Are you wondering what are the best things to do in Wales you need to include in your trip? Read on to make sure you don't miss out on these big ones, taken straight from our travel guide. Also, check out this quick video summary.
The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Wales, your essential guide for visiting Wales.
One of north Wales’ finest walled medieval towns, Conwy contains over two hundred listed buildings within its tight grid.
Edward the First chose a strategic knoll at the mouth of the Conwy River for the site of Conwy Castle. It was built in just five years by James of St George. Overlooked by a low hill, the castle appears less easily defensible than others along the coast. However, James constructed eight massive towers in a rectangle around two wards separated by a drawbridge and portcullis.
Climbing onto the ramparts, you can look down onto something unique among the Iron Ring fortresses, a roofless but largely intact interior. The outer ward’s 130-foot-long Great Hall and the King’s Apartments are well preserved, but the only part of the castle to have kept its roof is the Chapel Tower.
Conwy’s river and town walls meet beside the boats at Conwy Quay. It’s a popular spot on sunny days, with kids dangling crabbing lines, adults sipping beers outside the Liverpool Arms and everyone eating locally made ice cream from Parisella’s kiosk.
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Hiking the dominant mountain of southern Snowdonia, Cadair Idris, a magnificent beast chock-full of classic glacial features, is one of the most exciting things to do in Wales.
In recognition of the region’s scientific importance, as well as its scenic and recreational appeal, Snowdonia National Park was established in 1951 as Wales’ first national park. Covering 823 square miles of northwest Wales it runs all the way from Conwy to Aberdyfi, encompassing the Rhinogs, Cadair Idris and 23 miles of the Cambrian coast.
Jagged mountains predominate. However, the harsh lines are tempered by broadleaf lowland woods around calm glacial lakes, waterfalls tumbling from hanging valleys and complex coastal dune systems. You won’t find wilderness, however: sheep and cattle farming supports many of the people who live in the park and fourteen million people come here each year to tramp almost two thousand miles of designated paths.
Our Snowdonia National Park travel guide will help you fully experience the majestic beauty of the region.
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Spending three wonderful days of new folk, American and indie music with a range of workshops, performance art and comedy in green fields near Crickhowell should be on your list of things to do in Wales.
Crickhowell stages a handful of superb annual festivals. The big one is the Green Man Festival, a three-day jamboree in mid-August that features some of the biggest names in folk, indie and Americana music, plus drum workshops, literary events, a cinema tent, kids’ activities, performance art, comedy and a “healing field”.
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The capital of sparsely populated mid-Wales, Aberystwyth is a breezy and bright university and seaside town surrounded by luscious countryside.
Midway along the Cambrian coast, spirited Aberystwyth (or “Aber”, as it’s known locally) is a blast of fresh sea air. Two long bays skirted by pebbly beaches curve between twin rocky heads. Constitution Hill to the north, and Pen Dinas to the south above the town harbour’s marina, where both the Rheidol and Ystwyth rivers empty into the sea.
Pubs – and there are loads – stay open late. The political scene is green-tinged, and the town is emphatically Welsh. The Cymdeithas yr Iaith, or Welsh Language Society, was founded in Aberystwyth in 1963 and is still here. It’s an easy-going and enjoyable place to gain an insight into the national psyche.
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Some of Wales’ finest singletrack and adrenalin-pumping descents through the forest combine with family trails, high-ropes adventures and even geocaching makes this place one of the top things to do in Wales for outdoor enthusiasts.
One of the most popular activity spots in southern Snowdonia, the vast Coed-y-Brenin forest park is home to some of Wales’ finest mountain biking, as well as the UK’s first bespoke trail-running centre; there are also superb walking trails, orienteering and geocaching courses, and innovative kids’ play areas.
Mountain biking takes place in the evergreens of “The King’s Forest”, with miles of old trackways, roads and eight purpose-built trails crisscrossing the hillsides, offering lung-busting uphill rides and adrenalin-pumping descents. They’re all graded like ski runs: black for experts, red and blue for intermediates and green for family riders.
Of Wales’ many “great little trains”, the Ffestiniog Railway, winding down through the Snowdonia mountains, is one of the best.
The 2ft-gauge Ffestiniog Railway twists and loops up 650ft from Porthmadog to the slate mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, thirteen miles away. The gutsy little engines chug up steep gradients through stunning scenery, from broad estuarine expanses to the deep greens of the Vale of Ffestiniog before it arrives at the slate-shattered slopes of the upper terminus.
While you're in the area, don't miss seeing Wales' subterranean awesomeness while getting a workout on a giant underground cave trampoline.
