Go off the beaten path in the United Kingdom with a trip to Wales – a fascinating country whose culture combines history, literary legends and natural mystery.
Rising between the Irish Sea and the Bristol Channel, the ancient principality of Wales is perched on the rocky fringe west of England. Captivating fairytale castles echo the sounds of harps and merry Welsh songs, and enchanting childhood picture books spring to life in this dazzling land of King Arthur and his magician Merlin.
The “Land of the Celts” bears a treasure trove of tradition, history, spiritual legends, a lyrical language, and ancient harmonies. The beguiling countryside is home to millions of grazing sheep and rolling moorlands of emerald quilts, bracketed with hedgerows. An incomparable view of the world stretches out before you, as far as the eye can see.
Welcome to Cardiff – Croeso I Gaerdydd
Cardiff was the world’s busiest and wealthiest port in Victorian times, when its vast coal empire and iron production was at its height. It’s now regenerated into one of Europe’s finest maritime cities with everything you would expect of a cosmopolitan capital. Offering plenty of fun, it’s a delightful blend of ancient and modern, and positively bristling with things to see and do. Cardiff’s restaurant scene is booming and it’s packed with pubs for everything from a quiet drink to a lively sing-along. Take a walk around the city center, explore centuries of history and discover what Cardiff has to offer. You’ll find the enthusiasm infectious.
Cardiff Castle, set in the heart of the city, contains within its mighty Roman walls a history spanning nearly 2,000 years. This existing Anglo-Norman castle was transformed into a breathtaking neo-gothic fantasy in the 19th century for the coal baron the 3rd Marquess of Bute. A guided tour will lead you through the magnificent, lavish themed interior, rich with decorative murals, intricate stained glass, gilded ceilings and elaborate carvings. You’ll probably want to wander the grounds and explore the 12-sided Norman Keep, or stone castle structure. A climb to the top will reward you with breathtaking views across the city, and for a memorable night out everyone can partake of a traditional Welsh Banquet in the 15th-century Undercroft, that includes a four-course dinner of local dishes accompanied by Welsh entertainment. Pre-booking for the banquet is essential.
The National Museum and Gallery captures everyone’s imagination with the hands-on interactive area and special exhibitions of Welsh interest. The Museum also houses one of the finest collections of Impressionist paintings outside Paris.
In a city where rugby is an “impassioned religion” the 75,000-seat Millennium Stadium is an iconic symbol. Home to both the Welsh rugby and the nation’s soccer team, the stadium has hosted FA Cup Finals and the Rugby World Cup as well as numerous supergroups, including Robbie Williams and the Manic Street Preachers. Stadium tours take you on a walk through the players’ tunnel, a visit to VIP dressing rooms, the pitch, and a rugby museum.
Cardiff Bay, transformed from the old coal docklands, has become an awesome waterfront. The stunning Mermaid Quay next to the Welsh Assembly building has over 40 restaurants, cafes, and shops where you’ll definitely want to linger.
Take a tour of the home of seven major arts at the Wales Millennium Centre that dominates the skyline on the Bay. Also down by the Bay, stop at Techniquest – an interactive Discovery Center with a Science Theatre and Planetarium that’s packed with over 150 exciting exhibits that inquisitive minds can explore. Another focal point is the quaint white and black Norwegian Church built in 1869. Years later Roald Dahl, the famous children’s author, was christened in what is today a living cultural and arts center.
Day Trips Dig Into Welsh Life
Well worth a visit in the small town of St. Fagans is the Museum of Welsh Life, an open-air museum that recreates a walk around Wales from Celtic times to the present day. The 100-acre parkland has 40 original buildings including an elegant mansion house, a humble quarryman’s cottage, and farmhouses to wander through. Native breeds of livestock roam the fields and farmyards, and demonstrations of farming tasks take place daily. Here, the family can see how the people of Wales lived at various times throughout the past.
History buffs and lovers of folklore will especially enjoy this intriguing tour with John Wake, a real-life former Detective Inspector who is passionate about the legends of King Arthur. The first stop is Caerleon (often identified with Camelot) and famous for its connection with Arthurian legend. You can explore the extensive remains of Isca, a Roman fortress, walls, baths and an amphitheatre (which Wake feels might have been the “Round Table”).
Then it’s on to the beautiful Wye Valley and the ivy-clad roofless ruins of the Cistercian Tintern Abbey founded in 1131, its architectural splendor still visible. Stop to tour the grounds and interior of Llandaff Cathedral (one of the oldest and spectacular Christian sites in the British Isles), and the historical market town of Monmouth where Henry V was born. You will not be disappointed with John’s vast knowledge, curiosity and wit in this examination of history, legend and culture; contact him prior to your arrival at [email protected].
Swansea, the “city by the sea” immortalized by Wales’s beloved poet and writer Dylan Thomas is a great place for everyone to get out and about. Stop for a bit of urban culture at the Swansea Museum surrounded by a harmonious tangle of narrow streets that houses cafes, pubs and shops.
