Wales in Autumn has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the UK with the forests, hills and valleys turning a magical array of colours. Autumn in Wales can be spectacular. In this guide we will show you where to seek out the best of the fall colours around Wales.
As well as the autumn colours you can chance upon beautiful morning mists along the Welsh lakes and rivers. We’ve compiled an itinerary of the best places to visit in Wales in autumn, to help you catch the best of the fall colours around the country.
As well as showing you the best autumn landscapes in Wales, we also show you many of the best things to do in Wales along the way. Our route also allows the opportunity to break your journey at some of the best places to stay in Wales along the way.
You could comfortably complete the journey in a three day autumn break, or just make a day trip out of a section of it. Hopefully you’ll get the best of the weather and catch the Wales autumn display in all its glory.
When to Visit Wales in Autumn
The best time for Wales autumn colours is usually the last week of October and first two weeks of November. Sometimes the autumn leaves linger into mid-November. It all depends on the weather that has preceded it in October.
The autumn months aren’t usually the best time for UK weather. It can be wet and windy, with regular rain belts coming in from the Atlantic Ocean. We’ve also experienced sunny days as warm as 17° C (63° F) at the end of October, so you never know from one year to the next.
Best places to visit in Wales in Autumn
1. Autumn in Llangollen and North East Wales
The Dee Valley around Llangollen makes a wonderful introduction to Wales.
If you’re travelling on the A5 road you’ll glimpse the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2009. For the best autumn views, you’re better off on the A539 on the north side of the valley, which you can reach by taking the road that leads to the Aqueduct. Then take the minor road off the A539 to climb to the Offa’s Dyke national trail.
Here views gradually open out over the valley, Llangollen town and the ruins of Dinas Bran Castle sitting on top of a conical hill surveying the scene. The town of Llangollen is one of the best places to visit in North Wales, with outstanding scenery and amazing walks in every direction. The tributary valley beyond Dinas Bran is also great for leaf-hunting.
The ruined Valley Crucis Abbey is worth a visit, and is the starting point for a straight-up-and-down walk up the steep hill across the A542 road, Coed Hyrddyn (Velvet Hill). At the top the view opens out over the vale below and Llantysilio Mountain.
2. Snowdonia and North West Wales
After Llangollen, the A5 is the main approach to Snowdonia, giving tantalising glimpses of the main Snowdon range before descending into the Conwy Valley and Betws-y-Coed, the gateway to the National Park at the foot of the Gwydyr Forest.
Betws-y-Coed is one of the best places to stay in Snowdonia whatever time of year you’re visiting. It’s only a few miles along the A470 from one of the most famous autumn shots in Wales.
The red Virginia-Creeper-clad teahouse next to the stone bridge over the Conwy at Llanrwst looks at its best in late September and early October, before autumn kicks in for most trees in Wales.
There are many lesser-known spots to explore in the area. Before you reach the town, the large lay-by on the A5 gives you a great view up the Lledr valley to the jagged hulk of Moel Siabod, the mountain which dominates this part of Snowdonia.
The road also passes close to Fairy Glen (Ffos Noddyn in Welsh), a dramatic ravine carved out by the waters of the Conwy river two miles south of the village which is ablaze with colour during autumn.
Continue past Betws-y-Coed on the A5 for two miles (3km) and pause for a while at Swallow Falls, which is usually full of water in autumn. The young river Llugwy summons up great force to crash down a series of falls on its way to meet the Conwy river downstream.
There are plenty more places to see in their autumn finery if you head off the main roads. The B5106 leads from Betws to Trefriw, where you take a very steep left up the mountain, continuing through forest and farmland until you reach Llyn Crafnant, a remote lake surrounded by a ring of mountains with a beautiful autumn display.
If you haven’t already visited, Conwy Castle is only a few miles from here. It’s one of the best castles in the world, and not to be missed.
It’s also worth a journey high up above the other – eastern – side of the Conwy valley, taking the B5113 for a wonderful roof-of-the-world panorama of Snowdonia’s peaks, with autumn colour from the Gwydyr forest and foreground trees.