The heart of Welsh spirituality, St Davids Cathedral is at Wales’ westerly extremity and has drawn pilgrims for a millennium and a half.
Perched at the very western point of Wales on a windswept, treeless peninsula, St Davids (Tyddewi) is really just a large village, with 1800 inhabitants, but was officially granted city status in 1995. It clusters around its cathedral, Wales’ spiritual and ecclesiastical centre and formally independent of Canterbury.
Founded by Wales’ patron saint himself in 550, the shrine of St David has drawn pilgrims – including William the Conqueror and Edward I – for almost a millennium and a half. In 1124 Pope Calixtus II decreed that two journeys to St Davids were spiritually equivalent to one to Rome.
The cathedral was built from 1181, the settlement growing around it; St Davids today still relies on the imported wealth of newcomers to the area, attracted by its savage beauty
Ride or walk this easy trail beside Wales’ finest estuary, the Mawddach, crossed by the 2253ft rail and footbridge into Barmouth.
Follow this beautiful combined walking and cycle route beside the Mawddach estuary’s broad sands along a disused rail line. Walkers seeking the most interesting section should start from Penmaenpool, two miles west. Highlights include the wooden toll bridge and George III Hotel at Penmaenpool, an RSPB wetland walk at Arthog and the Barmouth bridge.
Good-quality bikes, including e-bikes, can be rented (£20/day) from Coed Cae located in Taicynhaeaf, just a short ride from the toll bridge leading to the trail.
The most romantic ruin in Wales, Carreg Cennen Castle sits in glorious isolation amid pastures grazed by Welsh longhorns.
Isolated in Llandeilo’s rural hinterland is the most magnificently located castle in Wales. The castle seems impenetrable, its crumbling walls merging with the limestone on which it defiantly sits.
After the views, the highlight of a visit is the long, damp descent into a pitch-black cave that served as a shelter in prehistoric times. Torches (which can be rented for £1.50 from the excellent tearoom near the car park) are essential; continue as far as possible and then turn them off to experience absolute darkness.
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The Pembrokeshire Coast Path is a long-distance walking path around some of Wales’ wildest coastal scenery. You can break it into a series of day walks, or tackle the full 187 miles in one big push.
Of Britain’s fifteen national parks, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, established in 1952, is the only one that’s largely coastal, made up of a discontinuous set of patches of shoreline and inland scenery. Starting from the southeast, the first segment clings to the shore from Amroth through to the Milford Haven waterway, an area of sweeping limestone cliffs and fabulous beaches.
The second (and much the quietest) part covers the pastoral Daugleddau estuary, plunging deep into Pembrokeshire’s rural heart southeast of Haverfordwest. The third section includes the scenic cliffs and beaches of St Bride’s Bay, a great chunk scooped out of Wales’ westernmost land.
Finally, beyond Fishguard to the north, the park boundary runs far inland to encompass the Mynydd Preseli, a barren but invigoratingly beautiful range of hills dotted with ancient relics.
Among unmissable things to do in Wales this is the chronicle of Welsh life, featuring period buildings from all over the country.
Separated from Cardiff by a sliver of greenery, the village of St Fagans (Sain Ffagan) has a rural ambience only partly marred by the busloads of tourists that regularly roll in to visit the unmissable St Fagans National History Museum. The museum is constructed on grounds near St Fagans Castle, a country house built in 1580 on the site of a ruined Norman castle and furnished in early nineteenth-century style.
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Hiking one of half a dozen demanding tracks to the top of Snowdon, Wales’ highest mountain – is amongst the essential things to do in Wales.
Some hikers dismiss Snowdon. Certainly, it can be crowded – a thousand visitors a day press into carriages of the Snowdon Mountain Railway in peak season. Double that number tramps up well-maintained paths, making this Britain’s most-climbed mountain; traffic jams of hikers are not unknown on peak weekends.
Reach the summit of Snowdon, the highest point in Wales, guided safely by your expert local mountain guide. Take the hassle out of planning your adventure and let a qualified and experienced instructor lead the way.
The wonderful Wales Millennium Centre and National Assembly Building are just two of many striking modern structures around the rejuvenated Cardiff Bay.
The regeneration of Cardiff Bay has resulted in a remarkable transformation of the derelict old docks into a bona fide tourist attraction. In times gone by, when the docks were some of the busiest in the world, the area was better known by its evocative name of Tiger Bay – immortalized by locally born chanteuse Shirley Bassey in her hit Girl from Tiger Bay.
