Beginners’ guide to: Wales

Thursday 29 August 2019
Wales – you may have heard of it and perhaps you’ve seen photos of its extraordinary landscapes and astounding castles. But exactly where is it and how can you visit this wondrous, mystical place?

So what actually is it?

Wales is a country that is part of the UK, situated on the west of the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east.

You don’t need a passport to cross the border between Wales and England, as they’re both part of the UK.

Wales is a small country with a population of approximately 3 million and an area of around 8,023 sq miles (20,779 sq km).

It closely shares its political and social history with the rest of Great Britain, but has retained a distinct cultural identity.

It is one of the few bilingual countries in the world, with much of the population speaking Welsh as well as English. You will see road signs written in both languages as you travel around the country.


Picturesque Wales

Aahhh...picturesque Wales

What’s there to see?

The scenery! Wales has more than 1,680 miles (2,700 km) of stunning coastline, and is largely mountainous; here you can climb the highest mountain in England and Wales – Snowdon – at 3,560ft (1,085m).

Wales’s natural landscape is so wonderful, it boasts 3 of Britain’s National Parks: Snowdonia is mountainous and rugged and home to mount Snowdon; the Brecon Beacons is all green rolling hills peppered with castles and stone circles; and Pembrokeshire covers a wild, windswept coastline with never-ending beaches. It’s no wonder it’s in Wales that the adventure sport of coasteering was invented!

Wales has no fewer than 5 Areas of Outstanding National Beauty – natural landscapes that are unique or of significant value to conserve. Are you getting the picture yet? Wales is really beautiful!

Plus, the history! Ancient castles, cathedrals, houses, railways and ruins are everywhere here. In fact, Wales has the highest number of castles per square mile than any other country in the world, so history buffs and mini conquerors alike have plenty to explore.


Rhossili Bay, Wales

Possibly the best beach ever? Rhossili Bay

Can I visit Wales from London and how?

You can get to Wales in an easy 2-hour direct train journey from London. Hop on at London Paddington to reach Cardiff – Wales’s capital city and a great starting point for your explorations.

Other parts of Wales can also be reached with the extensive rail network that connects with the rest of Britain. See the National Rail Journey Planner.

Train tickets can work out significantly cheaper if booked in advance.

Alternatively, hire a car either from London or once you arrive in Cardiff. Central London to Cardiff takes approximately 3 hours by car. Car hire companies include Sixt, Europcar  and easyCar. The AA Route Planner helps you plan driving routes and times.

Coach services run from London Victoria Coach Station to various destinations in Wales for as little as £5 and as regularly as once an hour. See National Express and Megabus.

Rather someone else arranged it all for you? Many tour companies offer organised trips around the highlights of Wales.

The official tourist board, VisitWales, offers more details on travelling to Wales.


Conwy Castle

Possibly the best castle ever? Conwy Castle

5 things I shouldn’t miss in Wales?

Climb (or take the train) up England and Wales’s highest mountain – Snowdon; and explore the scenic walks and villages of the surrounding Snowdonia National Park, not missing a fun ride on the heritage Ffestiniog narrow-gauge railway.

Visit at least one of those amazing castles. If you only have time to visit one, make it Conwy Castle. Built all the way back in 1283, it's a magnificent piece of medieval history, and the castle along with the city's walls are some of the best preserved of their kind in the world.

Pack up a picnic and spend the day on the oft-awarded best beach in the UK: Rhossili Bay on the Gower Peninsular, with 3 miles of golden sands backed by a wild, green landscape.

Find more wild and windswept beaches, plus towering sea cliffs and abundant wildlife on the Pembrokeshire Coast. Here you’ll also find the smallest city in BritainSt Davids. Despite being tiny and with just 1,600 residents, its spectacular medieval cathedral has earned it city status.

The Brecon Beacons National Park is a beautiful area to explore typically British rolling green hills and picturesque villages. Don’t miss a pint with the locals in a great traditional pub. Be sure to stop by the characterful town of Hay-on-Wye, which has a distinctly literary feel due to its famous annual book festival.


The book festival at Hay-on-Wye, Wales

Books galore in Hay-on-Wye

What else is near there?

You could easily combine a trip to Wales with an exploration of West England that it borders. From the cider-making countryside of Herefordshire, to the picture-postcard Cotswolds, and further south, the beautiful seaside villages in Devon and Cornwall.

Or just north of Wales you can step into historic Chester before reaching the dynamic North England cities of Liverpool and Manchester.

Plan your trip

With a Wales guidebook and with VisitWales.

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