Wales is easily reached from the rest of the UK, Ireland and continental Europe with flights into Cardiff Airport. There are no direct flights to Wales from outside Europe, so you’re best off flying to England and continuing overland from there. The widest choice is into London (Heathrow or Gatwick), though Manchester is better placed for north Wales and you might consider Birmingham for direct access to mid-Wales. Airfares are highest from May to August, when the weather is best; fares drop during the “shoulder” seasons (Sept and April) and drop further during the low season (Oct–March, excluding Christmas and New Year, when prices jump and seats are at a premium).
Crossing the border from England into Wales is straightforward, with train and bus services forming part of the British national network. The two roads providing the quickest access into the heart of the country are the M4 motorway in the south, and the A55 expressway in the north. Both are fast and busy; minor routes are more appealing if you aren’t in too much of a hurry.
From Ireland, ferries are by far the cheapest and easiest way of getting to Wales. From the rest of Europe, alternatives to air travel are the traditional cross-Channel ferry services or the Channel Tunnel.
Flights from Europe
The only airport of any size in Wales is Cardiff Airport (wwww.tbicardiffairport.com), 12 miles southwest of the capital, which has lots of flights to Mediterranean holiday destinations plus scheduled flights from selected British, Irish and European cities. The main international carriers are KLM (wklm.com), which flies into Cardiff from Amsterdam; Aer Arann (waerarann.com) from Cork, Dublin and Shannon; Eastern Airways (w
easternairways.com) from Aberdeen and Newcastle; and Air Southwest (wairsouthwest.com) from Newquay in Cornwall, England. Many of the most useful routes run mostly business flights, timed and priced accordingly, and often not operating at weekends.
Flights from the US and Canada
Numerous airlines fly from the eastern seaboard and the Midwest to London, the principal British gateway for visitors to Wales. You’ll also come across useful direct flights to Manchester and Birmingham, and lower airport taxes often mean cheaper fares. Several airlines – American, British Airways, United, Virgin and others – fly nonstop from Los Angeles. British Airways also fly direct to London from San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle, while other airlines offer easy connections.
Low-season round-trip fares from New York, Boston and Washington to London start at around US$650, though US$800 is more normal, and through the summer you can expect to pay over US$1000. Add US$100–200 from other eastern cities. Low-season fares from the West Coast start at a little under US$950, though expect more like US$1400 in peak summer and around Christmas.
In Canada, you’ll get the best deal flying to London from the big gateway cities of Toronto and Montreal, where fares are Can$1000–1200 round-trip. British Airways fly direct to Heathrow from both Vancouver and Calgary while Air Canada have nonstop links from Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa. From the west, fares range from Can$1100 to Can$1600.
Flights from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa
To get to Wales from Australia, New Zealand or South Africa you’ll need to fly through London, or possibly Manchester in northern England.
The routes from Australia are a highly competitive, with flights via Southeast Asia or the Middle East generally being the cheapest options. Fares vary little from between major Australian cities, with Perth only a few dollars cheaper. The cheapest scheduled return flights are around Aus$1300 with Royal Brunei (though it takes a convoluted route via Brunei and Dubai). More direct routes cost Aus$2000–2400; good options include Etihad (via Abu Dhabi), Emirates (via Dubai) and Malaysian (via Kuala Lumpur). Korean Airlines are cheap but this involves a 20 hour stopover in Seoul. Singapore Airlines, Qantas/British Airways, Thai (via Bangkok) and Cathay are usually a little pricier but not always.
If travelling from New Zealand via Asia, you can choose between most of the carriers listed above, plus Air New Zealand who fly to London via Shanghai. Prices via Asia are usually comparable with flights via North America. Air New Zealand fly to Heathrow via Los Angeles and do codeshares with United, Continental and others. Air Canada operate a route via Vancouver. Fares with Brunei, Malaysian and Korean typically run around $2200–2500, with Air NZ usually NZ$2400–2700.
