Wales

Clinging to the western edge of England, Wales is green and ruggedly beautiful, with mountainous inland scenery reaching out to a magnificent coastline.

The most diverse of Wales’ three regions, the south covers the area around Cardiff that stretches as far as the rugged coastline of Pembrokeshire. Pleasant seaside towns, such as Tenby, are within a four to five hour drive of London, and from Cardiff and Swansea you’re never more than half an hour away from some gorgeous little townships.

Mid-Wales – the country’s green, rural heart – is made up of traditional market towns and country villages, tiny seaside resorts, quiet roads, and rolling landscapes filled with sheep farms, forests and lakes. There are no cities here – the area’s largest town is barely more than a big village. The country masses its most dramatic splendour and fierce beauty in the north. Dominating the area is Snowdon, the highest peak in England and Wales at 1085 metres high. The mountain gives its name to the 2175km2 Snowdonia National Park, which extends southward all the way to Machynlleth in Mid-Wales.

History & Culture

The story of Wales begins with the Celts. The Celts began migrating from their central European homeland around 1000 BC. The recorded history of Wales begins with the arrival of the Romans on Welsh border in 48AD. At that time people spoke a Celtic language – Brythonic, the language that would eventually evolve into Welsh. It’s in 784 that Offa, King of Mercia builds a dyke from sea to sea, the first permanent boundary between the Welsh and English people. Offa’s Dyke shaped the territory of Wales. Fast forward to 1485, Henry Tudor defeats Richard III at Bosworth to become King of England. The Tudor dynasty had its origins in Wales and accelerated the integration of Welsh nobility into English public life. It is then in 1536 when the first Act of Union was passed between England and Wales. Wales becomes united politically with England and is governed by English law.

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 areas of central Glamorgan, in particular, became national centres for coal mining and steel production, while the ports of Cardiff and Swansea established themselves as commercial centres, offering banking, shopping and insurance facilities.

Wales has a distinctive culture including its own language, customs, holidays and music. Welsh culture also draws influences from English culture due to the history of these two countries, but remains distinct. Welsh culture is considered by many to be a facet of British culture, though due to the association of British culture with England, many Welsh people, particularly Welsh nationalists, would object to this statement.

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Natural Wonders

Compact but geologically diverse, Wales offers a multitude of opportunities for escaping into nature. It may not be wild in the classic sense – humans have been shaping this land for millennia – but there are plenty of lonely corners to explore, lurking behind mountains, within river valleys and along surf-battered cliffs. An extensive network of paths makes Wales a hiker's paradise – and thousands of people duck across the border from England each year for that reason alone. Things are even more untamed on the islands scattered just off the coast, some of which are important wildlife sanctuaries.

Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales, at an elevation of 1,085 metres above sea level, and the highest point in the British Isles outside the Scottish Highlands.Snowdon is easily conquerable and the views from the top are well worth the effort. However, if you really can’t be bothered to schlep to the top on foot, there’s a railway that will do the hard work for you. Since 1896 visitors have been travelling to Llanberis, to experience the unique rail journey to the Summit of the highest mountain in Wales and England.

 

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Outdoor Adventures

Stretching from the Welsh midlands almost to its northern coast, Snowdonia National Park covers a vast swath of North Wales. The park consists of rocky mountains, valleys clothed in oak woods, moorlands, lakes and rivers, all guaranteeing magical scenery. Its most famous attraction is the towering peak of Mount Snowdon. The view from the top is jaw-dropping: to the north-west you can see the Menai Strait and Anglesey; to the south, Harlech Castle and the Cadair Idris mountain range. On a really clear day you can make out the distant peaks of Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains to the south-east.

The wild, windswept uplands of Brecon Beacons are one of Wales’ most spectacular areas, and perfect for a hike or scenic drive. If you want to see it all from your car, any road that crosses the Beacons will reward you with beautiful views, but the best is the high, rippling A4069, between Brynamman and Llangadog in the park’s western end.

The smallest of the country’s three national parks, Pembrokeshire Coast, is no less striking in its beauty. The park has 13 blue-flag beaches and a host of arresting cliff-top drives and walks, including stretches of the newly designated Wales Coast Path.

