Despite being part of the United Kingdom, Wales remains a largely undiscovered destination among Americans. This picturesque country boasts lush landscapes, natural beauty, vibrant cities, seaside towns, magnificent castles and one incredibly unique language.
Recently in the spotlight for their World Cup soccer match against the United States, Wales is full of epic stories, historic treasures and unusual adventures, from camping cliffside to exploring a cavernous former slate mine. Home to more than 600 castles (more per square mile than any other country in the world), Wales consists of four regions: North Wales, South Wales, Mid Wales and West Wales, which offer distinct terrain, histories and options for adventure.
Much of Wales’ landscape is protected, ensuring its beauty will be preserved for generations to come. Around a quarter of the country lies either within one of its three National Parks (Snowdonia – home to the world’s first inland surfing lagoon, the Brecon Beacons and the Pembrokeshire Coast) or one of its five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Llŷn Peninsula, the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley, the Gower Peninsula, Anglesey and the Wye Valley).
Wales is on the island of Great Britain, to the west of England, and covers an area of 8,194 square miles. Cardiff, the capital city, is just two hours by train from London, and many tourists combine the two capitals into their sightseeing itinerary. In fact, the scenic train ride is often a highlight of a visitor’s time spent in the United Kingdom. No visit to London is complete with a train ride to Cardiff.
There are seven official cities in Wales. Cardiff has been the official capital since 1955 and is home to around 369,000 people. Swansea and Newport also have populations in the hundreds of thousands, while Bangor has just 18,000 residents. The last two, St Asaph and St Davids, are the two smallest cities in the UK, with populations of around 3,500 and 1,800 respectively. Wrexham (population 65,000) is Wales’ newest city, having won status in 2022.
The Football Association of Wales is the third oldest football association in the world and is one of four responsible for the laws of the game. What’s more, actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney recently purchased Wrexham AFC, the oldest club in Wales. Founded in 1867, the club is one of the oldest in the world.
Wales is a mecca for horseback riding, with thousands of miles of bridlepaths, but visitors can also delight in mountain biking, whitewater rafting, paddling and hiking. Riding in Snowdonia – always taken at a sedate pace because of rough ground – is not just an audience with nature, it’s a front-row seat beneath the highest mountains in Wales. Countryside trekking is in Penmachno near Betws-y-Coed and there are coast views too. Anglesey is brilliant for riding and features the Abermenai Sands, a mile-long gallop beside the Menai Straits where riders are afforded a spectacular backdrop of Caernarfon Castle – recognized as one of the greatest buildings of the Middle Ages – and Snowdonia mountains.
Perhaps walking is more to your liking. Tucked between Cardiff and Swansea on the south coast of Wales, Neath Port Talbot is a great county to explore on foot. Discover leafy countryside, tranquil canals, rushing waterfalls and fascinating industrial heritage. The Brecon Beacons may have the highest mountains in southern Britain, but they have paths that are suited for all types of walkers. The Storey Arms route takes you right to the top of the highest peak in the Beacon Beacons via a moderate, four mile circular walk that anyone of average fitness can enjoy. The National Showcaves Centre for Wales in the Brecon Beacons National Park is one of Wales’ top attractions. In Bone Cave you will find a number of exhibits that illustrate people’s use of the caves in the past, and their struggle to survive alongside the other inhabitants of the cave – hyenas, wolves and cave bears.
After your walking tour a beverage stop is in order. A guided tour of the Spirit of Wales Distillery in Newport includes welcome drinks on arrival, followed by a brief background of the distillery and the venue, which captures the essence of their Celtic heritage.
With so much to see and do in this picturesque country, visitors need to plan accordingly and allow enough time to experience the full flavor of Wales. Visit Wales can assist with an extensive itinerary.