This Country Has More Castles Per Square Mile Than Anywhere Else in Europe. No Wonder It Has so Many Fairy-Tale Towns
Wales’ picturesque and magical towns, steeped in lore and legend, are here to tempt you.
For too long, Wales has been overlooked, forgotten in favor of its neighbors England, Scotland, and Ireland. But, to those pushing Wales to the side: You’re missing out. Wales is the land with more sheep than humans, produced the world’s first Jedi church, and has a town called Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. What more could you possibly want? Oh, cute towns? Well, that’s fine because we do that too. Read on for the most dreamy, most whimsical, most epic locations we have to offer.
Located just a few hundred meters from Eryri National Park (aka Snowdonia National Park), Llanberis sits at the foot of our country’s tallest peak. Hike Yr Wyddfa and spare a thought for the giant Rhitta, slain high above the clouds at the hands of King Arthur; while routes vary in difficulty, don’t underestimate the dangers of even the most accessible Llanberis Path. If you’d rather opt for the Snowdon Mountain Railway be sure to book well in advance (and pray for a clear day).
Surrounded on both sides by the pine-dotted peaks of the Conwy Valley, Betws-y-Coed has a distinctly alpine feel compared to its picturesque neighbors. Start the day right with a panad (cuppa) at The Buffet Coach Cafe, located inside an old train, before heading off to explore the town. Meander up the partly wheelchair-friendly River Llugwy before devouring a bag of chips beside the Pont-y-Pair bridge and falls.
Beddgelert is the third and final of our locations situated within Eryri/ Snowdonia. A town steeped in legend, the name Beddgelert literally translates to “Gelert’s grave” and pays homage to the prince of North Wales’s loyal hound. As the story goes, while Llewelyn left his infant son and Gelert behind to go hunting, a wolf invaded the palace. On his return, finding the baby’s crib empty and Gelert smeared with blood, Llewelyn plunged his sword into the dog. After, he heard a baby’s wail, leading him to discover a wolf’s nearby corpse. Llewelyn is said to have never smiled again. Though the story might be dark, the location is anything but. If during your visit you’re looking to pay homage to the legend giving this town its name, be sure to follow the River Colwyn to Gelert’s grave.
Though undeniably impressive, Edward I’s most ostentatious show of dominance in the form of Caernarfon Castle remains a reminder of oppression for the Welsh. Following centuries of colonization, school children as recently as the 20th century were physically and psychologically abused for speaking their mother tongue, so the fact Caernarfon remains a Welsh-speaking heartland is rather a miracle. With that in mind, practicing your lingo is guaranteed to make you some friends here.
Undoubtedly the glitziest jewel in our crown (which, incidentally, was stolen by the English in 1283), Portmeirion is an Italianate-style village and labor of love designed and built over five decades by architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. Recognizable from the cult 1960s drama The Prisoner, fans have the option of planning their visit to take place during the show’s annual convention, Portmeiricon. Sir Clough’s playful nature is reflected in the most unexpected of spots, from recurring mermaid motifs to a carving of his own face. Wander down towards the Central Piazza, taking in the Gloriette and Bristol Colonnade, before finishing up alongside the Dwyryd Estuary.
For a country cursed with such lousy weather, we’re blessed with some achingly beautiful beaches, several of which can be found in colorful Tenby. Located within the only coastal national park in the U.K. , take your pick from several immaculate shores, and don’t forget to pray to the sun gods beforehand.
The spirit of poet Dylan Thomas lives on in Laugharne. Enjoy the town’s pastel-hued Georgian architecture while visiting points of interest such as Dylan’s writing shed and boathouse, favorite drinking hole (you can’t miss it), and St. Martin’s Church, where both Dylan and his beloved Caitlin are laid to rest. Be sure to visit Laugharne Castle for the best views of the Taf Estuary.
Hay-on-Wye (Y Gelli)
Bibliophiles, beware: you’re going to need a bigger suitcase. The small market town of Hay-on-Wye sits a short distance from the Black Mountains and just shy of the border with England. Pretty timbered exteriors invite you to enjoy the town’s 20-plus bookshops, which span is specialism from the morbid Murder & Mayhem to The Poetry Bookshop’s second-hand treasures (they’re bound to stock copies of Dylan’s books, if you’re late to the party).
Famed for its haunting ruins, Tintern is renowned worldwide thanks to Romantic poet William Wordsworth’s Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite; a feeling and a love,
That had no need of a remoter charm
And after you’re done seeing what the poem is all about, make sure not to miss the Gothic masterpiece on the banks of the River Wye.
Llangollen’s most unique feature is the canal that crosses the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. A UNESCO World Heritage Site overlooking the River Dee, it’s possible to enjoy spectacular views of the Dee Valley below by foot or by narrowboat.
But the town has other highlights. The National Eisteddfod of Wales has been integral to Welsh life for many centuries; a spectacle that allows us to express our cultural identity through literature, music, dance, and other artistic mediums. The fun is extended at the Llangollen International Music Eisteddfod to those from all over the world.