Most Beautiful Beach Towns in Wales 2024
In Wales the best areas to head to for sunbathing and swimming are the Gower peninsula, the Pembrokeshire coast, the Llyn and the southwest coast of Anglesey.
The southwest-facing beaches of Wales offer the best conditions for surfing, key spots being Rhossili, at the western tip of the Gower, and Whitesands Bay near St David’s.
Windsurfers tend to congregate at Barmouth, Borth, around the Pembrokeshire coast and at The Mumbles.
Though the north coast has more resorts than any other section of the Welsh coastline, its beaches are certainly not the most attractive and nor is it a good place to swim.
The small, lime-washed fishing village of Aberdaron backs a pebble beach two miles short of the tip of the Llyn.
For a thousand years, from the sixth century onwards, it was the last stop for pilgrims to Bardsey Island, or Ynys Enlli (the Island of the Currents), just offshore; three visits were proclaimed equivalent to one pilgrimage to Rome. Many pilgrims came to die there, earning the place its epithet “The Isle of Twenty Thousand Saints”.
Bardsey is heart-stoppingly beautiful and well worth a visit – there are self-catering cottages available on the island, or you could just go for a day-trip. For details of both, contact the Bardsey Island Trust. In olden days, the final gathering place before the treacherous crossing was the fourteenth-century Y Gegin Fawr (Great Kitchen), a stone building which still operates as a cafe in the middle of Aberdaron.
Today, pilgrims are more likely to be attracted by poetry, as until 1978, R.S. Thomas (1913-2000) was the minister at Aberdaron’s seafront church of St Hywyn.
After the distinctly Welsh feel of Pwllheli, Abersoch, seven miles southwest along the coast, comes as a surprise. This former fishing village pitched in the middle of two golden bays has, over the last century, become a thoroughly anglicized resort, with a distinctly haughty opinion of itself.
Such high self-esteem isn’t really justified, but at high tide the harbour is attractive, and the long swathe of the beach-hut-backed Town Beach is a fine spot, even if it is barely visible under towels at busy times.
A short walk along the beach shakes off most of the crowds, but a better bet is to make for three-mile-long Porth Neigwl (Hell’s Mouth), two miles to the southwest, which ranks as one of the country’s best surf beaches ; you’ll need your own gear, and beware of the undertow if you are swimming.
You can rent windsurfers, surfboards and wetsuits from Abersoch Watersports, Lon Pont Morgan, by the harbor. If you need instruction, check out the West Coast Surf Shop on Lon Pen Cei.
The liveliest seaside resort in Wales, Aberystwyth is an essential stop along the Ceredigion coast. Being rooted in all aspects of Welsh culture, it is possibly the most enjoyable and relaxed place to gain an insight into the national psyche.
As the capital of sparsely populated mid-Wales, and with one of the most prestigious colleges of the University of Wales in the town, there are plenty of cultural and entertainment diversions, as well as an array of Victorian and Edwardian seaside trappings.
In 1907, the National Library was inaugurated here, and Cymdeithas yr Iaith (the Welsh Language Society) was founded here in 1963. Aberystwyth’s politics are firmly radical Welsh, and in a country that still struggles with its inherent conservatism, the town is a blast of fresh air.
When sea-bathing became the Victorian fashion, English families descended on the sweeping sand and shingle beach at Cricieth (sometimes Criccieth), five miles west of Porthmadog, a quiet, amiable resort which curiously abounds with good places to stay and great restaurants, making it a good touring base for the peninsula and Porthmadog.
There isn’t much here, however, other than the battle-worn remains of Cricieth Castle (daily: June-Sept 10am-6pm; April & May 10am-5pm), dominating the coastline with its twin-towered gatehouse. Started by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth in 1230, it was strengthened by Edward I around 1283, and razed by Owain Glyndwr in 1404, leaving little besides a plan of broken walls.
It’s a great spot to sit and look over Cardigan Bay to Harlech, but leave time for the ticket office, where there’s a workaday exhibition on Welsh castles and a wonderful animated cartoon based on the twelfth-century Cambrian travels of Giraldus Cambrensis as he gathered support for the Third Crusade.
Dale , fourteen miles west of Haverfordwest, can be unbearably crowded in peak season, but it is a pleasant enough village, whose east-facing shore makes it excellent for watersports in the lighter seas.
All the activity happens around the beachside shack of West Wales Wind, Surf and Sailing, who give instruction in power-boating, windsurfing, surfing, sailing and kayaking (Ј30-Ј50 per half-day).
A few yards away is the village’s cheapest accommodation in the shape of the Richmond House B&B; and superior bunkhouse (under Ј40). Alternatively, there’s the Post House Hotel, in the middle of the village just behind the real-ale Griffin Inn, which has en-suite rooms and optional evening meals; and for a touch of luxury, there’s Allenbrook, a charming country house close to the beach.
The calm waters of Dale are deceptive, and as soon as you head further south towards St Ann’s Head, one of the most invigoratingly desolate places in the county, the wind speed whips up, with waves and tides to match. The coast path sticks tight to the undulating coastline, passing tiny bays en route to the St Ann’s lighthouse.
