Wales Holiday Planning Guide
Wales attracts tourism with its stunning landscape, a wealth of history, and a huge number of imposing castles. Yet behind the spectacular scenery and the ancient fortress walls hides the simple warmth of the Welsh people, whose pride in their Celtic heritage is exceeded only by a love for their homeland. This may be a relatively small country, but its spirit is truly immense. Your Wales itinerary may just be made up of joining the locals at the pub or a village rugby game to soak up the famous Welsh spirit and learn about "hiraeth," a deep bond the Welsh feel with their land. Though compact, Wales has no shortage of secluded corners easily and quickly explored via an extensive network of footpaths, which makes a trip to Wales a true hiker's paradise.
Places to Visit in Wales
Regions of WalesNorth Wales
: Home to the country's highest peaks and the most distinct cultural traditions, rugged North Wales offers adventures for the body, mind, and soul in equal measure. South Wales
: Combining lively cities with swathes of verdant countryside, Southern Wales draws visitors with its mixed array of things to do, ranging from fine dining and designer shopping to fishing trips and rock climbing.Pembrokeshire
: Straddling the country's southwesternly shore, Pembrokeshire boasts award-winning beaches and a coastal national park, making it a popular Wales holiday destination. Powys
: The rural region of Powys delights visitors with its sleepy villages and acres of lush countryside, often described as being "a thousand shades of green." Carmarthenshire
: Nicknamed the "Garden of Wales," Carmarthenshire's landscape of mountains and sandy beaches boasts some of the oldest and best-preserved castles in the United Kingdom. Ceredigion
: This seaside county is best known for its spectacular coastal path, which winds its way through Ceredigion's picturesque scenery and charming villages.
Cities in WalesLlandudno
: Regarded as the "Queen of the Welsh Resorts" since 1864, Llandudno entertains with traditional British seaside activities, many of which can be found on the Victorian promenade and Wales' longest pier. Cardiff
: Emerging vibrantly from a post-industrial slumber, Cardiff serves as the country's capital, providing some of its best shopping and dining alongside five historical castles. Conwy County
: With its ancient buildings and charming quayside, it comes as no surprise that the walled market town of Conwy ranks as a favorite destination on Wales itineraries. Llangollen
: Scenic and small, the northern town of Llangollen makes an ideal Wales vacation idea for those who enjoy a laid-back village vibe, best enjoyed by the river. Llanberis
: Sitting in the shadow of Wales' tallest mountain, Llanberis serves as a center for outdoor adventuring, including pony treks, hiking, and climbing.Bangor
: Though small, the coastal city of Bangor is abuzz with a lively atmosphere--bolstered in part by its student population--and serves as a great jumping-off point for exploring stunning Snowdonia.
Things to Do in Wales
Popular Wales Tourist AttractionsSt Fagans National Museum of History
: Featuring historical buildings from across the country, the open-air St. Fagans: National History Museum grants an insight into the lifestyle and architecture of the Welsh people throughout the ages..Great Orme
: An imposing limestone headland, the famous Great Orme looms over Llandudno, providing superb views of the area, a home for a plethora of wildlife, and the dramatic setting for ancient historical attractions. Cardiff Bay Wales
: One of Europe's largest waterfront developments, Cardiff Bay offers numerous shopping, dining, and entertainment options.Cardiff Castle
: With a rich history spanning 2,000 years, the predominantly medieval Cardiff Castle represents one of the most popular tourist attractions in Wales. Folly Farm Adventure Park and Zoo
: Exotic creatures and farmyard favorites await visitors at Folly Farm Adventure Park and Zoo, also home to an indoor vintage carnival. Portmeirion Village
: Designed to emulate an Italian coastal town, Portmeirion Village transports visitors to the Mediterranean with its brightly-colored buildings hosting restaurants and boutiques.Llandudno Pier
: The place to be seen in Victorian society, Llandudno Pier remains a pleasant spot for a stroll, offering superb views and plenty places to stop for a cup of tea.
