Wales is one of the United Kingdom’s constituent countries. The country has a thriving Celtic and Druidical culture with the Welsh language by almost a fifth of the population. Wales has scenic mountains, coastlines, imposing castles from the past, and much of Britain’s industrial heritage.
It’s no surprise to know that Wales was once an independent nation (though internally divided into various feudal city-states) until King Edward I of England defeated Llywelyn the Last of Wales in 1282, the nation fell under the jurisdiction of England. At first, it was ruled as a separate country, but since the famous Acts of Union in 1707, Wales has been part of the United Kingdom which includes England, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.
Places To Go In Wales
Wales has many picturesque cities and towns. Below are some of the notable places and touristy destinations worth exploring:
- Cardiff — the largest city and capital of Wales, and a major UK tourism center.
- Bangor — small, picturesque university city.
- Swansea — Wales’ city by the sea is also the second largest urban area and gateway to the Gower.
- Aberystwyth — coastal town with a large student population.
- Caernarfon — site of Caernarfon Castle, one of Wales’ largest and best-preserved castles.
- Conwy — medieval, fortified town with the impressive castles and quaint shops.
- Hay-on-Wye — the “book capital” of the UK, home to the annual literary festival.
- Tenby — medieval walled town and elegant seaside resort.
- Wrexham — largest town in North Wales.
- Anglesey – large island, home to the town with the UK’s longest place name.
- Brecon Beacons National Park
- Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
- Snowdonia National Park – popular mountaineering destination
- Gower Peninsula
Things To Do In Wales
Wales has many significant attractions, and listed below are a few of the most notable jewels in the outdoor attractions. To protect the environment certain parts of Wales have been designated as “National Parks” or as “Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty”.
Wales has three National Parks. These tend to cover some very large areas and it should, therefore, come as no surprise, that some of Wales’ most important scenery can be found within its National Parks.
Brecon Beacons National Park
Located in the Midwest region, it is full of spectacular mountain scenery and castles, pretty highlands turned into a national park with weaving streams, waterfalls, and canals.
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
Located in South Wales, Pembrokeshire Coast is full beautiful and dramatic coastal scenery.
Snowdonia National Park
Located in Northern Wales, Snowdonia National Park covers Wales’ highest mountains, and considered by some to be the most beautiful and poetic in Britain.
Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
Other beautiful and scenic areas which do not have National Park status, have the alternative status of Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). These areas tend to cover smaller areas than “National Parks”, they are nevertheless worth exploring.
The Isle of Anglesey
The isle is predominantly coastal, covering most of the island’s 125 miles coastline.
Gower Peninsula, Swansea
The UK’s first designated area of outstanding natural beauty, covers most of the peninsula.
The peninsula sticking out westwards beyond Snowdonia, in the north-west of the country.
Clwydian Range and Dee Valley
A range of hills running southwards from the coast at Prestatyn, Denbighshire in the north-east of the country, close to the border with England, now extended to include the spectacular hills around the river Dee near Llangollen.
The Wye Valley
The Wye Valley straddles the southern end of the England/Wales border between Hereford and Chepstow.
World Heritage Sites
A number of UNESCO sites can be visited, including the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct – near Chirk and of course the North Wales Castles built in the decades after the invasion or conquest of Wales by England in the thirteenth century, representing the most advanced military technology of the time, being compared with the Crusader Castles of the Middle East. Castles of note being Caernarfon, Conwy, and Harlech.
The key listed historic building worth visiting include Caerphilly castle, the second largest in the UK, Pembroke castle, Raglan castle, the ruins of Tintern Abbey and the incredibly preserved and restored Elizabethan house Plas Mawr in Conwy.
Museums & Galleries
There is several good museums and galleries to visit in Walse. Entry to national museums is free, although expect a charge for car parking. Some of best ones are:
The National Museum, Cardiff – collection of paintings, archaeological finds, and geological exhibits
St Fagans National History Museum, Cardiff – many historic buildings, relocated from their original site
The National Slate Museum, Llanberis
Big Pit (National Coal Museum), Blaenafon
The National Woollen Museum, Dre-Fach Felindre, near Llandysul
The National Roman Legionary Museum, Caerleon, Newport
The National Waterfront Museum (maritime and industrial past), Swansea
Note: You can also visit one of the many stately homes, gardens, and estate parks in Walse. One of the most visited being the National Botanic Garden of Wales near Carmarthen.
