Tourist accommodation in Wales is constantly improving, with top-rank international hotels, farmhouse accommodation, hostels, restaurants-with-rooms, and the ubiquitous B&Bs. The growing array of farmhouse B&Bs and country houses typically offer a genuinely warm welcome, informal hospitality and quality home cooking. If you want to ensure you’re staying in places where Welsh is spoken, check out gwyliaucymraeg.co.uk, covering accommodation, pubs, cafés and restaurants.
Hotels and B&Bs
Bed & Breakfasts (B&Bs; in Welsh Gwely a Brecwast) may be anything from a private house with a couple of bedrooms set aside for paying guests to a small, stylish boutique establishment. Guesthouses tend to be larger, usually with around half a dozen rooms plus a guests’ lounge, and can also vary from homely to very flash. In both places you’ll get a room with TV, tea- and coffee-making facilities and, usually, your own en-suite bathroom, for £25–45 per person, sometimes a little less out of season or in less popular areas. We always mention if a place has rooms without a private bathroom (though usually with a sink in the room) for which you’ll pay slightly less. Many places have free wi-fi.
In the countryside you’re more likely to find places described as a farm (essentially a B&B on a working farm) or an inn (usually village pub with rooms above). As visitor expectations and the demand for weekend breaks increase, some places in all the above categories are ramping up the standards, with sumptuous furnishings, better food and those little touches which make your stay special. Of course, you pay considerably more for such pampering. Increasingly, places accept credit cards, but at lower-end B&Bs you should expect to pay in cash.
In town centres, B&Bs and guesthouses are supplemented by hotels, often just rooms above a noisy bar, but also larger places that can be the grandest in town.
Wherever you stay, breakfast will almost certainly be included in the price. This may just be continental (orange juice, cereal, toast and tea or coffee) but more often will also include a full cooked breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, fried tomato, etc. In fancier places there’ll be a choice of juices, preserved fruit, yogurt, smoked fish and perhaps Welsh dishes like Glamorgan sausages and laver bread.
A couple of free publications are well worth looking out for: the Great Little Places booklet (available online at little-places.co.uk) which features around fifty of the best small hotels, country inns and farmhouse B&Bs in Wales; and Welsh Rarebits (rarebits.co.uk), a similarly select listing of more substantial hotels and country mansions. Both websites give full coverage of all listed establishments, and you can pick up the booklets at bigger tourist offices. There are also Visit Wales’ comprehensive Where to Stay and Farm Stay Wales brochures, which can be ordered through its website visitwales.co.uk.
Reservations can be made direct or through the local tourist office (£2 booking fee) though they will only provide information on “verified” accommodation, and can sometimes be reluctant to divulge details of places that don’t advertise in the official local guide: if you don’t see something suitable in the guide itself, don’t be afraid to ask if there’s anywhere else that matches your requirements for price and location.
Wales has 35 hostels operated by the YHA (yha.org.uk), offering bunk-bed accommodation in single-sex dormitories or smaller rooms. A few of these places are spartan establishments of the sort traditionally associated with the wholesome, fresh-air ethos of the first hostels, but many have moved well away from this institutional ambience. Welsh hostels range from some remote, simple barns in the wilds of mid-Wales and Snowdonia to relatively swanky centres in places such as Cardiff and Conwy. The greatest concentration of hostels is in Snowdonia, with smaller clusters around the Pembrokeshire coast and in the Brecon Beacons.
Prices vary according to demand but in summer range from £14 to £23 per night per person, with the majority around £15–18. All hostels have self-catering facilities, and many also serve breakfast (around £5) and a three-course dinner (around £12), as well as offering packed lunches (around £6). Most hostels close from 10am to 5pm and have an 11pm curfew.
Bed prices quoted in this book are for members: non-members are welcome but you’ll be charged an extra £3 a night (£1.50 for under-18s). One year’s membership of the England and Wales YHA, which is open only to residents of the EU, costs £15.95 per year (£9.95 for under-26s; £22.95 for two adults living at the same address), and can be obtained online or in person at any YHA hostel. Members gain automatic membership of the hostelling associations of the ninety countries affiliated to Hostelling International (HI). Visitors who are not members of the HI organization in their own country can join for £10 a year at any hostel.
At any time of year (particularly at Easter, Christmas and from May to August), it’s best to book ahead either online or by phone. If you’re tempted to turn up on the spur of the moment, bear in mind that few hostels are open year-round, and several have periods during which they take only group bookings.
