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For such a small country, Wales has a lot to offer. With dramatic mountains, spectacular seashores, tumbling rivers, fresh green valleys, and Europe's largest concentration of medieval fortresses, Wales is a real gem that is often overlooked by tourists.
With a name that springs from the Anglo-Saxon term , meaning 'foreigner', it is hardly surprising that the Welsh have a unique culture, language, and heritage that distinguishes them from the English, Scots, and Irish. However, as part of the United Kingdom, Wales is still subject to its laws and regulations. Best known for their unpronounceable place names, roaring men's choirs, and fierce rugby teams, this is still a friendly and hospitable nation.
Though its largest city, Cardiff, has only about 350,000 residents, cities in Wales are home to interesting urban atmospheres that retain a certain historical quaintness while providing all the modern amenities one could ask for.
Cardiff, especially, has in recent years emerged as one of the hippest cities in the UK. Resort towns like Llandudno, Swansea, and Tenby provide elegant seaside escapes, and medieval fortifications such as Caernarfon and Conwy offer glimpses into Wales' thousand-year-old history.
Wales is a land of nature and legend with stunning, unspoiled natural scenery that is protected by a series of large National Parks. Headline attractions include majestic parks like Brecon Beacons and Mount Snowdon, and scenic seaside communities tucked into craggy shorelines. For wilderness enthusiasts and lovers of the great outdoors, Wales is the ideal UK holiday destination.
The top tourist attractions in Wales include the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, one of the top performing arts venues in the UK; Cardiff Castle, a complex including Roman, Norman, medieval, and Victorian remains; St Fagan's National History Museum, arguably the best open-air museum in Europe; St David's Cathedral, which dates back to 1181 and graces a site which has held a church since the 6th century; Caernarfon Castle, in the delightful medieval town of the same name; the atmospheric Tintern Abbey, immortalised by poets like Wordsworth; Hay-on-Wye, known for its wealth of book shops and the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts; and Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
However, despite this wealth of fascinating cultural and historical sites, Wales remains most famous among travellers for its stunning natural landscapes and attracts many people wanting walking holidays. There are many popular hiking trails in Wales, but the most celebrated is Offa's Dyke Path, which traverses the country from north to south, following a dyke constructed in the 8th century. Walking this National Trail path in its entirety takes about two weeks, but it can be broken up into short sections. Two of the best places to experience the scenic beauty of the country are Snowdonia National Park and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.
Located in the southwest corner of Wales just a short drive from Cardiff, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park runs along a coastline riddled with rugged cliffs, superb sandy beaches, rocky coves, and tiny fishing villages. There is some spectacular scenery and wonderful coastal walks, including the well-trodden 167-mile (269km) Coast Path. Inland, the historic Preseli Hills conceal ancient trade routes, hill forts, standing stones, and burial chambers. The tiny islands offshore are inhabited by colonies of puffins, guillemots, razorbills, gannets, and grey seals. The area is an activity-lover's paradise, with a choice of hiking, pony trekking, surfing, windsurfing, kayaking, and fishing opportunities. The best time to visit is in spring, when wild flowers abound and most ramblers have yet to arrive. The town of Pembroke is worth visiting if only for its fearsome castle, which, founded by the Normans, has an intriguing history. Just south of the park is the city of St David's, which is actually only a little larger than your average village. The cathedral found there is the resting place of St David, the patron Saint of Wales, and during the Middle Ages was one of the most holy places in Britain. Two pilgrimages here were equivalent to one to Rome.
Snowdonia is Britain's second-biggest national park, after the Lake District, and the biggest in Wales, boasting rugged mountain trails through some of the tallest peaks south of the Scottish Highlands. The tallest peak is Mount Snowdon at 3,560 feet (1,068m), which is visited by half a million people each year, many climbing or walking while the less adventurous ride the magnificently scenic Snowdon Mountain Railway to the top. Mount Snowden was written about by William Wordsworth, and has retained an aura of profound romance for many fans of the poet ever since. There is plenty more to explore, including lakes, waterfalls, and glacial valleys, as well as Roman forts, Stone Age burial chambers, railways, and the crumbling remains of the country's mining heritage. Other nearby destinations not to be missed include the beautiful Victorian resort of Betws-y-Coed, whose former copper mines are open to the public, and Blaenau Ffestiniog, which also offers tours through its cavernous slate mines. About 26,000 people live in the Snowdonia National Park, and more than half of the population chooses to speak Welsh rather than English, which goes some way to demonstrating the traditional and authentic nature of the region.