Heritage railways are more generally thought of as pleasurable attractions rather than ways to get around, although the Ffestiniog Railway, initially depended on gravity and horsepower, from Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog can be used to link places on main rail lines, and the opening of the Welsh Highland Railway has created a useful link between Caernarfon, Beddgelert, and Porthmadog.
The Vale of Rheidol Railway provides a novel way from Aberystwyth to Devil’s Bridge. They are all historic lines that have been either preserved or restored with steam a major feature on these lines. Others include Bala Lake Railway, Brecon Mountain Railway, Gwili Railway, Llanberis Lake Railway, Welshpool and Llanfair Railway, Talyllyn Railway the World’s first heritage railway, and perhaps the best known of all the Snowdon Mountain Railway.
Wales’ offers some spectacular coastal and mountainous scenery. Which offers the opportunity for various activity holidays.
Visitors can walk or go for a small or long hike on the Wales Coast Path following the entire coastline of Wales or Offa’s Dyke Path near the border of Wales and England. For the more experienced Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales and offers ideal hiking opportunities and Pen y Fan, is the highest mountain in South Wales, situated in the Brecon Beacons is 886 m (2,907 ft) high.
Cadair Idris, close to the Mid-Wales coast, overlooking Dolgellau to the north and Bro Dysynni to the south-west is another very popular mountain. It has good rail access on both North and South sides from the Cambrian Coast Line, but this is virtually at sea level. The actual summit is 893 m (2,930 ft) above sea level. This makes for a strenuous walk which takes most of the day.
Scuba diving, exploration beneath its surrounding seas, is an activity not many tourists think of when visiting Wales. Although weather conditions are not always perfect, water temperatures are quite chilly, scuba diving in Wales is one of the best experiences for divers around Europe.
You can find whales, dolphins, plenty of seals but also superb coral formations including seahorses and several types of coral fish.
The Isle of Anglesey has been encircled by shipping routes for centuries resulting in striking shipwrecks of all sizes. Pembrokeshire with its scenic islands Skomer Island, Skokholm Island and the isolated rocks called the Smalls are known for their colonies of seals and many shipwrecks.
Wales is a great destination for Birdwatching, the long coastline provides excellent habitats for seabirds while the hinterland is home to many birds of prey. Notable destinations are Bwlch Nant yr Arian Forest Visitor Centre for red kites, Cors Dyfi Reserve for Osprey, while for seabird must visit are the South Stack Cliffs RSPB reserve and the Conwy RSPB reserve.
Over the centuries, there have been minor revolts aimed at gaining independence, but in general, Wales has accepted its place in the UK and has made notable contributions to its politics and culture. Wales has remained a bastion of Celtic culture, and the Welsh language continues to be a topic of pride and is widely spoken, especially in rural areas, and is in fact now taught in all Welsh schools.
Wales is part of Britain and so part of the UK, but should not be confused as part of England. Therefore, it is correct to call Welsh people British, but not English, as it is not only erroneous but offensive too.
Nonetheless, referring to Welsh people as English is no more correct than referring to Dutch people as Germans or Polish people as Russians. Doing so deliberately will cause annoyance: it is such a crass error that people may well think you are trying to start an argument.
All of this doesn’t reflect any personal dislike of England or English people: more a long-standing sense that Wales and its distinctive features are often overlooked or ignored at the UK level and internationally.
Criticisms or jokes about the Welsh language are also deeply offensive to people whose first language is Welsh, and often to other Welsh people too.
Welsh society is generally warm, informal and welcoming to residents and outsiders alike, with a tradition of acceptance and tolerance (for instance, there is no history of racist incidents or support for racist political parties in Wales’s larger cities).
Wales is much like the rest of the UK regarding attitudes towards homosexuality. Displays of homosexuality are not always commonplace, possibly due to the rural nature of some parts of the country, although outward displays of same-sex affection are unlikely to cause a problem. Larger towns and cities are also friendly and open-minded, but issues are not unheard of.
Music Scene In Wales
Wales is often referred to as “the land of song”, and is notable for its harpists, male voice choirs, and a plethora of solo artists like Charlotte Church. Cardiff has a big rock scene and has produced some of the biggest acts in the UK today. The principal Welsh festival of music and poetry is the annual National Eisteddfod.
