Wales is a land of incredible beauty, rich history and proud people, but there's a difference between North and South. Only 25% of the country's population lives in the North, and they are mostly stretched along the coast and the North East. That means vast areas of mountains, valleys and lakes, punctuated by picturesque villages, fun resorts, historic attractions and miles of sandy beaches to explore. Let's delve into some of the best places to go in Wales for lovers of scenery and history.
Popular destinations in North Wales
With an area of more than 2,000 km², Snowdonia National Park covers much of mainland North West Wales, from the Menai Strait to Cardigan Bay. It's a land of breathtaking beauty and drama: rivers, villages, farmland, coastal regions and of course the mountain range that peaks at Snowdon, from where it takes its name. Visitors come here all year round, whether it's for outdoor activities like climbing and water sports, or visiting a cosy village to be fed and watered in style.
This place has been settled and mined since the stone age, but it was during the 1800s, and the arrival of the railway, when Llandudno became a beloved spa and holiday resort. A lengthy hotel-lined promenade faces the sea and the pier, and behind this is a bustling town full of cafes, bars, shops and other diversions. It's all overlooked by the 207 metre Great Orme, a huge headland whose summit can be reached by cable car, narrow-gauge tram or on foot if you have the stamina. Once you're there, you have views of Llandudno and, weather permitting, the Isle of Man and even the Lake District.
A fascinating village on the west of Wales, Portmeirion was designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between the 1920s and the 1970s. It's styled on a traditional Italian village, with colourful facades and winding tree-lined pathways. No cars are allowed, so visitors have to take the bus or drive to the car park outside the village and walk the rest of the way, although there are buggy tours for anyone to take, including disabled people.
Wales's biggest island, Anglesey, lies off the North West coast. The island is home to the vital port of Holyhead and the nearby South Stack Lighthouse, as well as Beaumaris Castle and the little town called Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. The bulk of the inland area is farmland, but around the coast are dozens of secluded beaches, campsites and small resorts.
Famous for its walled town and well preserved castle, Conwy is one of Wales's most popular resorts. Conwy castle is one of Edward I's, dating back to the late 13th century, but it's still remarkably intact, and you can still walk around the outer town walls in many places. The town centre of Conwy used to have a reputation for congestion as it was the only route across North Wales, but since the road tunnel was built, it's a lovely place to discover Wales's history, watch the boats and enjoy an afternoon tea. Britain's smallest house is also in Conwy.
On the East of Wales, just 6 km from the border with England, is Llangollen, a popular inland resort with the powerful River Dee flowing through it on its way to Chester and the North Sea. Here, you can do a spot of shopping, dine at a great restaurant, or take a trip on the famous 10-mile railway hauled by a steam locomotive.