Fun

Hidden gems of Wales – the best villages and towns in Wales that you might not have heard of

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There are so many excellent villages and towns to visit in Wales and we're written about many of them - our guides about Crickhowell, Brecon and Aberystwyth are among the most popular on our site. But there are lots of smaller, lesser-known locations which we wanted to highlight. Let's look at some of the best-hidden gems of Wales, and what there is to see and do in these places:

Pontypridd

St. Gwynno's Church

At this stunning church you can visit the grave of Guto Nyth Bran, a runner who became a bit of a local legend before his death in the 18th century. One particularly interesting story about him is that he managed to run from his home to the local town of Pontypridd and back (7 miles), before his mother's kettle had boiled. True or false, we're not sure!

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Pontypridd Museum

If you're looking to learn more about the fascintating history of the town, a trip to this excellent little museum is highly recommended. Learn more here - pontypriddmuseum.wales

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Cefn Eglwysilan

Cefn Eglwysilan is a hill in South Wales, the twin 382m summits of which lie 2 km east of Pontypridd in Rhondda Cynon Taf county borough.

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Llantwit Major

This lovely little town on the Bristol Channel coast is the 2nd smallest of the 4 towns in the Vale of Glamorgan. People might typically head to Barry or Penarth, but there are a few great things to see in Llantwit Major. Here are our favourites:

Llantwit Major Beach

This might not be your typical sandy beach, but if you like exploring rockpools and you're looking for a beautiful place to visit, Llantwit Major Beach is the place to head to. Backed by cliffs, the beach is great for families with young kids who enjoy an adventure and who enjoy doing things like catching crabs and looking for fossils. As an added bonus, the car park is free too! It's worth keeping in mind that anyone with mobility issues will likely struggle with this terrain, but there is a gentler sandy area on the cafe side of the beach.

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St. Donat's Castle

Just to the West of Lantwit Major you'll find St. Donat's Castle, a medieval castle with some fascinating history attached to it. Perched on the cliffs overlooking the Bristol Channel, it is estimated that the site has been occupied since the Iron Age, and is said to have once been the home of the Celtic chieftain Caradog. The castle is beautifully built, but it is the interior of the building which gets architecture geeks really excited. The castle is now used mostly as a venue for weddings and events, but once per week during the school holidays, there is an open day where you can explore the site. This castle is well worth a visit, learn more here - uwcatlanticexperience.com

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Walk to Nash Point Lighthouse

Nash Point Lighthouse is in Marcross, but the walk from Llantwit Major to the lighthouse is definitely worth the effort if you have a few hours to spare. Starting at Llantwit Major beach car park, you'll walk around 3 miles to Nash Point car park where you'll be able to visit the lighthouse. The final destination is definitely a highlight, but the real enjoyment of this walk is strolling along the cliffs and taking in the amazing views across the Bristol Channel. Make sure to keep an eye out for seabirds too as you'll have the chance to see plenty during this walk. Learn more here - walescoastpath.gov.uk

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St Illtud's Church

This charming church is considered to be one of the most important in the province. The exterior is lovely and the churchyard is enjoyable to explore, but the interior of the church is where the pleasant surprises lie - a small museum which features a number of relics including ancient standing stones (the church dates back to 500AD). This might not be top of your list of the things to see during your time in the town but definitely set aside an hour or 2 for a visit! Learn more here - llanilltud.org.uk

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Monmouth

Monmouth is a town which sits right where the River Monnow joins the River Wye. Despite being less than 2 miles from the Wales–England border, it is often overlooked as a place to visit. This is despite all of the great things there are to see and do here. We wanted to highlight some of our favourites, let's get into the guide:

Monmouth Castle

Close to the centre of Monmouth (at the crossing of the River Wye and River Monnow) you'll find Monmouth Castle, a ruinous castle which despite the state it is in, remains imposing. The castle was built in the 11th century by William fitz Osbern and is best known as the place where King Henry V was born. Although not much of the castle remains, the parts which do are still fascinating to visit - The Great Tower (built in the 12th century) and the hall (built in the 13th century) can be explored. This is a great place to visit and there are some very useful information boards there, plus it's totally free. Learn more here - cadw.gov.wales

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Monnow Bridge and Gate

As the only remaining medieval fortified river bridge in Britain with its gate tower still standing in place, Monnow Bridge attracts visitors from across the country and beyond who come to look at the fascinating construction. Erected in the late 13th century, the bridge has remained in remarkably good condition and can still be safely walked over. The gate section of the bridge wasn't added until the early 1300s, but fits in with the Red Sandstone colouring of the bridge it stands on. The bridge crosses the River Monnow and is a great place to stand for a view across the water. If you're heading to Monmouth it is definitely a good idea to walk along the bridge.

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Enjoy the views from The Kymin

If you're up for a little walk, then you'll be rewarded with some excellent views - The Kymin is a hill which overlooks Monmouth but which also provides views of the Wye Valley and the Brecon Beacons. The best trail to follow is the Kymin walk route, which is now managed by The National Trust. Starting in the car park, this 1-mile route takes you past 2 interesting Georgian buildings (the Naval Temple and the Round House), and through a woodland known as Beaulieu Grove. We definitely recommend a visit to The Kymin, learn more here - nationaltrust.org.uk

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Monmouth Regimental Museum

Within the precincts of Monmouth Castle you'll find the Monmouth Regimental Museum, a fascinating museum dedicated to the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers. It might sound odd to visit a museum with such a specific focus, but the story of this regiment is truly very interesting - they are the only present-day regiment to have survived from the Militia, and is the Senior Regiment of the Reserve Army. Artefacts at the museum include weapons, uniforms, and medals, but you'll also find some big machinery there such as tanks. This is a great place to visit, plus it is totally free and run by volunteers. Learn more here - monmouthcastlemuseum.org.uk

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Harold's Stones

In an unassuming farm field between Monmouth and Chepstow you'll find a row of 3 standing stones, known as Harold's Stones. Visiting 3 stones might not sound like a worthwhile excursion, but trust us when we say that these stones have a slightly mythical feel to them. Like many standing stone sites across the country, little is known about why the stones were placed here. The name 'Harold's Stones' come from the theory that the stones commemorate a victory over the Britons by King Harold, but experts think the stones are much earlier than that and actually date back to the early Bronze Age. Whatever the story, they are certainly interesting and many people claim you can even feel a warm energy coming from them!

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St Mary's Priory Church

The spire of St Mary's Priory stands above everything else in the town - it is by far the tallest building in Monmouth, and the golden weather vane on top is hard to miss. Despite there being a church on this site for almost 1000 years, this church actually dates from the 19th century. The exterior of the building is impressive but the interior is really what brings people here - the stained windows are beautiful, particularly the window dubbed "Four Rivers of Paradise". Like most churches it can be visited for free, and is worth a trip during your time in Monmouth.

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Walk The Monmouth Heritage Trail

Many of the interesting locations we've mentioned in this guide can be found along the Monmouth Heritage Trail - this route takes you past 24 historic and interesting buildings in the town, including Monnow Bridge and St Mary's Priory. You'll know a site is on the trail if it has a blue plaque on it. If you're not sure where to start during your time in Monmouth, following the heritage trail is a good idea. Learn more here - glen-trothy.co.uk

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