Tourists were attracted  to many places in Wales and even when they experienced something which was intrinsically unattractive, such as the pollution around Swansea, the state of some accommodation and dreary roads such as that between Rhayader and Devil’s Bridge, they had something to say about them.

They came mostly to experience the landscape, but they were also aware of many other attractions, often described as ‘Lions’ which they had to see. Although access to many of these would have been free, there was often a local person to guide the tourists to sites such as waterfalls, or around castles, or up Cader Idris and Snowdon, for which a tip of a few pence, and sometimes much more, was expected.

This page includes:

  • differences between attractions in the 18th and 19th centuries and the 20th and 21st centuries
  • classified list of 18th and 19th century attractions
  • Comparative numbers of references to different attractions


Differences between attractions in the 18th and 19th centuries and the 20th and 21st centuries

Many of the places that the early tourists visited continue to be attractions in the 21st century. There are, however, several significant changes:

  •  Very few mansions were visited in the 18th and 19th centuries: many have now been opened by their owners or given to public bodies such as the National Trust. Hafod, in Cardiganshire was one of the very few homes that welcomed visitors (by pre-arranged tickets), but it has since been demolished.
  • Most castles and monastic sites have been taken over by public bodies (such as Cadw and the National Trust), who have preserved them to a high standard, but the much loved ivy that once covered them has been removed.
  • Some cottages and workers houses have been preserved and are open to the public.
  • Some industrial sites have stopped production and have been either destroyed, or preserved as ‘Heritage’ sites, while others are still in use and are not suitable for tours.
  • Many of the churches that the early tourists saw were rebuilt or restored during the the 19th century.
  • Some of the wild and open landscapes that the early tourists described and illustrated have changed beyond recognition, partly because of successful afforestation. For example, the distant views from Pont Aberglaslyn are no longer visible.
  • Nearly all the routes along which the early tourists walked, rode or were driven were well established and mostly in an excellent state by the 1830s, but must have been relatively quiet, with the maximum speed of a horse drawn vehicle of 10 mph. Now they are all busy main roads, enabling modern tourists to travel from one attraction to another by car or public transport in minutes rather than hours. Modern pedestrians prefer to use the extensive network of footpaths rather than follow in the footsteps of the early tourists.
  • One of the most expensive attractions in Wales was the mansion at Hafod, Cardiganshire, for which 5 shillings (25p) was asked in about 1800. This might be equivalent to about £10 today, which is less than a couple might pay at National Trust property today.

Attractions included:

Natural Features

  • waterfalls
  • mountains
  • valleys
  • hanging woods
  • rocking stones

The sea and coast were rarely the subject of a tourist’s gaze.

Historic sites

  • Prehistoric sites (if off the beaten track, few attempted to visit them)
    • cromlechs (the stone skeletons of burial chambers)
    • standing stones and stone circles
    • hill forts and defended settlements
  • Roman Sites
    • Caerwent
    • Caerleon
    • Sengontium
  • Mediaeval Castles
  • Churches (only a few early tourists made a point of visiting churches for their architecture: others attended services on Sundays)
  • Cathedrals (Most of the cathedrals in Wales in the 18th century (St Asaph, Bangor, St David’s, Llandaff) were small or in poor condition. St David’s was rarely visited.)
  • Monastic sites (some of these were in remote places and were rarely visited)
    • Tintern
    • Valle Crucis (near Llangollen)
    • Strata Florida
    • Cymmer Abbey
    • Llanrhystud
  • Inscribed Stones (many of these were listed by Lhwyd for his contribution to Gibson’s edition of Camden’s Britannia)
  • Famous examples of modern technology
    • New Bridge (Pontypridd)
    • Menai Suspension bridge
    • Conwy suspension bridge
    • Britannia Bridge
    • Pontcysyllte aqueduct
  • Mansions and grounds (few mansions were open to the public; a few grounds were more accessible)
    • Hafod mansion and grounds, in Cardiganshire
    • Piercefield grounds
    • Penrhyn Castle near Bangor (open from the 1830s)
    • Chirk Castle
    • Powis Castle
    • Goodrich Court (owned by the antiquary Samuel Meyrick where he had a display of armour)
    • Plas Newydd, Llangollen. The home of the Ladies of Llangollen. This was famous and attracted very many visitors, but the ladies vetted those who were allowed to enter their house or be shown around their garden.
  • Industrial sites (some of these welcomed visitors; others were open only by arrangement or with letters of introduction)

Comparative numbers of references to different attractions

Every reference to some attractions in tourists records and guide books for the period 1770-1900 have been gathered in a thorough and systematic way. For some of these sites there are references before 1770 but they have not been included in these statistics for comparative reasons.

site or subject type number of references note
St David’s Cathedral 36 The most remote attraction in Wales.
Powis Castle Inhabited mansion and grounds 83 On an unpopular main road.
Hafod Inhabited mansion and grounds 105 Very popular, but not fully open after 1830.
Capel Curig Inn 176 A large inn just off a main road, 10 miles from the summit of Snowdon.
Piercefield Picturesque grounds 209 A very popular site until about 1850; near Chepstow on the border with England.
Beddgelert Base for Snowdon and Gelert’s grave 263 The grave became popular after Spencer’s poem went viral.
Plas Newydd  cottage and grounds 312 On the main road to Ireland; occupied by the famous Ladies of Llangollen.
Snowdon Highest Mountain in England and Wales 450 Spectacular views when not covered in cloud; on the ‘must visit list’ for many fit tourists.


Harpers Welsh tradition 366 A harper was found in almost every inn in north Wales.
Flowers on graves Welsh tradition 390 Unique to Wales until the 1850s.
Welsh costume Welsh tradition 400 Unique for rural working women and distinct from costumes worn elsewhere.
Coracles Welsh tradition 77 Survived longer in Wales than elsewhere.

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