- 1 Rivers in Wales
- 2 Rivers in Wales – An Introduction
- 3 18 of the Most Beautiful Rivers in Wales
- 3.1 River Dee – Afon Dyfrdwy
- 3.2 River Conwy
- 3.3 River Lledr
- 3.4 River Llugwy
- 3.5 Afon Glaslyn
- 3.6 Afon Dwyryd
- 3.7 River Mawddach
- 3.8 Dysynni River
- 3.9 River Dyfi
- 3.10 Afon Rheidol
- 3.11 River Teifi
- 3.12 River Solva
- 3.13 River Tywi – also commonly spelt River Towy
- 3.14 River Elan
- 3.15 Afon Tarell
- 3.16 Afon Senni
- 3.17 River Usk (Afon Wysg)
- 3.18 River Taff
- 3.19 River Wye
- 3.20 River Severn
Rivers in Wales
The many rivers in Wales are responsible for some of the most beautiful scenery around the country.
There are hundreds of amazing beaches in Wales and the stunning Welsh mountains also draw many visitors. And we think the rivers of Wales also deserve a little time in the spotlight.
Many of you may be hard pushed to name any Welsh rivers. Some may know of the river Taff in Cardiff, or perhaps the famous river Wye, the birthplace of British tourism in the late 18th century. Most Wales rivers only have a brief journey from source to sea, and what’s remarkable about them is how much beautiful Welsh scenery is packed into a short distance.
In our Wales river guide we’ll show you 20 of the most beautiful rivers Wales has, from the river Severn, the longest river in the UK, to tiny rivers like the Solva in Pembrokeshire. This virtual journey takes you around many of the best places to visit in Wales, taking in many of the most famous landmarks and landscapes in Wales. We’ll start in the north-east of Wales, where the river Dee meets the sea, moving anti-clockwise west then south and finally east along the Welsh coast.
Rivers in Wales – An Introduction
- Wales is a small country, and many Welsh rivers are relatively short
- The word for river in Welsh is afon – pronounced a-von, with the ‘a’ sounded the same as in ‘apple’ (and not ‘Avon’ as in the English river or the cosmetics company)
- Many Welsh rivers follow a similar pattern – rising on high ground, then making a brief journey seawards, shaping a gorgeous Welsh landscape on the way
- The longest river in Wales is the Severn, which is also the longest river in Great Britain, but most of its journey is across the border in England
- The river Wales is probably best known for is the Wye, and the final section approaching the sea is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
- The longest river which flows solely in Wales is the Tywi, or Tywi, which passes through Credeigion and Carmarthenshire in south west Wales
18 of the Most Beautiful Rivers in Wales
River Dee – Afon Dyfrdwy
The River Dee begins its journey at Bala Lake – Llyn Tegid – the largest lake in Wales. It gradually descends through hilly country before passing through Corwen and onto its most scenic stretch around the lovely town of Llangollen.
It runs parallel then under the Llangollen Canal, which passes overhead on the UNESCO World Heritage Site Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
The river then crosses the border, passing into England and eventually Chester before passing through industrial Deeside and one of the most overlooked landmarks in Wales, Flint Castle, before emptying into its vast estuary and Liverpool Bay.
The Conwy valley is one of the most delightful of all valleys in Wales.
The river only flows for 27 miles (43 km), an eventful journey from the heights of the Migneint moorland, cascading over rocks at Conwy Falls and squeezing through the narrow Fairy Glen ravine before reaching Betws-y-Coed.
After Betws, it’s a lush, verdant valley with gentle hills to the east and the steep slopes of the foothills of Snowdonia to the west.
On the east side, Bodnant Garden is one of the top North Wales attractions, especially beautiful in spring when its laburnum arch, camellias and rhododendrons are in flower.
The Garden is operated by the National Trust, who also run the quaint riverside Tu Hwnt I’r Bont teahouse in nearby Llanrwst.
The west side of the river gets a little wilder the higher you go. A steep minor road leads from Trefriw to Llyn Crafnant, one of the most beautiful lakes in Wales.
Further north, the ancient church of Caerhun stands on the site of a Roman fort, and the higher slopes hide the occasional burial chamber like Maen y Bardd, the Stone of the Poet, above Rowen village.
Eventually the river passes magnificent Conwy Castle. Conwy is one of the best towns in Wales to visit and you can read all about the many things to do in Conwy in our separate article.