Situated in North Wales, across the Menai Strait from the Isle of Anglesey, is Caernarfon, dominated by the walls of its 13th-century castle. It was here, in 1969, that Prince Charles' investiture as Prince of Wales took place. It was a dramatic event marked by pomp and ceremony, and had the strong symbolic impact of strengthening Britain's dominion over Wales in this staunchly nationalist district. Across the strait is Anglesey, which is probably most noted for the town of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndobwlllantysiliogogogoch, which has the longest place name in the United Kingdom, and quite possibly the world. The name, when translated into English, means 'The church of St Mary in a hollow of white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and near St Tysilio's church by the red cave'. The island of Anglesey was the crucible for pre-Roman druidic activity in Britain and many mysterious Neolithic ruins remain. Caernarfon has also been inhabited since pre-Roman times. Those on their way to catch the Irish ferries at Holyhead, usually rush through Anglesey and Caernarfon, missing out on its spectacular coastal scenery of sandy coves and rocky headlands. Apart from the imposing fortress, Caernarfon boasts some lovely little craft shops and good restaurants.
The largest seaside resort town in Wales, Llandudno is a small city with a great deal of Victorian flavour. Nestled on a rocky coastline that was once the haunt of Viking ships, the city's rows of peaked houses are framed by forests on one side and Blue Flag beaches on the other. Some of the top attractions in Llandudno are manmade: the longest pier in Wales is located at the end of the north-shore promenade and features food, entertainment, and relaxation options at its pavilion, as well as boat trips. Bodafon Farm Park is a working farm turned tourist attraction that also houses a bird of prey sanctuary. Active visitors to Llandudno will enjoy Happy Valley, which boasts an artificial ski slope and toboggan run, miniature golf, hiking trails, and a cable car to the summit of the Great Orme. The surrounding areas of County Conwy offer their own enticements, including golf, quad biking, hiking, and a number of interesting castle ruins Llandudno has a lively nightlife that fits its small size, with a variety of restaurants, cafes, and bars to entertain locals and tourists. The city has its fair share of cultural pursuits, with a ballet, opera, and regular orchestral concerts. Llandudno also has a small but active gay community, which frequents the clubs in Upper Mostyn Street along with much of the younger population.
Situated right in the heart of the city, Cardiff Castle is a unique complex of historical buildings incorporating a medieval castle, a Victorian Gothic mansion, and a Norman keep, which in turn was built over a Roman fort. Cardiff Castle stands as witness to more than 2,000 years of history. Roman soldiers and knights have lived in the castle, and the wealthy Bute family resided in it from early 19th century up until 1947. Those who visit Cardiff Castle will be rewarded with opulent rooms, Mediterranean gardens, and Italian and Arabian decor. The Essential Ticket includes access to a selection of the lavish Castle Apartments, the Norman Keep, the Battlement Walk, the Wartime Shelters, the Cardiff Castle Museum of the Welsh Soldier, the Interpretation Centre (including a film show), and an audio guide in multiple languages. The Premium Ticket offers all this plus a 45-minute guided tour with an expert guide, and access to some additional rooms in the castle. People of all ages will enjoy exploring the castle complex. As one of the top tourist attractions in Wales, it's definitely worth a visit for anybody in the city with an interest in history.
This open-air museum, located in St Fagans, chronicles the historical lifestyle, architecture, and cultural heritage of the people of Wales. St Fagans National History Museum is one of Europe's leading open-air museums, and the most popular heritage attraction in Wales. The 16th-century manor house in which the museum stands bears testament to the magnificent heritage of the Welsh, and the museum features more than 40 original historic buildings, moved from various parts of Wales and erected to show how the people of Wales have lived over the last five centuries. Among these are houses, a farm, a school, a chapel, and a splendid Workmen's Institute. Donated to the Welsh by the Earl of Plymouth, the museum first opened in 1948 and to this day, the original strain of native livestock can be seen in the fields and farmyards, and the musical Welsh language proudly heard in the air. Artisans bring the museum to life by demonstrating their traditional skills and techniques for visitors, and often selling their crafts. There are also many events and traditional festivals, with folk music and dancing showcased to the delight of visitors. St Fagans National History Museum is a must-see attraction for any traveller interested in Welsh culture and history.
