The pound sterling, also known as GBP or simply the pound, is the main currency of Wales, Scotland, England, and Northern Ireland. In Wales, the pound is made up of 100 pence or “pee,” in a similar way to dollars and cents, and a one-pound coin is often referred to as “quid.” Visa and Mastercard are commonly accepted at shops, restaurants, and attractions, but it’s always recommended to get some pounds at your local currency exchange or at the airport upon arrival in case of shopping at smaller spots without machines or sites out in the country.
English is the official language of Wales, however Welsh is the country’s second primary language and is spoken by approximately 25% of the population—mostly concentrated in the Pembrokeshire and Isle of Anglesey areas. Travellers to Wales should have no problem here if they speak English, though may be interested to see words and phrases in Welsh around the country as it’s a notoriously wordy and consonant-heavy language.
Best Time To Go
The best time to travel to Wales is generally between May and mid-September, although it always depends on what you’re looking to see when there. The spring is typically the driest time of year and less crowded than summer, the weather is pleasant, and many beautiful flowers bloom as the days get longer. However, the summer is packed with activities and festivals, and hikes in the warm and clear mountain air are great for birdwatching. Autumn is wonderful for seeing the fall colours and the dazzling snow on the mountains in the winter is a beautiful sight to behold.
Wales has a fairly mild temperature and somewhat unpredictable climate, so the spring and summer tend to be the driest and sunniest. In spring, between March and May, average temperatures sit between 12–16°C/53–60°F and not typically lower than 6°C/42°F. The hottest summer months are July and August, with highs about 22°C/72°F and long days where the sun doesn’t fully set till almost 10pm. In the fall months of October and November, the temperatures typically mirror the spring temps, but the average amount of rainfall increases.
The ideal traveler to Wales is an adventurer interested in taking in the metropolitan experience in the city of Cardiff, but also experiencing the natural beauty of the landscapes and historical castles scattered throughout the country. It’s a great country for people who want to get to know the locals, see a mix of historical and modern sites, spend time in the countryside, and relax in beautiful coastal towns. It’s a great country for families as well, with so many kid-of-all-ages experiences available with so many outdoor activities and castles to explore.
Getting There From North America
The largest and most commonly used airport in Wales is Cardiff International Airport. There are 14 airports in Cardiff, but most are small and the country is easy to navigate around by train, bike, or car, so international travellers will find they don’t need to fly into any airports but Cardiff. London Heathrow Airport is located less than three hours away by beautiful train ride, so if visitors are already in London, or would prefer to fly into London, it’s an easy transition between cities.
Recommended flight route from the United States
To get to Cardiff from the United States, major airports like New York JFK, Washington Dulles, Chicago, Atlanta, and Los Angeles have several weekly flight options available with Virgin Atlantic or Delta/KLM codeshare flights via Amsterdam.
Recommended flight route from Canada
To get to Cardiff from Canada, major airports like Toronto and Calgary have several weekly flight options available with Virgin Atlantic or Delta/KLM codeshare flights via Amsterdam. Travellers from Montreal and Vancouver will typically require a flight with two connections or more, so if you’re travelling from these airports, you may be interested in a flight and visit to London and then a quick train ride to Cardiff.
Essential Sights of Wales
Cardiff is Wales’s capital city and historians have dated the city at over 6,000 years old. Home to only about 300,000 residents, the small city is still full of character and plenty to see and do. Cardiff Castle is located right in the centre of town and is not far from the National Museum Cardiff and Principality Stadium, which is the home of Welsh football and rugby—a major national pastime! Mermaid Quay is a beautiful boardwalk area on the waterfront where you can stroll, bike, or grab an ice cream, or walk to the close by Millenium Centre to see its iconic architecture. The pub and bar scene in Cardiff is very lively as well, often with live music performed by locals in the fun area around Cardiff Castle.