The Llangollen International Eisteddfod echoes the National Eisteddfod but provides an opportunity for the singers and musicians of the world to perform. Traditional music and dance in Wales is supported by a myriad of societies. The Welsh Folk Song Society has published a number of collections of songs and tunes.
Pre-Industrial Revolution Wales
Prior to the industrial revolution, Wales was a sparsely populated country dependent on local agricultural and pastoral trade. However, due to the abundance of coal in the South Wales valleys, there was a phenomenal growth in population and a dynamic shift in the economy of South Wales during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The area of central Glamorgan, in particular, became a national focus for coal mining and steel production, while the ports of Cardiff and Swansea established themselves as commercial centers, offering banking, shopping, and insurance facilities. Moreover, places on the north coast, such as Rhyl and Llandudno, developed into fun-fair type resorts serving the expanding populations of the major industrial cities of Lancashire.
In recent years, coal mining has all but ceased and heavy industry declined. However, Wales’ attractive scenery and rich history have lent itself to the development of tourism, while at the same time, Cardiff and Swansea have retained their rankings as centers of commerce and cutting-edge industry.
Cardiff, which was designated as the capital of Wales in 1955, has seen a huge amount of investment in institutions in recent decades through ‘devolution’, also giving rise to a significant amount of political power being passed down from Westminster. Since 1988, Wales has had its own legislature separate from Westminster, known as the National Assembly for Wales, with the First Minister being the leader of the Welsh government.
If it is not raining at the moment that means it is about to rain. The temperate climate does, however, produce the beautiful intense green landscape. Summer average temperature is around 20 °C (68 °F) while spring and autumn are about 14 °C (57 °F).
But be aware the weather varies substantially depending on the location and landscape, the coastal area being much milder than in the mountains.
English is spoken throughout the country, but Welsh is also spoken by almost 20% of the population (mainly in the north or west region). The locals may speak in Welsh among themselves but will quickly switch back to English to converse with visitors.
The most direct contact you will have with the Welsh language is with the road signs, which are often written in Welsh and English. It is well worth brushing up on the rules for pronouncing Welsh words; otherwise, you will almost certainly pronounce many Welsh place-names incorrectly.
There are several Welsh regional accents. However, no Welsh accent should present much difficulty to anyone with a decent command of English. ‘Aye’, is commonly used to indicate ‘yes’ and ‘ta-ra’ can be said instead of ‘goodbye’.
Locals will rarely expect visitors to attempt to speak Welsh. Using words like ‘bore da’ (good morning), ‘iechyd da’ (cheers) and ‘diolch’ (thank-you) will be greatly appreciated in some parts of the country.
Most Welsh people will react well when interest is shown in their language. Welsh is now taught in schools and most younger people have some knowledge of the language. Earlier (as early as just a generation ago), the use of Welsh language at home and in the community was officially discouraged.
Driving vs. Taxi
It is perfectly safe to drive on Welsh roads. However, care should be taken on rural and minor roads, some of which are extremely narrow and poorly marked. In addition, colliding with a sheep or (even worse) a cow can severely damage your car, not to mention the unfortunate animal.
Many of these roads pass through some of the most beautiful parts of Wales, but just ensure that at least as much attention is paid to the road as to the scenery!
On road signs there is no color coding to distinguish the languages, nor is there a standard protocol as to which language appears on top, although generally the Welsh name will appear first in majority Welsh-speaking areas, and the English name will appear first in majority non-Welsh-speaking areas.
Where the English and Welsh names for a town are the same (like Aberystwyth, Bangor or Llanelli), only one name will appear.
In an emergency call 999 or 112 and ask for Ambulance, Fire, Police or Coast Guard when connected. For non-urgent Police matters, dial 101 to be connected to the nearest police station anywhere in Wales.
Wales is one of the safest parts of the United Kingdom and crime rates continue to fall. Visitors should be aware that alcohol-related violent crime is not uncommon. It may be wise to avoid the centers of large towns and cities on weekend nights and after large sporting events. That said, it is unlikely that tourists would be targeted in such a situation.
Pickpocketing and mugging are rare.
Note: Smoking in enclosed public areas, which includes restaurants and cafes, is illegal in Wales, and there is an on-the-spot fine of £50 for those who violate the ban.
