With miles of glorious coastline, secluded beaches and an abundance of stunning landscapes, it’s no wonder that the Welsh island of Anglesey is such a popular travel destination. It’s also a land that’s steeped in legend, myth and historic intrigue.
As our list proves, Anglesey is disproportionately blessed with historic sites from almost every era. The island is home to a wealth of important prehistoric sites, including mysterious monuments and ancient tombs, as well as spectacular medieval castles, sprawling country estates and fascinating museums.
Here’s our pick of 10 unmissable historic sites in Anglesey.
1. Plas Newydd – Anglesey
Plas Newydd near Anglesey in Wales is a country house and garden estate on the north banks of the Menai Strait. Originating in 1470, the current building evolved over the centuries to house several noble families: the Griffiths, Baylys and Pagets. It was under Henry Paget’s care in the 18th century that Plas Newydd was thoroughly revitalise and its existing architectural form began to take shape.
Under Paget, a Gothic octagonal tower was built in the south-east corner as well as additional rebuilding throughout the estate, led by the neoclassical architect James Wyatt. The striking garden estate that emerged is the Plas Newydd that still stands today. Under the control of the National Trust, it remains a captivating mansion with 40 acres of extravagant gardens and 129 acres of woodland and parkland.
2. Beaumaris Castle
Built in the late 13th century, Beaumaris Castle was the last in the ‘iron ring’ of imposing castles built by Edward I – known as Longshanks – that were designed to affirm his conquest of Wales. Beaumaris was intended to be the largest and most magnificent of the group. Instead, this testament to the King’s glorious all-conquering largesse succumbed to dwindling funds and eventually abandonment as the Crown’s attention turned to Scotland. Nonetheless, Beaumaris retained the character and architectural ambition of its original conception, even as it assumed its fate as an unfinished masterpiece.
In 1403, Beaumaris was besieged and captured by Prince of Wales Owain Glyndwr in a rebellion against English rule. It was also captured by the Roundheads during the Civil War. Today, the picturesque ruins of Beaumaris Castle are managed by Cadw and remain one of the most magnificent examples of medieval architecture in the country.
3. Caer Gybi Roman Fort
Built around 300 AD as a defence against Irish pirates, Caer Gybi is a Roman fort that stands to the west of Holyhead harbour. Exact dating of the fort’s construction remains undetermined but it was probably built in the late 3rd or early 4th century. The structure was made up of three defensive walls with circular watchtowers at each corner, while the fourth side fronted the sea and may have been a dock for the Roman warships that would have patrolled the area.
It’s likely that Caer Gybi’s use by the Romans was fairly short-lived: they abandoned the region in the late 4th century, and by the 6th century the site had been given to Saint Cybi who founded a monastery within the walls. The medieval Church of St Cybi still stands there today.
4. Din Lligwy Hut Group
Din Lligwy offers an intriguing window into prehistoric Britain. This atmospheric ancient village features the remains of two round huts and several rectangular buildings encircled by a thick stone wall, which was probably designed to contain livestock rather than serve defensive purposes. It’s thought that the settlement may date back to the Iron Age, when it likely functioned as a small farming community.
Ultimately, Din Lligwy, like so many prehistoric sites, is destined to remain something of a mystery, but the surviving fragments of this unknowably ancient settlement are nonetheless fascinating.
5. Bryn Celli Ddu
Probably the best-known prehistoric monument on Anglesey, and one of the most evocative archaeological sites in Britain, Bryn Celli Ddu is a Neolithic chambered tomb with a partially restored entrance passage and mound. Bryn Celli Ddu – ‘Mound in the Dark Grove’ – is a passage tomb, which is a term used to describe a grave of one or more burial chambers covered in earth or with stone that has a narrow access passage made of large stones.
Apart from the fact that it’s unusually well preserved, Bryn Celli Ddu is of particular interest due to the presence of a mysterious pillar within the burial chamber, along with a patterned stone decorated with intricate serpentine patterns. It’s also the only tomb on Anglesey to be accurately aligned to coincide with the rising sun on the longest day of the year.
6. Melin Llynon
Melin Llynon, or Llynon Mill, is a gristmill located on the outskirts of the village of Llanddeusant. It’s also the last remaining windmill in Wales. Happily, this beautiful mill, which dates back to 1775, has benefited from extensive restoration work, having fallen into a state of dilapidation after decades of neglect. These days Melin Llynon has been reborn under the ownership of Richard Holt, formerly Marcus Waring’s Head Pastry Chef in London, who has transformed the site into a chocolate factory, donut shop and gin distillery.
The windmill’s sails stopped turning in 2018, when the site was officially declared unsafe to operate. Nonetheless, restoration work was announced for the summer of 2022, in the hope of rendering the windmill operational once again.
7. Holyhead Maritime Museum
Situated at picturesque Newry Beach looking out across the Irish Sea, the Holyhead Maritime Museum tells the story of Anglesey’s maritime heritage. This interesting and idiosyncratic museum is stuffed with fascinating maritime memorabilia and evocative exhibitions. It also happens to be housed in a historically noteworthy building – the oldest lifeboat station in Wales.
It’s worth popping next door where a World War Two air-raid shelter is home to a permanent exhibition, ‘Holyhead at War’, which explores the experiences and sacrifices made by the men and women of the town during both World Wars.
8. Capel Lligwy
The ruined chapel of Capel Lligwy stands alone on a hillside looking out over Moelfre and the north-east coastline of Anglesey. Little is known about the history of this simple stone structure, but it was probably erected on the site of an older, timber-built Celtic church in the 12th century. The chapel’s lonely setting is particularly poignant when you consider that it is probably the only remnant of a long-vanished community.
The Lligwy region offers an interesting trio of ruins from three separate eras: in addition to the chapel, there is a Neolithic burial chamber that dates back to the end of the 3rd millennium BC and the Din Lligwy Hut Group (featured above) which dates from the time of the Roman occupation. Collectively they present a fascinating juxtaposition of eras.
9. Menai Suspension Bridge
When it was designed by Thomas Telford in 1819, the Menai Suspension Bridge a groundbreaking piece of civil engineering that offered a genuinely transformative solution to a long-standing problem. Until then traversing the Menai Straits was a dangerous endeavour, due to strong currents and the risk of capsizing or running aground. This became particularly problematic in 1800 when Ireland joined the Union: travel between London and Ireland, which passed through Holyhead, was more routine than ever. A safer, quicker passage across the Straits was needed.
Needless to say, Telford’s bridge provided a triumphant solution. It was also a spectacular feat of engineering and became the biggest suspension bridge in the world upon its completion in 1826.
10. Llys Rhosyr
The best-preserved llys, or royal court, of the Princes of Gwynedd, Llys Rhosyr offers a rare insight into the workings of a pre-Edwardian court. Because the ruin’s foundations remain almost entirely intact, it’s possible to see the court’s layout and get some sense of how the court would have functioned.
Be sure to visit the Pritchard Jones Institute in nearby Newborough, where you can see an audio-visual presentation about Llys Rhosyr, which helps explain the importance of the site.