In recent years, Wales has led the way when it comes to responsible travel. The country has seen the creation of innovative initiatives that minimise environmental impact and made it easier for visitors to support the communities they visit, in ways which have a long-lasting impact.
One example is the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, created in 2015 to encourage public organisations to think about the impact of their decisions on the environment. The act covers everything from the creation of cohesive communities and the promotion of equality throughout Wales, to an understanding of the Welsh language and a greater respect for the environment. Find out more about the Future Generations Act.
Another initiative designed to drive responsible travel is Addo (“promise” in Welsh) – a scheme which encourages visitors to Wales to pledge to explore it respectfully and sustainably. Almost 7,000 people have signed up so far, and you can find out more by visiting visitwales.com/promise.
To help you get started on your journey, read on to discover some of the best ways to travel better through Wales. Chances are, you'll also want to arm yourself with ideas for places to stay in Wales for a sustainable trip, and consider eco-friendly holiday ideas in Wales.
One thing's certain, sustainable Wales has plenty for all types of traveller, with rewarding sustainable trips for every season, and a range of places to go green off-the-beaten-track.
Leave no trace
We’ve always found it odd how the most beautiful spots are also the places which seem to attract the most litter. But leaving no trace is no longer just about not littering. It’s about minimising your impact in other ways, such as always following footpaths instead of channelling your inner Indiana Jones and marching through protected areas of wilderness.
It’s also about taking items such as plastic bags home with you if there are better recycling facilities where you live, and about respecting wildlife, locals and the flora and fauna.
Visit regenerated heritage sites
Some of Wales’ top attractions are sites which were once of huge economical importance to the local community. Places such a Adventure Parc Snowdonia, an activity centre built on the site of a former aluminium casting works (its employees recycled 400 tonnes of metal from the original site), and Big Pit National Coal Museum, in a former working mine, provide valuable income to communities which suffered greatly when these sites first became redundant.
By visiting these attractions, you’re not only supporting these communities but getting fantastic insights into places which shaped the UK in more ways than many people realise.
Buying local in Wales is easier than ever before. For example, did you know that there are dozens of artisan cheesemakers in Wales (try Caws Cenarth’s fragrant blue Pearl Las and you’ll never look at a block of cheddar in the same way again) and farmers markets specialising in everything from local crafts to seasonal food?
What’s more, Welsh vineyards have recently bagged some of the wine world’s top awards. Nothing beats local Welsh lamb, some Anglesey oysters or Wales’ legendary lava bread – often referred to as Welshman’s Caviar.
Buying local - whether that’s a painting by a local Welsh artist or a beautiful handmade quilt from an independent boutique - supports the communities you’ll pass through and provides an opportunity to connect with the region on a deeper level.
There are plenty of organisations at which visitors can volunteer - even for short stints of time. Machynlleth’s Centre for Alternative Technology offers a variety of opportunities for day or short term volunteering to six month residential placements. Find out more about volunteering at Machynlleth’s Centre for Alternative Technology.
Other locations which offer opportunities to get involved are The Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre and the Welsh sites operated by the RSPB. We also recommend one of the National Trust’s fantastic working holidays in Wales. Find out more about National Trust working holidays.
Avoid taking any natural souvenirs
No matter how pretty that shell, stone or chunk of fossilised tree bark looks, resist the temptation to pocket it. Even the smallest items – or their removal – have a huge impact on the environment.
A recent study by the Florida Museum of Natural History which focused on a stretch of Mediterranean coastline where shells were once in abundance highlighted the damage done by their removal. Shells provide a home for algae, shelter for crabs and food for seabirds, while pebbles double as a natural sea fortification.
Petrified wood can be just as important for the environment, which is why it’s legally protected in many countries.
Consider off-season visits
Summer might well be one of the best times to visit Wales, but winter, spring and autumn can be pretty spectacular too. Avoiding peak season won’t just mean fewer crowds and lower prices - you’ll explore another side of Wales which few people get to see.
Consider exploring beyond Wales’ most famous landmarks, too. We all know how beautiful the view from the top of Mount Snowdon is, but did you know that you’ll find some of Wales’ best heritage attractions just a short walk from the Snowdon Mountain Railway station? Our particular favourite is the Quarry Hospital Museum, filled with exhibits which provide a fascinating insight into life in Snowdonia’s slate mines.
It’s an approach which can be applied to any destination – instead of making a beeline for the old favourites, take the time to research the lesser-known gems.
Embrace slow travel
Adrenaline junkies from around the world visit Wales to hike, kayak and mountain bike, so why not ditch the hire car you’re considering booking and join them?