Snowdonia National Park
This iconic park contains the Snowdonia Mountain Range which is made up of a total of 14 mountains, most famous of which is Snowdon Mountain. Its peak is accessible by scenic train ride, and the mountain is the location of one of the most well-known Arthurian legends: where King Arthur slayed the mountain giant Rhitta and buried him under the rocks at its peak. Snowdonia National Park is very popular with hikers and has over 1,400 miles of trails. Travellers can also go horseback riding and rock climbing here.
This beautiful Northern Wales town is actually located quite close to Manchester, England and is full of charming historical locations. The striking Conwy Castle, with its many towers and battlements, and the River Conwy are visible from the town’s 13th-century medieval walls. Conwy boasts the smallest house in Britain with just 10ft x 6ft of floor space and painted bright red. The town also has an original merchant house from the 14th century.
One of most fascinating and complex castles in Wales, Cardiff Castle dates back to the original Roman fortress built here around 50 AD, which makes it around 2,000 years old. Square walls surround the original Norman keep, built on a hill and formerly surrounded by a moat to view and protect the surrounding area with ease. Built into one of the walls are the incredibly ornate Victorian Gothic-style castle apartments and clock tower. In contrast, on the opposing castle wall you’ll find ancient Roman walls and chariot murals as well as wartime shelters used during WWII.
Other Highlights of Wales Off the Beaten Path
Because of its jagged coastal shape in the far west of Wales, Pembrokeshire is known for its lovely towns and cottages, beaches, and wildlife. Pembrokeshire Coast National Park makes up almost the entire 183mi coastal edge of the peninsula around St. David’s Bay. In the northern area of the peninsula you can visit St. Davids—the birthplace of patron saint of Wales—and the sprawling medieval St. Davids Cathedral. A trip to Pembroke town will show off its medieval walls and castle (where Henry VII of the Tudor dynasty was born), and to the east the town of Laugharne is where the famous Welsh poet Dylan Thomas lived and worked.
Cambrian Mountains and Devil’s Bridge
Waterfalls and hiking paths galore await you within the Cambrian Mountains. Devil’s Bridge is a village within the mountains and is named for the unique bridge of the same name, which is actually three bridges stacked on top of one another with the oldest dating back to the 11th century. Hiking in Devil’s Bridge will show off the Rheidol Gorge and the thundering waterfalls where River Mynach falls 300ft. A ride on the scenic Vale of Rheidol Steam Railway takes you on a journey between the town of Aberystwyth and Devil’s Bridge.
Located close to the Isle of Anglesey and originally built in the 13th century by King Edward I, this gigantic and dramatic castle with its 13 towers is one of best-preserved medieval castles in the country. Royal history enthusiasts may be interested to know that in 1969 this is where Prince Charles officially became Prince of Wales. The castle has been impressing royals, subjects, and visitors for over 700 years.
Portmeirion Resort Town
Portmeirion Resort Town is an attraction on the edge of Snowdonia National Park that’s designed to look like a quaint Italian town with colourful flowers and painted buildings. The resort includes fountains, a church, and pathways to the lower village right on the coast. Shops sell distinct Portmeirion pottery and there are many delicious restaurants around town. The town was also the setting of the cult British TV series The Prisoner. Tours can be booked as part of a unique weekend or holiday stay here.
Top Activities and Experiences in Wales
Golfing in Northern Wales
Wales is a major destination for some famous and fabulous golf experiences. The Island of Anglesey and Royal St. David's courses have some top tier tees, as does North Wales Golf Club in Llandudnowith its famous criss-crossed par threes on holes 16 and 17. Conwy Golf Course is the only British Open qualifying course in Wales, whereas District Golf Course features “The Point,” where nine holes jut out into the Irish Sea with cliffs dropping down towards the water on either side. Try not to flub your shot here!
