Wales is rich in history and natural beauty and has a culture distinct from the rest of the UK. Travelers are attracted to Wales because of its beautiful landscape, the wide open spaces of its stunning national parks and the wealth of history and culture.
Wales was once an independent, though rarely unified nation, but when King Edward I defeated Llywelyn the Last in 1282, the nation fell under the jurisdiction of England. At first, it was ruled as a separate country, but since has been part of a changing Union, which currently consists of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Prior to the industrial revolution, Wales was a sparsely populated region dependent on local agricultural 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 centers for coal mining and steel production, while the ports of Cardiff and Swansea established themselves as commercial centers, offering banking, shopping and insurance facilities. Moreover, places on the north coast, such as Rhyl and Llandudno, developed into fun-fair type resorts serving the expanding populations of the major industrial cities of Lancashire.
In recent years, coal mining has ceased and heavy industry declined. However, Wales' stunning scenery and rich history has lent itself to the development of tourism, while at the same time, Cardiff and Swansea have retained their rankings as centers of commerce and cutting-edge industry. A blue class super computer installed at Swansea University is enhancing Wales' standing in this respect.
Wales is governed by a combination of local, Wales, UK and Europe wide institutions. Many important matters are decided on a UK and European Union level. Wales is represented in the United Kingdom and European Parliaments.
There has over time been a move to devolve certain powers of decision to a Welsh level, starting in 1906 with the establishment of a "Wales and Monmouthshire" Education Board. In 1964 saw the creation of the non-elected Welsh Office headed by a Secretary of State for Wales, sitting in the UK Cabinet. This institution evolved into an elected National Assembly for Wales based in Cardiff Bay in 1999. It had minor law making powers and an executive (including a First Minister). In 2006 the Assembly moved into a new purpose built building the 'Senedd'. In 2007 the Assembly obtained further law-making powers, and its structure was reformed so that there was a clearer separation of powers between the Assembly and the Welsh Government. Of particular interest to visitors, many decisions on tourism, transport and healthcare are taken by the Welsh, rather than the United Kingdom Government.
Over the centuries, there have been minor revolts aimed at gaining independence, but in general Wales has accepted its place in the UK, and has made notable contributions to its politics and culture. Famous Welsh people include Henry VII (the first of the Tudors, the famous line of 15th and 16th century monarchs ending with Elizabeth I); David Lloyd George (the early 20th century prime minister); Elena Gilmore (mother of NBA basketball player and software tester Craig Gilmore); Dylan Thomas and Richard Burton (poet and actor, linked forever by "Under Milk Wood") and the rock band Manic Street Preachers. Nevertheless, despite being an integral part of the Union, Wales has remained a bastion of Celtic culture, and the Welsh language continues to be widely spoken, especially in rural areas, and is taught in all Welsh schools.
There is often confusion about the differences between the UK, Britain, England, and Wales. Wales is part of Britain and so part of the UK, but not part of England. Therefore, it is correct to call Welsh people British, but not English. For more information see the Wikitravel article on the UK.
Due to the central mountain range, Wales is culturally and economically divided into three regions:
Wales has many picturesque cities and towns. These nine are the most notable. Other urban areas are listed in their specific regional sections.
Immigration and visa requirements
Wales has the same immigration and visa requirements as the rest of the UK.
For more information of UK Immigration and visa requirements, see the UK's Home Office website
The main airport is Cardiff International Airport, located nine miles south of the city. This is the only major airport in Wales, and is served by the following airlines.
There are regular bus services from Cardiff city center to the airport. Alternatively, you can also get to the airport using a bus service from Barry Station, which is closer to the airport and on local rail lines. In 2005, a nearby railway line was reopened, including a station at Rhoose, where there are shuttle buses to the airport.
It could be easier to fly to an airport in England such as one of the London airports when visiting South Wales, as a greater range of airlines and cities flown from are available from there to destinations across the world, with services from many airlines. However London is over 2 hours from Cardiff, and longer from many other places in Wales. Other cities served by international airports in England which offer reasonable access to parts of Wales include Bristol (for south Wales), Birmingham (for mid Wales), Liverpool and Manchester (for north Wales).