Challenge yourself to explore the area in question using public transport alone – we guarantee it will be easier than you think. You’ll have more time to enjoy the scenery, connect with locals and generally enjoy the ride, and you’ll also be helping Wales achieve its goal of achieving net zero-emissions by 2050.
Wales has some of the world’s most scenic railway routes, although we also suggest exploring the long distance bus routes offered by TrawsCymru.
Other options include Pembrokeshire’s fantastic coastal bus services for walkers and cyclists, such as the wonderfully-named Poppit Rocket, Strumble Shuttle, Celtic Coaster, Coastal Cruiser and Puffin Shuttle services, and the Snowdon Sherpa in Snowdonia.
For a journey packed with charm, don’t miss the Great Little Trains of Wales – 12 fabulous little steam railways, surrounded by stunning Welsh scenery.
Embrace farm to table dining
Did you really come to Wales to gorge on Japanese Wagyu steak, Italian Parma ham or French wine? It’s never been easier to find seasonal, local produce in Wales, and more chefs than ever before are embracing farm-to-table dining, sourcing produce from local supplies, rolling out seasonal menus and creating tasty dishes using Welsh produce which often slips under the radar.
Choose eco-friendly and independent accommodation
All too often, when in unfamiliar places, we gravitate towards things which offer a sense of familiarity, such as choosing an outpost of an international hotel chain because it’s seen as the safest bet when in new surroundings.
Instead, opt for independent accommodation and you’ll be supporting local economies while benefiting from the passion and local knowledge the owners will almost certainly lay claim to.
Choose carefully and your presence can have a direct impact on the environment, thanks to the growing number of accommodation providers going all out to lighten their footprint. Some of our favourites include Pembrokeshire's Preseli Venture Eco Lodge, a low carbon eco lodge surrounded by ancient woodland, and Huts in the Hills, a collection of off-grid shepherds’ huts.
Ditch the plastic
Wales is making it easier than ever to ditch the plastic, and one of the easiest ways to do is by using the Refill Wales website or app, which lists locations throughout the country – whether the refill stations are on the Wales Coast Path or at events such as Powys’ Hay Festival - where you can fill water bottles for free.
The Welsh scheme (there are also Refill projects throughout the UK) was founded three years ago and is run partly by City to Sea, a brilliant not-for-profit organisation which is on a mission to reduce plastic pollution. Find out more about the scheme here: refill.org.uk/refill-wales.
We’ve all heard horror stories about sandal-wearing hikers being rescued from Mount Snowdon, but planning ahead isn’t just about wearing the right hiking boots. Planning ahead will save you time and money and will also reduce your footprint as a traveller.
Always pack reusable water bottles, take the time to research the weather during your stay and pack accordingly, and read up on the areas you’re visiting, and what facilities are nearby. Knowing what supplies to bring will mean you’re less likely to spend your holiday driving to shops to stock up, and will mean more time enjoying your holiday. Discover great tips for staying safe during your time in Wales.
Book with local tour operators
Rather than booking through popular booking reservation websites, book direct with hotels and restaurants – you’ll save money, and doing so will help build a great relationship with your hosts from the get go.
Don’t be afraid to ask your hosts for advice about the area, either – they’re going to know the best restaurants, independent boutiques and lesser-known landmarks to head to.
The same goes for activities. Companies specialising in adventure activities, like Inspire2Adventure and Snowdonia Watersports are all run by experienced, passionate outdoor enthusiasts keen to share their expert local knowledge with visitors.
More destinations than ever before are creating trails which show off their sustainable best bits. One brilliant example is St Davids Eco Trail in St Davids (Britain’s smallest city). The route takes in restaurants known for sourcing organic, seasonal produce, as well as places where you’ll be able to sign up for foraging sessions and coasteering masterclasses.
Toast Wales (sustainably)
In Wales, there are plenty of ways to indulge without impacting the environment. One of our favourite ways is with a tipple at Machynlleth’s Dyfi Distillery, famous for its gin made with foraged botanicals, or a tour of one of Wales’ many vineyards, such as Monmouthshire’s Ancre Hill vineyard.
For the perfect souvenir, grab a bottle of sparkling wine from North Wales’ Gwinllan Conwy Vineyard. Cheers!
Top image: Great Orme, Llandudno, North Wales © Crown Copyright 2022 Visit Wales
Inspired? Learn more about eco-friendly trips to Wales by downloading our free ebook, The Rough Guide to Responsible Wales.