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In the 8th century, Offa, the king of a neighbouring kingdom built a long dyke to mark the border of Wales and his kingdom. Offa's Dyke is now a key physical feature of Wales' landscape, not least because it now acts as the border between Wales and England. Keen walkers are drawn to the dyke, which is widely considered one of Wales' best walks.
It's low-key attractions like Offa's Dyke which make Wales the fabulous destination that it is. This is a place where walled medieval towns and Victorian-flavoured seaside resorts draw the crowds. Stunning scenery certainly graces Wales' coast and countryside, but don't expect flashy tourist glamour. Cardiff, the capital, is a fine example of this: devoid of big city glitz, Cardiff's attractions revolve around its inner-city castle, national museum and stylish architecture. National parks like Snowdonia and Brecon Beacons are ideal for hiking and walking (two activities which seem highly popular in Wales).
The history of Wales begins with the arrival of human beings to the region thousands of years ago. Neanderthals lived in what is now Wales, or Cymru in Welsh, at least 230,000 years ago, while Homo sapiens arrived by about 29,000 years ago. However, continuous habitation by modern humans dates from the period after the end of the last ice age around 9000 BC, and Wales has many remains from the Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Bronze Age.
The Romans, who began their conquest of Britain in AD 43, first campaigned in what is now northeast Wales in 48 against the Deceangli, and gained total control of the region with their defeat of the Ordovices in 79. The Romans departed from Britain in the 5th century, opening the door for the Anglo-Saxon invasion. Thereafter British language and culture began to splinter, and several distinct groups formed. The Welsh people were the largest of these groups, and are generally discussed independently of the other surviving Brythonic-speaking peoples after the 11th century.
A number of kingdoms formed in the area now called Wales in the post-Roman period. While the most powerful ruler was acknowledged as King of the Britons, and some rulers extended their control over other Welsh territories and into western England, none were able to unite Wales for long. Internecine struggles and external pressure from the English and later, the Norman conquerors of England, led to the Welsh kingdoms coming gradually under the sway of the English crown.
The Welsh launched several revolts against English rule, the last significant one being that led by Owain Glyndŵr in the early 15th century. In the 16th century Henry VIII, himself of Welsh extraction, passed the Laws in Wales Acts aiming to fully incorporate Wales into the Kingdom of England. Under England's authority, Wales became part of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707 and then the United Kingdom in 1801. Yet, the Welsh retained their language and culture in spite of heavy English dominance. The publication of the extremely significant first Welsh translation of the Bible by William Morgan in 1588 greatly advanced the position of Welsh as a literary language.
During the 19th century southeast Wales in particular experienced rapid industrialisation and a dramatic rise in population as a result of the explosion of the coal and iron industries. These industries declined in the 20th century, while nationalist sentiment and interest in self-determination rose. The Labour Party replaced the Liberal Party as the dominant political force in the 1940s, while the nationalist party Plaid Cymru gained momentum in the 1960s. In a 1997 referendum Welsh voters approved the devolution of governmental responsibility to a National Assembly for Wales, which first met in 1999. The results of the 2001 Census showed an increase in the number of Welsh speakers to 21% of the population aged 3 and older, compared with 18.7% in 1991 and 19.0% in 1981. In 2006 the Government of Wales Act gained Royal Assent meaning that from May 2007 the Queen would have the new legal identity of 'Her Majesty in Right of Wales' and would for the first time appoint Welsh Ministers and sign Welsh Orders in Council.
Wales is a generally mountainous country on the western side of central southern Great Britain. It is about 274 kilometres north-south and 97 kilometres east-west. The country covers 20,779 km2 and is bordered by England to the east and by sea in all other directions: the Irish Sea to the north and west, St George's Channel and the Celtic Sea to the southwest and the Bristol Channel to the south. Altogether, Wales has over 1,180 kilometres of coastline. Over 50 islands lie off the Welsh mainland; the largest being Anglesey, in the northwest. Much of Wales' diverse landscape is mountainous, particularly in the north and central regions. The mountains were shaped during the last ice age, the Devensian glaciation. The highest mountains in Wales are in Snowdonia (Eryri), of which five are over 1,000 metres. The highest of these is Snowdon, at 1,085 metres.
The Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd are placed on the Unesco World Heritage List. They consist of the castles of Beaumaris and Harlech and the fortified complexes of Caernarfon and Conwy. Both are located near Gwynedd in north Wales. These very well preserved monuments are examples of the colonization and defence works of Edward I (1272–1307) and the military architecture of the time.