Doctor Who Experience Cardiff Bay: A tour of Doctor Who Experience Cardiff Bay immerses visitors in the hit TV show, with an interactive "episode" and heaps of memorabilia on display. Rhossili Bay
: A village situated in a designated Area of Outstanding Beauty, picturesque Rhossili Bay boasts 4.8 km (3 mi) of soft sandy beach, considered one of Britain's finest stretches. Great Orme Tramway
: Perhaps the most relaxing way to ascend this mighty bluff, the Great Orme Tramway dates back to 1902 and is considered an iconic Wales trip.
Planning a Wales Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Wales with Kids
Offering tons of outdoor activities alongside world-class museums, Wales is a family-friendly destination with a variety of attractions to entertain kids of all ages. Cardiff
serves as the country's cultural hub, with museums packed full of fun, interactive exhibits that children and teenagers will enjoy, such as World of Boats Cardiff Bay
and Doctor Who Experience Cardiff Bay. Coastal destinations, particularly bustling Llandudno
, deserve a spot on families' Wales itineraries, as they allow kids to run free on the beach or hit the amusements arcade if the sun isn't shining. Those with energetic children that don't like to sit still should consider visiting Llanberis
during their Wales vacation to take advantage of its many exhilarating adventure activities.
Things to Do in Wales with Kids
Wherever you find yourself on your Wales trip, there's bound to be an array of interesting things to do with kids. Enchanting castles with long and storied histories can be found across the entire country, providing a fascinating glimpse into British history that children can engage in and enjoy. Many even offer kid-friendly activities, such as the treasure hunts held at Powis Castle and Garden
. Wales' abundance of farmyards and small zoos make ideal stops for animal-loving little ones, while scenic tourists trains, including the Aberystwyth Cliff Railway
and Brecon Mountain Railway
, can be a relaxing family activity.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Wales
You can make the most of your family holiday in Wales by renting a car, giving you easy access to the country's rural delights and letting you explore at your own pace. Many of Wales' top attractions lie quite far from urban centers, but public transport outside of cities is infrequent at best and may be difficult to navigate with little ones in tow. Wet weather is a major consideration year-round; it's a good idea to pack plenty of rain gear for your kids so they aren't confined indoors. Children are welcomed by most Wales attractions but will need to be on their best behavior if visiting a church, particularly during services.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Wales
Cuisine of Wales
Hearty, warming, and packed full of fresh ingredients, the local cuisine certainly merits a sampling on your Wales vacation. Stews and roast meats can be found almost anywhere in the country, particularly lamb dishes, while "bara brith," a sweet fruit bread, remains a popular afternoon treat. Coastal destinations such as Llandudno
boast a strong fishing culture and seafood, particularly cockles, is plentiful here. Wales' plethora of dairy farms means cheese features prominently, notably as the main ingredient in one of the country's most famous dishes, Welsh rarebit. Make sure to try Caerphilly
's famed crumbly cheese on your Wales tour.
Shopping in Wales
You can find a wide range of familiar international brands in Wales' main cities, but for the best shopping experience visit the country's independent stores. Quirky family-owned businesses can be found throughout Wales, with Cardiff
's Victorian Castle Quarter Arcade
offering a particularly fine selection. The country's strong farming history lends itself to a large number of local produce markets, including Swansea
's bustling market. Several stalls also sell handmade goods, which make great souvenirs from your vacation in Wales.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Wales
History of Wales
Much of Wales' rich history has been defined and shaped by its strong national pride and enduring struggle to preserve its vibrant Celtic roots. The Celts first migrated to modern-day Wales in around 1000 BCE, but a distinct Welsh identity didn't truly emerge until after the Roman withdrawal from Britain in the 5th century CE. Wales only officially became a country in 1536, as a result of King Henry VIII's Act of Union.