While generally escaping the extreme weather, it should not be forgotten that the British Isles enjoy a famously changeable climate and few places more so than Wales. As such, it is extremely important to be prepared when venturing into the countryside and especially onto the mountains. Here, what starts as a sunny day can rapidly turn into a blizzard, storm-force gale or a disorienting, chilling fog.
Every year, many have to be rescued from Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons and some lives are lost due to falls and exposure. Ensure you have suitable clothing, a map, and a fully-charged mobile phone before setting off.
On the coast be aware of tides as you can be cut off on rapidly disappearing sea level land.
ATMs are widespread, even in small towns: they can be found in many post offices, convenience stores, and petrol stations as well as in banks. However, many banks in small towns have closed, and ATMs in other locations often charge you (maybe £1-£2) for withdrawing cash.
As in the rest of the UK, beware of ATM fraud, which is becoming increasingly common. The fraud works either by ‘skimming’ your card (reading the details on it with a device attached to the ATM) or trapping it in the machine and using a hidden camera to record your PIN as you enter it.
Never use an ATM with a card slot which appears to have been tampered with, and always cover the keypad with your hand, wallet or purse when entering your PIN. If you find an ATM which seems to have been tampered with, or if it retains your card, report this at once to the bank which owns it and to the police.
Cost of Travel
Costs are broadly comparable with the rest of the UK; hotels, bars, and restaurants in Cardiff are relatively expensive, while the rest of the country is perhaps slightly cheaper. Petrol and diesel are often much more expensive in rural Wales than in the main towns and cities.
Wales may not be associated with any particular dishes (with the possible exception of lamb) but there are a number of unique foods that you might like to try. The quality of local ingredients is often very high, with a drive towards locally sourced, organic produce in many restaurants in recent years.
Most big towns in Welsh towns usually having takeaways places, and Chinese, Indian, Kebab, etc. cuisine also available. The country and village pubs can also be real treats to discover.
Wales is noted for the high quality of its lamb, due to the luscious green grass they graze on. Often served with mint sauce and vegetables.
Leek soup (‘cawl cennin’ in Welsh)
A popular dish, as is ‘Rarebit’, Welsh cheese on toast. Other things worth tasting include laverbread (made from an edible seaweed); bara brith (fruit bread); cawl (a lamb stew); Welsh (bakestone) cakes; and roast minted lamb.
Wales is considered by some to produce the finest sheep meat in the world; it certainly does have a flavor which is distinct from meat with origins in other well-known lamb-producing regions.
Cawl or Lobscouse (North)
A rich, sweet bread loaf speckled with dried fruit. Similar to a fruitcake.
A melted cheese dish often spiced with onions, ale, and herbs and served on toasted bread.
Opposite to what the name may imply, larver bread is not a bread but a purée made from seaweed (the same kind that is used in the preparation of Japanese nori). It is generally rolled into small cakes mixed with oatmeal and served at breakfast alongside bacon rashers, though it is delicious simply heated and served on buttered toast. This dish is known throughout Wales but especially in the Swansea area and can be purchased raw at Swansea Market.
Mainly due to an influx of Italians into Wales, the area has some of the best cones and tubs in the country. The following are UK national award winners: Frank’s Ice Cream in Carmarthenshire, Joe’s Ice-cream in Swansea, and Fecci & Sons Ice Cream in Tenby.
A delicious type of griddle scone, usually containing dried fruit or sometimes jam and covered in sugar. Best eaten warm.
Although the temperance movement was strong in Wales; beer was and still is a popular drink. There are a large number of small independent breweries in Wales, of which one well-known brand is Double Dragon from Felinfoel Brewery near Llanelli (Wales’ oldest) is a must to taste.
Wrexham Lager, after an absence of over a decade, is back to its former glory. One the largest breweries in Glamorgan, Brains brews a decent range of ales.
After an absence of over 100 years, Wales rejoined the club of Celtic countries that produce whiskey in 2004 with the launch of the Welsh Whisky Company. This distillery is based out of the village of Penderyn, on the edge of the Brecon Beacons near Aberdare in South Wales. Penderyn whiskey has received a number of awards and makes an interesting addition to the world of whiskey.
December 12, 2017 4:58 pm