Behind the museum are the Dylan Thomas Centre, the National Literature Centre of Wales, and a reproduction of the garage in which Dylan Thomas wrote at Laugharne, where he spent his happiest and most productive years. A visit to the stunning waterfront development – a winning combination of old and new- will take you right to the fascinating Maritime and Industrial Museum. The state-of-the art museum tells the staggering story of Wales’ leading role in the Industrial Revolution. Adding to the thrill are some of the oldest technological objects from across Wales and cutting edge interactive interpretations.
A magical treat for the whole family is a visit to Merlin’s Hill Heritage Centre, a farm steeped in history, shrouded in mystery and rich in wildlife. This land has been farmed for over 2,000 years. Follow in the footsteps of Merlin the wizard and walk up the ancient paths to the site of an Iron Age Hillfort. Listen for Merlin’s ghostly wailings, for legend has it he is imprisoned within this hill.
Down on the farmyard, wander around the heritage centre, discover the area’s history and traditions, and learn about farming, both past and present.
If you love visiting gardens, set time aside to enjoy the National Botanical Gardens that meander throughout 18th-century parkland. Its centerpiece is the stunning oval glasshouse with an exciting bioverse center with a range of microclimates for some of the world’s rare plants.
The tour of Big Pit, the National Coal Museum is an experience everyone will long remember. The old mine train at the entrance is your introduction into this real coal mine where several tour options are available. For the most dramatic adventure, the grown ups and school age children can ” kit up” in helmets, lamps and battery packs with ex-miners as your guides, and descend 300 feet in a pit cage into the labyrinth of shafts and coal faces.
Back on the surface you can take a multi-media tour of a modern coal mine with a virtual miner, and also view the exhibitions in the Pitheads. A spectacular museum houses a gift shop for unique souvenirs, including a small sack of coal.
Claiming a number of resident ghosts, it’s on to Llancaiach Fawr Manor a splendid semi-fortified Manor refurbished to its 17th-century state. Step back in time to the year 1645 and meet the servants of the household who will delight you with tales of their lives in the midst of the Civil War years.
Getting to Cardiff, Wales is a very pleasant journey. Journey to Heathrow via British Air, one of the world’s largest and longest established airlines. Families are in good hands when they travel with British Air. Skyflyers have been introduced to make air travel easy and more enjoyable. There’s lots of goodies including activity packs, and services designed to smooth the journey and delight the children. Kids meals can be pre-ordered up to 24 hours before departure. For information and reservations phone 800/AIRWAYS or visit the website.
If you’ve been in London and would enjoy a rail journey, depart from London’s Paddington Station on BritRail. Paddington is where trains depart every hour on the hour, and the journey time into Cardiff Central Station is two hours. BritRail, the official global representative of the National Railways of Britain, pre-sells their extensive range of specially designed and priced passes and promotions to Britain-bound American travelers of all ages. The ability to hop on and off any train in the system is an added bonus. For complete information and reservations phone 866/BRITRAIL or visit the website.
Most families will plan on staying in Cardiff. The Hilton Cardiff on Greyfriers Road is the country’s most stylish five star hotel and the perfect springboard for the whole family. There are over 197 deluxe rooms including the executive and junior suites. If you stay in an Executive Bedroom you can use the Lounge, where stunning views of the city accompany complimentary breakfast and refreshments. Leisure facilities include a swimming pool, sauna, spa and fully equipped gym, health and beauty salons. The award-winning Razzi Restaurant serves continental cuisine, and the kid’s menu features such favorites as beef burgers, spaghetti and chicken nuggets. Especially for kids — upon arrival, kids are greeted with a Hilton Planet fun pack that includes coloring books, crayons, stickers and games. Especially for seniors, the Hotel Guide is available in large print.
Once there, you’ll find that getting around Cardiff is half the fun. Cardiff is a very compact city and can easily be explored on foot or with a private tour. You can rent a car (driving is on the left side of the street) through Avis, Holiday Autos or Europcar. City Sightseeing Bus takes you on a tour around the City Centre and the Bay. The conductor’s live commentary will guide you around 11 stops and you can ‘hop on and hop off’ at will.
If your family (like ours) would benefit from a knowledgeable tour guide, we recommend it as a great way to see Wales. Explore in luxury and comfort the country’s horizons, from 21st-century Cardiff to Wales’ historic past, with Bach Travel. Angela and Bryan Bach love families, and their tours are flexible to suit everyone’s particular interests. Games, puzzles and quizzes are utilized to keep the younger ones interested while you travel. Bach also specializes in modular self-drive tours, and transport from major UK airports. Highly professional and personable, contact them via e-mail at [email protected] or visit their website.
Photos by Mel Greenberg
For more information, visit Wales Tourism, a valued resource for your trip to Wales. Their website has a comprehensive and easy-to-use section with planning guides.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.