For many across India, a trip to the UK is usually synonymous with just London. Much like France is just Paris or Italy is just Rome and Venice. But there is much more to the UK than just the capital city of London. From the countryside of Lake and Peak district to the quaint towns and villages of Shrewsbury and Yorkshire.
Go a bit further north and more seasoned travellers would have traversed through the scenic landscapes of Scotland and even Ireland. But not many head towards the south-western part of the United Kingdom to the absolutely beautiful and pristine country of Wales. In fact, ask most people about Wales and the usual connect would either be with Charles, the Prince of Wales or with the universities in the southern part such as Cardiff and Swansea where many young Indians head out for their higher education.
But the country that is bordered by England on the east, the Irish Sea on the north and west, and the Bristol Channel to the south has SO much more to offer, especially for the nature-loving, offbeat traveller. In fact, with the Welsh government proactively promoting tourism right now, it’s the best time to visit this country where the sheep outnumber the population by three times and there are stories and legends aplenty to rival those in India (some uncannily similar as well).
So, if this has piqued your interest enough, we’re here to make your life even simpler and plan out an itinerary for you so that you can sample the best of Welsh tourism in a week (and maybe even stay on for more later). Mind you, this itinerary is best if you’re doing a road trip in a car, although you can also opt for trains with minor adjustments.
Day 1 – Cardiff
The southern city of Cardiff is a 2-3 hour train ride away from London, which makes it an ideal spot to start your trip. These are the main tourist spots you should cover while there.
* Cardiff Castle: Spend a day here visiting the Cardiff Castle in the heart of the city, which boasts of a history of around 2,000 years. The castle’s opulent Gothic interiors thanks to genius architect William Burges in the 19th century will blow you away. Be sure to take a House tour, especially that of the interesting and vibrantly decked up Clock Tower (which has become a Cardiff signature), and step out into the Bute Gardens and the closeby marketplace as well.
Just across the street from the entrance is an enchanting Lovespoon shop that you should check out. The castle is open seven days a week.
* St Fagan’s National History Museum: This is a must-visit with its interesting and interactive displays that will give you a crisp history of Wales from Celtic times to today. And there’s a Secret Garden as well. Shhhhhhh…
* After all that, take a walk to the Bay from the Cardiff Bay Barrage, visit the indoor flea market and a farmer’s market, and at night, you can even sign up for a ghost walk.
Day 2 – Cardiff (Brecon Beacons)
Make Cardiff your base, and head out towards the beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park for a day-long trip. It takes about 2 hours to drive down there.
Third of the three Welsh national parks, Brecon Beacon is home to the Black Mountains and is spread over around 1,300 sq. km. It is known for its waterfalls (including the 90ft Henrhyd Waterfall and the falls at Ystradfellte), water reservoirs (you can opt for small cruises) and caves. You can either pack yourself a picnic basket or sample typical Welsh food at some of the local pubs and cafés around.
For locomotive enthusiasts, there are narrow-gauge trains run by the Brecon Mountain Railway.
Return to Cardiff after a fulfilling day outdoors, playing with the ponies. Well, not just that!
Day 3 – Pembrokeshire
Set off early on Day 3 towards the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, which is around a 3-hour drive. This is known to be Britain’s only coastal national park and is famous among nature lovers and photo enthusiasts. Mind you, this is going to be quite a long day, but a beautiful one.
* St David’s: While there are many walks around the 629 sq km park, be sure to visit St David’s, said to be Britain’s smallest city in terms of both size and population. It is the resting place of St David, Wales’ patron saint, and offers tourists stunning views across Cardiff Bay to the Bristol Channel.
* Tenby: This 13th century walled seaside town on the west side of Cardiff Bay is known for its sandy beaches and St Mary’s Church.
>> Here you can choose to either stay the night at Tenby or drive back to Cardiff. The drive to Porthmadog takes about 4 hours from either city/town.
Day 4 – Porthmadog
Start early and drive down (around 4 hours) to the 19th century town of Porthmadog, usually bustling because it’s an important train station as well (historically it was a major port for exporting slate). Strategically situated, there’s a lot you can cover in the surrounding areas, from quaint old towns to nature walks and adventure sports in Snowdonia. It is also the terminus for the Ffestiniog Railway.
* Beddgelert: Drive on across to the beautiful village of Beddgelert, which has a sad but interesting story behind the name, which is based on Prince Llywelyn’s dog Gelert (Read more about it here: 10 things you must see and do in North Wales). Multiple-times winner of the Britain in Bloom and Wales in Bloom competitions, walk through the village, visit Gelert’s grave and St Mary’s church before moving on.
* Llanberis (Mt Snowdon): The next stop should be Llanberis to catch the Snowdon Mountain Railway train to the summit of Mt Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, standing tall at 3,560 ft. (Read more about it here: 10 things you must see and do in North Wales) The journey lasts for around two and a half hours, which includes around 30 minutes at the summit.
* Betws y Coed: Let this be your final stop for the day before driving back to Porthmadog. Built around the Church in the Wood, this little village stands at a confluence of beautiful forested valleys and natural rivers (with good fishing for those interested) and stone bridges. Be sure to visit the dramatic Swallow Falls on the outskirts. For artists, this village has an interesting history as well (Check for artist David Cox).
Day 5 – Porthmadog
Get out by 9am to go the 13th century Harlech Castle.
* Harlech Castle: Part of Edward I’s Ring of Steel or Iron Ring of castles, built on a spur rock, Harlech is definitely the one with the most stunning views — Mount Snowdon on one side and the lush green golf course on the other. In terms of architecture. UNESCO considers it to be one of “the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe”, and it is classed as a World Heritage site. When there, be sure to ask a guide for the legend of Branwen, and stop by Branwen’s statue as well.
