A week’s time, the keys to a rental car, and the open road were all I needed for a trip along Wales’s unassuming but nonetheless stunning coastline. The Coastal Way, one of the three main routes across the country, offers a mix of seaside towns and mountain villages—you could easily pop in and out of any of them, depending the mood you were in.
My trip kicked off in the northern town of Conwy, known both for its eponymous 13th century castle and for Great Britain’s smallest house, a taste of the storybook sights to come. Winding in and out of Snowdonia National Park along the way, I came upon stone villages built from the local slate, each perfectly placed alongside rushing rivers.
Farther south, the bustling port of Aberaeron was a delightful surprise. I ate fresh fish-and-chips at New Celtic Restaurant as well as the famed honey ice cream from The Hive Ltd on the docks overlooking the sailboats, and rested at the perennially packed, maritime-style Harbourmaster Hotel.
After the youthful energy of Aberaeron, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park couldn’t have been a better contrast. Its wild shoreline, dotted with turquoise-colored coves, small fishing villages, and breathtaking viewpoints overlooking the cliffs, invited a new sense of adventure. Skomer Island is just a short boat ride off the northern part of Pembrokeshire, and, if you’re lucky, you can see puffins there. I watched these ever-so-charming birds nest in the cliffs and dive into the waters. I hadn’t come to Wales for the wildlife, but what I found was nothing short of a revelation.
My final jaunt took me through the last bits and pieces of the Coastal Way to Cardiff. One last look at the lapping ocean, and it was time to head home.
Suggested stops along the Coastal Way:
Stay: Bodysgallen Hall and Spa
Do: Head to the historic Conwy Castle and be sure to walk the walls afterwards. Great Britain’s smallest house is also here and worth a stop to look at the design. While in Conwy, one incredible side trip is to the town of Betws-y-Coed, where you can get a feel of the small and picturesque villages of Snowdonia (the famed Fairy Glen is here, as well). An experience at Zip World Penrhyn Quarry, the world’s fastest and longest zip line, is also destined to be quite the rush!
Stay: Ty’n Rhos Hotel
Do: You could easily spend two nights in Anglesey seeing as there’s so much to do, but if you only do one thing, make sure to walk out to Ynys Llanddwyn and explore the park. The South Stack Lighthouse is also a highlight. A tour at Halen Môn Sea Salt will teach you more about this region’s famous salt than you ever thought you would know. In nearby Beaumaris, you’ll find a 13th century castle and World Heritage Site. Try the RibRide tour on the Menai Strait—this fast boat ride is sure to exhilarate. After your adventures, head to Dylan’s to taste the local mussels.
Stay: Harbourmaster Hotel
Do: The energy of this town was one of my favorite things about the whole trip, not to mention the scenery here. Be sure to get an order or two of fish and chips from the New Celtic Restaurant—they’re unbeatable. For dessert, try the local honey ice cream from the Hive.