Wales is believed by many to be the most enthralling part of the British Isles. Largely ignored by tourists compared to parts of Ireland, Scotland and England, Wales’ relative anonymity is one of its biggest highlights. A place where history is alive and local culture is in full display, Wales remains a fascinating oasis brimming with things to see and do.
Perched on the western corner of England, visitors to Wales will find countless amounts of physical beauty crammed into a small mass of land. Home to everything from mountain ranges, lush valleys, ragged coastlines, medieval market towns and ancient castles, it’s little wonder that word is finally getting out about the land of the red dragon.
Reasons to visit Wales are endless and lovers of the outdoors will find many opportunities to put on their hiking boots or ride a mountain bike while visiting Wales. Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is home to some of the most stunning scenery in Britain, while the brave will love the surf and sweeping beaches of the Gower Peninsula.
Those visiting in summer can’t miss the “Queen of Welsh Resorts” Llandudno, home to limestone headlands and some of the best nightlife in the country.
Those that prefer indoors can’t miss happening capital Cardiff, home to some of the best luxury hotels and gourmet restaurants in the country and especially electric when a big game is on at the national stadium. Newport and Swansea are the next biggest towns to explore in Wales, while quaint towns including Conwy and Bangor will provide relaxation and just as many memories.
Capital Cardiff's compelling culture
The culture in Wales is also compelling and whether it’s the sound of the all male choirs or the local Welsh language, Wales’ Celtic past and industrial traditions still make up the cornerstones of Wales’ contemporary chutzpah.
Sampling the local fare is just as essential as downing a few pints of local ale so make sure to taste traditional Welsh stew, Glamorgan sausage, Welsh rarebit and Welsh cakes before you leave.
Though Wales might remain largely unexplored, there really is no reason not to go because nowadays getting to the country has never been easier. Flights are frequent from airports throughout Europe and North America, with Wales also easily accessible by rail and road from England.
Capital Cardiff has the most transport connections and is the first port of call for most visitors to Wales. As the main transport hub it’s also the port where you’ll most likely depart from. Don’t worry though - Wales is the sort of place that beckons travelers for repeat returns.
Walk this Wales
Wales is the first country in the world to have an uninterrupted walking route around its entire coastline. The Wales Coast Path stretches for 1,400 kilometres and if you add Offa’s Dyke – the inland path along the Anglo-Welsh border – you can circumnavigate the whole country.
You don’t have to do the whole thing at once, though – dip in anywhere you like. The Pembrokeshire section in West Wales is consistently ranked among the best walking paths in the world, with beautiful beaches, seal and dolphin spotting, and a cluster of islands to pop over to by boat.
In North Wales, the Llyn Peninsula is about zero crowds and maximum beauty; find hidden coves, dramatic cliff tops and flex your swing at the stunningly sited Nefyn Golf Course, which boasts ‘a view of the sea from every tee’.
Down south, pound the paths around the Gower Peninsula, the UK’s first designated ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’. From there, it’s a fun scramble across a rocky causeway to Worm’s Head at low tide. Avoid the mistake Dylan Thomas made – the poet was marooned on the island when the tide came in.
Get starry eyed
The Brecon Beacons National Park is the perfect place to immerse yourself in the natural environment – here, sheep outnumber people 30 to one. As delightful as it is by day, at night it attracts romantics and the cosmically curious; in 2013, the park was named an International Dark Sky Reserve, only the fifth place in the world to hold that title. The lack of light pollution means clear and bewitching views of the heavens.
Captivating stargazing settings include Llanthony Priory in the eastern part of the National Park, and over in the west, the country’s most romantic castle, Carreg Cennen, where the cliff-top location thrusts you even closer to the celestial spectacle.
The National Park Visitor Centre organises regular stargazing events, with astronomy experts on hand to explain what you’re looking at. Between January and March, you can clearly make out the Plough and from there find Polaris – the North Star.
In August, see the Perseid meteor shower, while the Christmas Star, Orion, the seven sisters, Taurus the Bull and the mighty Jupiter can all be spotted in early winter.
Whisky and waterfalls
The southern fringe of the Brecon Beacons National Park is known as Waterfall Country. Head out on the nine-kilometre Four Falls Walk that winds through Celtic rainforest and takes you up close to – and at points, right behind – a series of spectacular waterfalls.
Majestic Sgwd Clun-Gwyn’s roar can be heard far in advance, while 27-metre-high Henrhyd Falls will be familiar to Caped Crusader fans: it played the role of the entrance to the Bat Cave in The Dark Knight Rises. The waterfalls are especially exciting following a heavy downpour of rain, so if you get caught in inclement weather, make the most of it.
After feeling the falls’ force – and possibly getting a little sprayed – warm up with a Welsh wysgi. Twenty kilometres from ‘the Bat Cave’ is Penderyn Distillery, the country’s first commercial whisky distiller.
It produces several varieties of single malt, as well as other award-winning spirits and drinks, including the crisp and delicious Brecon Gin. Sample them all and see how they’re made on a distillery tour or book a masterclass, for in-depth nosings, swirlings and tastings.
Words: Rmishka Singh