The river then passes another castle on the hills of Deganwy before running out into Conwy Bay and the Irish Sea within sight of the Great Orme headland and Anglesey.
The Lledr valley north of the slate town of Blaenau Ffestiniog is one of the overlooked wonders of Wales.
The Afon Lledr only travels 10 miles, eventually feeding into the River Conwy just to the south of Betws-y-Coed.
It’s one of the most enjoyable places to visit in Snowdonia, a dramatic valley surrounded by peaks, the most prominent of which is Moel Siabod.
The solitary surviving tower of Dolwyddelan Castle, one of the most captivating of Welsh castles, overlooks the valley and nearby village of the same name.
There are some amazing walks in the hills above Dolwyddelan village, especially on the north side of the main A470 road. Head up the path towards Moel Siabod and soak in some of the most stunning Wales scenery you could hope to find.
The Afon Llugwy doesn’t linger long, but in its brief journey manages to become one of the best-known rivers in North Wales.
Its source is Ffynnon Llugwy, a remote lake high in the Carneddau range in Snowdonia, before running past Capel Curig, plunging over Swallow Falls towards its rendezvous with the River Conwy.
One of the most popular things to do in Betws-y-Coed is to sit on the rocky riverbank and listen to the roar of the young river as it passes beneath the stone Pont y Pair, the Bridge of the Cauldron. Soon afterwards it reaches the river Conwy, adding its considerable force for the push north to the sea.
The Glaslyn river has the biggest descent of any river in Wales. It originates in Glaslyn, a glacial lake below the summit of Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, hurtling precipitously to the Nantgwynant valley floor.
This valley is up there with the very best of Wales, the river passing through Llyn Gwynant, one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe, and the lovely Llyn Dinas before a left turn at Beddgelert, one of the prettiest villages in Wales.
From there, the Welsh Highland Railway steam trains ply the route along the steep, forested Aberglaslyn Gorge, which you can see from the stone bridge about two miles (3 km) south of the village.
It continues south towards the coastal town of Porthmadog, and was re-routed as a result of the building of the Cob causeway. The Glaslyn then drifts past the pretty seaside village of Borth-y-Gest before merging with the Dwyryd and flowing into the north-east corner of Cardigan Bay.
The Dwyryd river valley – sometimes also called the Vale of Ffestiniog – is one of the loveliest places to see in Wales.
It descends rapidly from the Moelwyn mountains close to Blaenau Ffestiniog before joining forces with several smaller rivers and making for the sea just after the village of Maentwrog.
Once you’re past the row of pylons it’s one of the best places in Wales, a wild, remote area, a massive expanse of tidal sands with the Italianate belltower of the fantasy village of Portmeirion visible across the water.
Visiting Portmeirion is one of the best things to do in Wales. It’s a sublime place to escape the world for a while, with astounding estuary views. One of the best things to do in Portmeirion is, of course to stay there overnight – either at the riverside Hotel Portmeirion or in one of the cute cottages around the village.
The Afon Mawddach is one of the most beautiful rivers in Europe, with one of the most wondrous estuaries you could ever hope to see.
It rises around Trawsfynydd Lake to the north, passing through the Coed y Brenin Forest.
You can get close to the river at the village of Ganllwyd – there’s a small area of ancient oak forest accessible from the car park, leading to the river in its early stages.
A few miles to the south, fed by several tributaries, it changes character dramatically. As it reaches Dolgellau – one of the most intriguing old Welsh towns – it broadens out, luxuriating in the most sumptuous setting, flanked by mountains either side.
It eventually reached the sea at Barmouth, passing under the wooden railway bridge on the way. The estuary is magnificent, one of the most awe-inspiring I’ve ever seen. Barmouth is a wonderful place from which you can savour it, and our article on things to do in Barmouth goes into much greater depth.
The Afon Dysynni flows less than 20 miles from the heights of Talyllyn Lake, one of the most picturesque lakes in Snowdonia in the shadow of Cadair Idris. It flows past bird Rock, the remarkable steep cliff where sea cormorants still nest, despite it now being 4 miles (6 km) inland. It then passes along a broad floodplain, just to the north of another of the great Cardigan Bay beaches at Tywyn.
The Dyfi – sometimes anglicized to River Dovey – starts its journey in hilly terrain near the village of Dinas Mawddwy , passing under the 17th century Minllyn packhorse bridge before flowing past dramatic Welsh hills before reaching the market town of Machynlleth.