Ever-expanding, the Bay area now comprises four distinct parts, situated either side of Roald Dahl’s Plass, the main square, named after the Cardiff-born children’s author. On the eastern side lie the swanky civic precincts around the glorious Wales Millennium Centre, while to the west is Mermaid Quay, an airy jumble of shops, bars and restaurants.
Also read our guide on why Cardiff is one of the coolest cities in the UK.
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The grandest folly of them all, Portmeirion is a gorgeous visual poem that will melt the hardest heart.
If there’s one must-see near Porthmadog, it’s Portmeirion. Set on a rocky peninsula in Tremadog Bay, three miles east near Minffordd, the Italianate private village was the brainchild of the eccentric architect Clough Williams-Ellis – his dream was to build an ideal settlement to enhance rather than blend in with its surroundings, using a “gay, light-opera sort of approach”.
The result is certainly theatrical: a stage set with a lucky dip of buildings arranged to distort perspectives and reveal tantalizing glimpses of the sea or the expansive sands behind. It all feels rather dream-like, and this is why Portmeirion featured as “The Village” in the 1960s British cult TV series The Prisoner.
Indeed, for one weekend in April, Portmeirion hosts The Prisoner Convention when fans book the place out to re-enact scenes from the TV series as best they can – though, as much of the series was shot in the studio, the juxtaposition of Portmeirion’s buildings doesn’t match that of “The Village”.
Take in all the natural wonders and beautiful spots of Snowdonia National Park. Take in World Heritage castles, the unique and artistic Portmeirion Village, stunning lakes, imposing mountains, Welsh Celtic towns, and mountain villages with this Portmeirion, Snowdonia & Castle Tour guided tour.
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Soak up the pastoral beauty of the wonderful Wye valley and sense why Wordsworth was so moved as you wander past Tintern Abbey.
Only after the local government reorganization of 1974 was the Wye Valley finally recognized as part of Wales; before this, the area was officially included as part of neither England nor Wales, so maps were frequently headlined “Wales and Monmouthshire” (the county name).
In this easterly corner, the two main towns are decidedly English in flavour. Chepstow, at the mouth of the Wye, with its massive castle radiating an awesome strength. Also Monmouth, sixteen miles upstream, a spruce, old-fashioned town with the lingering air of an ancient seat of authority.
Six miles north of Chepstow, on the banks of the Wye, stand the inspirational ruins of the Cistercian Tintern Abbey, while across the river the southern segments of the Off a’s Dyke earthworks are shadowed by a long-distance footpath.
See the best of South East Wales on this Wye Valley and Brecon Beacons full-day trip. Visit Roman towns, admire the ruins of Tintern Abbey, travel through the Upper Wye Gorge, and enjoy the delights of the Brecon Beacons.
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Colourful terraces of housing, hunkered down under the hills, are the hallmark of Wales’ world-famous Valleys, the old mining area in the south.
No other part of Wales is as instantly recognizable as the Valleys, a generic name for the string of settlements packed into the narrow cracks in the mountainous terrain north of Newport, Cardiff and Swansea. Historically, the region depended almost solely on coal mining and, as you approach the Valleys from Monmouthshire, the change from rolling countryside to a post-industrial landscape is almost instantaneous.
That’s not to say the Valleys are devoid of greenery – the mining industry is practically defunct, and the lush hills that you see today are a far cry from the slag heaps and soot-encrusted buildings of a mere twenty to thirty years ago.
Nonetheless, the ghost of the industry looms large in the staunchly working-class towns, where row upon row of brightly painted terraced houses, tipped along the slopes at incredible angles, are broken only by austere chapels, the occasional remaining pithead or the miners’ old institutes and drinking clubs.
There is no doubt that tasting local cuisine is one of the best things to do in Wales as well as in any country you travel to. Sample some of the best morsels Wales has to offer in the gastronomic hotspot Abergavenny or, better still, time your visit to coincide with September’s food festival, among the best in Britain.
Abergavenny’s annual Food Festival in mid-September, is one of the most prestigious in Britain. Comprising two bumper days of markets, masterclasses, tastings and talks, and pretty much any other food you can think of. There are several spin-off events throughout the year. The town’s other key annual event is the week-long Festival of Cycling at the end of June.
Plunge into the depths of coal-bearing earth in this superb evocation of what life was like for vast numbers of Valleys miners.
Situated in the northeastern extremities of the Valleys is the iron and coal town of Blaenavon (Blaenafon). Its lofty hillside position makes it feel less claustrophobic than many Valley towns, but its decline is testified by a population of little more than five thousand, a third of its nineteenth-century size.