* Llechwedd Slate Mines and Zip World Adventures: Part of experiencing Wales is to know about the slate mines that drove its economy for decades. Llechwedd Slate Mines and the tours offered there (both the deep mine one that goes 500ft underground and the quarry trucks) give an insight into a rock revolution that defined generations of families in North Wales (Read more about it here).
Adrenaline junkies can also choose one of the many adventure sports that are available on the same campus, from the Bounce Below (multiple level trampolines – they boast of being the world’s first subterranean playground), cavern zip lines to overhead zip lines over the quarry and in the forest area around, mountain biking and trekking trails. (Read more about adventure sports options in Wales here.)
>> You can either choose to stay on at Porthmadog for the night, or shift to the Italianesque resort village of Portmeirion.
Day 6 – Portmeirion/Porthmadog
Irrespective of where you’re staying the night, you need to be at the Ffestiniog Railway terminus at Porthmadog to catch your heritage train in the morning.
* Porthmadog to Caernarfon on a heritage steam train: Experiencing the narrow gauge line stretch of 25-odd miles on the Ffestiniog Rail line, meandering through the historic Royal borough of Caenarfon should be high on your must-do list. The journey from Porthmadog to Caenarfon takes about 2 hours, and goes through some picturesque countryside that Wales is famous for, occasionally stopping at darling small town stations. This ride is a treat for history buffs — after all the Ffestiniog Railway IS the world’s oldest operational railway company — and photography enthusiasts alike. (Read more here).
* Caernarfon Castle: Also one of Edward I’s 13th century Iron Ring castles, Caernarfon holds the distinction of being the birthplace of the first Welsh prince with English ancestry. It was also the castle where the investiture ceremony of Charles as the 21st Prince of Wales took place. Caernarfon has a fascinating history so be sure to take a guide here. Climb up 92 stairs to the tower to soak in stunning views of the River Seiont and the island of Anglesey (where Prince William lived when he was a pilot with the RAF) further down.
* Portmeirion: On your drive to Portmeirion, drive through the seaside town of Criccieth, which has its own little castle as well, but you can skip that if you’re wont of time. Once in Portmeirion, be sure to ask for a guided tour of the property, which is popularly known as ‘one man’s dream’. It’s creator, architect Clough Williams-Ellis took 20 years to find the perfect site for his vision and then took 50 years (starting in 1925) to build it piece by piece. Many would associate Portmeirion with the drama The Prisoner, which was shot here, or as a favoured haunt of The Beatles.
What’s brilliant about this place spread across 120 acres is the quirky architecture that has oft been described as an adult person’s Disneyland. (Read more about it here)
Day 7 – Llandudno
Start your day with a 40-minute drive north from Portmeirion/Porthmadog to the station with Europe’s longest place name.
* Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch: This is one for the quirky travellers and a delight for those who like to have a check list. Imagine having bragging rights to having visited the place with the longest name in Europe, and second longest in the world. Do your homework and make sure you can pronounce the name. This is more of a photo stop than anything else, but a quirky one. (Read more about it here).
* Llandudno city: The Victorian era seaside tourist city is delight to explore. A perfect amalgamation of chic, old world sophistication and small town charm, it’s also where Alice (from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland) had her summer home. (Read more about the city here.) If you can, take a ride up to the Great Orme in the tramway that has been operational since 1902.
Day 8 – Conwy
* Conwy: The walled market town of Conwy may be tiny in terms of size, but packs a punch. You can’t have a better way to round off your Wales trip. Visit the Conwy Castle (also one of the Ring of Steel castles) for the history and the beautiful sights of the River Conwy, then head over to Plas Mawr (or Big Mansion), widely regarded as the best maintained Elizabethan townhouse not only in Wales, but Britain as well.
Then take a dip into the Aberconwy House, which is regarded as the oldest recorded dwelling house in Wales, following it up with Quay House, the smallest house in Britain (Read more here). Be sure to treat yourself to some locally made ice cream out here, and might we recommend the caramel or chocolate flavours.
* Visit a Welsh pub to finish your trip with a flourish: There’s nothing better for experiencing local culture and food than heading over to a typical Welsh pub for the evening; and if you can find one with live music then nothing like it. Ty Gwyn in Rowen, 6 miles from Conwy, is one such popular haunt you should consider. Run by a Lily for the past six years, it’s one popular Welsh pubs that boast of regular live music nights, and it’s a treat to experience.
Getting In And Out
If you start from Cardiff, taking a train from London would be advised, and you can take a train out of Llandudno (though the station is currently under renovation, so you’d need to drive down to Chester) to London as well.
Alternatively, you can drive down to Manchester from Llandudno or Conwy as well.
All of Wales has some interesting accommodation options. Opt for small hotels with a heritage value to make your stay more special. Checking out Coaching Inn properties (Hotel Castle in Conwy and The Royal Oak in Welshpool) would be a great idea, as would be youth hostels and BnBs. Most places come with free breakfast and Wi-Fi.
An average meal per person would cost £20, though one can pick up sandwiches and quick bites from supermarkets in bulk for as cheap as £3. Try and sample the local cuisine as much as possible, which is dominated with beef, lamb and mussels – all fresh! Be careful that the portions here are a bit to the generous side, so order accordingly.
Entries to most castles are £6-15 per person, entry to churches and museums are usually free. Adventure sports and train rides tend to be a bit more, but if you plan well in advance, there are ample deals to avail.