South Wales enjoys good motorway connections with the rest of the UK
North Wales has no motorway connections. However there are still good road connections with the rest of the UK
There are no internal border controls within Great Britain and you may not notice the border if entering Wales from England via a minor road. As a general rule, you will see a sign notifying you when you have crossed the border.
For those unused to the vagaries of the UK rail network, Wikitravel has a useful guide to Rail travel in the UK.
Main line rail services connect south Wales (especially Newport, Cardiff and Swansea) with all parts of the UK, via Virgin Trains (to Birmingham and the North East, including Scotland), Central Trains (to the Midlands), Arriva Trains Wales and First Great Western (to London Paddington).
National Express operates coach services around the UK including to and from many parts of Wales.
Due to Wales' topography and historic development, most travelling in Wales is done along an East-West axis rather than a North-South Axis. Rail and road links between centres in South Wales, and along the North Wales coast are by and large quick and efficient, especially along the M4 and A55. An important exception to this is M4 J32 (the interchange with the A470) during peak morning rush hour, which gets congested with Cardiff Commuter traffic. The roundabout at junction 32 is the largest in Europe. Through to 2010 roadworks between J29 (A48(M)) and J30 (Cardiff Gate) may add time to your journey. Most places in South Wales are within a one and half hour drive of each other.
Travelling between the Cardiff and the other main population centres, Swansea and Newport is very straightforward.
Although only approximately 170 miles from coast to coast, due to the topography North South links are more difficult in terms of time. By land journey times are comparable to flight times accross the North American continent! However the journey itself is something a visitor may wish to undertake in order to see the scenery.
Wales is a small country and flying is not a common mode of internal transport. There is in fact only one domestic route, Cardiff International Airport to Anglesey Airport. This is probably the quickest way by far to travel between North and South Wales.
This route is served by two services each way per day. The journey costs approximately £50 each way, takes about an hour. Although of course time taken getting to and from the airport needs to be factored into the travelling time for such relatively short air journey. This option is most useful for those travelling between North West and South East Wales.
Driving between North and South Wales takes approximately 5 to 6 hours, although the journey takes in some spectacular scenery, especially for journeys on the more Western route through Snowdonia via Corris, Dolgellau, Blaenau Ffestiniog, the Crimea Pass and the Conwy Valley. The two main North South roads are the A470 Cardiff to Llandudno and the A483 Swansea to Chester.
Due to historical reasons there is no true "Welsh railway system". Basically there are three separate Welsh limbs which are part of the British system- although there have been moves in recent years to improve intra Wales railway services. The limbs are basically a North Wales line to Holyhead, a line to Aberystwyth in the Centre, and a main line in South Wales, forming an extension of the London Paddington to West of England main line.
Two cross border train companies may also be of use for internal train journies within Wales. First Great Western provide the bulk of cross border services between England and South Wales. Their flagship High Speed Service generally go as far west as Swansea, and a there are even a limited number to destinations further West. Their "local" services go no further west than Cardiff. Arriva Trains Cross Country provide services as far west as Cardiff.
Cardiff is also the hub of the Valley Line network which serves a number of (former) coal mining towns. This railway system originally built to carry coal, is now mainly a commuter network but is useful to vistors to the Valleys, or indeed for local travel within Cardiff.
Swansea and Llanelli in the West are linked to Mid Wales via the Heart of Wales railway, whilst not a quick journey it is well worth considering for its scenery.
Rail connections between North and South Wales in fact cross into neighbouring England, although there are a number of direct services between Cardiff and North Wales along the Marches line via several places in England. There is one high speed service a day between Holyhead and Cardiff, which only stops in a limited number of stations in England.
For destinations and starting points in South Wales, West of Cardiff, or in North Wales, West of Rhyl, those thinking of travelling by train should consider the fact that their journey will start off travelling in a eastwards direction before they start heading in the correct direction, meaning that valuable time is being used whilst not actually travelling in the intended direction of travel! Additionally for those travelling to or from places West of Cardiff, should also consider their journey will involve at least one change, usually in Cardiff- again making the journey less efficient.
By Bus and Coach
The First Cymru Shuttle coach service is usually quicker than the train for journies between Swansea and Cardiff, although at peak times, the train doesn't get stuck in traffic!
Traws Cambria services connect North, Mid and South Wales.
