. The main building was protected by 7 tall, circular towers, and the windows were small and narrow. After it was passed onto the Dwnn family and then finally to the Phillips family, multiple Phillips men made alterations to the castle, including Sir John Phillips who remodeled the interior of the castle between 1749 and 1752 to create a “stately home”. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the Phillips family was known as one of the most powerful families of Wales, exerting enormous political, economical, and social influence in the local life. Picton Castle and Gardens remained in ownership by the Phillips until 1987 when Honourable Hanning Williams and his wife Lady Marion Phillips gifted the property to the Picton Castle Trust, who has maintained it since.

Today, the Picton Castle and Gardens Estate function as a major tourist attraction with planned events, tours, lodging, food, and more. Guests who wish to stay on the property can access the Gatehouse Lodges, with the West Hall perfect for families, and the East Hall a romantic getaway for couples. With delicious take-home meals from Maria’s Restaurant and Deli, to free temporary passes to the beautiful and eclectic gardens and castle, as well as after-hours access, staying in these lodges is the perfect opportunity to become immersed in the Picton Castle culture, and for a great deal! Bring along the children who have plenty of activities to choose from, including 4 new geocaches stashed around the garden, a Puzzle Hunt, and the Children’s Garden Trail. Children are sure to learn about the history of Picton Castle and it’s gardens, all the while having fun and exploring nature. For a family adventure, visit Picton Castle’s two Escape Rooms where teams of two to six are “locked” inside a room, with 60 minutes to solve multiple puzzles and challenges to inspect together. However, spending an ample amount of time in the gardens is a must. From viewing the largest and oldest trees in Wales, to centuries worth of flowers and plants from around the world, this garden is like something you’ve never seen before. With an extraordinary collection of conifers, roses, medicinal herbs, a colorful Bluebell Walk, and more, this garden is now known as one of the most beautiful and atmospheric in Wales and is considered a Royal Horticultural Society Partner Garden.

Castle tours are available on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, with no pre-booking required. While spots are currently limited, plan accordingly to assure your experience in the Castle. From the estate, there are 62 restaurants within 5 miles, including Maria’s Restaurant available for takeaway drinks, or Fire and Ice for some yummy gelato, sorbet, as well as dairy-free and vegan options! 29 other attractions are located within 5 miles of Picton Castle and Gardens, like the Secret Owl Garden, the Narberth Museum, and Clerkenhill Adventure Farm and Frisbee Golf Course.

Best Things to Do In Wales | St. David’s

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If you’re trying to become more indulged in the religious culture of Wales, the smallest city in the U.K., St. David’s on the River Alun, is where you will want to be. St. David was Wales’ patron saint, or the heavenly advocate for the country, of the 6th century. Supposedly, David was born on the top of a cliff during a fierce storm and is today marked by the ruins of a tiny ancient chapel. During the “Age of Saints,” David was considered the most influential clergyman of Wales and founded a strict monastic brotherhood whose activities and duties included praying, cultivation of the land, beekeeping, and feeding and clothing the poor and needy. Unfortunately, the original cathedral used by St. David was a popular site for plundering by the Vikings and was fatally destroyed by fire in 1087. The cathedral on the site today was built by the Normans during the 12th century, and may have even included St. David’s remains in a container of wood and metal kept behind the High Altar. The current cathedral was built from local pink and grey stone, and is neatly tucked away and invisible until going through The Gatehouse where the cathedral’s beauty and magnificence are suddenly unveiled. St. David’s was given city status in the 1540s due to its dioceses foundation by King Henry VIII but was eventually lost in 1886, only to be restored again by Queen Elizabeth II in 1995.

Within the city of St. Davids, there are multiple tourist attractions that draw people from all over the world, every year. Whether they want to visit the cathedral for its religious reasons or for the scenic views, none will be disappointed with what they will find. As part of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park since 1972, guests can organize water trips and activities, or stay on the dry land and explore the narrow streets of St. David, lined with cafes, restaurants, hotels, art galleries, and pubs. Out on the water, choose from multiple different water sports at Whitesands Bay, about two miles west of St. Davids, for the best surfing spot in all of Pembrokeshire. Stop by TYF Adventure in the center of St. Davids for outdoor gear and activities like coasteering, sea kayaking, and climbing. Let the sea air sweep across your face when you go on a boating trip on fast, high powered RIB’s, and hopefully spot some whales, dolphins, or a gathering of gannets on Grassholm Island, just a boat ride away. Afterward, visit the newest facility of St. David’s, the Oriel y Parc Gallery where you can view national treasures of Wales including the works of Graham Sutherland, a Pembrokeshire native. Free of charge and open all year round, there’s no good reason not to see it! Lastly, make your home friends and family jealous when you visit The Bug Farm, one mile from St. Davids. Not only are they a scientific research center and working farm, but is home to the UK’s first edible restaurant, Grub Kitchen! Fill up on some tasty edible insects and go on to explore the Tropical Bug Zoo, British Bug House, Bug Farm Trails, Bug Museum, Gift Shop, and more!

The nearest railway stations to St. Davids are Fishguard and Haverfordwest, with bus services running to St. Davids and back multiple times a day. If you plan to take advantage of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, take the Puffin Shuttle around St. Brides Bay or the Strumble Shuttle which acts as a connecting point between St. Davids and Fishguard.

Best Things to Do In Wales | Lovespoon Workshop

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Finally, we have the Lovespoon Workshop, a father-son business maintaining Welsh heritage and culture from the 17th century. Father and son Kerry and Dave Thomas spend their days delicately carving lovespoons from single logs of wood. These spoons have been given as a token of love or romantic intent for centuries, and are distinctive to Wales despite other cultures taking on the practice. Located close to the seaside resort of Tenby in Pembrokeshire, this small shop has hundreds of spoons decorating the wall, with one made specifically for the Thomas family every year since 1969. Speak with Kerry and Thomas to learn more about the tradition and to see the exquisite attention to detail these carvings take. Within all lovespoons is a message— whether it’s a family name, a place of birth, or a personally meaningful symbol, almost anything can be carved into these spoons. Some common symbols that have been seen in more recent years are anchors, which can be interpreted as meaning stability and putting down your roots. While many of the traditional symbols and spoons have more nautical designs, other symbols like the Celtic knot are meaningful to the people of Wales as they come from Celtic heritage. Dragons and daffodils are also popular, meaning something different to each and every recipient.

Of all the beautiful lovespoons adorning these workshop walls, probably the most notable is the longest lovespoon in the entire world at 27 feet, taking 300 hours of man labor. Even at this great length, the gigantic wooden spoon was still carved from the same piece of wood. The Lovespoon Workshop operates as an “eco-business,” as they continuously use recycled materials and have recently planted more than 100 trees to give back to the environment that they have taken. Stop by the shop and converse with Kerry and Dave as they dive deeper into the history and meaning of the lovespoon, and see for yourself! You can also visit their website at www.thelovespoonworkshop.com.

With evidence of life in Wales dating back to BC times, it’s no wonder that Wales is full of castles, beaches, and ruins that all tell a story in themselves. This country is blessed to have such a rich, diverse history and continuing culture that could never be explored enough. While these are only some of Wales’ best places to visit, the entire country is filled with attractions that would take a whole textbook to write. It’s obvious that the places we’ve chosen to show you are memories for life, and we hope you consider them on your next trip to Wales. Sites like TripAdvisor have proven helpful in hearing from people who have been to these places, with their honest opinions. We recommend looking into the places you want to visit just a little bit more so you are well prepared and able to enjoy every second of it. Thanks for reading, and we hope this article was helpful to you! Best of travels.