Wales is often the overlooked country in the United Kingdom. This small country, wedged between Scotland and England is usually just the stepping stone to get to the Great Britain hot spots like London and Edinburgh, but it shouldn’t be! For a small country, Wales has so much to offer. It has the dramatic and beautiful national parks, with mountain ranges and miles of pristine coastline, and it has the years of history and charm, with the castles and archaeological landmarks (seemingly) every few feet. The food is spectacular, the people are warm and inviting (if a little hard to understand!); Wales will be surely be a highlight of your British adventure- you may just skip the other countries and stay here even longer!
8. Caernarfon Castle
Often historic castles that are open to tourists have been restored so much that it is hard to get a feel of what it was really like to live there. Not this one. Caernarfon Castle still retains much of its historical features and charm, which lends to a greater feeling of authenticity when walking through the narrow, stone-laden halls and climbing the rickety, steep tower stairs. Of course it has been preserved, and since it is a tourist hot spot, there is a museum to walk through, but the museum is well done and gives excellent information to Wales’ military past. The walled castle is stunning; walk up to the top of one of the towers and you get an entire view of the impressive building, as well as the surrounding town. Be sure to leave time to explore the town of Caernarfon itself; with colorful buildings, great music and delicious food, Caernarfon is everything a charming port town should be, with an impressive fortress smack-dab in the middle, of course.
7. Millennium Stadium
Sports fans all over flock to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Ultra-modern and architecturally stunning, come rugby game day, this stadium and the surrounding streets are overwhelmingly overflowing with crazy Welsh sports enthusiasts. Europe sports fans are passionate when it comes to soccer (or more appropriately, football), yet in Wales it is all about the rugby. They are fanatics and huge supporters of their team. Even if you don’t enjoy sports, be sure to come here for a game and soak in the atmosphere. Crowds grow hours before the game starts, spilling from the pubs out onto the street, singing, dancing and chanting loud enough for all of Wales to hear. It won’t be long before you are joining in on all the fun!
6. Snowdonia National Park
Mountains, lakes, beaches, castles, villages… all are found in Snowdonia National Park, Wales first national park, and the third largest in Great Britain. Popular with locals and tourists, this park receives nearly six million visitors each year, and it is not hard to see why. The landscape is sprawling and dramatic; from the harsh coastline, to thick forest to mountainous peaks, this park has it all. It is popular with hikers and mountain climbers; there are three thousand feet summits that require expert training, and there are simple, beautiful trails perfectly suited for a fun afternoon in the park. If visiting, bring a rain jacket, as Snowdonia is the wettest spot in all of the United Kingdom- chances are, you will get wet!
5. Brecon Beacons National Park
Rolling hills, mountains, moorlands, lush valleys, sprawling fields, AND centuries of tradition and history. If you can believe it, all of that and more are overflowing in a 42 mile wide national park, located in the South and Mid Wales. During the summer months, or the winter, miles of trails are available, from easy beginner strolls to hardcore multi-day treks and everything in between. While the stunning scenery leaves nothing to be desired in the park, this national site is home to over 200 archaeological sites, including prehistoric and Roman castles, stone circles, burial chambers and camps. And, if none of the above entices you to visit this beautiful landscape, Brecon Beacons was given International Dark Sky Reserve Status for its endless stargazing opportunities.
4. Big Pit National Coal Museum
Located in Blaenavon, a historical mining town and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is Big Pit; a working coal mine turned museum and heritage preservation site. The Welsh have a rich heritage of coal mining, an industry that drove their country during the industrial revolution, and later was the source of many national tragedies. Wales is on a mission to preserve and pay respect to their heritage, and Big Pit is one of the best locations in Wales to get a glimpse into the past. The site has an interactive museum where you can experience a typical miner’s day through video and demonstration and another, where you can learn about the history of mining in Wales, through pictures, props and descriptions. But, if you really want the experience, take the tour into the pit- at three hundred feet underground you can begin to somewhat understand what life was like for the Welsh miners every day. A worthwhile and moving experience, although definitely not for the claustrophobic!
3. Wales Coast Path
The United Kingdom is known world over for its stunning and dramatic coastline – from the cliffs in Ireland to the harsh yet pristine beaches of South England- but the Wales coastline is perhaps the most dramatically stunning of them all. For the adventurous and the outdoorsy, you can spend 80 days walking the Welsh coastline in its entirety- with the option to camp or for the more luxurious folk, you can stay in one of the many local inns dotting the coastline. There are also many small, low key trails on the 870 mile route- Pembrokeshire Coast National Trail is one of the more established trails and offers a chance to get out and take in the stunning Welsh landscape. From rugged cliffs and sprawling windswept beaches, to castles and quaint villages, the Welsh coastline is one of those scenic landmarks that exceeds all expectations.
When you think of Disney, you often think of Wales, right? Well that’s very nearly what you get in this eccentric, Disneyland inspired resort near Porthmadog in North Wales. This quaint, somewhat strange resort is the very definition of whimsy; the architecture, the flowers, the setting all seem way over the top, yet somehow here it all works. It is difficult to be the most eccentric in Wales, as the country is chalk full of many bizzare yet interesting little villages, castles, and countrysides, but this Portmeirion may do just that. If you want, you can spend the night, but costs are high; though, wandering around here for a few hours will surely satisfy any curiosity you have about this neat resort in North Wales.
It may look made up, but that is the actual name of a Welsh town in North Wales! Made up of 57 letters (all but 13 consonants), this town means “St. Mary’s Church in the hallow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave”. Tongue twister, isn’t it! You don’t need long to wander this small town, but make sure you take your picture standing in front of the sign- the best photo is in front of the town’s railway station. And, try your hand at pronouncing it! Warning though, if attempted in front of a local Welsh, you will be (endlessly) made fun of.