It remains a spirited and evocative place, however, a fact recognized when the town and surrounding landscape gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2000. Blaenavon is perhaps best known for its Big Pit, an old coal mine-turned-museum, though the former ironworks is no less gripping, and there are vestiges of the industrial past scattered all over town – you could easily be detained here for a day.
Rescued from near-terminal decay, these formal gardens in the Tywi Valley are a perfect counterpoint to the nearby National Botanic Garden of Wales.
A natural twin to the Botanic Garden lies nearby at Aberglasney, where a restored seventeenth-century manor house plays second fiddle to its remarkable gardens. Once massively overgrown, the mostly sixteenth- to eighteenth-century walled gardens have regained much of their formal splendour.
Especially noteworthy are the replanted kitchen garden and what is thought to be Britain’s only secular cloister garden, dating from the late sixteenth century. Above, the walkway to the (now birdless) Victorian aviaries gives great views over the Jacobean Pool Garden to mature woodlands beyond.
On the lawn near the gatehouse is a line of five yews planted three centuries ago, and trained over to root on the far side, a feature unique in Britain. Leave time for tea and cakes at the tempting Maryellens café, built into the wall of the Pool Garden.
Bog snorkelling, a Man versus Horse Marathon and a Real Ale Wobble bring a wonderful sense of lunacy to Llanwrtyd Wells, a quiet corner of mid-Wales.
Belying its sleepy appearance, Llanwrtyd Wells has its distinctly zany moments. Although a host of events takes place here throughout the year, three, in particular, take precedence. In mid-June, the Man Versus Horse Marathon is a punishing 22-mile endurance test between man (and woman) and beast over various types of terrain. For the record, the last time a human won was in 2007.
At the end of August, it’s the turn of the World Bog-Snorkelling Championships, in which competitors must complete two lengths of a water-filled trench cut through a peat bog – the current world record, achieved here in 2018, is one minute and 18 seconds.
In November there’s the Real Ale Wobble, two days of combined mountain biking and beer drinking, an event for the somewhat less serious-minded cyclist. It goes without saying that all these events are accompanied by lots of drinking, eating and general merriment.
Although Wales’ standing in international rugby fluctuates wildly, the game remains nearly a religion here, never more so than when the national team are playing at Cardiff’s awesome Principality Stadium.
Rugby (the “Union” variety) is a Welsh passion and their national game. Support is strongest in the working-class valleys of south Wales, where the fanaticism has traditionally been fuelled by the national side’s success.
The sport saw its glory days in the 1970s, when the scarlet jerseys regularly dominated the annual Five Nations Championship (now the Six Nations), winning six out of the ten tournaments – three of them Grand Slams (where every match is won).
North Wales’ most genteel seaside resort, Llandudno spreads languidly around the bay beneath the ancient rock plug of the Great Orme.
Bill Bryson, writing in Notes from a Small Island, named Llandudno his favourite British beach town, calling it “a fi ne and handsome place”. And so it remains.
At its core, this is one of Britain’s finest examples of the genteel, purpose-built Victorian resort, and with the architectural bone-structure still in place – the grand hotels and smart townhouses, the good-looking shop facades and splendid pier – on a sunny day it offers quintessential seaside charm.
In addition, in recent years a number of accommodation and restaurant launches has seen the town update what was threatening to become a rather tired chintz-and-doilies formula.
Explore other welsh beach destinations with our guide to the best beaches in Wales.
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The rambling moors of the Brecon Beacons are perfect for wild, lonely walks with thundering waterfalls and limestone caverns as destinations.
The vast inland county of Powys takes up a full quarter of Wales. Often traversed quickly en route to the coast, it’s well worth exploring in its own right. The most popular area is the Brecon Beacons National Park, at the county’s southern end, an area of moody heights, wild, rambling moors and thundering waterfalls.
The main centres within the Beacons are Wales’ culinary capital, Abergavenny, in the far southeast, and Brecon. The bleaker part of the Beacons lies to the west, around the raw peaks of the Black Mountain (Mynydd Ddu) and Fforest Fawr geopark, and includes the immense Dan-yr-ogof caves and the mighty waterfalls around Ystradfellte.
Note that one of the best road trips in the UK starts with the Brecon Beacons, so it's a great starting point to travel Wales to capture all the places you want to visit here.
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Rub shoulders with the literati or just come along for music, a few book readings and a great time to the festival in Hay-on-Wye.
The quaint border town of Hayonwye, at the northern tip of the Brecon Beacons, is synonymous with secondhand books. Since the first bookshop opened here in the 1960s, just about every spare inch has been given over to the trade, including the old cinema, houses and most shops. There are now well over thirty bookshops in town, most of which cluster on and around Castle Street.
