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.
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.
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 ruled from the national parliament in London, though a move to devolve certain powers of decision making began with the the creation of the non-elected Welsh Office and the appointment of a Secretary of State for Wales in 1964. This institution evolved into an elected National Assembly for Wales based at the Senedd in Cardiff in 1999, and although this Assembly is not a national government, it does have minor law making powers and an executive (including a First Minister). In the near future, the Assembly will further evolve into a parliamentary body with extended law-making powers and whose members will be fully elected by Welsh constituents. However, this institution will still be under the UK parliament, and Wales will remain part of the UK.
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.
Wales has its own language, Welsh (Welsh: Cymraeg), which is spoken by some 21% of the population (though this varies geographically, from under 7% in the southeast to over 61% in the northwest). Additionally, according to Census 2001, some 39% of all 10-15 year olds can speak, read and write Welsh. Although there are several Welsh-language television and radio channels, English is still the main language spoken in Wales - very few people can only speak Welsh. Welsh is a compulsory subject in many schools in Wales, and there are Welsh language schools where Welsh is used across the curriculum.
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, Rhyl, Swansea/Mumbles and Tenby, or around the time of important sporting events in Cardiff.
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 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.
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).
An air service connecting RAF Valley in Anglesey in North Wales and Cardiff International Airport in South Wales has recently opened charging £50 each way, and the journey 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
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.
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. 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.
Regular train services connect all three destinations. 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!
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.
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.
An air service connecting RAF Valley in Anglesey and Cardiff International Airport in South Wales has recently opened charging £50 each way, and the journey 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
Great little trains
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.
Although it's not included on 'The Great Little Trains' website the
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.
Areas of Outstanding Natual Beauty
For more details on Areas of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB's) see the National Association for AONB's
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.
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.
Wales has nine 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 (Heddlu) 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.
See Contact entry under United Kingdom for national information on telephone, internet and postal services.
See Contact entries under individual cities for local information.
Referring to Welsh people as English is incorrect and is likely to prompt raised eyebrows. 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 (Hello) 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).