You haven’t seen castles until you’ve been to Wales. – a probably misremembered quote by a friend of a friend
Wales, known as the “castle capital of the world,” has 100 remaining castles of the 600 built within the country’s borders during the Middle Ages.
The four named the “finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe” by UNESCO are all situated in North Wales: the Conwy, Caernarfon, Beaumaris, and Harlech castles.
Beaumaris, located on the eastern side of the island Anglesey, was architecturally ahead of its time. You can explore the castle for under £7 in admission.
Cross over to mainland Wales to see the riverfront Caernarfon Castle, often considered to be the most beautiful castle in the country. Caernarfon was originally the site of a Roman fort; the castle was built there sometime between 1088 and 1115 and was later reworked into the Edwardian structure that stands today.
To the south, on the west side of Snowdonia National Park, is Harlech Castle, which stands regally atop a steep hill, overlooking the countryside.
Finally, to the north, at the very top of Wales, Conwy Castle is the focal point of the charming coastal town of Conwy. You can walk along the top of the walls to see the view of the river or examine the fortification’s towers up close.
There are beautiful mountains in England, but for the really tall ones you’ve got to go to Scotland or Wales. The landscape of North Wales is breathtaking, with sunlit blue-gray peaks rising in the distance against the hazy sky. The mountains there are less imposing than the ones in Scotland; they just have a different feel (and they aren’t quite as tall).
Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales, has easy climbing paths that you can conquer in three hours. I only made it partway up Snowdon—the fog and impending dusk forced me to turn back—but I’ve heard that on a sunny day, the view from the top is incredible.
3) Delightful people
While I generally found the people I met during my time in England to be nice, I absolutely loved the people I met in Wales. They were so talkative and kind. When I was waiting for a bus in North Wales on Christmas Eve, two people stopped to ask if I needed a ride. I ran into one of them a few days later in Conwy, and we chatted for a little while.
4) Offbeat attractions
I love getting out of the cities and into little towns in the UK. North Wales reminded me of areas of the Peak District in England, probably because that’s where I visited the most cute, old villages during my study abroad program in England. You never know what unique shops, museums, or parks you will find when wandering down the cobbled streets.
While most of my memories of quirky towns in England are related to specific events—Beltane in Glastonbury, 1940s weekend in Haworth—North Wales is full of interesting things to see and do year-round. Take a riverboat to the giant iron aqueducts? Visit the smallest house in Great Britain? Fly down a mountain on the fastest zip line in the world? What else could you want? I was never bored in North Wales, even on Christmas when everything was closed.
5) Homey atmosphere
For me, South Wales was a bit too run-down and parts of England were a bit too touristy, so North Wales was a perfect in between. There are tourist towns there, like Llangollen, but mostly, it’s just a beautiful place where people live. Regular people shop and go to work and go to the pubs and gather for holidays. The towns are close together; you never feel alone.
I visited North Wales cities Llandudno and Bangor, which are more dilapidated than the well-curated Conwy, but the miles of green countryside surrounding both of them made up for it. I walked from Llandudno to Conwy through quiet neighborhoods; I hung out on the Llandudno Pier for an afternoon; I celebrated Christmas Eve with locals and went to a church in town the next day. I felt at home.
I was enchanted by North Wales. Of all the places I visited on my month-long trip to the UK last year, it’s the one that stuck out to me the most. After getting caught in the rain on Christmas, my conversation with my taxi driver led to him telling me that there was nowhere else he’d rather live. I’m inclined to agree.