Often the UK’s forgotten destination, Wales could be forgiven for feeling left out, but this just means that Wales is the UKs hidden gem, with a lot of surprises for the adventurous, independent traveller.
As part of the UK, Wales will be very familiar to any Westerner both culturally and physically, but with a unique and strong cultural identity of its own and some of the most beautiful parts of the British isles, Wales is far more than its stereotype of pit mining vilages and male voice choirs.
Revel in the ancient Celtic culture and the oldest surviving Gaelic language and see just how much of the folklore and legend of Wales has influenced its present, but do not make the mistake of thinking this is a country stuck in the past. With a contemporary boom that has seen cosmopolitan cities like Cardiff get major investment and stand alongside more traditional and historical landmarks to make Wales an underestimated but must see destination.
Like most of the UK, culture and etiquette in Wales is extremely nuanced and influenced by wide regional idiosyncrasies, but will still be familiar to most visitors thanks to the UK’s influence in almost every aspect of the world stage, from trade to media. Wales in general has a strong national Welsh identity on top of a British one and are proud of it, with most signs being displayed in Welsh as well as English (don’t worry, everyone speaks English too). Visitors to Wales, as in the rest of the UK, will have very little trouble, as the UK as a whole is extremely welcoming of all visitors and has a diverse, multicultural population, and Wales in particular has a well deserved reputation for being a friendly nation.
Members of the EU do not need a visa to enter, stay or work in the UK or Wales. Citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and many other countries can visit for up to six months but cannot work. Citizens of other countries must apply for the relevant visa dependant on whether they intend to be a general visitor, family visitor, business visitor or any other relevant category.
There are no specific immunisations needed to visit Wales beyond the routine vaccinations everyone should get throughout their life, and of course the relevant boosters. Reciprocal healthcare arrangements between the whole of the UK and many countries throughout the world allow for free or at least subsidised treatment. Everyone will get free care at the point of delivery via the NHS, but it is still essential that you have valid and comprehensive health insurance and an EHIC card if you are from the EU.
Crime and Safety.
Wales is generally very safe with relatively low crime rates. This does not mean that crime does not occur at all, it does, but reasonable common sense precautions for your personal health and safety are generally enough to keep you safe.
Costs and money.
The currency in Wales is the Pound, like the rest of the UK, which is divided into 100 pence. There is no getting around it, despite being generally much cheaper than many parts of the UK, especially the South, Wales is still expensive, with high prices and one of the strongest currencies in the world. An extreme budget traveller will struggle to get by in Wales on less than £50GBP bare minimum a day, with an average midrange traveller on average spending £100 a day, with accommodation and public transport being the two biggest expenses. There are ways to save money and stick to your budget of course, there are a variety of free activities such as cathedrals, museums and art galleries, eating at pubs or smaller eateries can be a lot cheaper than restaurants and always book train or coach transport as early as possible as fares on the day can be extortionate and disproportionate.
When to go.
Wales is a generally temperate country with relatively mild winters and summers and intermittent cold snaps and heat waves. There is no real best time to go as the weather is so unpredictable, but in general the winter months are often best avoided. In general the best times to visit are Spring and Autumn, as this maximises the weather and keeps you out of the high seasons of the summer holidays and Christmas period, but there really is no telling what the weather will be like from month to month.
Swansea bay and the Gower.
Swansea bay and the Gower really are some of the most lovely and picturesque parts of Wales. Easily worth a long weekend if not more, the picturesque Gower coastline is heaven for adventure travellers, hikers, wildlife lovers and couples alike, whilst the traditional seaside charms of Swansea bay will genuinely make you fall in love with the region and not want to leave.
Cardiff has seen a huge investment in recent years and is now a true mecca of contemporary design and architecture in the rejuvinated Cardiff Bay, and is the location of a number of British TV and Film sets, including Dr Who. Take the day to enjoy wondering around the traditional seaside bay area and enjoy the modern structures of the Millennium Centre and the National Assembly.
Easy to get to from any part of the UK, Conwy is one of Wales’ premier historical landmarks. This medieval walled town has over 200 listed buildings within its walls, and the castle is truly spectacular.
Famously home to Gavin and Stacey, with the entire town of Barry being a huge open air set for avid fans of the TV series, Barry Island is also a quintessentially Welsh seaside town and it’s stunning coastline, ice creams and family amusements has been attracting visitors since the late 1800’s!
The sweeping promenade stretches across the seafront of Whitmore bay and is not only one of my favourite places in the world, but is also everyone’s picture postcard perfect idea of a British seaside holiday, so get yourself an ice cream, enjoy the funfair, have a go on the slots in Nessa’s arcade and then get yourself a deckchair for the beach! Just watch out for that Newport lot!
Often derided by schoolchildren as one of the stereotypical and quintessential school trip destinations in both Wales and Northern England, Llandudno is one of Wales’ most relaxing and picturesque traditional seaside towns. Take a walk along the pier and enjoy the views of the bay.
This wild stretch of Welsh countryside is truly spectacular, with vast moors, crashing waterfalls and raging rivers, and vast underground limestone caves set amongst the hilly landscape, hikers and ramblers can set off on any one of the countless trails that criss cross the land. Be careful on some of the more challenging ones though, there is a reason the British SAS use this as one of their primary training grounds!
St Davids Cathedral.
Situated in Pembrokshire, about as far West in Wales as you can get before you start crossing the sea to Ireland, sits one of the oldest and most magnificent Cathedrals in Wales. This 6th Century masterpiece is well worth a day out all on it’s own just to view the magnificent architecture and beautiful surroundings, but step inside too and see the heart of Welsh spirituality for yourself.
Attend the Green Man Festival.
Every August hippies and new age folk from all over the UK and beyond descend on this huge festival for three days of folk and indie music, comedy shows, workshops and performance art.
Yes, surfing. Really, I’m not joking! The Welsh coastline is world renowned amongst professional surfers and attracts pros from as far afield as Hawaii and Australia! The Gower in South Wales is a true surfing hotspot with a choice of great bays to choose from depending on the level of your experience and a number of schools to help you get started, you really have no excuse. So strap on your wetsuit, grab your board and get out there.
Ride the Ffestiniog railway.
Wales’ ‘little trains’ really are a sight to behold, harking back to the grand age of steam trains, these scaled down versions are an amazing experience, and this one – heading through the spectacular Snowdonia mountains – is an absolute highlight.
Hike the Pembrokeshire coastal path.
This rugged part of the Welsh coast is truly wild, and has 187 miles of hiking trails around it’s jagged coastline.
Climb mount Snowdon.
This is one of the premier mountain climbs in the UK and Wales highest peak, with half a dozen different trails of varying difficulties to the peak, this is a hikers dream. Or you could just take the train and enjoy the view!
Check out the wildlife.
The Gower in South Wales is one of the best spots in the UK for wildlife lovers. Take a walk along the rugged coastline and go birdwatching, or get one of the responsible coastal tours to see if you can spot some dolphins, porpoises or other sealife.
Go Below Extreme, Snowdonia.
Go Below Extreme is the longest underground adventure playground in the world! Based in Betwys-Y-Coed in Snowdonia, North Wales this is a day out like no other, with five kilometres of abandoned mine tunnels to climb through, via ferrata and zipline across (including the world’s longest and deepest underground ziplines) and freefall down. Led by experienced instructors, this is a truly unique adventure like no other!