Taking you to some of the finest sacred places in Wales, where impressive medieval churches with rich art and architecture abound. But, in some of the remotest spots you’ll be transported to another place entirely. From the mountainous wilds to a church cut off by the high tide. Stunning landscapes and little known pilgrim churches brimming with atmosphere.
Unmissable churches and chapels along the Coastal Way
The breath taking coastal landscape of Wales has held allure for pilgrims, poets and travellers for millennia.
Hundreds of ancient atmospheric Welsh churches are sited within a stones throw from, and even occasionally on, the beach, promontory or headland. These are the places founded by 5th and 6th century Saints; intimately connected to the landscape, with carved Ogham stones, Celtic crosses and an atmosphere inside to make your spine tingle. They are found teetering on clifftops and sunk low on beaches, hidden deep in valleys and high up on soaring hilltops.
Exploring the places that time forgot has never been easier, with the three new routes of the Wales Way. Helping you navigate to you of the way places and drink in the history, heritage, linger under ancient trees and feel the stillness of the place.
Your journey will lead you through some of the most awe inspiring landscapes in the world.
The Coastal Way, running from awe inspiring St Davids Cathedral, to iconic Bardsey Island, takes in small, friendly towns brimming with independent shops and eateries, peaceful places and hidden inland gems, isolated clifftops and wide expanses of beautiful unspoilt beach.
Immerse yourself in Wales stunning coastline and the sacred spaces that define it.
Scroll down to discover their stories, a map and a playlist for your trip.
Coastal churches take your breath away!
We start in Pembrokeshire.
Unmissable on the Coastal Way is the iconic St Davids Cathedral. Home to the shrine of Wales patron saint, at the heart of the UKs smallest city, with an awe inspiring interior you can easily lose a day exploring. A fitting starting place for any coastal tour, in 1123 St David’s was granted a privilege from Pope Calixtus II stating that two pilgrimages here were equal to one to Rome and that three were as significant as a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Marvel at the ornate carvings in the quire, including one to seasick sailors. And notice the intriguing sloping floor, there is a full 4 metres difference between the east and west ends!
A stones throw and walkable from the cathedral is St Non’s Chapel. Birthplace of St David and spectacularly sited, St Non’s is a must for any coastal pilgrim. Here the sacred and the elemental come head to head, and the views are big and wide.
Head inland from here to the unmissable sweet gem at St Eloi Llandeloy, an Arts & Crafts church in the care of the Friends of Friendless Churches and rebuilt it from medieval ruins in 1926-7. Take a few moments here to pause and contemplate, and don’t forget to spot the sweet stained glass window with a picture of the church itself.
A little further up the Coastal Way, and a must if you prefer the wilder places, is a detour off the beaten track to St Gwyndaf Llanwnda. A clifftop church, founded in the 6th century, with an atmospheric medieval roof, carved Celtic stones and an ancient holy well where pilgrims washed their feet en route to St David’s. This was the last place to be invaded in Britain. In 1797 French marauders scrambled up the cliffs here one dark and stormy night and took solace in the church. They reputedly lit a fire with the pages of the bible, now kept in a display case with its charred pages on view!
The twisting road down from Llanwnda brings you back onto the Coastal Way and make a beeline for St Mary Fishguard, a welcoming church in the heart of this charming historic port town; with fine stained glass and a memorial to Welsh heroine Jemima Fawr who reportedly rounded up 12 French soldiers with a pitchfork during the 1797 last invasion of Britain at the Battle of Fishguard. Tourists of all nations are warmly welcomed today; and the town’s history is celebrated in a 100 foot long Last Invasion Tapestry, sewn by 80 local women in a similar format and shape as the Bayeux tapestry which can be seen in Fishguard Library.
Before we leave Pembrokeshire there are four more hidden gems.
Just past pretty Newport town, St Brynach Nevern is a picturesque medieval village church with a pilgrims step and castle to explore all on foot, and the enigmatic ‘bleeding yew’ in the churchyard. Can you decipher the Ogham stone inside? With the church on your left drive out of Nevern and watch out for the little old sign hanging in the hedge. St Andrew Bayvil (another in the care of the Friends of Friendless Churches) is so tucked away it‘s easy to miss! This completely unspoilt chapel like interior of the 1830s is picture perfect, with triple decker pulpit and box pews, a place where time stands still, in an ancient churchyard home to many nesting birds.
If ruins are your thing, St Dogmaels Abbey is well worth a visit. A 12th century abbey on the bank of the Teifi in a picture perfect small town, with the Coach House museum and its collection of 9th and 10th century Christian stones just next door.
