Majestic landscapes, rugged coastlines and castles as far as the eye can see are just a few of Wales’ many calling cards. Add youthful cities and spirited people whose distinct cultures and traditions have thrived despite a long and complex history of invasions, and you’ve got manna for travelers seeking a real deal vacation.
North Wales, with Snowdonia as its centerpiece, is particularly enticing. Walking in the shadows of local legends like King Arthur, you are as likely to hear the mystical Welsh language as English.
This is a rural part of the county but that doesn’t mean exploring it via public transportation is off the table. For the unhurried traveler, it is entirely possible to visit North Wales without a car thanks to rail service from London and Manchester and a network of local buses to fill in the gaps.
Do-it-yourselfers may use the power of their own two feet and ramble the breathtaking Wales Coast Path. Whichever activities you choose and however you decide to get there, you will find friendly folk who remain charmingly modest despite their country’s stellar attributes.
The 870-mile car-free Wales Coast Path is the longest continuous coastal footpath in the world. It runs the entire length of the country’s coast, delighting hikers and cyclists with pristine coves, deserted islands and wildlife sanctuaries. You may undertake the entire path but if you think this is something more suited to Bill Bryson or Cheryl Strayed, consider traveling just a portion.
Ascend the jagged peaks of Snowdon, the highest mountain in all of Wales. This is where Sir Edmond Hillary practiced to conquer Everest, so the challenging terrain is not a Sunday stroll for amateurs. The Sherpa bus connects Snowdon to neighboring villages, so it’s possible to hike one of the six main footpaths one way and take the shuttle the other.
If Wales is a dream, Portmeirion is a dream within a dream. This village was built and conceived by visionary architect Clough Williams Ellis and presents a highly original fantasy of eye-catching architectural styles. Italianate piazzas that wouldn’t be out of place in Portofino and classic Georgian and Arts and Crafts-style buildings are somehow a marriage made in eclectic architectural heaven. This Disneyland of brick-and-mortar glory is nestled among natural woodland trails, lush gardens and seascapes worthy of as many Instagram posts as your followers will tolerate.
Hotels, shops and restaurants make this an excellent base camp for exploring the region. Choose one of 32 distinct rooms in the village, all oozing character and charm. Pop culture vultures may select the room where Noël Coward wrote Blithe Spirit or where George Harrison celebrated his 50th birthday.
Eats + Drinks
Just outside of the charming town of Conwy, Bodnant Welsh Food Centre is a celebration of food and drink. Don’t expect complicated sauces and newfangled foams. This epicurean epicenter epitomizes Welsh cuisine: the freshest ingredients simply prepared to allow the natural flavors to shine.
The cooking school offers a range of instructional classes for amateurs and the Hayloft restaurant’s seasonal menu is rooted in exceptional local ingredients.
You shouldn’t leave Wales without sampling Welsh rarebit: melted cheese enhanced with ale, mustard and umami-esque Worcestershire sauce served over toasted bread. You’ll never be satisfied with grilled cheese again.
Penderyn Distillery produces a superb range of single malt whiskies. The red dragon is the national flag of Wales so take the opportunity to sample the home country’s favorite son, Dragon. This potent potable is produced in the hills of the Brecon Beacons in Mid Wales but it’s available throughout the country. It’s smooth on the palate and addictively irresistible.
With more castles per square mile than any other country on earth, no visit to Wales is complete without seeing at least one. Conwy is home to Conwy Castle, built in the 1280s to give English King Edward I leverage in Wales. Its waterside location perched above an estuary, with the imposing scenery of Snowdonia in the distance, is striking. The surrounding wall is the most pristine medieval town wall in all of Great Britain.
Virgin Trains operates a direct train from London’s Euston Station to several stations in North Wales. There are trains from Manchester, England to Conwy.
Portmeirion will arrange to pick up guests from several local train stations.
For local bus information, check out traveline.cymru.
For additional trip planning information go to www.visitwales.com
Photo credits: The author and Visit Wales