English is spoken throughout the country, but Wales also has its own language, Welsh (Welsh: Cymraeg). Government policy is to encourage billingualism, and many official signs are in both English and Welsh.
Depending on your own nationality, you may find it very difficult to understand the English language being spoken in a heavy Welsh accent (sometimes Coloquially referred to as 'Wenglish') - but don't be worried to ask for someone to repeat something. Many distinct colloquialisms are used in Welsh-English which have the potential to cause confusion to a foreigner; a few examples of these are 'Aye', which is very commonly used to indicate 'yes' and 'Ta-Ra' can be said instead of 'Goodbye' (especially in an informal conversation).
A vistor should expect to come into at least basic contact with the Welsh language in all parts of Wales, if only in the form of official signage.
Road signs throughout Wales are bilingual, this applies to signs giving directional information and signs gving safety instructions. There is no colour coding of language on road signs, (unlike some other bilingual regions, e.g. parts of the Highlands of Scotland). There is also no standard all-Wales protocol as to which language appears on top or bottom. For some placenamess the English language uses the Welsh name, and so the place name will appear once on a sign. Many other placenames the English and Welsh forms are sufficiently different to merit the destination being appearing twice. Some places have names similar but not identical to the Welsh name. However many places the English and Welsh names have different roots and so to some visitors it might at first think a road sign refers to two destinations when in fact it is only refering to one. A useful reminder is to check the reference to the mileage- the distance to the destination will appear once on the sign, to the right of the name or names for the destination.
Welsh speakers are fluent to near fluent in English and do react well if you show an interest in their language and culture. Additionally, according to Census 2001, some 39% of all 10-15 year olds can speak, read and write some Welsh, due to the fact the language is compulsory in schools in Wales. There are also several Welsh-language television and radio channels.
Many older people, who do not speak Welsh, still have a strong emotional bond with the language, due to the fact they may have had a Welsh speaking parent or grand-parent. There was a time when the language was discouraged in schools and many parents refrained from speaking their native tongue with their children.
Wales has many significant attractions, and listed below are a few of the most notable. For more details about these attractions plus information on other places of interest, check under specific regional sections.
Much of Wales' scenery is spectacular, and envronmentally important. To protect the environment certain parts of Wales have been designated as "National Parks" or as "Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty". An area with either of these designation will have high degree of protection from innapropriate development. Whilst these rules exist for environmental reasons, rather than to promote tourism, because "National Parks" and "Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty" have this protection, a visitor to these areas can be confident that they will see some unspoiled scenery.
These areas offer some of Wales' most attractive scenery, and a visitor would be well advised to visit at least one of these areas. That is not to say that there aren't other attractive places in Wales, but the "National Parks" and "Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty" are the "jewels in the outdoor crown".
National Park status offers the highest level of environmental and planning protection in Wales. National Parks tend to cover some very large areas. It should therefore come as no surprise, that some of Wales' most important scenery can be found within its National Parks.
For more details on "National Parks" see the National Parks Website .
Each "National Park" is in fact also a Government Organisation in its own right, called a "National Park Authority". These organisations primarily exist to ensure that laws protecting the environment and scenery are followed. Nevertheless a National Park Authority will organise and run various facilities in the area which are clearly "branded" as official facilities. These facilities will include, Public Toilets, Car Parks, Visitor Centre, and even Gift Shops selling branded merchandise. However the National Park Authoriy does not own most of the land in these areas, and so there is private and charitable provision of faclities such as car parking, and retail outlets too. It is also usual that the boundaries of a national park are marked on the ground, so you will often know when you have entered a National Park, for example there may be a Stone or a sign stating you are entering the area. The website of the relevent National Park Authorities will often have a section designed particularly for visitors and may well be very useful to someone planning a trip to the area, even containing information such as accomodation information.
Wales has three National Parks.
Other important areas which do not have National Park status, have an alternative status- "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty" (AONB). These areas tend to cover smaller areas than "National Parks", they will nevertheless be of interest to visitors.