A hope and skip from St Dogs is the Old Church at Manordeifi, now in the care of the Friends of Friendless Churches, a medieval church with an evocative interior of worn stone flags, box pews for the wealthier worshippers, complete with their own fireplace and benches for the humble. But why is a coracle kept here? Until the church closed it was regularly cut off by the river and worshippers rowed back. Autumn storms in recent years have also taken taken their toll.
Enter Ceredigion and what a stonking church to start with!
Take the winding narrow coast road through Felinwynt to the church of the Holy Cross Mwnt, a magnet for pilgrims and lovers of the wild and remote for centuries and well worth the detour. Set over a bronze age barrow high on the cliffs above the Irish Sea and originally built as a chapel of ease for sailors. This sweet whitewashed church oozes tranquility and history, with its atmospheric and rare surviving 15th century oak roof and 12the century stone font surviving inside.
The church is named ‘Holy Cross’ after a tall stone cross that would have stood on top of Foel y Mwnt, the hill behind the church and a focus for worshippers on foot and pilgrims from the sea, In the medieval period Mwnt was as a stopping place for the bodies of saints, en route to burial on Bardsey Islands, and for pilgrims making thwir way down to St Davids.
Mwnt remains an enigmatic destination for those seeking a spot of mindfulness and solitude.
If remote, unspoilt wide expansive beaches are your thing, you’re in the right place. St Michel Penbryn, 700 years old, with spectacular coastal views and divine wooded river valley walks to the unspoilt mile long beach, might prove to be one of your favourite Coastal Way churches.
But it’s not just churches that hold the history here.
Take Yr Hen Gapel Llwynrhydowen, a deceptively simple 19th century chapel, with an incredible history. Up to 3,000 people gathered outside the locked and chained chapel in 1876 when the Minister and his congregation were evicted for their 'radical' non Tory, Unitarian beliefs. With its connection too to Frank Lloyd Wright, there is more to Yr Hen Gapel than meets the eye. No surprise that its now in in care of the Welsh Chapels Trust : Addoldai Cymru, and if it’s locked here’s a handy 360 degree fly through!
After lunch in lovely Lampeter or Aberaeron (don’t miss the honey ice cream) the Coastal Way takes you straight through Llannon, birthplace of St Non. Take the left turn up to St Ffraid Llansantffraed which has fascinating connections both ancient and modern. Set just 41 feet above sea level, exposed to coastal erosion and strong southwesterly coastal gales its walls, like the surrounding houses, are protected with a characteristic layer of hanging slate. This is one of many churches in Wales dedicated to St Ffraed (Bridget), an Irish missionary saint born around 450AD who travelled throughout Wales, famed for her kindness to the poor and her affinity with cows and dairy work. Inside the church she is depicted in a stained glass window holding a bowl of milk. In the same window is St Non with her young son Dewi Sant (St David). The mounted stoop stone in the porch was brought here from the site of Non’s chapel 40 years ago.
Inland Ceredigion has some of the most peaceful places on earth.
Back on the Coastal Way and heading north, now we’re really deep intoone of the most sparsely populated, most beautiful and unspoilt counties in Wales. It’s no surprise to find there’s a very special network of aptly named Peaceful Places.
After you’ve had a mooch around Victorian seaside Aber (aka Aberystwyth) and strolled along the famous pier, there’s a must see circular route that will take you through some of the most beautiful and unspoilt countryside to a startling atmospheric cluster of sacred places.
Take the A44 Capel Bangor road to St Padarn Llanbadarn Fawr, the first ‘Peaceful Place’ on your secret sacred Wales detour. Founded in 1246, this fine church dominates the village with its square tower, short pyramidal spire and roof timbers recently dated to 1491. In the 19th century it was restored by the well known church architect JP Seddon (who also rebuilt the Old College buildings you’ll have spotted in Aber). Art lovers will gravitate towards the fine carvings, stained glass and the wonderful mosaic floor laid in the 1870s by Jesse Rust, of the Vitreous Mosaic Company London, who used recycled glass tesserae alongside encaustic tiles; with dark mortar carefully framing elements of the whole design.
From here head to St David Capel Bangor with its wonderful limed oak woodwork designed by Arts & Crafts architect WD Caroe and spectacular views down the Rheidol valley. It is neighbours with the brilliant Ty'n Llidiart Arms, reputedly home to the smallest commercial brewery in the world!
You could then take in Capel Ebenezer Ystumtuen, simple and perfect, and St John the Baptist Ysbyty Cynfyn in the mountains between Devil’s Bridge and Ponterwyd, or a handful of other churches and chapels in this group.
