The country of Wales is one of the four countries composing the United Kingdom, is a breathtakingly beautiful country with a living Celtic culture which diverges greatly from the national identity found in the rest of the United Kingdom. Wales' eastern border is shared with England, while Ireland lies directly across the Irish Sea, and while the Welsh border lies a mere two hour drive from London, driving into Wales you may feel as though you've entered and entirely different country.
When traveling to Wales, you'll find that this country has a lot in common with its modern Celtic neighbors of Devon, Cornwall, Ireland, and Brittany, including folk language, a local culture which diverges greatly from that of its home nation and colonizers, and spectacular rural scenery found in both the mountains and along its stunning coast. Historically, Wales was a rural nation inhabited by Celtic peoples who were often at odds with their English neighbors. By the 16th century, Wales had been completely absorbed by England and stagnated economically until the industrial revolution. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the coal industry completely evolved the southern Welsh landscape, with the modern cities of Cardiff and Swansea developing as large urban centers and hubs of local business. Although much of the coal industry has disappeared from Wales, the countries stunning scenery and rich cultural history has ushered in a new era of development, specifically in the tourism industry.
Regardless of your plans while in Wales, you are sure to find endless travel opportunities regardless of your budget. A car rental in Wales is arguably the most convenient and affordable way to get around, as public transportation is often lacking, if existing, in the vast rural landscape that composes most of Wales. As you read on in this travel guide, refer back to our comprehensive UK travel guide for basic suggestions and tips on driving in the UK, or for other generic information about exploring and vacationing in the United Kingdom.
Wales sports a moderate, oceanic climate along the coasts and a more intense continental climate in the interior of the country and along the border with England. However, the mountainous nature of Wales as well as the arc of the coast means weather systems can differ drastically over very small distances, with a rainstorm perhaps soaking one coastal inlet, while the sun shines bright in the next. Like scenic Scotland, the weather in Wales changes at a moment's notice, so if you don't like the weather, just wait fifteen minutes and it could very well change!
Wales, like the rest of the United Kingdom, has a reputation for being rainy and foggy, with many overcast, damp days. However, most of Wales's precipitation falls during the fall and early winter months, from late October through January, so during this time will you definitely want to be prepared with proper rain attire, and if you'll be in the mountains, proper snow equipment for yourself and your rental vehicle. The summer months are Wales's most pleasant, with warm, sunny days perfect for enjoying the many beautiful beaches abundant along the coastline. In addition to mild and pleasant for outdoor exploration, the summer months offer extensive sunlight, with the sun not setting until 10 PM in mid-June. Understanding the climate and weather of Wales is crucial to planning a perfect itinerary that takes into account seasonal changes so you do all the seasonally-appropriate activities you're interested.
Due to the distances between towns and inconsistent public transportation schedules, driving is without a doubt the most convenient and affordable way to explore Wales. Driving in Wales is also the most enjoyable way to get around the country, as driving aficionados, such as the Top Gear guys, have for decades flocked to the mountain and coastal roads of Wales to test their top of the line vehicles and luxury cars. If you're planning to drive extensively in Wales, you'll want to understand Wales's topography to plan the most strategic driving route. Most transportation nodes, be it roads or train tracks, run east-west, rather than north-south. If you'll be in the population centers of South Wales, you'll find most places to be within an hour and a half drive of one another, but driving from the South of Wales to the North can take several hours driving along the coastal route
Due to the topography of the country, drivers will likely find main roads to be busy and relatively congested at roundabouts and along motorways. Conversely, rural routes are often rather empty and you'll likely find yourself sharing the road with stray animals such as sheep and cattle as opposed to other vehicles.
If you're in the process of planning a trip to Wales, you probably already have a solid list of things you'd like to see and do. For traveleres who are looking for unique ways to round out their daily itineraries, take a look at Auto Europe's list of recommendations for the most exciting attractions in Wales!
Exploring Snowdonia National Park, home to Mount Snowdon, the largest mountain in Wales, is like stepping into a fairytale land complete with historic castles, churches, lakes, and waterfalls. The region embraces traditional Welsh life, where drivers will find signs in both English and Welsh, and traditional Welsh foods, crafts, and music can be eaten, purchased, and enjoyed. Established in 1961 as the third national park in the United Kingdom, the region is steeped in Welsh history as it is the legendary home to the last true Prince of Wales. The true amazement of Snowdonia National Park is that visitors can be enjoying warm, sunny beach days in the morning and find themselves on top of the highest peak in Wales within just a few hours. If you're looking to explore some natural beauty either from the window of your rental car or from the top of an epic mountain, you'd have trouble finding a better place in Wales than the Snowdonia National Park.
Tenby is a historic, beautiful walled town located in South Wales is among the most popular tourist destinations in Wales and the Irish Sea Coast in general. Tenby was founded by Norman explorers in the late 11th century, and it's now famous walls were constructed to defend the town from raids from the native Welsh peoples. The town is characterized by pastel-colored houses which paints a colorful coastal landscape along the cliffs and sandy bays. Although Tenby is among Wales' premier tourist destinations, the town government has done an excellent job maintaining the character of the small town, by protecting many of the historic structures and cobblestone streets, as by resisting over commercialization. A trip to Tenby in the summer is a true delight, as children and hyper adults can wear out their energy on the beach while the adults can enjoy the elegant layout and shops in town without being overburdened by massive crowds and confusing, un-navigable urban city centers.
The National Museum of Cardiff was founded in 1907 with a royal charter, but did not open officially until 1927. The museum was founded with large collections of local and European archaeology, thousands of botany specimens, and an impressive geology exhibit. In 2011, the museum was completed redesigned with many of its items that were previously held in storage being redisplayed, including millions of insect specimens, fossils, and Bronze Age weapons and other artifacts. Along with the reimagining of the historical artifacts displayed at the museum, in 2011 the National Museum of Art was opened alongside the museum, with famous Renaissance era paintings and other notable works. A trip to the National Museum of Cardiff is an excellent way to spend the day exploring the artistic wonders of Wales and the other impressive artifacts from elsewhere around the world displayed here.
Cardiff Bay is essentially a large freshwater lake formed when the Rivers Taff and Ely were diverted around the former dockland area just to the south of Cardiff's city center. Cardiff Bay was once instrumental in exporting Welsh coal across the world, and thus was an instrumental force in powering the industrial age. By the late 20th century, the docks had become largely abandoned as industry left Cardiff. By the 21st century, city planners had begun strategizing a redevelopment of the bay, to improve the habitat for wading birds and to create an extensive walkway around the bay. Although there has been some criticism of the project, as many of the housing units in the area are unoccupied due to high property values, there are many historic structures and contemporary shops worth exploring before grabbing a bite to eat along the walkway.
The Gower Peninsula, located just outside the city of Swansea, was the United Kingdom's first designated "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty" due to its breathtaking coastal scenery, long sandy beaches, and impressive medieval structures including castles, manors, and fortresses. The Gower Peninsula represents the best of the British countryside in countless ways, with dramatic cliffs and beaches, ancient woodlands, marshes and moors, along with historic country inns, castles, churches, and ancient burial sites. The Gower Peninsula is also home to extensive species of native flora and fauna, the most famous of which is the wild Gower pony. Tourists seeking to explorer the natural wonders of Wales and the United Kingdom will find themselves in arguably the best place to do so if they're exploring the Gower Peninsula, as they can conveniently and affordably tour the area with their Welsh rental car and set off to enjoy the natural sights of the peninsula while also enjoying the contemporary luxuries found nearby.