Kayaking over Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
Daring travellers can walk along the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct over the Vale (valley) of Llangollen, but for a truly unique experience you can kayak across it and gaze over the side of the aqueduct down 126ft to the river below. Shallow canal boats also traverse the aqueduct, which is the longest and highest structure of its kind, built over 200 years ago to carry the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee.
See Wales by Rail
Wales has historically been famous for its mining operations, which meant that extensive railways have been built throughout history to move goods quickly and easily across the country and into England. Ten restored heritage steam railways now operate across Wales and visit most popular seaside towns and mountain ranges, like the Snowdon Mountain Railways in the national park, Welsh Highland Railway, Vale of Rheidol Railway connecting the coast with Devil’s Bridge, and the Cambrian National Railway and its museum in Oswestry.
Doctor Who Experience
Fans of the long-running BBC series Doctor Who (and spin-off shows Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures) will recognize many filming locations in Cardiff and South Wales. Within Cardiff, the National Museum Cardiff has been used as a stand-in for laboratories, London and Paris museums, and universities. Cardiff Castle was featured in several episodes in series 6 and 7 with the Eleventh Doctor, and Dunraven Bay, about 40 minutes outside of Cardiff, is where the Tenth Doctor and Rose said their heartbreaking farewell.
There are over 600 castles in Wales, which makes it one of the top destinations for castle touring in the world. Touring between Cardiff in the south and Isle of Anglesey in the north will show off both the country’s active castles and palaces as well as ancient historical ruins. Some of the very best, don’t-miss castles from south to north are Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch outside the city, Raglan Castle surrounded by lush green country, Bishops Castle ruins in Pembrokeshire, Caernarfon Castle fortress (home of former and present Princes of Wales), and Conwy Castle, surrounded by the medieval town.
Unique Welsh Museums
Travellers looking to learn more about local industry and history will find plenty to love across Wales. Coal fueled the industrial revolution in Great Britain and travellers can learn more about it at Big Pit National Coal Museum in the town of Blaenavon. The Royal Mint is all about the history and making of coins, while the living history aspect of St. Fagans National Museum of History gives details of historical Welsh culture and tradition. National Slate Museum in Caernarfon illustrates a typical 19th-century mining quarry operation, showing the equipment that was needed to extract the slate from the earth as well as an impressive working waterwheel.
Due to the variable weather from one year to the next, plus the clear air and water and mountainous landscape, the variety of food found in the wild in Wales is incredible. Going foraging with a professional will allow you to find food growing wild in the most surprising of places. Wall valerian leaves can be steeped to create a relaxing tea, wild garlic and nettles can be found, as well as hogweed, rosehips, and medlar fruits, which look like they come out of a medieval history book. Brecon Beacons National Park area, Anglesey Isle, and Pembrokeshire are some of the best spots for foraging with an expert to teach you exactly what to look for and what to avoid.
There are hundreds of miles of walking and hiking paths across Wales, between the stunning national parks of Snowdonia, Brecon Beacons, and the Cambrian Mountains, and the many miles of coastline. Almost all of the Isle of Anglesey is an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” and the whole island is criss-crossed with walking paths to enjoy every bit of the wildlife and history. The North Wales Pilgrim's Way is a 135mi-long route with ancient religious sites, some dating back to the 6th century.
Mountain biking has a long history in Wales, which is one of the most preeminent destinations for the sport. Singletrack paths criss-cross the country in mountains, valleys, national parks, and coastal areas. Some downhill paths are equipped with uplift shuttles to take the pain out of climbing, and bike rental locations and professional guides abound for those interested in learning more about mountain biking or building on existing skills.
Essential Welsh Foods to Try
This is essentially a delicious cheese on toast, prepared typically in a cast iron pan out of sharp cheddar or other regional cheeses. The name means “Welsh rabbit,” which puzzles cultural historians as there is no evidence there was ever rabbit involved in this dish. If egg is added on top, this dish becomes a buck rarebit.
