Beautiful Towns and Villages in Wales You Might Not Have Heard Of
Savour a stroll along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path | © shoults / Alamy
Avoid the summer crowds and discover these picturesque little towns and villages dotted across Wales – expect jaw-dropping scenery, friendly communities and incredible beaches.
Wales has always been a popular UK destination, particularly in summer, when flocks of city folk are lured over by the unblemished countryside and enviable coastline. Sure enough, in the summer of 2021, the ultimate year of domestic travel, North Wales has been named the UK’s most popular holiday region, impressively topping Cornwall and the Lake District.
What this means, of course, is that many of the tourist hotspots become overcrowded; whether it’s Tenby and St Davids on the Pembrokeshire coast, Abersoch and Portmeirion in Gwynedd, or even the charming village of Betws-y-Coed at the foot of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon). While there’s an extremely good reason for their popularity – we heartily recommend them all – they also fail to capture the serenity that makes the country’s gorgeous landscapes so special.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of the most beautiful towns in Wales that you probably haven’t heard of.
Beaumaris Castle with the low mist of Menai Strait behind | © Philip Kieran / Alamy
The northern island of Ynys Mon (Anglesey) is home to several lovely villages – Cemaes, Rhosneigr and, of course, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch – all of which are worth visiting, but none are quite as impressive as Beaumaris. The remarkably symmetrical Beaumaris Castle, a Unesco World Heritage site, looms over the village and looks out over the calm Menai Strait. The village itself boasts a wide variety of well-kept historical architecture that house a range of cafes, restaurants, craft shops and pubs. Meanwhile the surrounding area, known by some as the Anglesey Riviera, has a number of excellent unspoilt beaches. It’s also well worth taking a cruise to Puffin Island, where you can spot seals, dolphins and, you guessed it, lots of puffins.
The harbour of Aberdyfi | © Eddie Cloud / Alamy
This picturesque seaside spot in the midwest is surrounded by some of the best stretches of sand in the whole country. The expansive main beach stretches 3mi (4.8km) from the Dyfi Estuary right up to the neighbouring town of Tywyn. There are water sports galore, with sailing, windsurfing and kitesurfing all popular hobbies in Cardigan Bay, while south of the river is the surfing hotspot of Borth, and the majestic sand dunes of Ynyslas. Meanwhile there’s also a championship golf course, a range of excellent hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses, as well as some delightful restaurants that take full advantage of the area’s rich fishing culture.
A barge crossing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct near Llangollen | © Rob Carter / Alamy
This magical northeastern town offers adventurous opportunities for travellers slow and fast. Hop on a steam train and journey the Llangollen Heritage Railway, a breathtaking 10mi (16km) route that meanders through the verdant Dee Valley. Then there’s Llangollen Canal, an equally beautiful passage that blends natural beauty with engineering excellence, typified by the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the largest navigable aqueduct in Britain. Harrison Ford has been spotted on the canal in the past, so it’s good enough for us. Explorers looking for more of an adrenaline rush can enjoy white-water rafting, gorge scrambling, rock climbing and axe throwing. The town itself is home to a range of charming country pubs, cafes and boutique shops.
Blue Lagoon, Abereiddy | © CW Images / Alamy
OK, calling Abereiddi a town, or even a village, is a bit of a stretch. The reason it makes this list is simple – the Blue Lagoon. Where there was once a slate quarry, active until 1910, now sits one of the most beautiful bodies of water in Wales. The quarry wall was blasted away, and the sea flooded in, but the minerals from the slate give the water a hazy aqua-blue tint. The lagoon is popular for snorkelling, kayaking and diving – the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series made its UK debut here in 2012 – while the surrounding craggy cliffs are renowned for coasteering. There are countless holiday cottages and a couple of campsites nearby, and down the road is St Davids, one of the smallest cities in the world.
Beddgelert, Snowdonia National Park | © paul weston / Alamy
This enchanting little stone-built village is our pick for a base if you’re planning to hike up the highest mountain in Wales, Yr Wyddfa. The place is as historic as it looks – its name translates to Gelert’s Grave, Gelert being the legendary dog of Llywelyn the Great. You’ll learn plenty about the canine folk hero in the many quirky shops and traditional pubs that populate the village, and you can visit the grave itself at the end of a short but scenic walk. The surrounding area is full of rich woodland, dramatic hiking routes and mountain lakes. Highlights include Aberglaslyn Pass to the south, Nant Gwynant to the east and, of course, the mountain itself to the north.
Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark
Devil's Bridge, Ceredigion | © redsnapper / Alamy
Another place named after a folktale, albeit a slightly less plausible one, is Devil’s Bridge. The tale involves an old lady separated from her cow by water. Satan shows up and offers to build a bridge in exchange for the soul of the first living creature to cross it. Needless to say the old lady outwits Lucifer and, as legend goes, the Devil never returned to Wales. Anyway, the bridge is an iconic spot set among the glorious Cambrian Mountains, near Mynach Falls, an extraordinary 300ft (91m) waterfall that’s well worth risking a dance with the Devil to see. You can also treat yourself at Sarah Bunton Chocolates, explore the nearby Hafod Estate for lush woodland, or head 12mi (19km) west to the lively town of Aberystwyth.
Criccieth in Cardigan Bay | © Tommy (Louth) / Alamy
Criccieth is where the two biggest draws of North Wales are best combined. Look one way and you’ll see epic vistas of Snowdonia. Turn around and you’ll find yourself staring at the hypnotic Cardigan Bay horizon. Luckily, for a resort town so perfectly placed on the coast, there’s a fairly laid-back atmosphere here. The two beaches are peaceful – perfect for a morning or evening stroll – and separated by a headland castle steeped in history. Nearby you’ll find excellent hiking trails, exciting adventure sports and easy access to the quirky town of Portmeirion.
Aberaeron in Ceredigion | © paul weston / Alamy
Take a scenic coastal trip south of Aberystwyth and you’ll come across the postcard-ready harbour town of Aberaeron. The multicoloured houses, keeping a watchful eye over bobbing marina boats, almost look like something from a children’s TV show. The town, which is sleepy in winter and buzzy in summer, hosts a bustling annual carnival and seafood festival. Grab an ice cream from The Hive, fish and chips from New Celtic, or treat yourself to a delicious meal at Harbourmaster or The Cellar. Unsurprisingly, the seafood is excellent at both. If you’re looking for a sandy beach then head south to the equally pretty New Quay, also home to a number of outstanding restaurants.
Llanrwst's Virginia Creeper-covered tea room on the River Conwy, North Wales | © John Davidson Photos / Alamy
On the eastern border of Snowdonia National Park is the small market town of Llanrwst. It’s most notable for a beautiful three-arched stone bridge, built in 1636 to give access to Tu Hwnt i’r Bont, a manor house-turned-National Trust property that does excellent afternoon tea. History hides in every corner of town, from Llywelyn the Great’s coffin in Gwydir Uchaf Chapel, to Gwydir Castle, one of the most haunted buildings in Wales. Even Gwydir Forest is a place full of Robin Hood-style folktales – we recommend wandering the Lady Mary Walk, a gentle woodland hike that passes Gwydir Chapel en route to two lakes, Llyn Geirionydd and Llyn Crafnant, both of which are rarely visited and lovely for wild swimming.
Solva Harbour, Solva, Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, Wales | © CW Images / Alamy
The River Solva juts into the Pembrokeshire coast and through the quaint village that shares its name. A small harbour lies in between two vibrant green headlands sprinkled with pastel-coloured buildings, which include B&Bs, art galleries, pubs and restaurants. It almost feels entirely cut off from the rest of the world, like a West Walian version of the Cinque Terre. Fishing, sailing and canoeing are all on the cards, while its location towards the Western tip of Wales places you in the perfect position to explore the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path.
Aberdaron Beach | © Steven Bramall / Alamy
On the Llyn Peninsula in Gwynedd, the North’s answer to Pembrokeshire, are a number of the finest beaches in Wales. One is Porth Neigwl, also known as Hell’s Mouth, but just down the road is Aberdaron Beach, a mile-long stretch of sand, rock pools and caves that are perfect for exploring, as well as a nicely curved bay that will have water sports enthusiasts running for their wetsuit. The village itself is small but well-equipped for a coastal retreat, while the surrounding coastline is spectacular. We also recommend taking a boat ride out to Ynys Enlli, a remote island with a rewarding hiking trail populated by a rich variety of wildlife.
Puffins on Skomer Island | © Matthew Williams-Ellis Travel Photography / Alamy
Dale is a focal point for water sports, thanks to the mile-wide sheltered bay on the Milford Haven waterway, perfect for sailing and kayaking. There’s also a water sports school in town that can take you paddleboarding or surfing. For sand and seclusion, head across the bay to Marloes Sands, while further along the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path is Martins Haven, where you can hop on a boat across to Skomer Island, an incredible hub for wildlife, most notably a large puffin colony. After a day of exploring, head back to The Griffin and grab a pint of Welsh ale and some delicious seafood-heavy pub grub. From there, make your way to the roof terrace, where you can gaze out at the spellbinding Milford Haven as the sun gently slides behind the sea.
These recommendations were updated on July 29, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.