Some Led Zeppelin fans may be familiar with the area around which inspired their song ‘Bron-Y-Aur Stomp’.
The estuary is one of the widest in Wales, and many Welsh people think of it as the border between South and North Wales. On the south side, Ynyshir RSPB Reserve draws a steady stream of birdwatchers, and nearby Ynyshir Hall is one of the best places to stay in Wales, with one of the best restaurants in Wales in-house.
On the north side of the river, Aberdyfi (also spelt Aberdovey) is a fine slightly genteel seaside resort with one of the biggest and best beaches in North Wales. Across the river, Ynyslas dunes are magnificent, a pristine habitat for many rare plants.
The River Rheidol follows a typically Welsh river course – short and fairly steep, shaping the whole landscape around it. It runs less than 20 miles (31 km), and you can follow its course on the wonderful Vale of Rheidol Railway from Aberystwyth up to Devils Bridge.
Don’t miss the three bridges stacked on top of each other, a few minutes’ walk from the station. It’s a great day out, one of the best things to do in Mid Wales.
I tend to think of the Afon Teifi as the most welsh of all the rivers in Wales, largely because it runs through the Welsh-speaking heartland of rural Ceredigion.
Its origin is in the Teifi Pools, a series of lakes in the Cambrian Mountains, flowing down to and through the vast Cors Caron (Tregaron Bog – it sounds better in Welsh!), forming the border between Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire thereafter.
Our favourite place on the river is the lovely village of Cenarth, which has a fine old flour mill and the picturesque Cenarth Falls.
Further down the river, Llechryd is one of the few places in Wales where you’re still likely to see fishermen using coracles, traditional Welsh round boats.
After the wooded Teifi Gorge and Cilgerran Castle, the river passes Cardigan (Aberteifi), its recently restored Castle and the lovely Pembrokeshire village of St Dogmaels before opening out into a braod estuary flanked by Gwbert beach on the north side and Poppit Sands on the south. There are superb coastal walks along the Wales Coast Path on either side.
The Solva river flows for around ten miles in the far west of Pembrokeshire, eventually reaching St Bride’s Bay. It flows through farmland before passing through the village of Lower Solva and a classic example of a ria, or flooded coastal valley.
The final section, the steep-sided tidal harbour, makes it one of the most picturesque rivers in Wales. The coastal walks around the estuary are among the best things to do in St Davids and the surrounding area.
Solva is one of the loveliest villages in Wales, essentially a single street with brightly painted houses, art galleries, cafes and pubs.
River Tywi – also commonly spelt River Towy
The Tywi is the longest river in Wales that flows solely within Wales. It begins its journey in the remote Cambrian Mountains of Mid Wales, passing through man-made reservoir Llyn Brianne before descending through the Tywi Forest and passing the first town on its route, Llandovery.
The lower Tywi is one of the most beautiful landscapes in Wales, a classic meandering valley with rolling green hills passing three castles between Llandeilo and Carmarthen.
It then swings south for the final few miles, passing beneath the ramparts of Llansteffan Castle – one of the most scenically situated of all the castles in South Wales – and out into the enormous expanse of Carmarthen Bay and its endless tidal sands.
The Afon Elan is a tributary of the River Wye, and follows a short but spectacular course before joining the Wye near the Mid Wales town of Rhayader. It rises in the Cambrian Mountains, descending quickly to the series of dams that make up the Elan Valley reservoirs.
It’s one of the best places to visit in Wales in autumn, when the forests turn golden brown and fill with fungi – they’re a great place to go foraging.
The dams were built to supply water to supply the nearby English city of Birmingham with water, and are one of the most impressive landmarks in Wales.
You can follow a 20-mile (32 km) loop from Rhayader, taking in all four lakes, or branch off on the mountain road to Cwmystwyth for some serious soul-stirring views on one of the most scenic drives in Wales.
