Famous for its connections to King Arthur – the Welsh claim the legendary ruler and his sidekick, the wizard Merlin, as their own – the small country of Wales frequently ranks on the bucket lists of travellers from the USA. Little wonder. In addition to its stunning mountain and coastal scenery, Wales boasts some of the most picture-perfect scenery in the United Kingdom.
Sheltered in quaint coves along its rugged coasts and verdant valleys are some of the most picture-perfect small towns you’re ever likely to see. Boasting quaint streets lined by old stone homes with lush gardens, often backed with stunning mountain scenery, these charming small towns in Wales are just waiting to be explored. Read on to find out more and be inspired.
If ever an image summed up just how beautiful Welsh towns can be, it’ll be that of Pont Fawr in Llanrwst (pronunciation tip: “clan worst” should do the job!). The town's most iconic landmark, this narrow three-arch stone bridge was built in the 17th century and, along with the 15th century, ivy-clad Tu Hwnt i'r Bont tearoom (literally translated as “Beyond the Bridge”), makes for one of the most photographed spots in the country. The River Conwy, which flows beneath, adds further to the beauty of this charming scene.
Other fun things to do in Llanrwst include seeing its old Almshouses, founded in 1610 to house the poor and now converted into a local history museum. Book a stay at Gwydir Castle and you’ll knock two “must-dos” off your itinerary: somewhere great to stay and visiting a Welsh Castle. The nearby Gwydir Forest is also fun to explore and offers walking and cycling trails in a pretty woodland setting. Lanrwst also serves as a gateway to Snowdonia National Park, making it an ideal base for those wanting to explore the area's natural beauty.
If you do plan on spending a few days exploring Snowdonia (and you should), then Beddgelert is an even better choice. Located in the heart of Snowdonia National Park and within view of the country’s highest mountain, Snowdon, the name Beddgelert translates as “Gelert's Grave” after a faithful hound of Welsh Prince Llywelyn was buried here (a stone monument marks the spot).
Other picturesque places to photograph include the old cottages along the River Glaslyn; the Medieval architecture of 12th Century St. Mary's Church; and the Sygun Copper Mine, a remarkable example of Wales's industrial heritage, where underground tours are offered.
Betws y Coed, Conwy
The charming North Wales village of Betws-y-Coed is known for its cascading waterfalls and the converging rivers of Llugwy, Conwy, and Lledr. The village's name translates as "Prayer house in the wood," a reference to the picture-perfect setting which has attracted tourists since the arrival of the railway in the 1800s. Tourists still flock here today to explore the Gwydyr Forest and its numerous walking trails, mountain biking paths, and fishing opportunities.
Notable spots for a great photo include Swallow Falls, located just west of the village; St. Michael's Church, dating back to the 14th century; and the Conwy Valley Railway Museum, which also offers fun miniature train rides. It also serves as a gateway to Snowdonia National Park and is an ideal spot for hikers to spend a night or two while exploring the area.
Located in Denbighshire close to the border with neighboring England, Llangollen is every inch the quintessential Welsh small town. Set in the Dee Valley and framed by the Berwyn Mountains and the River Dee, the town's most important landmarks include the engineering miracle that is the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was completed in 1805 and carries the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee and offers breathtaking views of the valley.
You’ll also want to hop aboard the Llangollen Railway, a heritage steam line running along the Dee Valley with spectacular scenery the whole way. If you’re interested in sampling a little Welsh culture, try to time your visit to coincide with the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, an annual festival celebrating music, dance, and performance from around the world that’s held the second week of July. Outdoor pursuits can be enjoyed at the nearby Horseshoe Pass where you can also explore several ancient castle ruins.
The historic market town of Brecon in Powys, Mid Wales, is a place of natural beauty that has long been a magnet for tourists. Located at the confluence of the River Usk, one of the longest rivers in Wales, and the River Honddu, its location in the scenic Brecon Beacons National Park is certainly a plus in the town’s favor, as is its history.
Originally a Roman settlement, you can tour more recent landmarks including the Brecon Cathedral, a fine example of Norman architecture, as well as the Royal Welsh Museum to learn more about the town’s military influence. Brecon is also well known for its jazz festival; held each August, it attracts music lovers and musicians from around the world.
No list of the best places to visit in Wales would be complete without including at least one destination from the country’s spectacular Pembrokeshire coastline. The best of the bunch is undoubtedly picturesque Tenby, a historic seaside town known for its picturesque harbor, its beautiful beaches, and colorful Georgian and Victorian architecture. The town's origins in fact date back to the 9th century, with historic importance still evident in its well-preserved medieval town walls and the ruins of Tenby Castle.
Those beaches? The town’s surrounded by three main beaches – North Beach, South Beach, and Castle Beach – each providing a perfect setting for swimming, sunbathing, and water sports. Other landmarks include Goscar Rock on North Beach; nearby Caldey Island, known for its Cistercian monastery; and the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, known for its spectacular coastal scenery, wildlife, and walking trails, including the bucket-list worthy Pembrokeshire Coast Path, a 186-mile-long coastal route that stretches all the way to Cardigan.
The Final Word
A destination that’s becoming increasingly popular among North Americans looking to retrace their UK roots – if you’re a Jones, Davies, Williams, Evans, Thomas, Roberts, Lewis, or Hughes, that’s you! – Wales is a rising star on the UK travel scene. And there’s no better way to learn more about this lovely yet tiny nation than by exploring these six most charming small towns in Wales.