Don’t be fooled by the name, there is no meat to be found in these sausages! Glamorgan Sausage was once an encased cooked cheese by the same name, but glamorgan cheese no longer exists so a white crumbly cheese from Caerphilly is used now. These sausages are made relatively simply using cheese, leeks, and mustard rolled up in a casing of breadcrumbs, flour, and mustard, which is then baked.
This traditional Welsh dish varies slightly from region to region across the country, and uses seasonal vegetables. Cawl is a hearty soup made from chunks of Welsh lamb or sometimes beef, stewed with vegetables like onion, parsnips, carrots, and potatoes in vegetable stock. The best cawl is made the day before eating to allow the flavours to get to know each other in a delicious way, and is served with homemade bread and cheese.
Bara Brith Bread
Tea time in Wales is distinctly differentiated from English tea as it is most often accompanied by bara brith bread. This is a rich, spicy loaf cake filled with tea-soaked dried fruits like raisins and currants. The Welsh name “bara brith” means “speckled bread,” as the slices of cake look spotted when sliced.
The fairly simple Welsh cakes recipe of flour, castor sugar, sultana raisins, butter, and eggs comes together to form a delicious, melt-in-your-mouth tender dessert. Welsh cakes are unique in that they are not baked but are cooked on a flat griddle for only a few minutes on each side, then dusted with powdered sugar and ideally served hot and fresh.
Welsh Beer and Ale
Wales is an up-and-coming destination for beer and ale, and accordingly dozens of distilleries have appeared across the country in the last few years. There are many old names in beer brewing here too—some like Brains and Buckley have been around for hundreds of years. A big selection of pubs in Wales are dog-friendly, which means you have a round with your favourite hound or make a new four-legged friend! For lovers of other types of spirits, distilleries like Penderyn in Brecon Beacons Park are making world-class whisky and are leading the charge on a sort of Welsh whisky revival.
Tips for Sustainable Travel
Biking and hiking throughout the country, using the great public transit system in cities, and shopping local in arcades (shopping centres) are great ways that you can give back to Wales in an eco-conscious manner. The country’s three national parks work to conserve the natural beauty of the land and wildlife, so supporting them means that you’re doing the same work. Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre in New Quay works to educate people about the marine life in the area and preserve the pods of dolphins that live along the coast and run boat trips to see them in their natural habitat. The Centre for Alternative Technology in Powys offers great examples of the benefits of growing organic products, composting, converting buildings to be more energy-efficient, and helping to teach visitors about edible varieties of flowers. GreenWood Family Park in Snowdonia boasts the only people-powered coaster in the world as well as a solar-powered ride.
Where to Go Next
Once you’ve discovered Wales, the next logical step would be to visit other areas of the United Kingdom and Ireland. London is less than three hours from Cardiff via a beautiful train journey, and there’s a lot of royal history shared between the neighbouring countries. You will love the castles you can visit in Scotland, and a quick two-hour flight or less will take you to Belfast in Northern Ireland or Dublin to see the green rolling hills of Ireland. Also, not far from Wales, Paris and Brussels or Amsterdam are accessible by Eurostar trains from London.
Most Popular Itineraries for Wales
For a short stay in Cardiff or as a stopover on the way to another destination, check out the Eat + Drink Cardiff itinerary. Stay for 3-nights in a charming, historic hotel in the city and take part in a Cardiff Castle tour and a foodie walking tour. For a more extensive look at the history, culture, and beauty of Wales, consider the Castles, Coasts & Celts escorted tour. This immersive 7-night tour takes you from Cardiff in the south to Isle of Anglesey in the north, and includes some great touring in between with many meals and all accommodations included.
For someone who has a week for their holidays and wants to experience both the best of England as well as Wales, we have the perfect solution: the week-long Discover London and Wales itinerary. This includes a hotel stay in London with included sightseeing, then a 4-night small group escorted tour of Wales with hand-picked B&Bs and daily touring included.
22 Jul 2020, 5:24 p.m.