One of the world’s most diverse countries, Wales has it all. There are jagged mountains, gorgeous beaches, fantastic food, a groundbreaking approach to sustainability and fabulously preserved heritage sites which make our secondary school history lessons look rather boring.
Intrigued? Read on to discover what Wales has to offer every type of traveller. If travelling responsibly is on your mind, you might also want to discover five eco-friendly holiday ideas in Wales, and find out about practical ways to travel better in Wales, a beautiful nation that isn't short on places to stay for a sustainable trip.
When hunger strikes (and trust us, working up an appetite is easy in Wales), there’s no better place to head to than Monmouthshire, in the south-east of the country. Monmouthshire is a county which punches above its weight – alongside ancient country pubs and quaint cafés, you’ll find vineyards, breweries and Michelin-starred restaurants.
There’s a serious passion for local, seasonal produce here, whether it’s honey, jam or wine, and it’s thoroughly deserving of its moniker: Wales’ culinary capital. The icing on the cake is a packed calendar of food-themed events, although our favourite is the Abergavenny Food Festival, held every September.
Monmouthshire is known for culinary innovation, although it’s also a destination which embraces both sustainability and tradition. Take mead, for example, which has recently experienced a popularity boom and is now being made by a number of Monmouthshire producers, like the team at the Wye Valley Meadery.
At this family-owned company, honey produced by the farm’s bees is used to make the mead, which has a lower alcohol content than the traditional version . The current owners, brothers Kit and Matt, were keen to make a tipple which was more drinkable. Feeling thirsty yet? Book a visit to the Wye Valley Meadery’s taproom, or stop by the on-site shop.
Monmouthshire is home to a huge number of breweries, including the fantastic Kingstone Brewery in Tintern, where you’ll find a beautiful taproom and a huge range of beers. We recommend the Humpty’s Fuddle IPA, with its delicate combination of floral notes and a citrusy finish.
For visitors keen to splash the cash on the best culinary experiences money can buy, there’s an abundance of fine dining restaurants in Wales, and its seven Michelin-starred restaurants include two in Monmouthshire. First up is the Walnut Tree Inn, an Abergavenny restaurant famous for its local produce.
The other recipient of the sought-after star is Monmouth’s The Whitebrook, where chef Chris Harrod is known for his ability to liven up classic dishes with herbs which grow throughout Wales - pennywort, three cornered garlic, bitter cress, wild onion, hogweed and lesser celandine.
Craving some family fun? Nowhere does it better than Wales – an enormous outdoor playground where visitors of all ages can sign up for adrenaline fixes and burn off some energy. However, outdoor activities aren’t the only options for travellers with kids in tow.
Wales has some of the UK’s best museums, and almost all of them have been designed with families in mind. Take Cardiff’s National Museum Wales, which, like Wales’ seven national museums and galleries, is free to enter.
At the National Museum Wales, kid-friendly exhibitions dedicated to geology and natural history will appeal to anyone keen to learn more about the environment, and where visitors to the museum’s Clore Discovery Centre can get their hands on items which are usually kept under lock and key. Budding scientists will also love Techniquest, a huge science museum overlooking Cardiff Bay.
Fancy a walk on the wild side? Hikes through gorgeous wildernesses such as Elan Valley, which is part of the Cambrian Mountains, provide a brilliant opportunity to stretch the legs. There are plenty of creatures to keep an eye out for too.
Challenge each other to see how many badgers, owls, stoats or pine martens you can spot, before learning more about this spectacular landscape at the visitor centre, close to the Caban Coch Dam.
Finally, Wales’ skies are some of the cleanest in Europe, and budding astronomers will love the brilliant Spaceguard Centre, a working observatory near Knighton. Guided tours take place between Wednesday and Sunday, providing a brilliant opportunity to learn about everything from meteorites to asteroids, and you’ll get the chance to peer through the observatory’s telescope. Trust us – you’ll gain a whole new appreciation of Wales’ dark skies.
The best way to get the most out of a visit to Wales? Ditch the car and explore its great outdoors, which is refreshingly easy. You’ll find some of its top attractions in repurposed landscapes such as pits and quarries. In recent years the government has doubled down on their efforts to make its most dramatic landscapes more accessible.
Snowdonia is a brilliant – if obvious – place to start. Every year, visitors from around the world come to Snowdon, often missing the region’s other gems. But as much as we love a scramble up Mount Snowdon, we recommend seeking out its lesser-known areas, such as Tryfan - a jagged Ogwen Valley peak famous for its rugged crags - or Carneddau, a cluster of mountains in Northern Snowdonia.
Fancy cranking up the adrenaline? Bounce Below, at Blaenau Ffestiniog’s Zip World Slate Caverns, is a trampoline park with a difference. The bouncing takes place in a disused slate cavern which is twice the size of St Paul’s Cathedral (hence the reason you’ll have to don a helmet).
Above ground, Coed y Brenin is a fantastic spot for some two-wheeled fun. This beautiful forest, in the heart of Snowdonia, was the first one to be developed specifically for mountain biking. You’ll find a huge network of trails for riders of all abilities, and the scenery is pretty impressive too – the trails weave through glaciated valleys and past thundering rivers.
Adventurers will also love Wales’ newest UNESCO site – the Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales. It tells the story of how this region was transformed into an industrial powerhouse, and how the demand for slate shaped this corner of the country.