St David’s Peninsula
Surrounded on three sides by inlets, coves and rocky stacks, St David’s is an easy base for some excellent walking around the headland of the same name. A mile due south, accessed along the signposted lane from the main Haverfordwest road just near the school, popular Caerfai Bay provides a sandy gash in the purple sandstone cliffs, rock which was used in the construction of the cathedral.
To the immediate west is the craggy indentation of St Non’s Bay, reached from Goat Street in St David’s down the tiny rhododendron-flooded lane signposted to the Warpool Court Hotel. St Non reputedly gave birth to St David at this spot during a tumultuous storm around 500 AD, when a spring opened up between Non’s feet, and despite the crashing thunder all around, an eerily calm light filtered down on to the scene. St Non’s Bay has received pilgrims for centuries, resulting in the foundation of a tiny, isolated chapel in the pre-Norman age. The ruins of the subsequent thirteenth-century chapel now lie in a field to the right of the car park, beyond the sadly dingy well and coy shrine where the nation’s patron saint is said to have been born.
The road from St David’s to St Non’s branches at the St Non’s Hotel , where Catherine Street becomes a winding lane that leads a mile down the tiny valley of the River Alun to its mouth at Porth Clais. Supposedly the place at which St David was baptized, Porth Clais was the city’s main harbour, the spruced-up remains of which can still be seen at the bottom of the turquoise river creek. Today, commercial traffic has long gone, replaced by a boaties’ haven.
Running due west out of St David’s, Goat Street ducks past the ruins of the Bishop’s Palace and over the rocky plateau for two miles to the harbour at St Justinian’s, little more than a lifeboat station and ticket hut for the boats over to Ramsey Island. This dual-humped plateau, less than two miles long, has been under the able stewardship of the RSPB since 1992 and is quite enchanting. Birds of prey circle the skies above the island, but it’s better known for the tens of thousands of sea birds that noisily crowd the sheer cliffs on the island’s western side.
On the beaches, seals laze sloppily below the paths beaten out by a herd of red deer. Two companies run boats – weather permitting – around Ramsey, but the only ones that land are Thousand Islands Expeditions’ trips (April-Oct daily; Ј10); you can stay up to five hours. Worth trying – for the more adventurous – is their two-hour high-speed rigid inflatable tour around Ramsay (Ј22.50). During the springtime nesting season you actually see more from boats which circle the island but don’t land: try Ramsey Island Cruises (year-round daily), who also operate longer whale-watching trips (Ј40). Thousand Island Expeditions operate a similar Ramsey circumnavigation from Whitesands Bay (Porth Mawr), two miles to the north and reached from St David’s, via the B4583 off the Fishguard road.
Llandudno Promenade & Pier
Set on a low isthmus, across the river and a couple of miles north of Conwy, Llandudno has an undeniably dignified air, its older set of promenading devotees often huddled in the glassed frontages of once-grand hotels, content to sit and watch the more rumbustious younger visitors.
Almost invariably, the wind funnels between the limestone hummocks of the 680-foot Great Orme and its southern cousin the Little Orme, which flank the gently curving Victorian frontage; but don’t let that put you off visiting this archetype of the genteel British seaside town.
Llandudno’s early history revolves around the Great Orme, where St Tudno, who brought Christianity to the region in the sixth century, built the monastic cell that gives the town its name. When the early Victorian copper mines looked about to be worked out, in the mid-nineteenth century, local landowner Edward Mostyn exploited the growing craze for sea bathing and set about a speculative venture to create a seaside resort for the upper middle classes. Work got under way around 1854 and the town rapidly gained popularity over the next fifty years, becoming synonymous with the Victorian ideal of a respectable resort.
Marloes Sands Beach Pembrokeshire
The coast turns and heads north from St Ann’s Head to the unexciting hamlet of Marloes. Only a mile away from the village, the broad, deserted beach is a safe place to swim, and looks out towards the island of Skokholm.
From here, the coast path and a narrow road continue for two miles to the National Trust-owned swathe of Deer Park – which has no deer but is the name given to the grassy far tip of the southern peninsula of St Bride’s Bay – and Martin’s Haven, from where you can take a boat out to the islands of Skomer, Skokholm and Grassholm.
Newport Beaches in Wales
Newport (Trefdraeth) is an ancient and proud little town set on a gentle slope that courses down to the estuary of the Afon Nyfer. There’s little to do except stroll around, but you’d be hard pressed to find a better place to do just that. Just short of the Nevern estuary bridge, on the town side, Carreg Coetan Arthur, a well-preserved, capped Neolithic burial chamber, can be seen behind the newish holiday bungalows.
The footpath that runs along the river either side of the bridge is marked as the Pilgrims’ Way; follow it eastwards for a delightful riverbank stroll to Nevern, a couple of miles away.
