When King Edward established Conwy in 1283, he would’ve had no idea what it would become.
It was initially supposed to be a fortified town, with Conwy Castle at its heart, to help him consolidate power in the newly invaded North Wales. But a symbol intended to intimidate now impresses, and it’s one of the most charming towns in Wales.
The historic part of Conwy is still surrounded by the medieval walls and, even if most of what was here in the 13th century no longer remains, there’s a wonderful collection of heritage in the compact township – from fortifications to elegant manors, and even authentic pubs.
Exploring these streets will show you the treasure of the Welsh town, but in a moment I’ll tell you a bit more about a few particular highlights of what to see in Conwy.
Often people visit Conwy for just a couple of hours to visit the main attractions, particularly tourists who are staying at nearby Llandudno. It’s also a popular stop on tours or day trips from the English cities of Liverpool and Manchester.
But Conwy makes for a wonderful overnight destination, which gives you a chance to walk the streets without the crowds and soak up the pervasive heritage of the Middle Ages that feels even stronger in the evenings.
If you stay overnight, there are wonderful rooms at The Erskine Arms, a traditional Georgian coaching inn that also has excellent gastropub food. And I’ve got more suggestions at the end of this article on the best accommodation in Conwy.
For now, though, let me tell you a bit more about the best things to see in Conwy, which I’ve marked on the map below.
Everything in Conwy is just minutes away from each other – at least, as far as the historic centre is concerned. But that doesn’t mean you’ll want to rush through it all.
The star attraction here is, of course, Conwy Castle, built between 1283 and 1287 by the English King Edward I during his conquest of Wales.
The castle (and the town around it) was both practical and symbolic. King Edward needed to build a series of fortifications to help protect the land he had claimed – but he also built Conwy Castle on this particular location because it already held significance for the Welsh and he liked the idea of his castle dominating it.
When you visit today, you’ll discover that there’s lots to see at Conwy Castle, even if it does feel like much of it its in ruins. It has the most intact set of medieval royal apartments in the country, for instance.
The eight towers of the castle are a highlight and you can climb the spiral staircases to the top for incredible views as you walk around the battlements that link them.
Conwy Castle is one of four castles from the time of Edward I that have been declared as a joint World Heritage Site. You can read my story about the Edwardian Castles of Wales here.
Conwy Suspension Bridge
Stretch out to the east of the castle is the Conwy Suspension Bridge, a heritage-listed structure that is parallel to the main bridge used for traffic these days.
It was built in 1822 and was one of the only suspension bridges in the world at the time. It was designed to match the castle, which is why it has a set of two turrets at each end of the span.
The Conwy Suspension Bridge was in use until 1958 and now it can only be accessed by foot for a small entry fee, managed by the National Trust.
On the other side of it is the Conwy Railway Bridge, another interesting structure opened in 1849 and completely enclosed in an iron tube. It is heritage listed but still in use by trains today.
Conwy Town Walls
The Conwy Town Walls were built at the same time as the castle (1283 – 1287) but are an attraction in their own right. Surrounding the historic centre – from the castle around to the water – they run for about 1.3 kilometres.
There’s no entry fee to get onto the Conwy Town Walls and you can walk their entire length, past all 21 towers, looking down into the Conwy of the Middle Ages.
On average, the wall is about 9 metres high and the towers are about 15 metres high. You can imagine, standing atop them, what a strong defensive position you would have.
Although there are some pretty epic views from along the top of the walls, it’s also worth seeing them from the ground and you get a good perspective from the southern side.
Walk the walls clockwise and you’ll end up at Conwy Quay, which is still used by fishermen to unload their catches, and captures an important part of the town’s story.
One of the main products here is mussels and there are a few stores selling them fresh. The quay is also a good spot to have a rest, with some fish and chips or a drink from the Liverpool Arms.
It’s sometimes possible to organise a boat trip from the quay but, for most visitors, exploring the shore will be enough.
Smallest House in Great Britain
One of the main attractions at Conwy Quay is a building that proudly proclaims to be the smallest house in Great Britain. It certainly looks little… but how can you be so sure it’s the smallest?
Well, because apparently one of the previous owners made it his mission to travel around Britain and measure any other houses that said they might be smaller. When he was satisfied he was right, the title became “official”.
The Smallest House in Great Britain is 1.8 metres wide and 3.1 metres tall and you can pop in and have a quick look (it doesn’t take long) for £1.50.
Not far from Conwy Quay is Aberconwy House, a merchant’s home from the 14th century that’s one of the oldest houses in Wales.
It’s been restored to the period design and is now managed by the National Trust. It has two levels (plus a cellar) but when you go inside you’ll realise that walls and floors are anything but even.
Aberconwy House is a significant symbol of the commerce that emerged here in Conwy in the centuries after the initial English conquest.
Further up the High Street is another important house – this one built a bit later and more impressive in design.
Plas Mawr is from the 16th century and is an excellent example of how the wealthy residents of Conwy lived during the Elizabethan period. Within their mansion covered in artworks and rich fittings, there would’ve been lavish parties.
Once you’ve passed the gatehouse (a rare feature when Plas Mawr was built) and gone into the main townhouse, there are quite a few rooms to explore, including the hall, the parlour, the kitchen, and the bedchambers.