The Snowdonia range itself has some autumn colour, mostly along the scenic A498 road that runs down from the Llanberis Pass to Beddgelert. The first lake you reach, Llyn Gwynant, nestles deep at the bottom of a dramatic valley, at the foot of Y Lliwedd, one of Snowdon’s immediate neighbours.
Three miles further on, Llyn Dinas is also spectacular, and both lakes seem to attract their fair share of early morning autumn mists to make a glorious start to the day.
Snowdonia’s coast and southern section – all the way down to Cadair Idris and the Dovey estuary – also have beautiful pockets of autumn colour.
Portmeirion, the Italianate fantasy village on the Dwyryd estuary, is particularly striking on a clear autumn day, surrounded by some outstanding colours.
Mid Wales and the Cambrian Mountains
The Cambrian Mountains – the remote series of mountains and upland areas running from Plynlimon in the north to Llyn Brianne lake in the south – also offer some wonderful rewards for autumn hunters.
A paradox of this mostly unpopulated area is that although it is largely empty, unexplored and remote, much of the landscape has been shaped by humankind, with a series of reservoirs created along the length of the range.
The Elan Valley is one of the best places to visit in Mid Wales. It’s a series of reservoirs and dams built to supply the city of Birmingham – across the English border – with water. The dams were built in the 1890s and 1900, with the nearby Claerwen dam being added by 1952.
If you’re wondering where to see autumn colours in the UK, the Elan Valley is a great place to start. It’s also a wonderful place to drive, cycle, walk or go off-road.
The B4518 road loops out of the nearby town of Rhayader, joining and following the lakes before returning to the town after a magnificent scenic 20 mile journey.
The first spot for autumn watchers is the picturesque long stone arched bridge that sits on top of the submerged Garreg-ddu dam, which is surrounded by trees which go golden by the end of October.
From here, a side road leads up towards the Claerwen dam, following the small river of the same name as it winds its way to where it joins the Elan reservoirs.
Otherwise, continue along the ‘main’ road past Garreg-ddu and Pen-y-garreg reservoirs, climbing into more open country, with what we think is the highlight of the drive, Craig-goch dam, in an amazing setting with its lake just behind and the rusty bracken-covered mountains behind glowing in the late afternoon light.
The area around Llyn Clywedog is also a great area to catch autumn colours in Wales. The reservoir is around 30 miles (50 km) to the north of the Elan Valley, a few miles (8 km) north west of the town of Llanidloes, and the best way to see it is by rejoining the B4518 road as it leaves Llanidloes, climbing steeply up the ‘big dipper’ road which runs along the northern shore of the lake.
It’s a scene which can look amazing on a still morning, the water like mirror glass reflecting the hills above, and mists collecting in the valley.
Alternatively, there is another minor road which climbs around the west end of the lake, passing close to an exhilarating section of the Glyndwr’s Way National Trail, with views over the dam.
Brecon Beacons and around
The Brecon Beacons National Park extends from Carmarthenshire in the west to the English border in the east, and is made up of several distinct sections.
Starting in the west, the area around Carreg Cennen Castle, has some wonderful pockets of autumn colour. This is remote country, between the market town of Llandeilo and the bare Black Mountain escarpment.
Carreg Cennen is one of the most beautiful castles in Europe, and one of the best places to visit in West Wales.
Just to the west of Llandeilo, the verdant rich Tywi (Towy) valley also produces some fine autumn hues, and has been known to deliver some wonderful morning mists with castles on hilltops (Dryslwyn and Dinefwr) peeking through to catch the first rays of light of the day.
Around twenty miles (30 km) east, between the villages of Ystradfellte and Pontneddfechan, several small rivers have carved gorges through the wooded limestone hills to create a series of steep valleys and waterfalls.
A network of paths follow the rivers, so nearly all the falls are accessible to walkers. The forest is flooded with autumn colour for a few weeks, and photographers head back there year after year.
The Angel Inn in Pontneddfechan is a well-known starting point for the easiest of the walks, a half hour stroll through the woods to Sgwd Gwladys (Gwladys Falls, also known as Lady Falls).
If the river is low, follow a goat’s path above this waterfall, ford the river a few times and you reach Sgwd Einion Gam, a much higher, more dramatic fall.
The central range of the Brecon Beacons, centring on the two highest peaks, Pen y Fan and Corn Du, are largely treeless, but the surrounding valleys are full of colour during autumn.
