By Rissa Gatdula-Lumontad
An emerging tourist destination in the UK, Wales is most popular for those who want to discover its history and culture. Wales is known for its rolling green hills, spectacular national parks as well as its distinctly Celtic culture. As such, it’s a unique part of the United Kingdom to explore.
Cathedral and Cuisine of St. David’s
St. David’s is the smallest city in the UK yet it has become famous primarily because of St. David’s Cathedral, founded by St. David in 600 AD and restored by George Gilbert Scott in the 19th century. The remains of St. David, the patron saint of Wales, are buried here. Pilgrims believe that two visits to the cathedral equals one to Rome and three visits equals one to Jerusalem. The city comes alive in May and June when the St. David’s Cathedral Festival is held. Recently, St. David’s has been acclaimed for its dining scene as well. Must tries are the seafood dishes and bread-and-butter pudding at Cwtch (a Michelin-starred restaurant), the cottage pie with Welsh ale at the Refrectory, and Pembrokeshire beef at Morgan’s.
The Museum of Welsh Life
Otherwise known as St. Fagans National History Museum (as it is located in the village of St. Fagans near Cardiff), this is hands down the most popular tourist destination in Wales. It is one of the seven sites that make up the National Museum of Wales. Discover the architecture, culture and lifestyle of Wales’ industrial past in this 100-acre site, featuring the Elizabethan castle of St. Fagans and over 40 re-constructed buildings from various locations of the country. The working traditional arts and crafts shops and mills are very interesting and will give you an insight on how the Welsh lived in the olden days. Truly an amazing trip back in time!
Wales has a generally mountainous landscape, and a visit will not be complete without a trip to one of its highlands. Highly recommended is an excursion to its highest peak, Snowdon, located in the Snowdonia National Park. A hike to the summit through any of the many pathways promises the most rewarding gorgeous views of Britain. For non-hikers who prefer to take it easy, the 4.7-mile locomotive train ride via the Snowdon Mountain Railway from the village of Llanberis in Gwynedd takes visitors to the mountain top where they can take in the majestic views.
Considered the most impressive of the castles that King Edward I built in the 13th century as a strategy to control the area, this UNESCO World Heritage site is located in Gwynedd, North Wales. It is one of the great medieval fortresses of Europe. The exhibitions provide a walk through its intriguing history and provides dramatic views of the surrounding landscape. Other Gwynedd castles similarly built by King Edward I during the period are the Conwy Castle, Beaumaris Castle, and Harlech Castle.
Cardiff Castle in the center of the capital city is proud of its 2,000 year history. A guided tour of the fabulous castle apartments will make anyone feel like they’re in another time and place. The wartime shelters dating back to World War II are also included in the tour. For a total fairy-tale experience, book a Welsh Banquet on a Friday (between June through November) for an enjoyable evening of Welsh food, wine and music.
With many first-rate event venues in Cardiff, the capital of Wales can actually lay claim as the performing arts center of the country. The Welsh are known for their music, and attending a concert or watching any other artistic performance in Cardiff while visiting is sure to be a trip highlight. The annual world-class orchestral concert series, the Welsh Proms Cardiff, is held at St. David’s Hall, the biggest venue for performing arts in Wales. Other musical genres such as jazz, pop, soul and rock are also hosted in this venue, including other forms of performing arts like dance, theater and comedy. The Wales Millennium Centre, home to the Welsh National Opera, also hosts musicals, ballet, dance and comedy.
Three Cliffs Bay
Located in Swansea County, this may be Britain’s beach with the best view! Its imposing limestone cliffs, marvelous sand dunes and salt marsh provide breathtaking views. Watersports, hiking, rock climbing, biking and horseback riding are popular activities here.
The diverse Welsh coast, which is on a migratory route for birds, is a haven for an amazing variety of coastal birds. Waders, gulls and terns abound and birders will find endless opportunities for bird watching in Wales. The Pembrokeshire coast, Grassholm Island, South Stack Cliffs Reserve in the Isle Of Anglesey, the Dee Estuary, Llyn, Conwy and Colwyn Bay are just some of the most visited by lovers of our feathered friends. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) operates six coastal sites in the country. The best season for this activity along the coast is spring and early summer. While at it, enjoy the beautiful beaches and watch out as well for seals and porpoises.
Built by Welshman Clough Williams-Ellis, this whimsical Portofino-themed village offers something for all ages. The all-season attraction has beaches, shops, restaurants and hotels, all surrounded by 70-acres of sub-tropical woodland gardens boasting of 5,000 species of flora where the tallest Chilean maiten tree in the UK can be found. The village was the setting for The Prisoner, a 1960s cult television series about a former top secret agent who is held captive in the village.
Antiques, Old Books, and Collectibles
Wales is a trove for heritage treasures. Scour all three floors of the Cardiff Antiques Centre for centuries-old porcelain, china, jewelry, stamps and other collectibles to take home with you as souvenirs. If you are a literature buff, comb the dozens of second-hand bookshops in Hay-on-Wye on the Welsh/English border. After you’ve had your fill of antiquarian shopping, explore the charms of the localities and end your day at a traditional English pub.
St. David’s Cathedral:Â Jay Bergesen via Flickr
St. Fagans Castle: Ben Salter via Flickr
Snowdon Mountain Railway: Richard Leonard via Flickr
Cardiff Castle: Bell Eapen via Flickr
Pony Trekking at Three Cliffs Bay: Ben Salter via Flickr
Portmeirion: Scott Wylie via Flickr