After Conwy Castle, I think Plas Mawr is the most important attraction in the town, and is considered one of the best Elizabethan townhouses in Britain.
Royal Cambrian Academy of Art
Just off the High Street, behind Plas Mawr, you’ll find the main gallery of the Royal Cambrian Academy of Art, an important Welsh institution that’s a collection of more than a hundred artist members.
Although they hold different events across the country, this gallery in Conwy is where you’ll a selection of the members’ works. Although the permanent collection is not large, there are regular special exhibitions.
St Mary’s Church
And, finally, don’t miss St Mary’s Church in the centre of historic Conwy. It’s actually surrounded by buildings these days so you’ll need to go down one of the alleys to find it.
St Mary’s Church began as a Cistercian Abbey in the 12th century and was the original burial place of the Welsh prince, Llywelyn the Great. While the interior design isn’t particularly gaudy, look out for the colourful stained glass windows.
Visitors are welcome at the church and there are even lunchtime classical concerts on Thursdays during the summer holidays.
Things to see near Conwy
Although I’m focusing on the things to do in Conwy town in this article, I’ll just mention a few other things nearby that may be of interest.
Particularly if you have a car or are spending some time around Conwy, these attractions offer a bit more variety beyond the Medieval walls.
From the old part of Conwy, you can take a trail that will lead you up to the top of Conwy Mountain for spectacular views across the region. The rocky path starts at the bottom of Mountain Road and is about 4 kilometres in each direction.
The nearby town of Llandudno is considered a seaside resort (but, remember, this is by Welsh standards, ahem).
It’s a lovely place where you’ll find a Victorian charm little corrupted by modernity, with the highlights of the main promenade along the shoreline, the heritage-listed pier, and the tram to the summit of the Great Orme.
Halfway between Conwy and Llandudno is Deganwy Castle, a site that’s had fortifications for millennia but particularly from about the 6th century as a stronghold of Gwynedd.
There’s not much now – just ditches and mounds really – but you’ll still find some remnants of when it was a stone castle for Henry III in the 13th century.
Bodnant Garden was once a private home but is now a National Trust property, which luckily gives us access to admire its stunning landscaping.
Founded in 1874 and developed by five generations of the same family, Bodnant Garden is full of water features, Italianate terraces, flower beds, artworks, and ever-changing colours.
Tours to Conwy
Although Conwy is small and easy enough to explore on your own, having a tour guide will add a much deeper level to your experience.
If you don’t have a car, or don’t want to worry about the logistics, most of the tours to Conwy also take you to some of the other highlights of North Wales, so it’s a great opportunity to explore the broader region.
There are some good tours I would recommend, depending on where you are staying.
- There’s this tour from nearby Llandudno which takes you to three castles
- You could also take this tour from Manchester that also covers some of Snowdonia
- And from Liverpool, there’s this tour from the port that goes to Conwy Castle, Snowdonia, and Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
As I’ll explain in a moment, public transport to Conwy can be very slow, so a tour will save you a lot of time as well.
Have a look at some of these options and perhaps one of them will work for you – they certainly cover a lot of fantastic places!
If you’re visiting Conwy independently, then you should allow a few hours as a minimum.
You’ll need at least an hour to see Conwy Castle properly, about an hour to walk along the walls and through the streets, and at least another hour to visit a couple of the other main sights.
If you’re driving, parking can be difficult within the medieval walls, but there are spots in car parks just outside.
There’s also a train station, so it’s easy to get to Conwy by rail if you’re travelling by public transport.
Where is Conwy?
Conwy is on the northern coast of Wales, about halfway between the English border and the island of Anglesey.
It’s just a few kilometres from the popular town of Llandudno, and it’s at the very northern tip of Snowdonia National Park.
How do you get to Conwy?
If you have a car, it’s an easy drive to Conwy. It’s about 4 hours from Cardiff, 1h 15m from Liverpool, and 1h 30 from Manchester.
There’s a train station at Conwy but the train line is not particularly busy. The journey takes about 6h 30m from Cardiff, about 3 hours from Liverpool, and about 3h 30m from Manchester… but much of that time is just waiting to change onto increasingly slower trains.
You might find it better to use a National Express bus to Llandudno Junction and then get a taxi or a local bus the rest of the way.
Otherwise, it’s another good reason to take one of the tours I’ve mentioned above – even if it’s just to save time on the transport!
Where are the best places to eat in Conwy?
As I mentioned earlier, Conwy makes a wonderful place to stay for the evening, and there’s a magical atmosphere in the historic streets when the crowds leave.
Even if you’re not going to spend the whole day here, you might want to consider using Conwy as your base for a night or two, as you explore North Wales.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN CONWY
It’s worth staying within the historic centre if you can, but there are some other nice options nearby.
There’s not much cheap accommodation in Conwy, which is why it’s great the YHA Conwy offers dorm rooms.
One of the most affordable hotels in Conwy, Johnny Dough’s, is also one of the most interesting – run by a pizza-maker and four brewers.
A warm welcome awaits you at The Erskine Arms, which has comfortable rooms and excellent meals at its gastropub.
You’ll find luxury mixed with heritage at The Castle Hotel, a 300 year-old coaching inn in the centre of Conwy.