For much of the preceding era, Wales existed as a rarely united collection of independent kingdoms. Internal struggles and pressure from the English and, later, Norman conquerors of England, meant that these kingdoms became more and more influenced by the English crown. Nonetheless, the Welsh did not bow easily and violent revolt was a frequent occurrence. As a result, English King Edward I was forced to commission a number of castles in the 13th century to help quell rebellious activities. Include atmospheric sites such as Harlech Castle
and Conwy Castle
on your Wales itinerary for insight into this tumultuous time.
The death of the King of Wales Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1282 marked Edward I's conquest of Wales; the uprisings, however, continued. Prince of Wales Owain Glyndwr succeeded in securing Welsh independence in the early 15th century, though self-rule was short-lived. Wales officially became part of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707 but continues to champion its unique language and culture.
Before the British industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, Wales was a sparsely populated country dependent on agriculture. The growth of the coal mining industry and the abundance of the fossil fuel in Wales' southern valleys lead to a period of huge population growth. In recent decades, coal mining in the UK has shrunk significantly and the Welsh economy has become more focused on tourism and service industries. To learn more about the country's proud mining heritage on your Wales vacation, visit the Big Pit: National Coal Museum
Customs of Wales
The customs of Wales are, by and large, very similar to those of the rest of the United Kingdom and easy to navigate. Politeness is highly valued, so remember to say "please" and "thank you" and respectfully wait your turn in lines on your Wales holiday. While friendly, most people are private and will not appreciate many questions about their personal life; likewise, they also regard their own personal space highly. When walking on country paths or hiking routes, it is customary to say hello to other walkers you encounter.
Holidays & Festivals in Wales
Wales observes Christian holidays, such as Easter and Christmas, and on these days many businesses close and people enjoy a couple of days off work. As well as religious holidays, Wales boasts a number of festivals and events that celebrate its proud culture, language, and history. St. David's Day, March 1, commemorates the country's patron saint and can be considered a celebration of all things Welsh. If you tour Wales around this time you may notice some people with leeks (the national vegetable) or daffodils (the national flower) pinned to their clothes. Eisteddfodau, a festival with origins that date back to the 12th century, celebrate Welsh literature and performing arts. Each August, a national eisteddfod takes place over eight days.
Contemporary music festivals are very popular throughout the UK with Wales' premier festival, Green Man, taking place during summer in the Brecon Beacons.
Wales Travel Tips
Climate of Wales
Wales is small country with a moderate climate all over, but temperature can vary drastically across the nation and throughout the day due to the multitude of mountains and extensive coastline. When sightseeing in Wales, it's important to bear in mind that this is one of the wettest countries in Europe and it's wise to always carry a waterproof jacket, even in the drier summer months. The southwestern coast, particularly Pembrokeshire
, receives the most sunshine in the country, making it an ideal spot for a relaxing beach holiday in Wales. While winters here are fairly mild, many attractions in the chillier mountain regions close from October to March.
Transportation in Wales
Numerous transportation options are available to you when you tour Wales. Long-distance buses and trains are convenient ways to travel from city to city, with buses taking longer but often costing less. You may be surprised by the amount of time it takes to travel between North
and South Wales
, a consequence of a significant mountain barrier. Driving is generally the most efficient and freeing way to sightsee in Wales and becomes almost a necessity in rural regions. The country's natural beauty and well-developed bike-path network make it a pleasant place to cycle.
Language of Wales
Wales is a bilingual nation, using both English and its own Gaelic tongue. While British English is spoken by almost all people in Wales and is the more frequently used language, it is not uncommon to overhear conversations in Welsh, which holds a special significance in Welsh culture. The Welsh Language Act 1993 necessitates that English and Welsh be treated on a basis of equality and you will find that official literature, including road signs, is printed in both languages. Welsh language is more commonly used in northern and western regions, though visitors are not expected to understand it.
Tipping in Wales
While tips are welcome in Wales, they are not considered necessary and should only be left when satisfied with service. Leaving a 10 to 15 percent tip is common at restaurants and some establishments will automatically add a gratuity charge to bills, particularly for large groups. If you take a taxi on your Wales vacation, you may want to encourage the driver to keep the change or round up the fare. Tips are not expected in pubs and coffee shops.