Nicknamed 'The Armadillo', this performing arts centre located in the Cardiff Bay area hosts performances such as operas, ballet and dance recitals, stand-up comedy, and musicals. Known as one of the world's iconic performing arts venues, it features a world-class stage and also offers free foyer performances, tours, and exhibitions for visitors to get an overall vision of the best of the arts world in Wales. The centre stages all the most popular and famous shows performed in London and all over the world, with classic favourites like Cats, West Side Story, Wicked, and Priscilla Queen of the Desert frequently performed, alongside the best in contemporary Welsh, British, and international entertainment. Guided tours of the centre are available, allowing guests to check out the dressing rooms, marvel at the sheer size of the stage, and find out what lies beneath the mystical inscription. There is also a wonderful restaurant, a coffee shop, an ice-cream parlour, and some theatre bars to enjoy. The theatre is wonderfully accessible for wheelchairs. Even if you are not lucky enough to be seeing a show, the Wales Millennium Centre is worth a visit to enjoy the architecture, exhibitions, and free performances.
The pretty village of Portmeirion in Northern Wales is as charming as they come. Portmeirion was designed by the architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, between 1925 and 1976, and was intended to demonstrate how a village could be designed to suit its natural landscape so as not to detract from the natural beauty. Portmeirion was intended to be a space for events, leisure, and exhibitions, and is now run more as a tourist attraction than a residential village. It is, however, possible to spend the night in the quaint coastal village, which includes 15 self-catering cottages and a hotel. Small enough to see on foot, there are manicured gardens and a beach, as well as a few souvenir shops and a restaurant, ice-cream shop, and pizzeria to enjoy. As befitting a village which celebrates the beauty of nature, Portmeirion is surrounded by acres of lovely woodland and miles of coastal walking trails to explore. Dogs are not allowed in the village. Although the village is open to visitors year-round, it can seem a bit deserted in the winter months, when many of the shops and restaurants close.
One of many cave systems in Brecon Beacons National Park, the Dan-yr-Ogof Caves are an 11-mile (17km) cave complex located about 15 miles (24km) southwest of Brecon. Only the first portion is open to the public, including the unmissable Dan yr Ogof Showcave, the Cathedral Showcave, and the Bone Cave. Formed 315 million years ago, the formations include vertical stalactites and stalagmites, and also rare helectites, which grow sideways. The Bone Cave is named for the 42 human skeletons that have so far been discovered in the chamber. Many of the skeletons date back to the Bronze Age, more than 3,000 years ago. The cave now contains some award-winning exhibits on humankind's cave-dwelling history. The National Showcaves Centre for Wales also has a dinosaur park with more than 50 life-size statues; an Iron Age farm with a replica village; a Victorian farm where kids can interact with numerous domestic animals; the Shire Horse Centre; an adventure playground which will delight kids; and replicas of some of the famous stone circles found in Wales. All these attractions, the caves, and a museum are covered by the admission fee.
Culture enthusiasts are urged to visit Hay-on-Wye, a charming market-town located within the boundaries of Brecon Beacons National Park. Widely referred to as the 'Town of Books', Hay-on-Wye is the bibliophile's equivalent of Mecca, featuring more than 30 second-hand bookstores, many of which stock collector's items and hard-to-find rarities. Hay-on-Wye hosts the annual Hay Festival, one of the biggest literary festivals on the planet, drawing crowds in excess of 80,000 people, who come to attend lectures and readings given by some of the world's most eminent writers. The festival is held annually in May or June. There is more than books to Hay-on-Wye as the town also boasts lovely architecture, a celebrated collection of quaint pubs and restaurants, the fascinating ruins of two Norman-built castles, and a popular Thursday Market, where all manner of things can be bought, from antiques to hand-made cheeses. The town is beautifully located on the east bank of the River Wye, just north of the Black Mountains and surrounded by some lovely countryside. Visitors can explore by walking, cycling, or driving. For mature visitors to Wales looking for a memorable cultural experience, a visit to Hay-on-Wye is an absolute must.
