Wales is a tiny country with a big personality. Though only 20,000 square kilometers in size, Wales manages to pack in epic castles, rugged shorelines, sprawling national parks, and a village named Llanfairpwllgwygyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogoch.
Though technically part of the United Kingdom, Wales retains a distinct Celtic heritage that includes the Welsh language and yes, welsh rarebit. Picturesque? Definitely. Provincial? Not in the least.
Wales travel resources
One of four countries that make up the United Kingdom, Wales is located on the western peninsula of the island of Great Britain. Wales shares an eastern border with England, and the Irish Sea lies between Wales and Ireland to the west. Wales itself is divided into three regions: North, Mid, and South, with the Cambrian Mountains traversing much of the country.
Wales first came under England’s jurisdiction in 1282. While there is still a rugged individualism to Wales and there’s a fair bit of good-natured joking about the English, Wales today is represented in both the United Kingdom and European Parliaments. Coal mining in southern Wales brought economic prosperity to the mostly agricultural economy, but the country’s unspoiled natural beauty and unique culture have made Wales a major tourist destination.
Nature lovers can explore the large parts of Wales which have been protected by the government in three National Parks and as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and this exploring doesn’t have to end at the coast. Scuba divers can brave the cold water and visit WWII shipwrecks or swim with dolphins and whales.
Featured: Accommodation options
City focus: Cardiff
Cardiff is the capital of Wales, serving as both a link to the country’s rich past and a nod to its modern future. The population is small, under 350,000 people, and Cardiff has a plethora of green space in Bute Park. Once a gritty shipping port, it is now a major shopping destination, and houses both the ancient Cardiff Castle and the architecturally-pleasing Museum of Wales and Wales Millennium Centre. Rugby fans will find themselves at home at the Millennium Stadium which seats 74,000.
For exploring the city, Cardiff Bay is a good starting point with cosmopolitan restaurants and shops sporting harbour views. From there, the Cardiff Museum and Cardiff Castle showcase ancient Wales and illustrate the modernisation of the city. Pop over to the Central Market for Welsh handicrafts or a quick snack at one of the fish-and-chip shops. After nightfall, Cardiff has a plethora of pubs and bars to choose from.Read more about Wales
Getting to and from Wales
Flights: There is only one major international airport, Cardiff International Airport, located nine miles south of the capital. While there are no direct flights from the United States to Wales, numerous flights arrive daily from the rest of the UK and Europe.
Trains: Train is the most popular and affordable way to arrive in Wales. From London, trains leave Paddington Station and arrive in Cardiff two hours later for a cost of about £32. Manchester and Liverpool send regular trains to northern Wales.
Ferry: Ferry service from Dublin, Ireland to Holyhead in northern Wales is available four times a day. The crossing takes less than two hours and costs about £37 one way, without a car.
Coach or car: Roads and highways in South Wales are well-maintained and provide access to the rest of the United Kingdom.
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Spaceships are brilliant for UK driving conditions. These converted people-movers can easily handle the twists and turns of the United Kingdom’s scenic roads while being packed full of features: a comfy bed, cooker, fridge, DVD player, plenty of storage space, plates and cutlery, and cup-holders. If you’re not buying your own vehicle, these are the best value-for-money rentals for independent travellers. Book now.
Getting around Wales
Because of Wales’s mountain ranges and infrastructure, most travelling within the country is done along the east-west axis, and major cities such as Cardiff and Swansea have very straightforward connecting routes. Road signs are usually written in both Welsh and English.
The bus is usually faster and more economical than the train, but can get stuck in traffic.
Traws Cambria services connect North, South, and Mid Wales from the hub in Cardiff, and Megabus and National Express also run through Wales.
There are three British lines that that run to Holyhead, Aberystwyth, and South Wales.
Heritage railways throughout Wales are a popular option for passengers who want to enjoy the scenery rather than as a form of actual transportation.
Car and camper rental
Visitors who want to stay in South and Mid Wales should have no problem navigating by car. Roads become more difficult to navigate in North Wales, as direct routes can be hard to find.
Top 10 things to do in Wales
- Hike. At 1,130 metres, Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales. On exceptionally clear days hikers are rewarded with views of Ireland, England, and the Isle of Man.
- Eat rarebit. Wales isn’t famous for its cuisine, with the exception of rarebit: a sauce of melted cheddar cheese, ale, and herbs, spooned over hot toast with an optional fried egg swimming on top.
- Scuba dive. Pembrokeshire in southern Wales is a virtual underwater graveyard for ships. If the thought of diving among the wrecks makes you shiver, divers can also observe less-eerie seals, whales, and coral reefs.
- Castle-hop. Wales is called the “Land of Castles.” Some counts estimate that there are 400 of them ranging from decrepit ruins to sprawling estates belonging to the titled elite. Cardiff Castle boasts beautiful grounds, Fonmon Castle is still used as a residence, and Harlech Castle rivals those built in the Middle East.
- Do a pony trek. A unique way to enjoy Wale’s contrasting countryside: ride a horse through snowy mountains, gallop along a sandy beach, or simply enjoy the views of sweeping cliffs from the top of your mount on a leisurely ride to the pub.
- Visit the Telegraph Hay Festival. An annual gathering for two weeks in May that attracts and celebrates some of the world’s most interesting comedians, writers, and performers. Past participants have included everyone from David Sedaris to Ralph Fiennes.
- Visit the Big Pit. A UNESCO Heritage Site and museum that allows visitors to go 300 feet underground with an actual coal miner. See firsthand what a coal mine is actually like.
- Play golf. It’s generally assumed that golfing is for Scotland, but Wales has a long history of the elitist sport as well. The Celtic Manor Resort hosted the 2010 Ryder Cup and is open to the public.
- Watch rugby. The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff hosts the Northern Hemisphere Rugby Tournament, though fans who can’t get a ticket can soak up just as much rugby culture watching the match in a local pub.
- Visit the national parks. Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is the United Kingdom’s only coastal national park. This place is a backpacker’s dream with camping available on the grounds. Visitors can enjoy surfing, boat rides, and endless hikes.
This page by Megan Wood.