The postcard-perfect villages clinging to Wales’ 1,680-mile-long coastline are known for their rainbow-coloured townhouses, adrenaline-filled coastal pursuits, ancient histories, and slow-paced lifestyles, discovers JADE BRAHAM.
Despite being a teeny country, Wales is titanic in stature for its copious number of serene and alluring coastal villages and towns. These are secreted by single-track lanes, bands of ancient woodlands rising in harmony with undulating fields, and storm-smashed sea cliffs that look fit to stand the test of time.
The villages and towns positioned here are admired for their slow-paced, pastoral lifestyles, where locals rise with the sun to plough fields, trawl the sea for fish, and stretch their legs along Victorian piers, coastal paths, and swathes of sandy beaches touched with palm trees and pastel-striped deckchairs. The local shops, surfing waves, and coastal castles are attractive daytime activities, while burgeoning food scenes occupy the evenings, especially at weathered-stone pubs filled with merry voices.
What’s more, at the tips of the nation are a “little Italy” and a Welsh version of the French Riviera, which beg the question: do you really need to go abroad when Wales is before you?
BEST FOR VICTORIAN ARCHITECTURE
The Mumbles, Swansea
Dedicated to making happy memories – that’s how we’d describe Mumbles. Its five-mile-long promenade wraps around the horseshoe-shaped Swansea Bay and is backed by a sheltered beach, an 18th-century lighthouse, a Victorian pier, and Oystermouth Castle.
The latter is an imposing 12th-century Anglo-Norman fortress, where we enjoy “searching” for the lady in white haunting the dungeon. The castle’s name hints at Mumbles’ historic oyster industry, as does the multi-million-pound Oyster Wharf, featuring The Oyster House, where the smell of seafood is intoxicating (oysterhousemumbles.com/). For a quiet evening, stay at Langland Cove Guesthouse. Double occupancy from £75 (langlandcove.co.uk/).
BEST FOR DYLAN THOMAS’ POETRY
Unlike Wales’s other coastal communities, Laugharne is consumed by the everlasting presence of its most famous resident, Dylan Thomas. The poet lived here for four years, fondly dubbing it ‘the strangest town in Wales’ and suggesting it’ll ‘be the same in a hundred years’ time.’
Laugharne Castle has stood overlooking the Taf estuary for nine centuries, while many Dylan-associated properties remain intact, including his boathouse, writing shed (dylanthomasboathouse.com/), and Brown’s Hotel (browns.wales/). Even the Wales Coast Path is subsumed by Dylan’s ‘Birthday Walk’, and Laugharne’s newly-opened resort is appropriately named The Dylan Coastal Resort. Lodges start from £349 (luxurylodges.com/dylan-coastal-resort/).
BEST FOR THE ‘WELSH RIVIERA’
Tenby boasts a turquoise ocean speckled with sailing boats, palm-tree-lined streets, fishermen unloading their cargo, and the rich scents of salt and vinegar. It’s little wonder the town is considered the jewel in the crown of the ‘Welsh Riviera’, and its technicolour Regency houses, and three Blue Flag beaches are what put it on the map!
Its maze-like streets likewise reveal an intriguing culture, featuring a Norman castle, a Tudor merchant’s house, and Plantagenet House Restaurant, one of the oldest buildings in Tenby (plantagenettenby.co.uk/)! For more history, stay at Broadmead, an 18th-century boutique B&B. Rooms from £110pn (broadmeadtenby.wales/).
BEST FOR SAINTS & PUFFINS
St Davids, Pembrokeshire
For centuries, St Davids’ coastline has been a place of pilgrimage, nursing historic churches, holy wells, palaces, and Viking islands, with boat trips to spot 10,000 puffins. The 6th-century cathedral attracts history enthusiasts, writers, and families, while Whitesands and Ceibwr bays appeal to wild swimmers, surfers, and kayakers.
The Bug Farm offers a strange opportunity to eat insects – the mixed insect pakora is particularly delicious!(thebugfarm.co.uk/) For something less daring, the three-AA-rosette Blas Restaurant’s braised beef with edible flowers is to die for (blasrestaurant.com/), while its adjoining hotel, Twr y Felin, has rooms from £180pn B&B (twryfelinhotel.com/).
BEST FOR IRON AGE REMAINS
Newport’s coastal character is unavoidable, with frequent sailing activities at Newport Sands and the Gallery Yr Oriel displaying coastal cottage paintings and statues of windswept figures (thegallery-yroriel.com/). After a browse, we stop at the dog-friendly Castle Inn which has a flavoursome menu – the chicken tandoori masala is particularly innovative (castleinnpembs.co.uk/) – while Llys Meddyg Hotel has dog-friendly rooms from £130 (llysmeddyg.com/).
But for me, the town’s unique personality comes from its many heritage sites, including Britain’s oldest intact medieval kiln and Castell Henllys: Britain’s only Iron Age village reconstructed on the spot Celts lived 2,000 years ago (pembrokeshirecoast.wales/castell-henllys/).
BEST FOR MARITIME ARTS & CRAFTS
Rows of colourful cottages and a narrow stone bridge guiding a babbling brook make Solva feel forgotten by time. It’s one of Pembrokeshire’s oldest villages, with almost 40 listed buildings and a proud maritime heritage.