The Llandaff Cathedral, located on the western edge of Cardiff, is one of Wales' premier sights, not to be missed by visitors to the Welsh capital. Situated in what used to be the tiny village of Llandaff, the area surrounding the cathedral still retains a village-like feel, with stone-and-timber buildings and narrow and crooked lanes. Constructed in the 12th century on the site of an earlier church - of which, a pre-Norman Celtic cross is all that remains - the Llandaff Cathedral boasts some of the greatest medieval art to be found in all of Wales. Suffering extensive damage during Nazi bomb raids in World War II, the cathedral was restored and received two modern additions: the Welsh Regiment Chapel, and the striking Jacob Epstein sculpture Christ in Majesty. The sculpture, made of aluminium and suspended from a concrete arch that dominates the cathedral's nave divides opinion between those who find it arresting and those who find it garish and out of place. Head to the Llandaff Cathedral and see the interesting work for yourself, before relaxing in the tranquil public gardens that surround this significant religious site.
Famous Tintern Abbey, a monastery established by William the Marshal to give thanks to God after surviving a narrow escape at sea, is one of the most inspiring and enduring tourist sights that Wales has to offer. The abbey, whose first inhabitants were Cistercian monks, dates from the early 13th century and has been well preserved, affording visitors great views of its ruined nave, chancel, tower, cloister, and chapel. The surviving buildings span a 400-year period between 1131 and 1536. Just as beautiful are the grounds around the abbey, consisting of green fields, craggy, moss-strewn hills, and a stone bridge that leads across an inlet from the sea. Gorgeous Tintern Abbey has a long history of inspiring works of art, from paintings by William Turner to poems by William Wordsworth, Lord Tennyson, and even Allen Ginsberg. Located a mere stone's throw from the English border, Tintern Abbey makes a wonderful first stop on a memorable sightseeing tour of Wales. A stroll up to the Devil's Pulpit provides views over the Abbey from above, and there are many great pubs near the ruins for a bite to eat. Be sure to take a camera as Tintern Abbey provides wonderful photo opportunities.
Designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty by the UK government, Gower is home to some of the most popular holiday destinations in Wales, including the resort towns of Swansea, Mumbles, Rhossili, and Llangennith. Though it's just 16 by seven miles (26 by 11km) in size, the area has a large concentration of Blue Flag beaches, including Bracelet Bay, Caswell Bay, Langland Bay, Port Eynon, and the Swansea Marina. Mumbles is a lovely resort village beautifully located beneath pine-forested slopes overlooking Swansea Bay, which is fast-becoming one of the United Kingdom's favourite seaside getaway destinations. It has a range of excellent seafront pubs and restaurants, with a history dating back to the 12th century. Mumbles is home to some great cultural sights, such as the ruins of Oystermouth Castle, a historic lighthouse, and the pretty Mumbles Pier. The real allure of Mumbles remains its sheer natural beauty, with the sunlight reflected by the bay illuminating the age-old stone buildings that surround the water. The Gower Peninsula also contains a number of historical attractions, including the island of Burry Holms, which has been inhabited since the Iron Age; Cefn Bryn, home to Arthur's Stone; Giant's Grave, a prehistoric burial chamber containing 4,500-year-old skeletons; and the Norman castle ruins at Threecliff Bay. All things considered, the main reason to holiday in Gower is its natural splendour, beyond the beaches and the cities you'll find many miles of pretty walking trails, flowering gardens, scenic vistas, and abundant wildlife.
