Isle of Anglesey (Ynys Môn)
At 276 sq miles, the Isle of Anglesey is Wales' largest island, and bigger than any in England. A stronghold of Welsh language and culture, it's also a popular destination for visitors, with miles of inspiring coastline, secluded beaches and Wales' greatest concentration of ancient sites.
Over 85 sq miles of Anglesey – including almost all of its coastline – has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; hiking, beachcombing and water sports are all key attractions. Of the human-made landscape, the handsome Georgian town of Beaumaris is its most obviously appealing, but there are hidden gems scattered all over the island.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Isle of Anglesey (Ynys Môn).
Beaumaris is the last and most technically perfect of the ring of great castles built by Edward I of England to consolidate his Welsh conquests. Started in 1295, but never completed as fully designed, it enjoys World Heritage status. With its pleasing symmetry, water-filled moat, succession of four concentric 'walls within walls' and stout towers and gatehouse, it’s what every sandcastle maker unknowingly aspires to.
Two miles west of Holyhead, the sea vents its fury against the vertiginous South Stack Cliffs, an important Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reserve where up to 9000 seabirds nest. Between May and June guillemots, razorbills and 15 loved-up puffin couples congregate here, while choughs, fulmars, peregrine falcons and numerous other species may be spotted throughout the year. You can get information, hire binoculars, and pre-book guided walks at the visitor centre.
Plas Newydd (New House) was the grand manor of the marquesses of Anglesey. Surrounded by tranquil gardens and pastures, with fine prospects across the Menai Strait to Snowdonia, the building has parts dating from the early 15th century, but most of today's Gothic masterpiece took shape in the 18th century. Inside, the walls are hung with gilt-framed portraits of worthy ancestors of the Paget family (William Paget was secretary of state to Henry VIII), who owned the house until 1976.
The rocky islet of South Stack (Ynys Lawd) has a gloriously end-of-the-earth feel, with waves crashing around the base of the cliffs and guillemots and razorbills nesting overhead. The trail down to the rickety old bridge anchoring it to Holy Island is not for the faint-hearted, with 400 slippery steps and the promise of a steep return climb. Admission includes a tour of the 28m-high lighthouse, built in 1809, reputedly haunted and still operating. Last tickets are sold at 3.30pm.
Squatting on a headland above gorgeous Trecastle Bay, 2 miles south of the village, Barclodiad y Gawres (the Giantess' Apronful) is the largest neolithic tomb in Wales. When it was excavated in the 1950s, archaeologists were excited to find five standing stones inside, decorated in spirals and zigzags similar to those found in Ireland's Boyne Valley, along with the cremated remains of two men.
This excellent aquarium introduces you to the denizens of the local waters: from lobster and cuckoo wrasse to tiny brine shrimp and Picasso-painting-like flatfish. Designers have gone to great pains to imitate different environments, such as quayside and shipwrecks; tidal waves crash into the glass tank that simulates life in a tidal pool. A crowning touch is a life-sized model of a basking shark – the second-largest fish in the world. Conger eel or shark feedings are held daily.
The linchpin of Anglesey's visual-arts scene, the 'Anglesey Gallery' features temporary art exhibitions; a History Gallery exploring the island's past and role in the Roman invasion; licensed cafe Blas Mwy; and children's activity area the Discovery Den. But the main draw is the Oriel Kyffin Williams : exhibits change regularly but always feature some of the gallery's 400-plus works by Sir John 'Kyffin' Williams, a Llangefni boy and prolific artist whose portraits and landscapes provide a unique window into Welsh culture.
There are neolithic burial mounds scattered all around Wales, but many have been completely stripped of their earthen covering by over-enthusiastic archaeologists and left as a stone shell. What makes Bryn Celli Ddu fascinating is that it's relatively intact; you can enter the barrow and pass into a stone-lined burial chamber that was used as a communal grave 5000 years ago. To find it, follow the signpost off the A4080 down the country lane to the marked car park.
Sometime before 3000 BC the local people raised Lligwy's 25-tonne capstone into place, forming a stone chamber that they covered with an earthen mound. When the barrow was excavated in 1908, the bones of about 30 people were found buried within. To find it, look for the country lane marked 'Ancient Monument' near the roundabout on the approach to Moelfre. Park at the marked car park and walk back along the road; the chamber is on the right.