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Revision as of 14:57, 16 September 2008 by Jamezcd (talk | contribs) (There is no need for such harsh warnings about referring to people as 'English' or Wales as 'part of England'. As a Welsh person, this doesn't cause genuine offence, it merely prompts correction!)
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[[File:Wormshead view 072006 rb.jpg|250px|frameless|Wales]]
Quick Facts
Capital Cardiff
Government Devolved administration within a Constitutional monarchy (UK)
Currency Pound Sterling (£)
Area total: 20,779 sq km

water: 1.9%

Population 2,903,085 (2001)
Language English,Welsh,
Religion Christian
Country code +44
Internet TLD .uk
Time Zone WET (UTC; UTC+1 in summer)

Wales (Welsh, Cymru. [1]) is one of the four "home nations" that make up the United Kingdom. It lies on a western peninsula of the island of Great Britain, bordered on the East by England.

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.


Map of Wales

Due to the central mountain range, Wales is culturally and economically divided into three regions:

North Wales - several holiday destinations located along the coast, but primarily a rural area
Mid Wales - a sparsely populated mountainous region with a coastal area facing the Irish Sea
South Wales - Wales' main centers of population are located along the South Wales coast


Wales has many picturesque cities and towns. These nine are the most notable. Other urban areas are listed in their specific regional sections.

  • Aberystwyth (Mid Wales) - coastal town with large student population.
  • Bangor (North Wales) - picturesque university town.
  • Caernarfon (North Wales) - site of Caernarfon Castle, one of Wales' largest and best preserved castles.
  • Conwy (North Wales) - medieval, fortified town with impressive castle and quaint shops.
  • Hay-on-Wye (Mid Wales) - with over forty book stores (mostly selling used books), this small little town has been crowned the book capital of the UK. The town also hosts an annual literary festival, which Bill Clinton aptly described as "Woodstock for the Mind."
  • Llandudno (North Wales) - largest seaside resort in North Wales.
  • Swansea (South Wales) - Wales' city by the sea and second largest urban area with beautiful coastline and sandy beaches.
  • Tenby (South Wales) - medieval walled town and elegant seaside resort.



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.


  • Whisky - After an absence of over 100 years, Wales rejoined the club of Celtic countries that produce whisky in 2004 with the launch of the Welsh Whisky Company[2]. This distillery is based out of the village of Penderyn, near Brecon in South Wales. Penderyn whisky has received a number of awards and makes an interesting addition to the world of whisky. The distillery visitor centre opened in June 2008.

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:

  • Cawl or Lobscouse (North) - a lamb broth.
  • Welsh Rarebit - a melted cheese dish, often spiced with ale and herbs and served on toasted bread.
  • Laver bread (pronounced "lar-ver") is not, as the name implies, bread, but a purée made from seaweed (the same kind that is used in the preparation of Japanese nori). It is generally rolled into small cakes mixed with oatmeal and served at breakfast alongside bacon rashers, though it is delicious simply heated and served on buttered toast. This dish is only available in the Swansea area and can be purchased raw at Swansea Market.
  • Ice-cream - due to an influx of Italians into Wales, the area boasts some of the best cones and tubs in the country. The following are UK national award winners: Frank's Ice Cream in Carmarthenshire, Joe's Ice-cream [3] in Swansea and Fecci & Sons Ice Cream in Tenby. La Belle Rouge [4] in Aberystwyth is also very highly recommended.

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.

Get in

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

By air

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).

Anglesey Airport

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

By car

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

  • The A5, followed by the M54 after Shrewsbury, to London and the Midlands takes you through the spectacular Snowdonia National Park
  • The island of Anglesey is along the A55 road along the North Wales coast. If you are approaching from the south try the A5 which is a scenic route that takes you through the mountains of North Wales.

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.

By train

South Wales

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).

North Wales

Barmouth Bridge carries the Cambrian Coast line across the beautiful Mawddach Estuary

Arriva Trains Wales.

Mid Wales

  • The Cambrian Line takes the same route as the Cambrian Coast Line as far as Machynlleth, where it goes southwards along the coast through Borth to the university town of Aberystwyth.

Train timetables

See National Rail's website for train timetables, or The TrainLine's website for tickets.

By motorbus

National Express operates coach services around the UK including to and from many parts of Wales.

By boat

  • Regular ferry services operate between Holyhead in North Wales and Ireland, (Dublin and Dun Laoghaire), and is provided by two carriers. Stenaline and Irish Ferries both offer multiple daily service between the two ports for passengers and vehicles. Bookings can be made through their respective websites.
  • Rosslare in South Eastern Ireland is connected to two ports in Pembrokeshire. Stena operate the route to Fishguard, (including a fast ferry service), Irish Ferries operate the route to Pembroke Dock.

Ferry routes to British Mainland

Get Around

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!

North South links in Wales, despite the relatively short distance (approximately 170 miles), are less efficient. Rail connections between North and South Wales in fact cross into neighbouring England, although there are now more direct services between Cardiff and North Wales along the Marches line via several places in England. For destinations and starting points in South Wales West of Cardiff, those thinking of travelling by train to North Wales need to consider the fact that their journey will start off in a eastwards direction before they turn north at Newport, meaning that valuable time is being used whilst not actually travelling in the intended direction of travel.

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.

Traws Cambria bus in Dolgellau

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.

A Talyllyn Railway train passing a level crossing near Brynglas Station

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.