Many are highly specialized, including those dedicated solely to travel, poetry, children and even “murder and mayhem”. In addition to the bookshops, you’ll find antique shops, galleries and an increasing number of fine-food haunts.
The geographical and historical heart of Cardiff is Cardiff Castle, an intriguing hotchpotch of remnants of the city’s past. The fortress hides inside a vast walled yard, each side measuring well over 200 yards long and corresponding roughly to the outline of the original fort built by the Romans.
Before entering, take a look at the exterior wall running along Castle Street to the river bridge, where stone creatures are frozen in impudent poses, a rather tongue-in-cheek nineteenth-century creation.
Housed in a massive domed Portland-stone building, the exceptional National Museum attempts to tell the story of Wales and reflect the nation’s place in the international sphere. The museum’s most obvious crowd-pleaser is the epic Evolution of Wales gallery, a natural-history exhibition packed with high-tech gizmos and spectacular big-screen visuals.
Hop-on to a City Sightseeing Cardiff bus tour and enjoy unlimited hop on hop off for 24 hours. Discover sights such as Cardiff Castle and Millennium Stadium, as you travel on an open-top, double-decker bus with panoramic views of the city.
Folk legend, incredible scenery and travellers’ lore combine at Devil's Bridge (Pontarfynach). You'll find here a tiny settlement that can be reached by road or, far more scenically, via the Vale of Rheidol Railway. Built largely for the long-established visitor trade, the village can be busy in high season. To avoid the congestion, you’d do well to visit at the beginning or end of the day, or out of season.
The main attraction is the Devil’s Bridge itself, where three roads converge and cross the churning River Mynach yards above its confluence with the Rheidol to form three bridges, one on top of the other.
The most recently built of the three dates from 1901, while, immediately below it and wedged between the rock faces are the stone bridge from 1753, and, at the bottom, the original bridge, dating from the eleventh century and reputedly built by the monks of Strata Florida Abbey.
In 1283, Edward I started work on Caernarfon Castle, the strongest link in his Iron Ring and the decisive hammer blow to Welsh aspirations of autonomy.
The castle is in an excellent state of repair, thanks largely to a nineteenth-century reconstruction, carried out after Richard Wilson and J.M.W. Turner painted Romantic images of it. The walls and towers are in a much better state than the interior, linked by a splendid honeycomb of wall-walks and tunnels. There are a few historical displays too, but these feel like filler – the interest is in the castle itself.
As you enter the King’s Gate, the castle’s brute strength is apparent. Between the octagonal towers, embrasures and murder-holes cover no fewer than five gates and six portcullises once you’ve crossed the moat.
They certainly did the job. Seized only once, the castle withstood two sieges by Owain Glyndŵr with a complement of just 28 men-at-arms. Inside, the huge lawn is misleading – a wall originally separated two wards, each filled with wooden buildings.
Watch myths and legends come alive as you gaze at authentic buildings from the medieval era. Join your guide on a private tour from Llandudno and discover the towns that house Wales' famous castles.
Native Welsh cuisine is traditionally rooted in economical ingredients, but many menus today do wonderful things with salt-marsh lamb (best served with mint, thyme or rosemary), Welsh black beef, fresh salmon and sewin (sea trout), frequently combined with the national vegetable, the leek.
Specialities include laverbread (bara lawr; edible seaweed frequently served for breakfast with sausages, egg and bacon), Glamorgan sausages (a spiced vegetarian combination of Caerphilly cheese, breadcrumbs and leeks), cawl (a chunky mutton broth) and cockles, trawled from the estuary north of the Gower.
The best-known of Wales’ famed cheeses is Caerphilly, a soft, crumbly, white cheese that forms the basis of a true Welsh rarebit when mixed with beer and toasted on bread.
Get ready to explore Britain on this unique self-drive tailor-made Great British Road Trip. Choose the car of your liking before you hit the road: from the Cotswolds and its picturesque villages over the Beatle's favourite hang-out in Liverpool to Aberystwyth and Caernarfon in Wales: this trip includes many highlights to be explored.
If you prefer to plan and book your trip to the Wales without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.
Ready to travel to Wales? Find out about the best time to go and the best places to visit Wales. For inspiration use the Wales itineraries from The Rough Guide to Wales and our local travel experts. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there and where to stay once you are there. And don't forget to buy travel insurance before you go.
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A former Rough Guides Managing Editor, Keith Drew has written or updated over a dozen Rough Guides, including Costa Rica, Japan and Morocco. As well as writing for The Telegraph, The Guardian and BRITAIN Magazine, among others, he also runs family-travel website