Snowdonia National Park is one of the natural highlights of the country, located in the north of Wales. The area is great for all sorts of activities, including hiking, mountaineering and white-water kayaking. Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales at 1085 meters above sea level is also to be found here and can be climbed. The park is full with waterfalls, beaches, mountains and hills, but also castles and traditional Welsh life can be obverved here.
In the south of Wales, near Swansea, is another so called Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in the form of Gower Peninsula. It contains of spectactular coastal scenery, fantastic sandy beaches, cliffs, woodlands and medieval castles with in between some small rural places, all to be explored on foot or by bike. Most of it can be explored from the larger place of Swansea but there are far better smaller seaside towns to stay like Oxwich.
A similar celebration to the ones held in the US, Halloween is the perfect excuse to dress up as anything and everything and act out your childhood fantasies. Plenty of establishments throw costume parties and you are bound to see more than your fair share of drunken zombies crawling through the streets until the early hours of the night, throwing inhibition to the wind.
One of the calendar’s most fun loving evenings sees English people spilling out of pubs, clubs, and house parties on every street corner as they celebrate the past 12 months and welcome in a new year.
For centuries, May Day has been celebrated in the UK on the first of the month. While not quite as popular as they once were, the festivities today are locally-orientated and centered around the symbolic Maypole, and includes Morris dancing and the crowning of a May Queen. The festival dates back to the pagan beliefs of the Anglo-Saxons.
Wales has a typical maritime climate with cool summers and mild winters. June to September is summer season with temperatures between 16 and 21 °C and nights around 12 °C. Winters are still above zero, even at night. The highest and lowest temperatures possible are just above 30 °C and just below -10 °C, though higher parts can even get colder. Precipitation is evenly distributed throughout the year, with autumn and winter being the wettest time and spring being the driest time. May is the driest and most sunny month of the year.
Cardiff International Airport (CWL) is the main airport for Wales. The main destinations from this airport are Ireland, Netherlands, Spain and other parts of UK. The main airlines in this airport are bmibaby, Flybe, Thompsonfly and Thomas Cook Airlines.
There is an excellent system of motorways connecting Wales to both England and Scotland directly and rental cars can easily be taken here.
The M4 links London with Bristol, and via the Severn (toll) Bridge, Newport, Cardiff, Swansea, and Carmarthen. The M50 links the West Midlands with Monmouth, the Brecon Beacons and all of south and west Wales. If travelling from the English Midlands or further north, this route is preferable as it avoids having to pay the Severn Bridge toll. Ignore a GPS which tells you otherwise. The A5, followed by the M54 after Shrewsbury, to London and the West Midlands takes you through the spectacular Snowdonia National Park. The A55 (which is of motorway standard for most of its length) runs along the entire north coast from the English motorway network near Chester to the island of Anglesey. It is much quicker than the A5 although also much less scenic.
First have a look at possibilities at Traveline Cymru for buses, trains and more transportation options.
There are quite a few options of getting around by train, both by regular passenger service as well as more touristic trains. For a start, Virgin Trains has services in the north to places like Llandudno and Holyhead.
Arriva Trains Wales has an extensive network of trains operating in the north, centre and south of Wales.
The Great Little Trains of Wales website gives an idea of numerous options on old trains like steamtrains. Probably the best known would be the one at Ffestiniog, Porthmadog in Snowdonia, with it beautifully restored locomotives and carriages from the last century. Others include the Welshpool and Llanfair Railway, the Talyllyn Railway and the Bala Lake Railway.
For road conditions and much more contact the Traffic Wales website. Wales is a great place to travel around by road, and although many of the interior roads are narrow and winding, all are paved and in relatively good condition. Rental cars and petrol are not cheap compared to the rest of Europe, but many international and local companies have offers if you book directly with them before arriving in Wales. The main companies include Hertz, Avis, Budget, Sixt, Europcar, Thrifty and Enterprise.
Most of the ferry services are actualy to and from Wales, but some ports along the coast have some services linking eachother.
For visa-related information, refer to the United Kingdom article.
Being part of the United Kingdom, Wales uses the same pound sterling as its currency with the international currency code GBP (Great Britain Pound). The currency sign for pound is £ (the symbol is derived from the letter L). It is also known to the locals as quid (both singular and plural), which a slang term, so you might hear people say "two quid" instead of two pounds. One pound is divided into 100 pence (singular: penny).
The major cities of Swansea and Cardiff have a growing number of white collar office jobs. The more rural areas, and especially the former mining communities in the Valleys are extremely impoverished and unlikely to offer many opportunities.
The Welsh language is very successful in being a cultural part of the Welsh nation, with much of the population learning in school and able to speak it as a first language. It is one of the remaining Celtic languages that has ancient origins and was spoken through much of the British Isles before the English language existed.
