Anyone who has a sibling knows what it's like to vie for attention, and for countries, it's no different. In the United Kingdom, there's England: smart and sophisticated; Scotland: brave and adventurous; and Northern Ireland: the charming, beautiful one. As for Wales, well, it's been the quiet, often overlooked one – not unlike a middle-child, in this writer's opinion.
That is, until now.
It's not just tourists who are increasingly noticing Wales’ allure. This tiny country is also emerging as a goldmine for film location scouts the world over. They’re recognizing that Wales offers varied, mind-blowing backdrops like soaring, snow-capped peaks just a short distance from wild Atlantic beaches, and beautiful rolling green countryside in-between. Film buffs and pop culture junkies should scout these Wales set locations for themselves.
Cardiff: Capital City Film Locations
A visit to Cardiff will keep BBC film-devotees occupied for days. Early seasons of Dr. Who were filmed almost exclusively here, as well as the spin-off series Torchwood. At Cardiff Bay, adjacent to the gorgeous Wales Millennium Centre on the Roald Dahl Plass, you will recognize the location where characters like Captain Jack Harnass and Gwen Cooper did a disappearing act into the Torchwood Headquarters’ secret elevator entrance. Next door, on the Mermaid Quay boardwalk, you can pay homage to cult hero, Ianto Jones, along with the other Torchwood fans who still post memorabilia and love notes on a dedicated Ianto’s Shrine wall.
If you’re a Sherlock fan, head to the National Museum Cardiff, home to the largest collection of Impressionism and post-Impressionism paintings outside of Paris, which was used as the fictitious London National Antiquities Museum in “The Blind Banker” episode.
The stag night pub crawl in the “Sign of Three” Sherlock episode was also filmed in Cardiff. To follow in the genius sleuth’s footsteps, have dinner at the award-winning, family-run Italian restaurant, Giovanni’s on the Hayes. (Sherlock ate the penne amaffia pesto.) Then, like Sherlock, nip into the Cambrian Tap Pub for a pint (they serve 18 craft beers from around the world).
Another popular downtown film location is Cardiff Castle, a medieval castle and Victorian Gothic revival mansion built on the site of a Roman fort established at the end of 50 AD. At the Castle, you can take a Film Location Tour, where an expert will show you around the premises and point out scene locations from shows like Dr. Who, Sherlock and Sarah Jane Adventures.
Hollywood is also getting in on Cardiff’s film-action. Filming for Mark Wahlberg’s new movie, Infinite, recently shut down several city centre streets.
Wye Valley Film Locations
This 72-kilometre stretch of the Wye River with its stunning scenery and dense native woodlands, was a British tourism destination as early as the 18C. Now declared an Area of Outstanding Beauty, it’s easy to see why the Wye Valley has been used as a location for movies like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
More recently, the Wye Valley was the setting for the Netflix 2018 Anglo-American comedy, Sex Education. You might recognize the Wireworks Bridge, with the spectacular ruins of the Tintern Abbey (yes, the one that William Wordsworth wrote about) in the background, as the bridge that awkward teenager, Otis Milburn, rode his bike across on the way to school. Village scenes were filmed in nearby Llandogo and the high school scenes at University of South Wales Caerleon Campus, just down the road.
Wales: Coastal Film Locations
The only coastal national park in all of Britain, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, is a natural when it comes to stunning backdrops--towering cliffs, secret coves and endless beaches like Freshwater West, where scenes from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows were filmed. Shell Cottage was built on site here and sadly, it’s where Dobby was buried. If you’re pining to pay your respects to the loveable House Elf, you’re not alone--fans still stack stones and socks on his gravesite, a sand dune on the northern end of the beach.
At the nearby popular seaside resort town of Tenby, the tidal island of St. Catherine’s where a military base was built in 1870, was turned into “Sherrinford Island”, a high security prison setting for an episode of the latest Sherlock series.
Tenby is also home to beautiful cliff-top pastel-coloured Georgian houses, and one, called Lexden Terrace, was used as a setting for The Edge of Love, the Dylan Thomas’ biopic starring Keira Knightly and local Welsh lad, Matthew Rhys.
Further up the coast is St. David’s, Britain’s smallest city, and even if scenes from the Hollow Crown, Richard II weren’t filmed here, the 12C St. David’s Cathedral, is worth a stop.
If you’re an old movie buff, visit Fishguard Lower Town, where the last invasion of Britain took place more than 200 years ago. This was a setting for Moby Dick, the 1957 movie starring Gregory Peck, and for the 1971 adaptation of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milkwood, with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, this tiny town with its colourful cluster of cute fishing cottages was transformed into the fictional village of Llareggub (“buggerall” spelled backwards--Thomas had a sense of humour). It’s speculated that Thomas based his Under Milkwood characters on townspeople living down the road in New Quay, where he briefly lived in the 1940s.
Soaring Mountain Landscape Film Locations in Wales
Snowdonia National Park, is a mountainous region filled with lakes, water falls and hiking trails in northwestern Wales. Here, Lyn Gwynant Lake campsite doubled as a Chinese village in Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life and the lake was also a backdrop for a scene from King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, (when Vortigern, played by Jude Law, introduced the “true king” to his people who were standing alongside the shore).
Another popular Snowdonia filming location is Dinorwic Quarry, a 700-acre former slate quarry, with eerie, dystopian scree slopes and caverns. This was a setting for Lara Croft Tomb Raider and King Arthur scenes, as well as Tarzan and Clash of the Titans.
Spoiler alert: the nearby Brittania Bridge, which crosses over to the island of Anglesey, was used for a scene in The Voyage of Dr. Doolittle, starring Robert Downey Jr., to be released in 2020.