National Parks

Areas of Outstanding Natual Beauty

For more details on Areas of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB's) see the National Association for AONB's[14]

  • The Isle of Anglesey- has one of the most distinctive, attractive and varied landscapes in the British Isles. Anglesey was designated as an Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) in 1966 in order to protect the aesthetic appeal and variety of the island's coastal landscape and habitats from inappropriate development. The AONB is predominantly a coastal designation, covering most of the island's 125 miles coastline (including LLanddwyn), it contains rocky headlands, golden beaches, dunes, heaths and fine green countryside. Some of the beaches are recognised as being amongst the best in Great Britain and Europe. The AONB supports a wealth of wildlife such as choughs, grey seals, sea lavender and silver studded blue butterflies. There are also many areas protected for their nature conservation value, such as Newborough Warren National Nature Reserve, and several Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
  • Gower Peninsula (South Wales) - UK's first designated area of outstanding natural beauty - under the jurisdiction of the City and County of Swansea
  • Lleyn AONB. The peninsula sticking out westwards beyond Snowdonia, in the north-west of the country
  • Clwydian Range AONB. A range of hills running southwards from the coast at Prestatyn, Denbighshire in the north-east of the country, close to the border with England.
  • The Wye Valley AONB is one of Britain's few lowland AONB's. It straddles the southern end of the England/Wales border between Hereford and Chepstow


Harlech Castle in North Wales
  • Millennium Stadium - Built in Cardiff originally as the venue for the 1999 Rugby World Cup Final. Now the home stadium of the Wales Rugby and Football/ Soccer teams. It has hosted the FA Cup Final, and other English Football Association matches due to the redevolopment of Wembley Stadium, London. The English 2007 League Cup Final is expected to be the last of these events hosted at the Millennium Stadium, with future events returning to Wembley.
  • Blaenavon Industrial Landscape - a UNESCO World Heritage site, Blaenavon.
  • North Wales Castles - UNESCO World Heritage site, built in the decades after the invasion or conquest of Wales by England in the thirteenth century. They represented the most advanced military technology of the time. They have been compared with the Crusader Castles of the Middle East.

National Museums and Galleries

  • The National Museum [15], Cardiff
  • St Fagans National History Museum [16], Cardiff - includes many historic buildings, relocated from their original site.
  • The National Slate Museum [17], Llanberis
  • Big Pit [18] - the National Coal Museum, Blaenafon
  • The National Woollen Museum [19], Dre-fach Felindre, Carmarthenshire
  • The National Roman Legionary Museum [20], Caerleon.
  • The National Waterfront Museum [21], Swansea - examines Wales' maritime and industrial past.


Cultural Events

  • Brecon Jazz Festival, Brecon [22]
  • Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, Cardiff
  • The Guardian Hay Festival, Hay-on-Wye. [23] A literary festival, which Bill Clinton aptly described as 'The Woodstock for the Mind.'
  • The Dylan Thomas Festival, Swansea An annual event held between 27 October and 9 November (the dates of the poet's birth and death) to commemorate the works of Thomas. In addition, the festival hosts the awards' ceremony for the winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize [24] - a biannual writing competition for most outstanding literary talent in English, aged under 30.
  • International Eisteddfod, Llangollen. [25] An international festival of traditional music and dance.
  • National Eisteddfod A Welsh Language event that alternates between different venues in Wales. In 2007 it will be held in Flintshire North Wales.
  • The Swansea Bay Film Festival, Swansea. [26]. One of the UK's largest international film festivals
  • Swansea Festival of Music and the Arts, Swansea. [27]. An annual (October) three week bash of culture at various locations in Swansea, and the second largest such festival in the UK.


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.

  • The Celtic Manor Resort [28] - located near Newport, South East Wales, it has three courses, and will be the venue for the 2010 Ryder Cup.
  • Conwy (Caernarvonshire), Conwy, North Wales- this Links hosted a final qualifying round for the 2006 Open Championship
  • Machynys Golf and Country Club [29], Llanelli, South West Wales - Links, opened in 2005 Wales' first and so far only Nicklaus Designed course.


Hillwalking on Cadair Idris

Wales' offers some spectacular coastal and mountainous scenery. Which offers the opportunity for various activity holidays.

  • Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales and offers ideal hiking opportunities.
  • Cadair Idris, close to the Mid-Wales coast, overlooking Dolgellau to the north and Bro Dysynni to the south-west is another very popular mountain. It has good rail access on both North and South sides from the Cambrian Coast Line, but this is virtually at sea level. The actual summit is 893 m or 2,930 ft above sea level. This makes for a strenuous walk which takes most of the day.

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:

  • Aberystwyth [30]. A university overlooking the sea - excellent facilities.
  • Bangor [31]. A relatively small university, but with a good reputation.
  • Cardiff [32]. The largest and highest ranked of the universities.
  • Glamorgan [33]. A large university, set in the South Wales Valleys.
  • Lampeter [34]. The third oldest university in England and Wales, behind only Oxford and Cambridge, based in the small town of Lampeter in West Wales. Home to the oldest rugby and hockey teams in Wales.
  • Newport [35]. Contains the well-renowned Newport Art School.
  • Swansea [36]. A large university located on the sea-front - often voted the top university in the UK for student experience.
  • Swansea Metropolitan [37]. This university is located at several campuses throughout the city, and it is famous for its courses in stained glass design [38] and digital media [39].
  • Trinity College, Carmarthen [40]. A small, but historic University, based in beautiful national park.
  • University Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC) [41]. The self styled Cardiff metripolitan university.

Colleges and institutes

  • Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff [42]. A college focusing on music and drama.

English (as a second language)

  • English Study Centre, 19-21 Uplands Crescent, Uplands, Swansea SA2 0NX. Tel:+44 1792 464-103. Email: [email protected] [43]

Stay safe

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).

This country guide is usable. It has links to this country's major cities and other destinations (and all are at usable status or better), a valid regional structure and information about this country's currency, language, cuisine, and culture is included. At least the most prominent attraction is identified with directions. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!