Earth : Europe : Britain and Ireland : United Kingdom : Wales
Wales (Welsh: Cymru)  is one of the countries that make up the United Kingdom. Rich in history and natural beauty, Wales has a living Celtic culture distinct to the rest of the UK. Travelers are attracted to Wales because of its beautiful landscape, including the mountains and coast of its stunning national parks, the wealth of history and large number of imposing castles.
Lying on a mountainous western peninsula of the island of Great Britain, Wales is bordered to the east by England, while the Republic of Ireland sits to the west across the Irish Sea. Only two hours from London but with less than a third of that city's population, to enter Wales from its crowded eastern neighbour is most certainly to enter another country.
Wales is geographically and culturally divided into three regions:
Wales has many picturesque cities and towns. These nine are the most notable.
Wales was once an independent, though rarely unified nation, with a strong Celtic and Druid tradition 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 rebellion by Prince Owain Glyndŵr (considered in modern times as the 'Father of Welsh nationalism') saw incremental incorporation into England, being formally annexed through the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542. Since the famous Acts of Union in 1707, Wales has been part of the United Kingdom which includes England, Northern Ireland, and Scotland too.
Prior to the industrial revolution, Wales was a sparsely populated country dependent on local agricultural and pastoral 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. Cardiff, which was designated as capital of Wales in 1955, has seen a huge amount of investment in institutions in recent decades through 'devolution', also giving rise to a significant amount of politcal power being passed down from Westminster.
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. One of the greatest British statesman of the 20th Century was the Welshman David Lloyd George, who is the only Prime Minister whose first language was not English (it was Welsh). 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', which has won awards for its environmental design by Richard Rogers. 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 dynasty of 15th and 16th century monarchs ending with Elizabeth I); Catherine Zeta-Jones and Christian Bale (Hollywood actors); Tom Jones and Dame Shirley Bassey (singers); Aneurin Bevan (politician, father of the NHS), Ryan Giggs (Manchester United footballer), Betrand Russell (philosopher), William Grove (inventor of the first fuel cell), Dylan Thomas and Richard Burton (poet and actor, linked forever by "Under Milk Wood") and the rock bands, Sterophonics, Feeder, lostprophets, Bullet for my Valentine, Funeral for a Friend and 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 a topic of pride and is widely spoken, especially in rural areas, and is in fact now taught in all Welsh schools.
Wales is part of Britain and so part of the UK, but should not be confused as part of England. Therefore, it is correct to call Welsh people British, but not English, as it is not only erroneous but offensive too. The Prince of Wales (currently HRH Charles) has been since Edward the I's day, the oldest son of the king, and is therefore often the next in line to the British throne. The Prince of Wales' heraldic badge of feathers is sometimes used to symbolise Wales, though the daffodil flower and the leek tend to be more popular 'neutral' symbols. The origins of the leek can be traced to the 16th century, while the daffodil became popular in the 19th century, encouraged by David Lloyd-George. Leek soup (cawl cennin in Welsh) is popular dish, as is 'Rarebit', Welsh cheese on toast. Other things worth tasting include laverbread (made from an edible seaweed); bara brith (fruit bread); Cawl (a lamb stew); (leek soup); Welsh (bakestone) cakes; and roast minted lamb, Wales is considered to produce arguably the finest sheep meat in the world.
Wales is often referred to as "the land of song", and is notable for its harpists, male voice choirs, and plethora of solo artists like Charlotte Church. Cardiff has a big rock scene and has produced some of the biggest acts in the UK today. The principal Welsh festival of music and poetry is the annual National Eisteddfod. The Llangollen International Eisteddfod echoes the National Eisteddfod but provides an opportunity for the singers and musicians of the world to perform. Traditional music and dance in Wales is supported by a myriad of societies. The Welsh Folk Song Society has published a number of collections of songs and tunes. Rugby union is hugely popular in Wales and is considered the national sport.
Wales has the same immigration and visa requirements as the rest of the UK. Almost all passengers travelling to the UK from outside Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man go through systematic passport/identity card and selective customs checks carried out by the UK Border Agency  on arrival in the UK.
EU, EEA and Swiss citizens do not require a visa, and can enter with either a valid national identity card or passport. They have the right to reside and work in Wales (although some work restrictions apply to Bulgarians and Romanians). Irish, Cypriot and Maltese citizens have additional rights, including being able to vote in and stand in UK Parliamentary elections. 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 international airport in Wales, and is served by the following airlines. As from (November 2011)
Seasonal: Antalya, Bodrum, Dalaman, Heraklion, Ibiza, Larnaca, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Palma de Mallorca, Reus, Rhodes, Zakynthos
Seasonal: Antalya, Bodrum, Bourgas, Bridgetown, Corfu, Dalaman, Enfidha, Faro, Heraklion, Ibiza, Kefalonia, Kos, Larnaca, Minorca, Palma de Mallorca, Reus, Rhodes, Zakynthos
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, though the two Severn Bridges crossing the Bristol Channel charge a toll (£6 for a car currently) going into (but not out of) Wales. This has lead some people to describe it as a "tax on entering Wales", both in jest and also as a more serious anti-toll campaign. You may not notice the border if entering Wales from England via a minor road, however you will usually see the Croeso i Gymru sign crossing 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).
Arriva Trains Wales .
Due to Wales' topography and historic development, most travelling in Wales is done east-west rather than north-south. Rail and road links between centres in South Wales and along the North Wales coast are usually 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 J32 is the largest in Europe. Most places in South Wales are within a 90 min drive of each other.
Travelling between the Cardiff and the other main population centres, Swansea and Newport is very straightforward.
Although only approximately 170 mi from coast to coast, the topography makes north-south links more difficult in terms of time. By land, journey times are comparable to flight times across North America! However, the journey itself is something a visitor may wish to do 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 and 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 a relatively short air journey. This option is most useful for those travelling between North West and South East Wales.
