UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Wales

April 2nd, 2019

It is often said that every day can be a school day, and while I’m not so keen on the idea of soggy mash or corridor bullies, I’m always excited about a good day out and giving brain cells a workout….

There are a collection of buildings, areas and natural sites across Wales (and many more in the UK) that are so unique, special and important to our history, culture and understanding of the world as we know it, that they have been awarded World Heritage status by international agency UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation). This status serves to promote these sites of exceptional interest and protect and preserve them for future generations.

Worldwide there are over 900 listed sites, with the most well known being the Egyptian Pyramids, the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China for example. But the UK has many to be proud of, with almost 30 listed sites. Here are the best Unesco World Heritage Sites in Wales……

The Welsh castles of Edward I, North Wales  – The year is 1272. After decades of civil war and unrest, England is in turmoil. A new king, Edward I, has just come to the throne and he is determined to restore peace; he plans to begin by dealing with England’s most troublesome neighbour, Wales. Tensions between the King of England and Welsh rebels have been brewing for years, and by 1277 Edward could stand it no longer. The Welsh Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, was slowly claiming more and more land towards the English border. Invasion of Wales was no longer sufficient and Edward came up with a grand and costly plan in a bid to control the unruly Welsh army.

He would build great fortresses, designed to subdue rebels, frighten them into submission and remind them of the power of their new English rulers. The plan worked; by 1284 Wales was officially incorporated into England and the Welsh prince was killed in battle.

Known as Edward’s “Iron Ring”, the most prominent castles were built at key positions along the Welsh coast. There are castles dotted across North Wales, but the largest are at Conwy, Beaumaris, Caernarfon and Harlech. Each bears similar towering grey fortresses, but each has slightly differing designs according to the landscape they dominate.

They are almost 800 years old and have survived countless battles and brutal attacks but mostly they have aged extraordinarily well. They are fine examples of groundbreaking medieval castle architecture and of Edward I’s determination to assert his authority over the Welsh.

In recognition of their cultural and historic importance, they were among the first sites in Britain to be awarded with UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1986.


Beaumaris (Adult £7.30; Child £4.40; Family £21.20)

Caernarfon (Adult £9.90; Child £6.00; Family £28.90)

Conwy (Adult £9.90; Child £6.00; Family £28.90)

Conwy Town Walls (Free)

Harlech (Adult £7.30; Child £4.40; Family £21.20)

Find out more information at cadw.wales.gov.uk

Blaenavon Industrial Landscape, South Wales

The end of the eighteenth century saw the rumbling beginnings of the biggest, and arguably, the most radical revolution to sweep across Britain. The Industrial Revolution left no stone unturned in the fight to mechanise the country and even remote corners of Wales fell prey to eager propositions of wealthy English businessmen.

Blaenavon on the edge of the Brecon Beacons was quiet and unassuming until vast riches were discovered deep under the surface of the nearby rolling hills and lush valleys. Coal, limestone and iron-ore are the main ingredients for the production of iron, and all three were found readily here.

Three businessmen from the Midlands leased the rich land and by 1789 the ironworks were fully operating. Even vast quantities weren’t enough to satisfy the hungry demands of the wars in America and France that Britain were involved with, not to mention the ferocious appetite for iron rails that the ever expanding British railways were gobbling up. The once sleepy Welsh valleys were awash with industry; the ironworks became the world’s largest producer of iron and coal.

The fortunes of the ironworks rose and fell with the ebb and flow of the industrial revolution, and by the early 1900’s iron production had ceased, so coal was mined to feed hungry factories and locomotives.

In 2000 the industrial landscape of Blaenavon, along with important buildings in the town such as the Workmen’s Hall & Institute were all listed as a World Heritage Site, in recognition of the area’s important contribution to the industrial revolution. The ironworks are recognised as one of the finest preserved examples in the world.

The ironworks and colliery are both now museums and visitor centres.

Cost:    Big Pit (Free)

Heritage Centre Visitor Information (Free)

Find out more information at world-heritage-blaenavon.org.uk and museumwales.ac.uk/en/bigpit/


Pontycysyllte Aqueduct, Llangollen

This world famous aqueduct is a navigable bridge that carries the Llangollen Canal high above the River Dee. It was built in 1805, after taking 10 years to design and build, but it remains the longest aqueduct in Britain, and is still the highest aqueduct in the world!

Over two hundred years ago, before the advent of steam and mechanised transport, moving things and people by water was one of the quickest and most effective means of transport. A network of canals began to spring up in the middle of the UK, connecting big industrial cities in the heartlands of the country, with the ports and docks that lay on the coastline. The idea of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct project was to connect the industrial region of Shropshire with the docks at Liverpool, however much of the proposed waterways linking the areas were never completed.

The aqueduct was famously designed by Thomas Telford – his first major civil engineering project. The entire project was completed for around £50,000 – in today’s money that would mean a whopping investment of around £400 million pounds!!

The aqueduct was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009, as a representation of the industrial era and one of the most important and groundbreaking civil engineering projects of it’s time.

Find out more at www.pontcysyllte-aqueduct.co.uk