Cardiff University has four-week full-time summer programmes in Welsh as a second language.
English is spoken throughout the country, but Wales also has its own language, Welsh (Welsh: Cymraeg). You will rarely hear it spoken in the southeast, but in the north or west, you will often overhear conversations between locals in Welsh, but residents will quickly switch back to English to converse with visitors.
Locals will rarely expect visitors to attempt to speak Welsh. Using words like bore da (good morning), iechyd da (cheers) and diolch (thank-you) will be greatly appreciated in some parts of the country; and even non-Welsh-speakers are usually supportive and welcoming if you try a few words.
Wales may not be associated with any particular dishes (with the possible exception of lamb) but there are a number of unique foods that you might like to try. The quality of local ingredients is often very high, with a drive towards locally sourced, organic produce in many restaurants in recent years.
Several of the above dishes are now rarely eaten and may not be found on restaurant menus. Many cuisines are now represented in Welsh towns and cities, with even small towns and villages usually having takeaways, with Chinese, Indian, pizza and kebab being most common. The larger towns and cities, and in particular Cardiff, have a much wider range of restaurants and cuisines represented.
Wales is very tourist-friendly, so finding hotel accommodation, a self-catering holiday cottage or a place to pitch a tent should not be a problem. However, you might need to make prior reservations during the summer season in tourist areas such as Anglesey, Llandudno, Llangollen, Lleyn, Rhyl, Swansea/Mumbles and Tenby, or around the time of major sporting or cultural events in Cardiff.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Wales.
See also: Travel Safety
In case of emergency, dial 999 or 112 for Police, Ambulance, Fire Brigade and Coast Guard. It's free of charge.
Although tourist areas are generally safe, travellers should still practise some common sense safety precautions just as they do anywhere in the world.
Internet cafés can be found in many cities and towns. All UK public libraries provide access, often branded as "People's Network", usually at no or little charge, though there is usually a time limit. Some hotels/hostels also offer internet access, including wifi, but most times at a cost. Using the internet on your personal phone can become expensive very quickly, with carriers charging 100's of times the local rate for data. To avoid these expensive roaming charges, you can hunt for wifi at a local cafe or hotel, or rent a mobile hotspot via several providers including DATAPiXY, and XCOM Global.
See also: International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to the United Kingdom is: 44. To make an international call from the United Kingdom, the code is: 00
In case of emergency, call 999 or 112 from any phone. Such calls are free and will be answered by an emergency services operator who will ask you for your location, and the service(s) you need (police, fire, ambulance, coastguard or mountain rescue). You can call this number from any mobile telephone as well, even if you do not have roaming.
Although the number is declining, you can still find payphones in many public areas, especially stations, airports etc. You can usually pay with cash and sometimes by creditcard or, for international calls, special phonecards are still available.
Mobile phones are heavily used. The main networks are T-Mobile, Vodafone, Orange and O2. 3G data services are available, usually priced per megabyte and coverage is usually very good in the UK, however it may lack in rural areas. Roaming on your personal phone plan can be expensive. To manage costs, consider purchasing a local UK SIM card for your phone. Several companies offer local SIM cards including Telestial, and CellularAbroad.
The Royal Mail provides postal services in the United Kingdom. The Royal Mail's store fronts are called Post Office and offer services ranging from sending letters and packages to foreign currency exchange. Use the branch locator to find the nearest Post Office branch. There will be at least one post office in any town/city and there are quite often post offices in larger villages. It's common for a post office to be incorporated into a grocery store, where there will be a small counter located at the back of the store for dealing with post related matters. All post offices are marked with signs that say 'post office' in red lettering. Post boxes can be found at any post office and standalone large red post boxes on the streets or red boxes in the sides of public buildings.
For sending packages overseas, it might be a good idea to check prices and services with international companies like TNT, UPS or DHL.
Ask pierre1912 a question about Wales
Local knowledge of the Cardiff area
Ask FiveSenses a question about Wales
Born in North Wales and worked as a mountain guide in the Snowdonia National Park, managed hostels and explored every attraction.
I know the north of Wales like the back of my hand!
Ask davidx a question about Wales
I am English but my son and grandchildren live near Bethesda and I have enjoyed many days and longer breaks in Wales.
I can help with the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, the Lleyn Peninsula or Snowdonia.
Ask SJ Wales a question about Wales
I have lived in Wales my entire life and travelled the country extensively. I speak Welsh and can recommend the best places to visit and stay to suit any budget.
Ask HBone a question about Wales
I lives in Newport and Caerleon for ages.
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