Prefer the water? Sure, Wales doesn't scream tropical, but regardless of the weather, Wales is a superb beach-holiday destination. The beauty of the British coast is underrated, and Wales has some of the very best bits. When the sun is shining, the beaches fill up with kids building sandcastles and splashing about in the shallows. And when it's not, how about a bracing walk instead? The Wales Coast Path traces the country's entire length, so you're unlikely to run out of track.

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Must Do Experiences

Castles are an inescapable part of the Welsh landscape. They're absolutely everywhere. You could visit a different one every day for a year and still not see them all. Some watch over mountain passes, while others keep an eye on the city traffic whizzing by; some lie in enigmatic ruins, while others still have families living in them. There's also an altogether more inscrutable and far older set of stones to discover – the stone circles, dolmens and standing stones erected long before castles were ever dreamt up, before even histories were written.

Some of our picks are Conwy Castle in Conwy for it's historic feel and brilliant photo opportunities, Caernarfon Castle in Caernarfon for it's military history and Cardiff Castle in Cardiff for it's close proximity to town. 

If castles aren't your thing and you're more of a Rugby fan, you're in luck. Rugby is Wales' national game and when the Principality crowd begins to sing, the whole of Cardiff resonates. To watch a test here is to catch a glimpse of the Welsh psyche, especially when the Six Nations tournament is in full swing. However, if you can't get tickets to a match, you can still take a tour of Principality Stadium. During the tours you get to hang out in the dressing rooms (alas sans players), run through the tunnel to the recorded cheering of a game-day crowd and sit in the VIP box. Tours last about an hour and are held several times a day, except on event days.

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Points of Interest

Language
English, Welsh
Currency
Great British Pound (GBP)
Electricity
230V/50Hz
Time
The UK observes GMT during the winter months (10 hours behind AEST) & BST (British Summer Time) from the last weekend in March to the last weekend in October.
Visas

Generally, Australians travelling to the UK as tourists for a period of up to six months do not require a visa. However, it is ultimately the prerogative of the UK authorities to determine who is granted entry. Any individual they believe is entering the UK for any non-tourist purpose and does not hold the corresponding visa, may be refused entry. Australians planning to do paid or unpaid work, to volunteer or get married in the UK are required to obtain a visa before they depart Australia. For more information visit - www.smartraveller.gov.au.

Important Info
Tipping is not expected in Britain the way it is in some other countries. Although it's not necessary to tip, it's always greatly appreciated and will be greeted with that endearing British politeness.

Useful Phrases

Hello Helô
How are you? Sut ydych chi?
Thank you Diolch
My hovercraft is full of eels Mae fy hofrenfad yn llawn llyswennod

Best Time to Visit

Wales tends to be wetter than England, with slightly less sunshine. Temperatures in the coastal areas, however, can be very warm in summer ranging from 15°C to rare 25°C. Conditions in upland areas such as the peaks of Snowdonia or the Brecon Beacons can be changeable at all times of the year. Be prepared for sudden downpours in summer as well as winter. If you’re planning to lie on a beach, or camp in the dry, you’ll want to go in summer – between June and September – a period when you should book your accommodation as far in advance as possible. For reasonably good weather with less dense crowds go in April, May, September or October. For outdoor pursuits you’ll find June to October the warmest and driest for walking and climbing.
Activity Time
Visit one of the world's longest zip lines North Wales in Summer
Rafting in Cardiff Bay Any wet day - you'll get wet anyway & the water is warm
Hillwalks in the Brecon Beacons During winter with crisp blue skies & the crunch of snow underfoot
An eisteddfod - Welsh festival of music, literature and performance. Various Eisteddfods are held across the country between May - August

Getting Around

It’s easy to get around Wales by train, bus, car or even domestic flight. And if you’re keen to explore, you’ll find plenty of journeys that are wonderful experiences in their own right.

