Wales is part of the United Kingdom, like England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. As a tourist destination most of its visitors come from England- few people travelling to the UK from other countries get as far west as the Welsh border. Its not a big place, and nor is it world-famous for anything more than wet weather and coal mining. However, if all you see is England and maybe a little of Scotland on a trip to Britain, youre really missing out. Wales has some of the best scenery, most dramatic history, cleanest beaches, and most interesting culture in this part of Europe.
The first thing visitors notice, no matter where they cross the border between England and Wales (no passport required), is Welsh. Although its not the dominant language in the relatively densely populated south east, all road signs are bilingual and Welsh is one of the fastest-growing languages in the world. In fact, Wales is the last place on Earth that you can see and hear a Celtic language in everyday use on the streets.
If you are interested in the Welsh language and culture, the best thing to do is either visit any town on the 1st of March or plan your trip to coincide with the National Eisteddfod. The 1st of March is St Davids Day, and every year Wales celebrates with parades, poetry festivals, music, dance, and traditional foods like lamb, cockles, bara brith (fruited bread), and leeks. Cardiff, the capital city, hosts a particularly spectacular program of events around early March.
The National Eisteddfod is held in a different location every year. Its a celebration of Welsh poetry, music, and literature, and one of our strongest traditions. There is just one warning for visitors: the Eisteddfod is almost solely conducted in Welsh and very little English is spoken. However, anyone can enjoy the performances.
The conflict between England and Wales lasted for centuries, and it left behind some huge castles. The one at Harlech in north-western Wales resisted a siege for no less than seven years and it still stands today. There are dozens of others that visitors can get right into, from the one in the centre of Cardiff city to dramatic ruins on deserted hillsides. The best may be picturesque ruins of Carreg Cennen near Carmarthen and the imposing towers of Caernarfon and Conwy in the north.
North Wales is home to higher mountains than any in England. Snowdonia National Park is a paradise for hikers, rock climbers, winter mountaineers, white-water kayakers, mountain bikers, and anyone who appreciates the outdoors. There are craggy high peaks, tumbling waterfalls, and crystal clear mountain lakes to enjoy. Head for the villages of Llanberis, Capel Curig, and Bethesda to find some of the best views in Britain.
All publicly-owned museums in Wales are free. Anyone can walk into the National Museum and Gallery in Cardiff, the Slate Museum in Llanberis (much more interesting than the name suggests), or the Waterfront Museum in Swansea without paying a penny. There is a lot more to Welsh museums than exhibits in glass cases, too. You can take a guided tour of an old coal mine in Blaenavons Big Pit or explore buildings from more than 2000 years of Welsh history at the Museum of Welsh Life at St Fagans.
Wales is a country rich in natural beauty, history, and culture. If youre thinking about coming to the UK, its well worth taking a little extra time and visiting Wales. It may take a little longer to get here but the journey is worth it!
Jess Spate works for an American outdoor retailer but lives in Cardiff, South Wales. She first came here almost 10 years ago and instantly fell in love with area. These days she spends much of her spare time in the mountains, hiking and rock climbing all over Wales.