The furthermost Peaceful Place, but thoroughly worth the trip, is Capel Siloam Cwmystwyth, reached on a narrow mountain road at the end of a picturesque valley. It's a haven for walkers being on several routes including the Glyndwr Way. Siloam chapel has a superbly crafted interior and has served the congregation here for over 200 years; and this is Welsh chapel architecture at its best.
If you’re a lover of wild and picturesque landscapes you really won’t want to miss St Michael Hafod. We defy any church visitor to find a more perfect experience than coming upon St Michaels after a walk in its dramatic woodland landscape. Hafod, or Eglwys Neywdd, was designed as a set piece in 1803 by James Wyatt as an estate church for the Johnes family. You could easily spend a whole day here exploring waterfalls, ravines and breathtaking woodland walks.
Now that you’ve well and truly immersed in rural mid Wales, it’s almost non-negotiable to miss out the famed Strata Florida, both the Abbey and St Mary’s church. This evocative ruined Cistercian Abbey, once one of the most important in Wales, was founded in 1164 and is the destination for a pilgrimage route across the mountains and the Monks Trod trail today. St Mary’s is tucked in beside and thought to be the resting places of Dafydd ap Gwilym, Wales’s most famous medieval poets.
Heading back to the Coastal Way on our circular route, there’s one final church that should definitely be on your list. St Michael & All Angels Llanfihangel y Creuddyn is a 13th century church and the beating heart of the village, with an elaborate carved reredos painted in 1919 by a Belgian refugee artist and a modern stained glass window dedicated to a five month old boy. Lunch (or by this time it might be dinner) can be had at the popular Farmers Arms here.
Back on the main road now, and there are two more Peaceful Places.
One the most atmospheric is St Michael Llandre, set at the head of a scenic valley, with an ancient lychgate straddling a small stream and a wonderful woodland Poetry Path. Its steeply wooded churchyard retains a 2,000 year old yew tree and many fine beeches. Perfect for a picnic.
Head on back up the Coastal Way and you’ll easily spot St Michael Eglwysfach, with its impressive lychgate and striking interior. It tells the fascinating tale of the poet RS Thomas who was vicar here between 1955 and 1967 when, with help from his artist wife Mildred Elsi Eldridge, he decided to redecorate the interior, bringing high drama and striking design to the Victorian church. Plaques were removed from the walls, the 19th century pews were thrown out and all the woodwork was painted matt black. They also introduced two hanging iron coronae, made by Alan Knight, blacksmith c1960.
Enter Gwynedd and one of Wales most iconic survivals greets visitors to the first church in this rich historic county.
St Cadfan Tywyn is an ancient church with a tall, square tower, from where pilgrims would have started their pilgrimage to Bardsey island. Tywyn is famed for its 8th or 9th century St Cadfan's Stone, inscribed with the earliest known example of the written Welsh language. It is a unique and highly significant survival.
Just a stonesthrow away is another delightful survival. The simple, much loved church at Llanegryn also has a treasure inside: one of the best preserved medieval screens in Wales dating from the 15th century, completely intact and with its ‘loft’ from where the priest would have dramatically addressed the congregation.
Just up from here the tiny disused church at St Celynin Llangelynnin has a location that’s really hard to beat. But it’s also really hard to park so you might just want to enjoy the long views before heading up and around the oh so pretty Mawddach Estuary! There’s a 50mile circular road around it for keen walkers!
Next stop St Tanwg Llandanwg, often described as a ‘thin place’ where the gap between heaven and earth seems to narrow a little.
Founded in the 5th century, with quite a few inscribed stones inside to prove it, St Tanwg’s is the church that time forgot; its whitewashed walls undulating with age and its massive arch braced roof five hundred years old and counting. Outside, though much of the churchyard is lost to the sand dunes, lies the grave of the poet Sion Phillips, a contemporary of Shakespeare, who lived at nearby Shell Island and drowned whilst crossing from Shell Island to Llandanwg in 1620.
Inland through Harlech and up to the pretty planned town of Tremadog where Capel Peniel stands proudly on the southern gateway. This is one of the most iconic chapels in Wales, with its Greek temple painted frontage and Tuscan columns, based loosely on Inigo Jones church in Covent Garden. This Calvinist Methodist chapel was erected in 1810 and enlarged in 1849. It is now in the care of Addoldai Cymru.
And now for something completely different.
Two sweet out of the way gems also in the care of the Friends of Friendless Churches.
First up St Beuno Penmorfa, a small, simple medieval church, founded in the 6th century with an incredibly rich carved 19th century interior, by Constance Mary Greaves. You'll be wowed by the life size angel lectern! We love the lychgate here, and the fascinating churchyard crammed with monuments.