Within the space of a few years, new quarries, villages and railways appeared and today the UNESCO-listed landscape is filled with family-friendly attractions such as Zip World Penrhyn Quarry, where adrenaline junkies can fly along the world’s fastest zip line and Cwm Idwal, a National Trust site where walkers can explore an ancient valley carved out by shifting ice millions of years ago.
Finally, visitors keen to escape the crowds can’t go wrong with a visit to Bardsey Island off the Llŷn Peninsula, with its wonderfully rugged scenery and ruins of a sixth-century monastery. There are regular crossings to the island, and a handful of self-catering cottages for those who can’t bear to leave.
It doesn’t get wilder than Wales, which is filled not only with wildlife but areas where the country’s most important species are protected.
The RSPB manages numerous sites here, including several coastal ones. At Anglesey’s RSPB South Stack Cliffs Reserve, you can admire seabirds such as puffins, guillemots and razorbills. Combine a visit to the reserve with a wander along the Anglesey Coast Path to maximise your chances of glimpsing these spectacular birds.
Another great reserve on Anglesey can be found further inland. The Dingle Local Nature Reserve covers 25 acres of woodland either side of the River Cefni, and visitors flock here to see species such as dragonflies, woodpeckers, bats and foxes. During the summer and spring, the forest explodes with colour, courtesy of clusters of bluebells and anemones.
Fancy an extra dose of flower power? Wales’ nature reserves aren’t just about animals – they’re about protecting plant life, too. Some of the best examples can be found in South and West Wales. These include Coed Wern Ddu, with its ancient oaks and deciduous woodland, Rhos Fullbrook, for its wildflower meadows and vast expanses of grassland, and Pengelli Forest, West Wales’ largest chunk of ancient oak woodland.
You can’t beat Wales for a culture fix, whether it’s a visit to one of the country’s world class museums (Swansea’s often-overlooked National Waterfront Museum is our favourite) or at the theatres, galleries and heritage sites you’ll find throughout Wales.
When it comes to urban attractions, the Wales Millennium Centre is a fantastic place to take in a wide range of performing arts, whether it’s recitals by the Welsh National Opera or famous stage shows such as Dreamgirls.
In Carmarthenshire, fans of famous Welsh writer Dylan Thomas can visit the spot where he wrote some of his finest work. Thomas fell in love with this property, now known as the Dylan Thomas Boathouse, partly because of the breathtaking views over the Taf estuary and the Gower. Visitors can explore the house as well as his writing shed.
Also worthy of a spot on any culture vulture’s radar is Carmarthenshire’s historic Lyric Theatre. Don’t be put off by its size if you come here to see a show. This Tardis-like venue, which is filled with original architectural features, can seat up to 665 people in three levels of seating.
Carmarthenshire also has some of Wales’ best galleries, one of which is the Oriel Myrddin Gallery tucked into a Victorian building in Carmarthenshire’s centre. Come here to see fantastic examples of contemporary art and design, much of which has been created by artists across Wales and also further afield. The packed calendar of events includes exhibitions, workshops and masterclasses, and the gallery’s shop is a great spot for a dose of retail therapy.
You’ll struggle to find a place with a richer history than Wales. Numerous walking trails have been created to allow visitors to take in its most significant sites without the need for a car (the Llangollen History Trail is a great example), although we feel it’s high time its lesser-known treasures took their turn in the spotlight.
History fans will love north-east Wales’ ancient landmarks, which include Valle Crucis Abbey, a thirteenth-century abbey and monastery. Famous for its beautifully preserved architecture, it’s also got a slightly more surprising claim – the grounds have the only surviving monastic fishpond in Wales.
Denbighshire’s Ruthin Gaol is a former prison which has been turned into a museum. Sign up for a stint inside to learn all about life in this Victorian-era jail, as well as its former inmates. Famous criminals who spent time here include John Jones (often referred to as the Welsh Houdini), who escaped twice.
Wrexham’s Chirk Castle is a National Trust-managed property which dates back to 1295. Highlights include the State Rooms, with their rich eighteenth-century tapestries and oil paintings, and the grounds, with their fragrant herbaceous borders, rockeries and wooded pleasure gardens.
Finally, when it comes to feats of engineering, we challenge you to find anything grander than the UNESCO-listed Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal Heritage Site, a 12-mile stretch of man-made waterway which includes aqueducts, tunnels and viaducts. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the pièce de resistance is the aqueduct, regarded as one of the greatest feats of engineering of the industrial revolution, and designed by Thomas Telford.
Completed in 1805, the structure features a cast iron trough suspended 126 feet above the River Dee, and supported by 188 stone pillars. It’s a popular spot for canal boaters, although visitors with a head for heights can walk across it too.
Whether you head to Wales in search of fresh mountain air, fabulous food, historical delights or a bit of everything, there’s a responsible way to enjoy it all.
Top image: Mwnt, Ceredigion © Crown Copyright 2022 Visit Wales
Inspired? Learn more about eco-friendly trips to Wales by downloading our free e-book, The Rough Guide to Responsible Wales.
Tamara is a former snowboard instructor who's been a freelance travel writer for 12 years. She loves snowboarding, hiking, mountain biking and scuba diving, and the regions she knows best are Asia, America and Africa. Europe-wise she knows Germany and France very well. In normal times she does two or three trips a month. Follow her on Twitter