Behold the supernatural beauty of the Welsh countryside.
Beyond its 600 or so castles, its 10 million sheep outnumbering people three to one, and its rich, living Celtic history, Wales is also home to incredible natural landscapes. Deep valleys are bounded by rolling hills and rugged mountains while swirling rivers meander towards steel-blue seas edged by a dramatic coastline of jagged cliffs and sandy dunes. In short, Wales is stunning. While a visit to the vibrant capital city Cardiff and Wales’ sleepy beachside towns is a must, make sure to add some of these Welsh natural wonders to your list too.
Known as a wildlife haven, Skomer Island lies just off the coast of Pembrokeshire in west Wales and is most famous for its comical-looking residents, the puffins, who live there all year round in their thousands. The island is also home to half of the world’s population of Manx shearwaters, who go there to breed before migrating thousands of miles to warmer climates. Other species of interest include dolphins, porpoises, seals, and the Skomer vole, a unique type of vole to the island.
Three Cliffs Bay
The three limestone cliffs that encircle the beach inspired the name of this picturesque bay and it’s one of the 41 “blue flag” beaches–a certificate that shows a beach meets high-quality standards–that Wales proudly boasts. Just up from the bay are the 12th-century remains of the Pennard Castle which provides broad views across the Three Cliffs Bay and the choppy ocean. The beach allows dogs all year around so it’s the ideal spot to bring a canine friend.
These two limestone pillars rise from the sea just off the coast of Pembrokeshire in south-west Wales. Once part of the mainland, the sea slowly but surely eroded the nearby cliffs, causing them to shrink back and leave these pillars behind. The word elegug means guillemot (as in the seabird) in Welsh, and the place takes its name from the thousands of these birds that flock there in the spring and summer months for the nesting season.
The Fairy Glen
A secluded gorge near to the Betws y Coed village, the Fairy Glen has long been a source of inspiration for photographers and artists due to its peaceful atmosphere and picturesque scenery. The River Conwy meanders through the gorge, skirting past moss-covered stepping stones and trickling into mini cascades and swirling rock pools. It’s a protected wildlife site and home to rare ferns and lichen as well as the purple orchid and the occasional otter.
Located in the Gower Peninsula, one of the most scenic coastlines in Wales, Rhossili Bat is considered among the best beaches in Europe, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a three-mile long beach of rose-gold sand backed with grass-covered sand dunes and lapped by a sky-blue (icy cold) sea. Its remote location gives it that unspoiled charm and the surrounding grassland provide ample opportunities for a pleasant afternoon hike.
Blue Lagoon Abereiddi
The name “blue lagoon” may conjure images of the famous attraction in Iceland, yet Wales has its own, albeit without the thermal heating. The Blue Lagoon in Abereiddi is the remains of a former slate quarry flooded by the sea after it eroded the outer wall, and it has a distinct deep green color due to an accumulation of minerals in the pool. The lagoon is about 25-meters deep which has made it a popular diving spot for those who take the leap from the quarry’s past platforms to plunge into the bracing waters below.
Providing a hilly wall between the Wales and England border, the Black Mountains are an 80-square-mile area of hilltops and valleys decorated with sparse plains, hardy bushes, and dense fern patches, topped with regular lashings of chilly rainstorms. However, the sense of wilderness and isolation there is wonderfully palpable and on a sunny day, the views across the Wye Valley are nothing short of breathtaking.
The former slate quarry, the second largest of its kind in the world, was closed in the late 20th century and is now part of the National Slate Museum and a popular scuba diving and rock climbing spot. The surrounding mountainous landscapes quickly reclaimed the past quarry with coarse grass and wild bushes sprouting through the old industrial remains. The rugged slate-covered hills provide wonderful views from the top and are also home to a group of wild Welsh mountain goats.
Snowdonia National Park
Snowdonia National Park is replete with incredible attractions: untamed landscapes, glacial landforms, dozens of lakes, old villages steeped in history, and home to the largest mountain in Wales, Snowdon. Thanks to the mountainous terrain, the area is officially one of the wettest regions in the UK and often receives snow during the winter. However, on sunny days, its wonderful hiking opportunities attract millions of visitors per year who come for Snowdon’s views and the chance to spot wildlife such as otters, polecats, ospreys, and red kites.
Dan yr Ogof
An 11-mile long cave system, Dan yr Ogof is one of the largest in the UK and has a varied passage of high chambers, deep lakes, and the final resting ground of ancient human and animal bones. The beginning of the cave–known as the showcave–is open to the public. Beyond that, it’s only accessible for experienced cavers and includes attractions such as The Long Crawl (a tight-spaced tunnel), rope climbs in the Abyss, underground waterfalls, and a huge fossil passage.
Located just two miles from Abergwyngregyn village, Aber Falls is a 120-feet waterfall formed by the Afon Goch river as it pours over the edge of a steep, solidified magma cliff millions of years old. The falls are easily accessible along a small footpath that passes several settlements dating back to the Bronze Ages, including an old blacksmith’s workshop and a roundhouse.
At two miles long and 29-meters deep, Llyn Padarn is one of Wales’ largest natural lakes and is surrounded by rolling hills and snow-capped mountains. The lake received its name from an early Celtic saint who founded churches in the local area, yet nowadays it’s recognized for being a site of special scientific interest, especially for being the home of the rare Arctic Char, a fish that has called the lake its home since the Ice Age.
The River Wye
At 134 miles long, the River Wye is the fifth longest river in the UK and its course meanders through the Wye Valley in South Wales which was rewarded the prestigious title, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It’s considered one of the most picture-perfect natural regions in the south of the UK thanks to its deep valleys, dense woodlands, and aging architectural landmarks such as castles and abbeys dotted along the river. The rolling landscapes and abundance of viewpoints make it a perfect hiking spot.
Legend has it that King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, lies in the Llyn Ogwen lake, yet whether the myths are true or not, one thing is certain–this lake oozes raw beauty and its lack of tourists preserves its peaceful atmosphere. Despite covering an area of 78 acres, the lake is only three-meters deep at its deepest point and is surrounded by rocky hills and tough vegetation. It’s at its most picturesque during the winter when it receives a blanket of untouched snow.
The Brecon Beacons is made up of six main peaks that form a long ridge across south Wales and which slope down into wide valleys. The landscape is barren and carpeted in wiry grass and the odd patch of tough thistles, yet hardy Welsh mountain ponies make this land their home and it offers seemingly never-ending hikes across exposed terrains with long-distance views.