Steeped in mystic history stretching back to the days of King Arthur, the land of dragons is truly a unique and beautiful place. Wales is a country of three million people, attached to the west of England, and about 8,000 square miles in size, making it the smallest of the three major collective British ‘countries.’ Named ‘Cymru’ in Welsh, this small country attached to the hip of England is often disregarded when speaking of the great sights in Britain. However, with one of the oldest spoken languages on Earth, a vibrant cultural capitol city, a breathtaking landscape, and more sheep than one can count, Wales has much more to offer visitors than she is often given credit for.
Wales is a country rich in beauty and adventure with more than enough to fill a travel book. We will just give you the major highlights to give you a feel for the country, and a few minor places we are personally fond of.
Cardiff is the capitol of Wales and serves as a cultural hub of Britain with a rich history, culture, the arts, good cuisine, and a great night out; definitely one of the best cities in Britain.
For attractions around the city center make sure to hit:
- Cardiff Castle
- The National Museum
- The Millennium stadium
- Bute Park
Tip: If you have time Llandaff cathedral-which is a bit north of the city center, but well worth a visit offering a beautiful medieval cathedral that houses the oldest man-made statue in Wales!
A family friendly theme park right on the coast of some beautiful Welsh coastline, Barry Island is a fun visit on a nice sunny day (which unfortunately in Wales happen very little). During low tide the beach front stretches for quite a ways and you can often find thousands of local and travelers alike soaking in the beautiful view of the Bristol Channel.
Just about 10 miles north of Cardiff lies Caerphilly Castle, a beautiful medieval castle built by Edward I. Built in the late 13th century, this massive fortress is a testament to Edward I’s engineering genius, and his ambitions for conquering the country, which he successfully did. A great place to visit in its own right, the castle also has frequent exhibitions, featuring anything from jousting and sword play to launching off siege weapons. Definitely make sure to hit this castle on your way up north to the Breacon Beacons.
Brecon Beacons National Park
This protected landscape stretches 520 square miles and maintains the pristine beauty of the lower welsh countryside. Highly recommend if you love to hike, or nature walk, and even if you don’t feel like getting your feet wet, the park is full of neat little towns and lodges to explore. In addition to hiking the park offers caving, climbing, fishing, horse riding, kayaking, golf, and more. Definitely a great place to get down and dirty with the welsh countryside!
Brecon: as the administrative hub of the park, Brecon sees a lot of activity. The quaint little town located in the northern section of the park, is mostly a sleepy town other than travelers passing through. The town has a beautiful little cathedral that is well worth a visit.
Hay-on-Wye: Dubbed the ‘the town of books’ this small market town is a beautiful typicality among British park towns. Perched upon a hill, small and compact, these little towns are the bread and butter of Britain.
Swansea and the Gower
Here you’ll find the lovely little city of Swansea, and the surrounding peninsula simply dubbed ‘The Gower.’ This region has some of the UK’s best locations for walking, cycling, watersports and golf. And it’s all within easy reach of the buzzing city of Swansea, home to Wales’ Premier League football team, Swansea City.
This small market town is a rich sanctuary of Welsh tradition and lays claim to being the oldest city in Wales. A large portion of the native populace still keep Welsh as their native language, which personally I love to hear walking down the small streets. This lowland Welsh town is well worth a visit on your northwesterly journey through Wales. Famous landmarks of note include:
- The Picton monument, a memorial to Sir Thomas Picton who died during the battle of Waterloo
- St. Peter’s church, the largest parish church in Wales.
Don’t miss the small community of St. Davids, nestled along a small peninsula. Officially the smallest city in Britain, St. Davids is the final resting place of St. David, the patron saint of Wales. Here you’ll find a quaint little town with enough shops and pubs to keep a man alive, but the real attraction is the cathedral, the official church of Wales. A beautiful medieval British structure, St. David’s Cathedral stands testament to the great Norman architecture that dots the entire countryside.
Snowdonia National Park
In northern Wales you will find a large tract of protected land that has inspired poets and song writers for centuries. The thing to do in Snowdonia is take in the natural surroundings. Ride the steam train up to the top of Mount Snowdon, and from here you’ll find unrivaled views of the northern welsh countryside (that is if you get a clear day!). There are countless walks and hikes throughout the large protected area, along with a plethora of small villages, the same type found in Brecon Breacons.
Caernarfon City and Castle
The royal town of Caernarfon has deep roots in Welsh history, stretching back to pre-history. The north of Wales was always a last vestige of Welsh culture, and it was here that Llwelyn ap Gruffydd defied Edward I homage, which led to his execution and the building of Caernarfon castle. This beautiful town of just a few thousand, sits right near the coast, which from the castle towers offer great views of the town and surrounding landscape. As a small northern Welsh town, you will find a strong cultural presence here.
Tip: When visiting the town make sure to leave a lot of time for the castle, as nearly the entire castle is free for wandering and exploring. I recommend climbing one of the three mini towers, which lie on top a main tower to the side of the castle facing the coast. From here you’ll get great views and photo ops.
Still on the trek toward the northern Welsh coast, take a small detour westward and skip over to the isle of Angelsey to visit beautiful Beaumaris castle. The isle of Angelsey is traversed by two bridges and a great hub of Welsh culture, with over three quarters of the island calling Welsh their native tongue.
Conwy City and Castle
This small market town on the northern Welsh coast serves as one of the most popular tourist towns in Wales. Visitors from Britain and abroad alike come here to take in the beautiful coastal landscape while in the comforts of the quaint town. The top attraction is of course the castle, another of Edward I’s great attempts to quell the unruly Welsh.
Tip: I enjoy taking in the castle, walking the town, and then grabbing a bite to eat at the waterfront pub of the George and Dragon.