If you're planning a whirlwind tour of Wales by public transport, you might like to consider an Explore Wales pass. It allows free travel in Wales and adjacent areas of England on all rail routes and nearly all bus routes. The passes allow unlimited bus travel plus four days of train travel within an eight-day period. Cheaper passes are available if you're only wanting to visit South Wales or North and Mid-Wales. The passes can be bought at most staffed train stations in Wales. 

Car hire is another great way to get around (it's worthy to note that most lead-in hire cars are manual in Europe, you'll need to pay for an upgrade if you want to hire an automatic). Getting around North or South Wales is easy, but elsewhere roads are considerably slower, especially in the mountains and through Mid-Wales. To get from the northeast to the southeast, it's quickest to go via England. Rural roads are often single-track affairs with passing places only at intervals, and they can be treacherous in winter. In built-up areas be sure to check the parking restrictions as traffic wardens and wheel clampers can be merciless.

Want to save money? National Express operates long-distance intercity coach services along the south coast from Cardiff and Swansea to Pembrokeshire; from Wrexham, Llangollen in the North and Newtown to Aberystwyth on the west coast; and along the north coast from Prestatyn, Rhyl, Colwyn Bay, Llandudno and Bangor to Pwllheli. Megabus runs a low-cost coach service between Newport, Cardiff, Swansea, Carmarthen and Pembroke Dock.

Dining

From restaurants and cafés to delis and farmers markets, Wales is a place to delight your taste buds. Sweet or savoury, meat or vegetarian, Welsh food and drink has never been so diverse. With so much to choose from, the dilemma lies in deciding where and what to eat. As the famous Welsh hymn Cwm Rhondda proudly says, Ydyw'r Un a'm cwyd i'r lan (feed me till I want no more), the Welsh love of food is deeply ingrained in the nations history.

A visit to one of the many food festivals celebrating the nation’s larder is a great place to start! From the Mold Food Festival in the north east corner of the country to the Narberth Food Festival in the south west, the food map of Wales is lit up with events that are beacons for the nation's burgeoning food culture. Artisan producers proudly bring their wares from far and near, chefs conjure up dishes determined to do justice to the majesty of the local produce, and the champions of good food debate the politics of what we eat and how we should produce it.

While you're in Wales, you should feast on some of their local Welsh traditions such as Welshcakes, a Welsh Rarebit, Cawl, Welsh Cheese & Welsh Lamb & Beef to name a few. You must also enjoy a leek or two in your dishes. Not only is it the national emblem of Wales, according to legend, King Cadwaladr of Gwynedd ordered his soldiers to identify themselves by wearing the vegetable on their helmets. 

 

Shopping

You can shop ‘til you drop in the city one day and discover a farmers market bursting with local produce the next. Wales is crammed full of creativity – art, design, fashion and food. Searching it out is just part of the fun.

Shopping in Cardiff, Wales’ capital city, doesn’t have to mean large department stores and high street giants – of course they’re all there, but so too are a host of independent, quirky and unique shops in Cardiff’s six historic Edwardian and Victorian arcades. Head to the Castle Quarter and the Morgan Quarter and shop for everything from traditional Welsh textiles and love spoons, gifts, clothes and jewellery – and visit Spillers Records (Est.1894), the oldest record shop in the world.

What to Pack

Although not a land of extremes, Wales is always hard to predict the exact weather for your trip.  If you are travelling in the summer months, pack the shorts and summer dresses, but make sure you include jeans and a jumper for those cooler nights, and if you are travelling in winter, be sure to pack gloves, scalf and a beanie. Spring and Autumn are variable and you are probably best to pack for all seasons!

Dive into coasteering
Wetsuit? Check. Helmet? Check. Balls (and we don’t mean the kind you hit home runs with)? It takes some serious courage to indulge in what might be the wackiest of water sports: coasteering.

With so much culture, history, music, theatre, scenery and amazing experiences to immerse yourself into in Wales, you'll be spolit for choice on what to do next  - check out some of our favourites below - or drop by the Visit Wales website.

Our Top Tours and Experiences

Mines & Mountains Tour

Wales

Cardiff

Mines & Mountains Tour

Star
  • Return transfers from Cardiff.
  • Entrance fees.
  • Coalmine tour.