One of the most scenic drives in Wales is the section of the main north-south A470 road immediately to the south of the town of Brecon. The road passes three reservoirs and runs between the high, steep sandstone ridges that characterize the Brecon Beacons. Suddenly there’s a gap, and you follow the road through the dramatic pass at Storey Arms, leading to the sweeping views down towards Brecon and beyond. This is Glyn Tarell, the Tarell Valley, which only lasts a few miles, passing the twin peaks of Pen y Fan and Corn Du on the right. The A470 runs alongside the river before it meets the River Usk
The backroads of the Brecon Beacons yield many rewards if you keep looking. A minor road north of the Waterfall Country village of Ystradfellte takes you out onto the moorland of Fforest Fawr, past the ancient Maen Llia standing stone and between the ridges of Blaen Llia and Fan Nedd.
The humble Senni river springs out of the slopes of Fan Nedd and into the gorgeous green patchwork of fields below. It’s one of the loveliest places to visit in South Wales, yet there is room for three, maybe four cars. All too fleetingly, the river is no more, joining forces with the Usk, the Tarell and numerous others en route to the Bristol Channel.
River Usk (Afon Wysg)
The Usk is one of the longer Welsh rivers, and passes several great Wales destinations along its 70-mile course. It rises in the Carmarthen Fans in the Black Mountain, and runs through Usk Reservoir and east towards Brecon, passing the Beacons and Black Mountains range to the east.
Along the stretch between Crickhowell and Abergavenny, it’s one of the most scenic rivers in south Wales.
It heads south and seawards at Abergavenny, past the Blorenge mountain and Monmouthshire countryside, passing close to the Roman amphitheatre at Caerleon.
It then runs through the city of Newport, by which time it’s subject to the second highest tidal range in the world. At low tide two huge banks of mud are revealed, and in 2002 one of these yielded what is possibly the best preserved medieval ship in Europe, a trading vessel possibly from northern Spain, which seems to have sunk there during repair work.
Newport is well worth a detour to see the superb early 20th century Transporter Bridge, the longest of its kind in the world, which carries vehicles across the river on a gondola.
The River Taff (Afon Taf) is perhaps the most famous Welsh river, with many a Welsh person beyond the border getting the nickname Taff after this river.
It famously flows through Cardiff, passing close to Castell Coch, Cardiff Castle, the Principality Stadium where Wales play their home rugby internationals, eventually finishing in Cardiff Bay, the hugely redeveloped former docks area of Cardiff.
The Taff starts out as not one river but two – the Taf Fawr (Big Taff) flowing in one direction from the Pen y Fan and Corn Du massif, the Taf Fechan flowing in another.
They meet near the town of Merthyr Tydfil, and the river flows through the South Wales Valleys heartland around Pontypridd before emerging from the Taff Gorge below Castell Coch. As well as passing several famous Wales landmarks, the river has some lovely scenic stretches which can be explored on the Taff Trail, one of the best long-distance trails in Wales.
The River Wye – Afon Gwy in Welsh – bubbles to the surface in a brightly-coloured bog on the slopes of Plynlimon (Pen Pumlumon Fawr), an expert rain-catching mountain in Mid Wales.
It s source is very close to that of the Severn, and they head off on very different courses before briefly meeting again to enter the Bristol Channel just south of the South Wales town of Chepstow.
The Wye spends far more time in Wales than the Severn does. The upper reaches of the Wye valley north of Rhayader and south of Builth Wells are among the most beautiful places in Wales, rocky, rugged mountains gradually giving way to softer contours before coming up against the looming outline of the Black Mountains and taking a sharp left.
It then passes the wonderful book town of Hay-on-Wye before crossing the border into England. Its main port of call is the fine city of Hereford, essentially a large country town with a superb cathedral.
After passing the dramatic cliffs of Symonds Yat it returns to Wales, forming the border as it winds its way through the steep wooded hills of the Lower Wye Valley.
This is one of the best places to see Wales in autumn, and the romantic ruin of Tintern Abbey church remains one of the best Wales attractions, just as it was for the first British tourists who explored the Wye Valley 250 years ago.
The river then passes splendid Chepstow Castle before entering the Bristol Channel next to its old neighbour the Severn at the original ‘old’ Severn Bridge.
The Severn – Afon Hafren in Welsh – is the longest river in Britain. It rises in Mid Wales, on the boggy slopes of Plynlimon like its cousin the Wye, and continues through Mid Wales for around 40 miles, flowing through mid Wales towns of Llanidloes, Newtown before crossing into England.
It then runs past famous English landmarks including the Ironbridge Gorge and Worcester Cathedral before reacquainting itself with Wales just as it – and its old friend the Wye – meets the sea in the Bristol Channel.