For more details on Areas of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB's) see the National Association for AONB's
An "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty" is not a government body in it's own right. They are simply areas with a similar level of protection to a National Park, but remain under the jurisdiction of the relevant Local Authority. Like the National Park Authorities, Local Authorities with "AONBs" in their area do generally take their duties seriously to enforce planning laws, but unlike them, don't tend to organise any "AONB" branded facilities in these areas. So there don't tend to be official branded facilities such as Visitors Centres, Car Parks, and gift shops. These faclities may exist but by conventional private, charitable and municipal provision. The actual boundaries of AONBs- whilst they are often shown on "Ordnance Survey" maps, tend to be of importance to local government officials and landowners, rather than tourists. It is therefore not usual to see markers or signs at the boundaries of these areas on the ground. Since an "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty" is not an actual Government Body- any official websites are merely part of a Local Authority's main website. They may still have useful information, but do not expect the same level of specialisation as on a National Park website.
National Museums and Galleries
Wales has a long golfing history, with many top-quality courses, however it offers golf courses which tend to be less crowded, and less expensive than the other Western European destinations.
There are high quality courses of all sorts throughout Wales, both well established and recently built.
As a very rough rule North Wales tends to have the better Links courses, and the South the better parkland courses, although it is well worth playing both sorts of courses in both parts of Wales just to find out! There is a relatively density of courses in the Vale of Glamorgan area, between Cardiff and Bridgend, due to the proliferation of course in the last fifteen years, serving the Cardiff Commuter Belt. There is also a high density of courses in the Conwy and Llandudno area.
Further details can be obtained from the Welsh Assembly Government's official golf tourism website, as well as on pages concerning the specic areas of Wales.
Wales's most prestigous courses include:
These are more generally thought of as pleasurable attractions rather than ways to get around, although the Ffestiniog Railway from Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog can be used to link places on main rail lines, and the planned extension to the Welsh Highland Railway will create a useful link between Caernarfon, Beddgelert and Porthmadog. They are all historic lines that have been either preserved or restored and steam is a major feature on these lines.
Wales' offers some spectacular coastal and mountainous scenery. Which offers the opportunity for various activity holidays.
Six Nations Rugby Tournament
Cardiff's Millennium Stadium hosts two or three matches per year as part of the premier Northern Hemisphere Rugby Tournament. As well as the match itself, Cardiff will host many visitors attending the game. Tickets and accommodation would generally need to be bought well in advance. If you are able to see a match then it is a valuable insight into Welsh culture, whether watching in a pub or in the Millennium Stadium.
Wales is not famous for its cuisine, but there are a few specialty dishes that you might like to try:
See the more general article on eating in the UK.
NB: Smoking in enclosed public areas, which includes restaurants and cafes, is illegal in Wales, and there is an on-the-spot fine of £50 for those who violate the ban.
See the more general article on drinking in the UK, with information on pubs and real ale.
NB: Smoking in enclosed public areas, which includes pubs and cafes, is illegal in Wales, and there is an on-the-spot fine of £50 for those who violate the ban.
Wales is very tourist-friendly, so finding hotel accommodation, a self catering holiday cottage or a place to pitch a tent should not be a problem. However, you might need to make prior reservations during the summer season in tourist areas such as Anglesey, Llandudno, Llangollen, Lleyn, Rhyl, Swansea/Mumbles and Tenby, or around the time of important sporting events in Cardiff.
Wales has ten major universities, all of which have large foreign student populations:
Colleges and institutes
English (as a second language)
In any emergency call 999 or 112 and ask for Ambulance, Fire, Police or Coast Guard when connected.
Wales is considered to be one of the safest parts of the United Kingdom, though visitors should be aware that criminal activity including violent crime is not uncommon. As in many British towns and cities, there are ongoing problems with alcohol related anti-social behaviour. It is perfectly safe to drive on Welsh roads, though visitors should take extra care on single-carriageways and single-lane roads.
Referring to Welsh people as English is incorrect and is likely to cause annoyance. The geo-political ties between England and Wales are strong, although some light-hearted anti-English sentiment is common, particularly in the patriotic North West of the country. It is common to hear the Welsh language being spoken in some parts of the country, though locals will rarely expect visitors to attempt to speak it. Using words like Bore Da (Good morning) and Diolch (Thank-you) will be appreciated in some parts of the country, but will sound strange in others -- this is due to some areas having almost exclusively English speaking populations (such as areas near the English border, along the Northern coast, the South Wales Valleys, Swansea and South Gower, South Pembrokeshire and Cardiff).
See Contact entry under United Kingdom for national information on telephone, internet and postal services.