Another popular local walk is up to the craggy and magical peak of Carn Ingli, the Hill of Angels, behind the town. On Lower St Mary Street, the old school has metamorphosed into the excellent West Wales Eco Centre (Mon-Fri 9.30am-4.30pm; variable extended hours in summer; free), a venue for exhibitions, advice and resources on various aspects of sustainable living.
Newport’s nearest beach, the Parrog, is complete with sandy stretches at low tide. On the other side of the estuary is the vast dune-backed Traethmawr beach, reached over the town bridge down Feidr Pen-y-Bont.
Newport also makes a good jumping-off point for exploring the wooded vales and gnarled hills of Mynydd Preseli, just inland, which are scattered with prehistoric remains, notably the four-thousand-year-old capstone at Pentre Ifan, a couple of miles south of Newport.
Just over a mile down the A4139 from Tenby, the dormitory village of Penally is unremarkable save for its vast beach. The coastal path hugs the clifftop from the viewpoint at Giltar Point, just below Penally, reaching the glorious privately owned beach at the headland of Lydstep Haven after two miles (fee charged for the sands). A mile further west is the cove of Skrinkle Haven, and above it the excellent Manorbier YHA hostel, where you can also camp.
The next part of the coast path heads inland to avoid the artillery range that occupies the beautiful outcrop of Old Castle Head, then leads straight into the quaint village of Manorbier (Maenorbyr), pronounced “manner-beer”, birthplace in 1146 of the Welsh-Norman historian, writer and ecclesiastical reformist Giraldus Cambrensis. Manorbier’s castle (April-Sept daily 10.30am-5pm; Ј2.50), founded in the early twelfth century as an impressive baronial residence, sits above the village and its beach on a hill of wild gorse.
The rocky little harbour at Stackpole Quay, reached via the small lane from Freshwater East through East Trewent, is a good starting point for walks along the breathtaking cliffs to the north. Another walk leads half a mile south to one of the finest beaches in Pembrokeshire, Barafundle Bay, with its soft beach fringed by wooded cliffs at either end.
The path continues around the coast, through the dunes of Stackpole Warren, to Broad Haven, where a pleasant small beach overlooks several rocky islets, now managed by the National Trust.
Basing yourself here gives good access to the nearby Bosherston Lakes inland, three artificial fingers of water beautifully landscaped in the late eighteenth century. The westernmost lake is the most scenic, especially in late spring and early summer when the lilies that form a carpet across its surface are in full bloom
Pwllheli (pronounced “poolth-heli”) is the market town for the Llyn peninsula, a role it has maintained since 1355 when it gained its charter, though there’s little sign of its history nowadays.
The overall tenor is one of low-brow fun-seeking, as holidaymakers flood in from the nearby holiday camp.
Pwllheli’s one defining feature is its Welshness. Even in the height of summer, you’ll hear far more Welsh spoken here than English.
Rhossili Bay Beach
The village of Rhossili (Rhosili), at the western end of Gower, is a center for walkers and beach loungers alike. Dylan Thomas described the terrain to the west of the village as “rubbery, gull-limed grass, the sheep-pilled stones, the pieces of bones and feathers”, and you can tread in his footsteps to Worms Head, an isolated string of rocks, accessible for only five hours, at low tide.
At the head of the road, near the village, is a well-stocked National Trust information center (April-Oct daily 10.30am-5.30pm). They post the tide times outside, for those heading for Worms Head, and hold details of local companies renting surfing and hang-gliding equipment.
Below the village, a great curve of white sand stretches away into the distance, a dazzling coastline vast enough to absorb the crowds, especially if you are prepared to head north towards Burry Holms, an islet that is cut off at high tide.
The northern end of the beach can also be reached along the small lane which runs from Reynoldston, in the middle of the peninsula, to Llangennith, on the other side of the towering, 633-foot Rhossili Down. In the village, PJ’s Surfshop rents a wide range of surfboards (Ј8/day) and boogie boards (Ј6/day), and there’s a Surf School, a mile away at the Hillend campsite (see below), which runs half-day (Ј20) and full-day (Ј30) surfing courses.
In Rhossili village, there are some great B&Bs; , including the very friendly Meadow View, a mile from the beach (under Ј40), with small but nicely furnished rooms. Campsites can be found at Pitton Cross Park, close to Meadow View, at the foot of the northern slopes of Rhossili Down; and at Hillend, at the end of the southern lane from Llangennith, behind the dunes that bump down to the glorious beach.
On a natural promontory of great strategic importance, the beguilingly old-fashioned resort of Tenby (Dinbych-y-Pysgod), wedged between two sweeping beaches fronting an island-studded seascape, is everything a seaside resort should be.
Narrow streets wind down from the medieval center to the harbor past miniature gardens fashioned to catch the afternoon sun. Steps lead down the steeper slopes to dockside arches which still house fishmongers selling the morning’s catch.
Tenby is also one of the major stopping-off points along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, a welcome burst of glitter and excitement amidst mile upon mile of undulating cliff scenery.
The National Park boundary skirts around the edge of the town. A couple of miles offshore, the old monastic ruins of Caldey Island make for a pleasant day-trip.