Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

North Wales
Art, History & Archaeology Sites & Museums

Probably the most visually stunning part of the country, North Wales is a largely rural region that is home to the Snowdonia National Park and the country’s largest mountain, Snowdon or Yr Wyddfa. People have lived here since prehistory, leaving fascinating traces such as the Neolithic tombs of Bryn Celli Ddu, Lligwy, and Dyffryn Ardudwy, as well as stone rings like the Druid’s Circle and Moel Tŷ Uchaf. The Romans later conquered the region – according to one account massacring Britain’s druids on the island of Anglesey – and leaving evidence of their presence at the Segontium Roman Fort. North Wales was once more military occupied in the 13th century, this time by the English armies of King Edward I, who built castles like Flint, Harlech, and Beamaris to maintain control over his new dominion. The Middle Ages was not all bloodshed, however, and also saw the flourishing of religious establishments like the Basingwerk and Cymer Abbeys in this region. The counties included in the North Wales region are the Isle of Anglesey, Gwynedd, Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire and Wrexham.

Archaeology & History Sites in North Wales

Basingwerk Abbey

Founded in 1131, Basingwerk Abbey was initially established by Benedictine monks from Savigny Abbey in Normandy. As Savigny joined the Cistercian Order, so did Basingwerk in 1147, at which point the Cistercians were establishing themselves as the dominant monastic order in Wales. The abbey underwent expansion in the 13th century, from which period many of its Gothic ruins date. Today the abbey stands in Greenfield Valley Heritage Park and is the starting point for the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way that leads all the way to Bardsey.

Beaumaris Castle

Due to its perfect symmetry and classic proportions, Beaumaris Castle is often described as one of Britain’s most technically perfect castles. Construction started in 1295, during King Edward I’s campaign to conquer north Wales. The design was that of James of St George, one of the finest architects of medieval Europe, although work on the building halted after 35 years due to the king’s financial troubles – leaving it forever unfinished. It now forms part of the ‘Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd’ UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Bodnant Garden

The industrial chemist Henry Davis Pochin created Bodnant Garden in the 1870s, establishing it in the grounds around his existing Georgian house. Subsequent generations of Pochin’s family expanded the garden throughout the first half of the 20th century, when one owner sponsored plant-hunting expeditions to China and the Himalayas. The styles of garden planted here vary, from the formal Italianate terraces to the far wilder woodland gardens. Bodnant Garden became only the second garden to be taken on by the National Trust without an accompanying historic building.

Bryn Celli Ddu Burial Chamber

Bryn Celli Ddu is probably the most famous archaeological site on Anglesey. A Neolithic monument, it underwent several phases of development. Excavation suggests that it originated as an earthen henge containing several stone settings before people in the later part of the Neolithic period transformed it into a passage grave. In this form it represents an earthen tumulus containing a narrow stone-lined passage aligned with the summer solstice. The remains of several deceased people were then placed inside this chamber, perhaps indicating ancestor veneration.

Cymer Abbey

Founded in France, the Cistercian Order spread rapidly across 12th-century Wales. Established in 1198 at the mouth of the Mawddach Estuary, Cymer Abbey was one of the various Cistercian monasteries formed in this period, although never grew to the size of some of the order’s larger establishments. After the monastery was forcibly shut during the dissolution of the monasteries, it is probable that monks from Cymer hid a silver paten and gilt chalice in nearby mountains – where these items were discovered during the 19th century.

Dyffryn Ardudwy Burial Chamber

The double burial chamber at Dyffryn Ardudwy dates from the Neolithic or New Stone Age period. The monument’s builders probably chose the location very deliberately, on a hillside that looks out into Cardigan Bay. Excavation has shown that the first, smaller dolmen was erected here and covered with a cairn of stones, after which a second, larger tomb was built and then encased in a cairn that enveloped its older neighbour. A cup-mark is apparent on one of the tombs, evidence for prehistoric rock art.

Flint Castle

Construction on Flint Castle began in 1277 AD, making this the earliest castle to be built by King Edward I during his campaign to conquer Wales. Using architectural features that are more commonly found in French castles, the layout of Flint Castle is unique in the British Isles. One of its most noted features is the presence of a great tower or donjon in the south-east corner. Royalists held the castle during the English Civil War, after which it was slighted by the victorious Parliamentarians to prevent Royalist re-use.

Harlech Castle

Built for King Edward I during his conquest of Wales, Harlech Castle was designed by James of St George, one of the finest architects of the Middle Ages. The castle was positioned and constructed to be impregnable from every angle and is noted for its massive gatehouse. A secret stairway led from the castle to the base of the cliff, where a canal connected the castle to the sea. Harlech Castle is now part of the ‘Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd’ UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Highgate, David Lloyd George's Boyhood Home

In the small, Welsh town of Llanystumdwy is Highgate, the stone built cottage where David Lloyd George spent much of his childhood. The cottage has been decorated to appear a it might have when George was a boy in the late 19th century. Following the death of his father, it was his mother’s brother, Richard Lloyd – a shoemaker – who made it possible for the family to carry on living in the cottage. Along the road from Highgate is the Lloyd George Museum, with extensive exhibits about is personal and political life. A visit to the cottage is included in the entry to the museum.

Lligwy Burial Chamber

Dating from the Neolithic period, the Lligwy Burial Chamber comprises a circle of smallish upright stones that form a low chamber covered by a very large roof slab, thought to weigh at least 25 tonnes. It is likely that this stone chamber was originally enclosed within an earthen mound or tumulus, long since eroded away. Early excavations of the dolmen in 1909 revealed the bones of 15 to 30 people as well as animal bones, shells, and an array of pottery fragments.

Museums & Art Galleries in North Wales

Lloyd George Museum

The Lloyd George Museum is housed in a modern building in the small town in Wales where Lloyd George grew up. It is located along the road from Highgate cottage, the childhood home of George. On display in the museum are many different personal objects as well as official artefacts to do with his being Prime Minister during the First World War. From the silver model of the local castle given to him by the town to the Treaty of Versailles.