One of my favourite drives through the Brecon Beacons in autumn is along the A40 and Honddu (later the Usk) valley between Brecon and Crickhowell, passing the main peaks near the start of the drive, then reaching the Black Mountains – the easternmost part of the National Park – around the village of Bwlch.
Beyond Crickhowell, the road continues to the north of the river, eventually reaching Abergavenny.
From there it’s a few miles up the A465 road towards Hereford before the turn for the remote Llanthony valley, whose trees and bracken give the steep valley sides plenty of dashes of warm autumn colour.
One of the birthplaces of modern tourism in the late 18th century, the Wye Valley is shared between Wales and England.
Its source (like that of the Severn) is on the slopes of Plynlimon in Mid Wales, and it begins its journey south eastwards, through Rhayader and Builth Wells towards the border at Hay. It then returns to Wales near Monmouth, winding its way through a steep wooded valley en route to the sea, where it enjoys a brief reunion with its old neighbour the Severn.
The upper Wye receives far less visitors but has some outstanding autumn scenery – the view from a hill above the village of Erwood is magnificent early in the day, when some mist may still linger in the valley.
The lower Wye, between Monmouth and Chepstow, is a great hour-long drive, but with detours and walks, you could easily spend two or three days exploring. The most obvious attraction is Tintern Abbey, its great 13th century church left open to the elements for almost five centuries. The valley is heavily wooded either side, with the rich autumn colours forming a beautiful backdrop for a few short weeks.
There are plenty of forest walks along the lower valley. The river forms the border with England for the final part of its journey, and there are paths both sides. The walk across the bridge at Tintern and up into the forest to the dramatic Devils Pulpit (1 hour each way) is very rewarding.
Back on the Welsh side, one of our favourites is Bargain Wood, high above the village of Llandogo a few miles north of Tintern, taking in a series of viewpoints along a ridge overlooking the valley.
No trip to the Welsh side of the Wye Valley would be complete without a walk up to the Eagles Nest viewpoint, which overlooks one of the final meanders in the Wye’s journey to the sea.
It is the culmination and high point of a grand walk from the Piercefield Estate below, part of which now borders Chepstow racecourse.
The viewpoint is accessible via the 365 Steps walk from the Lower Wyndcliff car park below, or the much easier stroll through the woods from the Upper Wyndcliff car park. Both are a short drive from the village of St Arvans, just outside Chepstow.
Cardiff and Around
Cardiff has some magnificent parkland, and some of this comes into its own in the array of autumn colours. one of the greenest cities in Europe becomes one of its most golden for two or three weeks each year.
It’s also packed with some of the best sights to see in Wales, and is very much a year-round destination. Cardiff is definitely one of the best places in Wales to base yourself, especially with so many other places to visit in South Wales so close by.
The place to start is Bute Park, next door to Cardiff Castle, right in the middle of the city. It is a designated historic landscape, formerly the private garden of the Marquesses of Bute who resided at the Castle. Coopers Field, at the city end of the park, is the place to see the trees at their best, with walks along a canal, past the Castle or just around the corner, to the River Taff.
After around 400 metres, a bridge connects the Park with Sophia Gardens and the Swalec Stadium, one of England’s Test cricket venues. The parkland continues both sides of the river, finishing on the western side at Llandaff Fields, over two miles away from the other end of Bute Park.
Roath Park, two miles to the north-east of the city centre, is another wonderful autumn spot, Here, the parkland is divided into three sections, culminating in the botanical garden and lake with its iconic tower.
Some years ago, Castell Coch, a remodelled castle on a wooded hill on the outskirts of Cardiff, was voted the people of Wales’ favourite building. It is also one of the best autumn locations in the country, the beech forest around providing a spectacular backdrop for the fairytale castle.
The views from the car park are amazing, and for keen photographers a wander around the parks and paths of the adjacent village, Tongwynlais, will reveal plenty more autumn views.
Autumn is also a great time to catch a sunrise at nearby Caerphilly Castle. The castle is surrounded by lakes, and on a still autumn morning mists often rise from the water, creating a real sense of mystique around the silhouette of the castle.
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing Europe for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times.