The service is provided by the airline Manx2 
Driving between North and South Wales takes approximately 4 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 the topography, main roads can be busy and difficult to overtake slow moving traffic. Most roads have frequent laybys and it is considered polite to pull into lay bys to allow traffic to pass if you are causing a queue.
Wikitravel has a guide to Rail travel in the United Kingdom, including within Wales.
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.
Arriva Trains Wales provides most train services within Wales.
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.
Regular train services connect the South Wales' three main cities, Cardiff, Swansea and Newport. Services between Cardiff and Swansea are usually half hourly, and even more frequent between Cardiff and Newport.
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 visitors 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, but at peak times, the train does not 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). You will rarely hear it spoken in the southeast, but in the north or west, you will often overhear conversations between locals in Welsh, but residents will quickly switch back to English to converse with visitors.
The most direct contact you will have with the Welsh language may be with signs, which are written in Welsh and English, and with Welsh placenames. It is well worth brushing up on the rules for pronouncing Welsh words; otherwise, you will almost certainly pronounce every Welsh place incorrectly. On roadsigns there is no colour coding to distinguish the languages, nor is there a standard protocol as to which language appears on top. Where the English and Welsh names for a town are the same, only one name will appear.
There is a Welsh regional accent, and a few parochial colloquialisms that may take a moment to work out what is meant, but don't be worried to ask for someone to repeat something. 'Aye', is commonly used to indicate 'yes' and 'ta-ra' can be said instead of 'goodbye'.
Most Welsh people will react well when interest is shown in their language. Although Welsh is now taught in schools and most younger people have some knowledge of the language, this has developed over the past 30 years, and for some time before that the use of Welsh at home and in the community was officially discouraged.
Locals will rarely expect visitors to attempt to speak Welsh. Using words like Bore Da (Good morning), Iechyd da (Cheers) and Diolch (Thank-you) will be appreciated in some parts of the country, they will sound strange in 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).
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 regional sections.
Much of Wales' scenery is spectacular, and environmentally 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 inappropriate 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.
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 Authority does not own most of the land in these areas, and so there is private and charitable provision of facilities 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 relevant 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 accommodation 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 facilities 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.
Scuba Diving Destinations
An activity not many tourists think of when visiting Wales is one inside the ocean. Although weather conditions are not always perfect, water temperatures are quite chilly, scuba diving in Wales is one of the best experiences for divers around Europe. You can find whales, dolphins, plenty of seals but also superb coral formations including seahorses and several coral fish.
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 Welsh Highland Railway forms 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 may not be associated with any particular dishes (with the possible exception of lamb) but there are a number of unique foods that you might like to try. The quality of local ingredients is often very high, with a drive towards locally sourced, organic produce in many restaurants in recent years.
It should be noted that several of the above dishes are now rarely eaten and may not be found on restaurant menus. Many cuisines are now represented in Welsh towns and cities, with even small towns and villages usually having takeaways, with Chinese, Indian, pizza and kebab being most common. The larger towns and cities, and in particular Cardiff, have a much wider range of restaurants and cuisines represented.
For more information, see the 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 major sporting or cultural 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. For non-urgent Police matters, dial 101 to be connected to the nearest police station anywhere in Wales.
Wales is one of the safest parts of the United Kingdom and crime rates continue to fall. Nonetheless, visitors should be aware that criminal activity including violent crime is not uncommon, especially alcohol-related violence in towns and cities. Indeed, it may be wise to avoid the centres of large towns and cities on weekend nights and after large sporting events. Despite this, it is unlikely that tourists would be targeted in such a situation. Pickpocketing and mugging is rare.
It is perfectly safe to drive on Welsh roads. However, care should be taken on rural and minor roads, some of which are extremely narrow and poorly marked. In addition, colliding with a sheep or (even worse) a cow can severely damage your car, not to mention the unfortunate animal. Many of these roads pass through some of the most beautiful parts of Wales, but just ensure that at least as much attention is paid to the road as to the scenery!
While generally escaping extreme weather, it should not be forgotten that the British Isles enjoy a famously changeable climate and few places more so than Wales. As such, it is extremely important to be prepared when venturing into the countryside and especially onto the mountains. Here, what starts as a sunny day can rapidly turn into a blizzard, storm-force gale or a disorienting, chilling fog. Every year, many have to be rescued from Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons and some lives are lost due to falls and exposure. Ensure you have suitable clothing, a map and a fully-charged mobile phone before setting off.
The Welsh are very friendly people but like any country there are things which must be respected by visitors.
Referring to Welsh people as English is incorrect and will cause annoyance. The geo-political ties between England and Wales are strong, though some light-hearted anti-English sentiment is common, particularly in the patriotic North West of the country.
Furthermore, in the North West there are high levels of support for independence, which isn't shared by the mainly Anglicised Southern and Eastern areas. If you want to avoid getting into a long and pointless debate, it is best to steer clear of this topic.
'Sheep shagging' doesn't actually happen in Wales. Taunts of 'sheep shagger' may be at first taken in jest, but may become tedious to the Welsh if taunting continues. The term 'Taffy' is a slur and may be considered offensive. In addition, the relationship between England and Wales is long, complex and sometimes controversial. Despite this, English people in Wales are unlikely to face any issues.
Wales is much like the rest of the UK in regards to attitudes towards homosexuality. Displays of homosexuality aren't common due to the rural nature of most of the country, although outward displays of same-sex affection are unlikely to cause a problem. The only exception to this is in the more working class parts of larger towns and cities where discretion is advised.
See Contact entry under United Kingdom for national information on telephone, internet and postal services.
See Contact entries under individual cities for local information.