Fish woodcarvings are nailed to walls, houses display miniature sailing boats, and The Sail Loft (solvasailloft.com/) and Solva Pottery Antiques showcase products incorporating puffins, seashells, starfish, and sea anemones.
The 16th-century Cambrian Inn serves local produce like Welsh mussels (thecambrianinn.co.uk/), while frequent yells of “come back here!” indicate the harbour is a popular dog-walking area. For a luxury stay, book a night in Roch Castle from £190pn (B&B) (rochcastle.com/).
BEST FOR REGENCY ARCHITECTURE
Much like Tenby, Aberaeron is a Regency town with swatch-card-coloured houses. But this time, its layout offers a rare example of a purposely planned Georgian town, built by the Rev Alban Thomas Jones Gwynne in 1805, for shipbuilding and fishing industries.
The River Aeron silently ripples through the harbour, passing the local favourite The Harbourmaster, whose menu showcases fresh Cardigan Bay fish (harbour-master.com/). My favourite, Y Seler Restaurant, does a sublime winter vegetable risotto that lingers for days in my dreams, and offers nine bedrooms, starting from £119 (yseler.co.uk/). Here, locals are often found enjoying maritime pursuits like crabbing and strolling along the waterfront.
BEST FOR DOLPHINS & PORPOISES
New Quay, Ceredigion
There’s a quiet and stillness at New Quay which creates a relaxed and unpretentious vibe; and, since the town is so compact, it’s best to walk its winding streets, passing traditional fishermen’s cottages. Along the way, we discover a turquoise sculpture of a woman blowing a kiss, which marks the halfway point of the Wales Coast Path, and several ice cream parlours.
The Blue Bell Deli & Bistro overlooks the harbour, serving the most delicious mango, kiwi, banana, and strawberry smoothie, which I take with me to the harbour and beach, where I try my luck at spotting dolphins and porpoises. Nearby, Haven Quay West Holiday Park has spacious lodges, as well as two swimming pools and an amusement arcade (haven.com/).
BEST FOR A SLICE OF ITALY
Porticoes, verandas, classic Italian colonnades, and pastel-hued townhouses are what we initially see at Portmeirion. Our first impression is that this must be Italy – and, as it turns out, we weren’t far wrong. Architect Clough Williams-Ellis intentionally built an Italianate-style village on the Snowdonia coast, which looks similar to Portofino in northern Italy.
It’s not just the architecture that’s different though: there’re no cars, banks, schools, or residents, except for those staying in the self-catering cottages or Hotel Portmeirion, check out prices at portmeirion.wales/stay. Day visitors pay to enter (£10 for adults). Once they do, there’s a 70-acre subtropical forest, Italian-style gelateria, a 1950s-style bar, and filming locations from the TV show The Prisoner.
BEST FOR CASTLE TOWERS & WALLS
Conwy, Conwy County Borough
Known for being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Conwy boasts a magnificent 13th-century castle, and historic walls running around its medieval centre (cadw.gov.wales/visit/places-to-visit/conwy-castle). Within this imposing structure are royal apartments, but the real gems are traces of lime render on the walls, hinting at how the castle’s exterior used to be white.
From here, the River Conwy and Thomas Telford’s famous suspension bridge can be seen, while Quay House – renowned for being the smallest house in Britain at just 72 inches wide and 122 inches high – overlooks docked sailing boats (tinyurl.com/y4k2nm6x). The Quay Hotel and Spa likewise overlooks Conwy Estuary, with a range of luxury rooms (quayhotel.co.uk/).
BEST COASTAL WALKS & BEACHES
Wales is known for its 870-mile-long, uninterrupted coastal path, and each county mentioned has trails leading to magnificent beaches
- Carmarthenshire: Llansteffan’s coastal path leads through woodlands to reach the rarely visited Scott’s Bay, known locally for its cockle-picking opportunities.
- Pembrokeshire: A short distance from Tenby is the shingle-and-sand beach at Church Doors Cove, with cliff archways shaped by the sea.
- Ceredigion: From Cwmtydu Beach (near New Quay), walk the coastal path to Castell Bach, a shingle beach bordered by amphitheatre-like cliffs and two striated islands.
- Gwynedd: Undervalued by tourists, Bennar has an expansive sandy beach backed by sand dunes of Special Scientific Interest and small natural pools that are great for relaxing.
TOP 4 UNIQUE COASTAL ACTIVITIES
Along with epic coastal paths and beaches, there are several unique coastal activities to enjoy in Wales:
- Coastal Foraging with Craig Evans teaches how to forage for sustainable ingredients, like seaweed and crabs, and how to cook them over a biodegradable fire (coastalforaging.co.uk/)
- A Bay to Remember is frequently voted number one dolphin-watching trip in the UK, taking guests on boats towards Cardigan Island and Cemaes Head (baytoremember.co.uk/)
- From Tenby’s Harbour, sail towards Caldey Island, where you’ll discover Cistercian monks continuing religious traditions begun in Celtic times (caldeyislandwales.com/)
- Near to Conwy, Psyched Paddle Boarding takes you on guided stand-up paddleboarding excursions along the Menai Straits and Anglesey’s rugged coastline (psychedpaddleboarding.com/)