YHA hostels still outnumber independent hostels, though there are a growing number of non-affiliated places offering similar facilities to YHAs, though often with a less regimented regime and no curfews or lockouts. It is worth consulting independenthostels.co.uk or buying The Independent Hostel Guide (£4.95).
These resources also list bunkhouses, typically more primitive affairs close to the mountains designed for hikers, climbers, mountain bikers and the like. The flashest are up to hostel standards, but many are little more than barns with toilet, shower and basic cooking facilities, starting from around £10. Bunkhouses may give preference to group bookings, and some purely cater to groups. See also bunkhousesinwales.co.uk.
Camping, caravanning and self-catering
Wales has hundreds of campsites, charging from around £3 per person per night for a spot in a field with a tap and a toilet to upwards of £20 for a two-person tent at the plushest sites, where you’ll find amenities such as laundries, shops and sports facilities. Such places are used both by campers and caravans.
Some hostels have small campsites on their property, for which you’ll pay half the indoor fee. Farmers without a reserved camping area may let you pitch in a field if you ask first, and may charge you nothing for the privilege; setting up a tent without asking is an act of trespass and won’t be well received. Note that wild camping is illegal in national parks and nature reserves.
As a hangover from the days when thousands of holiday-makers from northern England and the Midlands decamped to the Welsh coast for a fortnight, many of the traditional seaside resorts are enveloped by camp upon camp of permanently sited caravans, rented out for self-catering holidays. Although these can certainly be cost-effective, with facilities such as bars, shops and discos thrown in, many people prefer self-catering holidays in self-contained cottages, farms, town houses, or apartments. The usual minimum rental period is a week, though long-weekend breaks can often be arranged out of season. In midsummer or over Christmas and New Year, prices start at around £400 for a place sleeping four, although in winter, spring or autumn they can dip towards £250 for the same property. Some companies specializing in Welsh holiday cottages are listed below; tourist offices throughout Wales also have lists of self-catering holiday options.
The best of the detailed annual directories of Wales’ camping and caravan sites are: the AA’s Caravan & Camping: Britain & Ireland, which lists their inspected and graded sites, and Cade’s Camping, Touring and Motor Caravan Site Guide (cades.co.uk). More niche alternatives include Rough Guides’ Camping in Britain and the independent Cool Camping: Wales (coolcamping.co.uk), both with in-depth reviews of some superbly situated tent-oriented campsites.
Self-catering and family accommodation
Asheton Eco Barns eco-barns.co.uk. Five very comfortable, low-impact units (each sleeping 4–7) fashioned from a traditional stone barn in Pembrokeshire.
Brecon Beacons Holiday Cottages breconcottages.com. Over 300 cottages and other buildings, some decidedly quirky, in the Brecon Beacons National Park and Wye Valley.
Coastal Cottages of Pembrokeshire coastalcottages.co.uk. Dozens of cottages, chalets, flats and houses – some with impressive leisure and activity facilities – around or near the Pembrokeshire coast.
Landmark Trust landmarktrust.org.uk. Over a dozen self-catering properties around Wales from a seventeenth-century rural farmhouse sleeping two to a tower in Caernarfon’s town walls.
National Trust Holiday Cottages nationaltrustcottages.co.uk. Around 50 beautiful cottages all over Wales usually with a three-night minimum. Prices vary widely through the year.
North Wales Holiday Cottages & Farmhouses northwalesholidaycottages.co.uk. Extensive array of cottages in the Snowdonia National Park and throughout the northern half of Wales, both on the coast and in the countryside.
Powell’s Cottage Holidays powells.co.uk. Concentrates on properties in Pembrokeshire and the Gower.
Quality Cottages qualitycottages.co.uk. Over 300 cottages throughout Wales, mostly coastal.
Under the Thatch underthethatch.co.uk. A select choice of atmospheric cottages and cabins often beautifully restored. As the name suggests, some are traditional Ceredigion thatched cottages, but there are also Romany caravans and yurts. Rates fluctuate widely with the seasons and there are often great last-minute deals; lets are generally weekly or half-weekly and most are in Pembrokeshire or the southern part of the Cambrian coast.
Wales Cottage Holidays walescottageholidays.co.uk. A varied selection of over 500 properties all over Wales.