Keen walkers can park the car here and head out by foot on the old drovers road to the charming church that is St Cynhaearn Ynyscynhaearn. A simple and beautiful church reached at the end of an ancient causeway. It is the final resting place of ‘Jack Du’ who was kidnapped in Africa in 1746 at the age of 8, and lived out his life as a gardener. Also buried here is Dafydd y Garreg Wen (David of the White Rock), well known from one of the finest haunting melodies on Cerys Matthews Welsh folk collection ‘Tir’.
On the Llyn.
Before you complete your Coastal pilgrimage, as thousands have done before you and for over 1,000 years, take a detour along the north coast of the Llyn peninsula for three must see churches.
Wild and wondrous with some of the most beautiful and unspoilt beaches anywhere in the world, this stretch of coastline and its ancient sacred history rewards exploration.
One of the most important and fascinating churches in the region is St Beuno Clynnog Fawr, a large and impressive medieval church with ‘crenallations’ like a castle. St Beuno, descended from the royal princes of Powys, was the most celebrated of the early Christian monks of north Wales and it was he who founded the 'clas' or missionary college at Clynnog Fawr in 616 and died here in about 640. Don’t miss the dog tongs (yes!) and the intriguing 10th century sundial in churchyard, a relic from a time when clocks were unknown, but when the monastic pattern of the day needed to be adhered to. The atmospheric interior of this church is hard to beat.
From here the fascinating maritime museum at the former Eglwys Nefyn, Amgueddfa Forwrol is well worth a visit and offers tea and cake for walkers and visitors alike. Then, en route to picture perfect traeth Penllech beach is St Mary Penllech. Barely glimpsed from the road, looking out to sea for centuries, this sweet early Victorian church is preserved as if the congregation has just left, complete with a row of hat pegs. We love the worn ancient floor and the views of the sea from the churchyard. Nothing has changed here for centuries and now thankfully it’s in the care of the Friends of Friendless Churches in perpetuity.
From Penllech head south across the Peninsula to another unmissable Llyn beach; where vast stretches of sand, colourful beach huts, a great cafe and shallow water make this the one of the best beaches around. But what about its ancient church?
St Pedrog Llanbedrog is another of the 5th century churches founded by Saints and another key pilgrimage church, with an updated Victorian interior and some excellent modern stained glass. Used as a stable for horses when Cromwell’s men arrived, the 16th century rood screen you see today was buried on the beach and remarkably survived!
Coastal pilgrims will delight in our last mainland church.
St Hywyn Aberdaron has stood on this site since 516 when it was founded by St Hywyn, a cousin of Cadfan who built the monastery on the Sacred Island of Bardsey (Enlli in Welsh) 3 miles offshore.
The poet RS Thomas famously made his home here and travellers in search of poetry, history and the sacred have flocked here ever since as this is the final resting place for pilgrims before crossing the treacherous waters of Bardsey Sound to reach their destination on the sacred island. Only the worn stone doorway remains from the Norman church and inside, the church is spacious, welcoming and full of light reflected from the sea. Don’t miss its 16th century timber roof and the 6th century gravestones of Roman Presbyters, who brought Christianity to this remote corner of Wales. Their age means they probably predate the monastery on Bardsey Island.
St Hywyn’s is still a place of refuge, restoration and prayerful peace for the modern pilgrim and tourists on their own spiritual journeys. The services are bilingual, giving visitors an authentic experience of the living Welsh language. It has an atmosphere to match its very special history.
Bardsey Chapel is the final destination for sea pilgrims ancient and modern. Sometimes known as the 'Island of 20,000 Saints, a Christian community was founded on Bardsey by St Cadfan some 1,500 years ago.It was a hugely popular destination for pilgrims in medieval times, with three pilgrimages there being the equivalent of one to Rome. The boat can take you out to Bardsey if the weather is clear and here you will find the remains of an ancient church, a simple stone chapel with a whitewashed interior, erected by the Presbyterians in 1875, and a place to pause, to meditate and to explore island wildlife.
Where will your journey around sacred Wales take you next?
The sound of Wales
Known as the ‘land of song’ Wales has an inimitable musical heritage forged over hundreds of years.
Inspired to discover some famous Welsh warblers?
Check out the 3.5 hour Wales themed playlist by VisitBritain.
From Cardiff to the Great Orme; take the back roads down the mountainous spine of Wales. Timeless simple out of the way chapels and picturesque town churches with a warm welcome, travel to the oldest unaltered non conformist place of worship in Wales, admire medieval glass and angel roofs, and be wowed by Arts & Crafts splendour and bold modern art.