There are direct flights from South Africa to London Heathrow with South African Airways (Jo’burg and Cape Town), British Airways (Jo’burg and Cape Town) and Virgin Atlantic (Jo’burg). There are sometimes cheaper deals on indirect routes with Emirates (from Cape Town, Durban and Jo’burg via Dubai); Ethiopian (from Jo’burg via Addis Ababa); KLM (from Jo’burg via Amsterdam); and Lufthansa (from Jo’burg via Frankfurt). Return fares are generally in the ZAR7000–8000 bracket.
Agents and operators
Although you may want to see Wales at your own speed, you shouldn’t dismiss the idea of a package deal. Many agents and airlines put together very flexible deals, sometimes amounting to nothing more restrictive than a flight plus accommodation and car or rail pass, and these can actually work out cheaper than making the same arrangements yourself on arrival. A package can also be great for your peace of mind, if only to ensure a worry-free first week while you’re finding your feet for a longer tour.
There are hundreds of tour operators specializing in travel to the British Isles. Most can do packages of the standard highlights, but of greater interest are the outfits that help you explore Britain’s unique points: many organize walking or cycling trips through the countryside, boat trips along canals, and any number of theme tours based around Britain’s literary heritage, history, pubs, gardens, theatre, golf – you name it. For a full list, contact Visit Wales directly.
Be sure to examine the fine print of any deal, and bear in mind that everything in brochures always sounds great. Choose only an operator that is a member of the United States Tour Operator Association (USTOA) or has been approved by the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA).
We’ve covered details of train travel within the UK under “Getting around”. What follows is a summary of services from Europe.
England has direct, high-speed passenger trains from France and Belgium via the 20-mile-long Channel Tunnel with Eurostar (t08432 186186, weurostar.com), which runs hourly between London (St Pancras), Stratford (east London), Ebbsfleet (Dartford, near the M25) and Paris, Lille and Brussels. The least expensive return fares to London, which are nonexchangeable and nonrefundable, are €55 from Paris or Lille and €60 from Brussels. Semi-flexible return fares are €305 from Paris, €388 from Brussels and €285 from Lille. Nonexchangeable, nonrefundable youth tickets (for under-26s) cost from €70 from Paris, Brussels or Lille. Eurostar also offers frequent promotional fares, particularly for advance bookings, so it’s always worth checking the website.
Drivers travelling between Calais and Folkestone can use Le Shuttle (from the UK t08443 353535, from other countries t+33 (0)321002061, weurotunnel.com), a vehicle-carrying train which whisks through the Channel Tunnel in 35 minutes. You can just turn up on the day you want to travel, but booking is advised and usually cheaper, especially at weekends. The one-way fare for a car and all its passengers starts from £53, with various flexi and short-stay discount return fares available.
Ferries from Europe arrive at ports in England, usually with lower fares than using the Channel Tunnel. There are regular crossings with SeaFrance and P&O from Calais to Dover, the shortest route, for which the lowest return fare for a car and driver is around £75, though you’ll pay a lot more at busy times. For ferry routes and prices, contact the ferry companies direct or visit the excellent websites Seaview Ferries (wseaview.co.uk/ferries) and Direct Ferries (wdirectferries.co.uk).
There are four Welsh ferry ports all serving Ireland with large, spacious vessels: check-in is generally forty minutes before departure. Passenger fares are very competitive, with diverse special deals and midweek and advance purchase offers.
The busiest port is Holyhead, on the northwest tip of Wales, with ferries and fast catamarans from both Dublin and Dun Laoghaire (6 miles south of Dublin), though the fast cats often only run in the busiest summer months. Irish Ferries are usually a few pounds cheaper. Typically, the catamarans cost £30 each way for adults in high summer, and the ferries £5 less.
Fishguard has ferries from Rosslare (just outside Wexford), supplemented by fast catamarans in July and August.
The least busy ports are Pembroke Dock, with ferry connections from Rosslare, and Swansea with sailings from Cork.
Fastnet Line t0844 576 8831, wfastnetline.com.
Irish Ferries t08717 300 400, wirishferries.com.
P&O Ferries t08716 642121, wpoferries.com.
Sea France t0871 423 7119, wseafrance.com.
Stena Line t08447 707070, wstenaline.com.