The Romans started it. Or at least, they heard about all those precious metals that were being mined here, and invaded Britain partly to get their hands on them: copper, iron, zinc, lead, silver – and of course gold. Welsh coal powered the Industrial Revolution, and Welsh slate put a roof over its head, and there are plenty of heritage sites to remind us of Wales’s rich industrial past.
Here's a small selection:
- Aberdulais Tin Works and Waterfall
The Vale of Neath is full of waterfalls, and they’re not just a pretty face. The falls at Aberdulais once powered a whole tinplate works. It still boasts the largest electricity-generating waterwheel in Europe.
- Copper Kingdom
The northernmost town in Wales was the hub of the copper industry, which has left some pretty impressive remains, notably at the stunning moonscape of Mynydd Parys.
- Dolaucothi Gold Mines
The Romans first mined here on an industrial scale 2,000 years ago. The mine eventually closed in the 1930s, but visitors can still take an underground tour and have a bash at panning for gold.
- Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways
Built to haul slate from Snowdonia’s mountains to the ports of Caernarfon and Porthmadog, these lovely railways now steam through the heart of some of Wales’s most stunning scenery.
- Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
This should be on everyone’s bucket list: a trip on ‘the stream in the sky’, as the Llangollen Canal crosses the longest and highest cast-iron aqueduct in the world. 1,007 feet long and 126 feet high, with nothing between you and the River Dee far below except a great deal of fresh Welsh air.
There are grand mansions and stately homes all over Wales, evolved from ancient castles, or built on the proceeds of mining wealth, or simply because someone with enough money decided that this was a spot with a cracking view.
These five are in the care of The National Trust :
- Chirk Castle
Completed in 1310, this is the last Welsh castle from the reign of Edward I that’s still lived in today. The many splendours from its 700-year history are set in lovely gardens.
A delightful 18th-century Welsh gentry estate with a spectacular walled garden and a passion for self-sufficient living (and a farm shop for any surplus goodies).
- Penrhyn Castle
This mock-Norman whopper cost the Pennant family the modern equivalent of £50m-plus to build. No expense was spared in any detail, including a one-ton slate bed built especially for Queen Victoria to kip in.
- Powis Castle
Many visitors are drawn by the gorgeous gardens, but the grand house, which started life as the fortress of a medieval Welsh prince, is full of treasures.
- Plas Newydd
An elegant house on the shores of the Menai Strait containing the largest collection of Rex Whistler’s works, a military museum, and a fine spring garden. We weren’t just looking for an excuse to print the town’s name, honest.
We do a good castle, fair play. There are 641 of them in Wales, and they come in all shapes, sizes, and states of repair. Some have been lived in continuously for a thousand years. Others are tumbledown ruins in remote forests. Some were built to keep invaders out, others to keep us lot in check. There are castles on clifftops, castles with gardens, haunted castles, castles with museums, castles on beaches... You get the picture. Lots of castles. Here are just a few which are cared for by Cadw,the Welsh heritage organisation:
The last and largest of Edward I’s ‘ring of steel’ castles, built in the 1200s to control North Wales. It was never quite finished – the cash ran out – but its intricate design makes it the most technically perfect castle in Britain.
This big cheese is the second-largest castle in Britain after Windsor. The mighty Norman fortress comes with an enormous moat, working siege engines, and a leaning tower that out-leans the one in Pisa.
Built precariously on clifftops over the Wye, Chepstow’s spectacular castle guards an important river crossing from England to Wales. When its fighting days were over, it became an essential part of the ‘Wye Tour’, a favourite journey of 18th-century romantics.
This striking 13th-century castle is perched over the spectacular Teifi Gorge and has inspired many artists, including Turner. The annual coracle races take place on the river here each August as part of the Cilgerran Festive Week.
What makes Conwy so special is that not only has its thumping great castle survived, but also the original 22-tower walled town that was built around it.
We’ve got a magnificent seven national museums, with world-class collections from Wales and around the globe – and what’s more, free admission for everyone. Find out more on Museums Wales.
- National Museum Cardiff
One of Europe’s finest art collections takes a trip with dinosaurs, woolly mammoths, and hundreds of animal and plant species, on a journey from the Big Bang to the present day (that’s around 13 billion years, give or take).
- St Fagans
National History Museum
Wales’s most popular heritage attraction is this fabulous open-air museum, featuring 40 original buildings relocated to 100 woodland acres in the grounds of a 16th-century manor house.
- National Waterfront Museum
This hi-tech museum celebrates the mining, metal-working and transport technologies that changed the world during the Industrial Revolution, alongside big new ideas on how Welsh science is helping to shape the future.
- National Slate Museum
The vast Dinorwig quarry closed in 1969, and now its Victorian workshops tell the gripping story of how slate mining changed the North Wales landscape and people. It’s largely staffed by ex-miners, who bring the whole story vividly to life.
- Big Pit: National Coal Museum
Dan Snow’s personal favourite is this living, breathing tribute to the coal industry and the people and society it created. There’s lots to explore in the old colliery buildings, and you can descend 90m underground with a real miner to see whatlife was like at the coalface.
- National Wool Museum
There are three times as many sheep as people in Wales, and this friendly museum, set in the old Cambrian Mills in the Teifi Valley, tells the fascinating story of the Welsh wool industry from fleece to fabric.
- National Roman Legion Museum
They came, they saw, they conquered. And in AD75, the Romans built a fortress at Caerleon that would guard the region for over 200 years. The ruins include the most complete amphitheatre in Britain and the only remains of a Roman Legionary barracks on view anywhere in Europe.
The oldest human remains found in Wales date back 230,000 years. Europe’s earliest known ceremonial burial – the so-called Red Lady of Paviland, although he was later found to be a chap who lived near what is now Swansea – is 33,000 years old.
The countryside is richly scattered with Neolithic tombs, standing stones and Iron Age forts. One such fort, Castell Henllys in Pembrokeshire, has been reconstructed so that visitors can have a fascinating hands-on experience of what life was like in an Iron Age roundhouse 2,400 years ago.