The tiny seaside town of Aberystwyth in the north of the country is the historical heart of Wales and the birthplace of the Welsh language, but the town also really knows how to have a good time. It is home to the University of Wales and its 10,000 students, who take full advantage of Aberystwyth's numerous pubs and bars, as well as its restaurants and shops. The students bring energy and fun to the town, which is affectionately known simply as Aber. Aberystwyth is quite isolated by UK standards, but Swansea is only 70 miles (110km) to the south. The popularity of the town as a holiday resort, as well as the population of foreign students, ensures that it is easily accessible by rail and bus. Aberystwyth is prettily situated near the confluence of the rivers Ystwyth and Rheidol, on the west coast of Wales. The town has beautiful views over Cardigan Bay and a lovely long promenade, with two stretches of beach divided by the castle. Historical sites like the ruins of Aberystwyth Castle and Constitution Hill provide pleasant vistas and are interesting attractions in their own right. The town is modern in appearance, but still boasts some historic buildings and many wonderful cultural attractions. Aberystwyth also offers active pursuits like water sports, hiking, boat trips, and a steam railway.
Holyhead, located on the northwest side of tiny Holy Island near Anglesey, is a picturesque town with wonderful rugged terrain and fantastic views created by the rocky coastline. Holyhead Mountain is the highest point, and its summit provides panoramic views that extend to Ireland, the Isle of Man, and Cumbria. Holyhead has long been an important link between Wales and Ireland, and its port is busy with ferry traffic to Dublin. The town itself is built around several historic sites, including the prehistoric hill fort Mynydd y Twr, the Roman fort of Caer Gybi, and the 6th-century St Cybi's Church, which was built inside a Roman fort. Holyhead itself is a vibrant town of about 12,000 residents, boasting a number of shops and restaurants, a maritime museum, and the Canolfan Ucheldre Centre, which functions as the artistic and cultural heart of Holy Island. Sailing, power boating, and fishing are popular activities in this marine-minded town, and the sandy beaches of Porth Trwyn, Borth Wen, and Porth Tywn Mawr are popular for watersports. Meanwhile, there are plenty of activities in Holyhead to keep active types busy, including golf, horseback riding, hiking, wildlife-spotting, and catching a local football match.
Wales has a temperate climate, with temperatures rarely reaching extremes. As with the rest of the UK, the weather is highly unpredictable. Coastal areas are warm in summer, although the country generally receives more rain and less sunshine than England. On the other hand, Wales is almost always warmer and drier than Scotland.
In summer, between June and August, the average temperatures range between 47°F (8°C) and 66°F (19°C) in Wales. July is the warmest and driest month of the year, but even in July some rain is likely. May, which is late spring, is the sunniest month of the year, but it is still notably cooler than the summer months, with an average high temperature of only 58°F (14°C).
In winter, between December and February, the average temperatures range between 34°F (1°C) and 45°F (7°C). Between October and January Wales is very wet, with 15 to 17 days of rain each month, on average. Snow is possible in the winter months but is rare, except on high ground. Fog and frost is fairly common.
May to August is the best time to travel to Wales as it is comparatively sunny and dry. Summer is the peak tourist season.
This popular restaurant in the Mermaid Quay offers views of the harbour and the Millenium Centre through its big windows. You can enjoy cuisine from Wales and other parts of the UK, with a menu bursting with comfort food like chargrilled Welsh steaks, Scottish baked salmon fillets, and slow-cooked lamb shank. They have lunch specials on Sundays, and the chic dining room is both child and wheelchair-friendly.
Located in bustling Westgate Street, Zero Degrees is popular as both a restaurant and bar. The menu focuses on pizza, pasta, and salad, with fresh mussel pots being a house specialty. The real draw of Zero Degrees is the on-site microbrewery, which produces beers in a range of styles with international flavours. Open Monday to Saturday from 12pm-midnight, and Sunday from 12pm-11pm.
For an authentic Welsh pub experience, The Goat Major is one of the best in central Cardiff. The menu is made up of traditional Welsh pies, including Welsh Steak and Ale Pie, Pork and Cider Pie, Rabbit Pot Pie, and the award-winning Wye Valley Pie. With classic decor and a good selection of local beers, this is a good place to stop after a tour of Cardiff Castle, as it's just down the road.
Located in a former bank vault beneath Cardiff, encompassing both character and charm, the Potted Pig seeks to celebrate modern British food and phenomenal gin. The menu is seasonal; ever-changing with a strong emphasis on using only the best local produce, diners can expect dishes that are influenced by French cuisine and New York grill fare. The chefs cook food that excites them, focusing on fresh ingredients, big flavours, and generous portions.
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