Populous South Wales incorporates the capital Cardiff, the cities of Swansea and Newport, Carmarthen Bay and two national parks, Pembrokeshire Coast and Brecon Beacons. The Cambrian Mountains and the attractive coastal resorts of Cardigan Bay are highlights of mid-Wales, while the North has popular seaside resorts like Llandudno and Rhyl, the island of Anglesey and the scenic delights of Snowdonia National Park.
Wales is an historic land of castles and mountains, sweeping beaches and strong national identity dating back to pre-Norman times. There is an industrial heritage, primarily in the Valleys of the south. It is also famous for its narrow-gauge railways.
Cardiff (Caerdydd): The modern city has two parts: the original centre and Cardiff Bay, which is now the focus of much leisure and tourism development, as well as home of the Welsh National Assembly.
In the city centre, parts of Cardiff Castle, despite extensive rebuilding in the 19th century, date back to the Middle Ages. The National Museum and Gallery, with Welsh archaeology, arts and crafts, as well as European paintings, is another highlight, as are the many attractive Victorian shopping arcades. The Millennium Stadium, new home of Welsh Rugby Union, is an imposing attraction open for guided tours on non-matchdays. The Cardiff Bay area, about 2km (1.5 miles) south of the centre, offers diverse activities ranging from boat trips to the impressive Barrage (which now seals the Bay off from the open sea), to the Techniquest Science Discovery Centre. About 8km (5 miles) west of Cardiff is St Fagans with its open-air Museum of Welsh Life.
Swansea (Abertawe): The country’s second city has over 45 parks, is a popular seaside resort, and is conveniently close to the Gower Peninsula. However, it is probably best known as the birthplace of Dylan Thomas (1914-1953). A city centre walking trail begins at the Dylan Thomas Centre, and leads visitors around sites associated with the poet and playwright. Elsewhere in the city, the Swansea Museum dates from the 1830s. The Egypt Centre Museum specializes, as its name suggests, in Egyptology, while pottery, porcelain and modern art feature at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery. At Parc Tawe, Plantasia is a high-tech tropical hothouse with plants from all over the world. A new Arts Wing was recently opened in Swansea’s Grand Theatre, the city’s main show venue. Mumbles, a suburb of Swansea, is also an important resort.
Other Places: Chepstow, whose castle and town walls date from medieval times, straddles the English/Welsh border. Nearby Caerwent is rich in Roman remains. Between Cardiff and the English border is Newport, Wales’ third-largest town, which has a 15th-century cathedral. South Wales’ biggest inland draw is the Brecon Beacons National Park, whose main touring bases are Brecon and Abergavenny. The narrow-gauge Brecon Mountain Railway runs through the hills from Merthyr Tydfil. In the Valleys, Blaenafon (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) offers industrial heritage attractions in the shape of Big Pit Mining Museum and the Ironworks. Caerphilly has a massive castle, and at nearby Treharris is Llancaiach Fawr Living History Museum.
Numerous resorts line the coast between Cardiff and Swansea, including Aberavon, Barry and Porthcawl. Others, along the Gower Peninsula, include Oxwich and Port Eynon. The former county of Pembrokeshire, in the west, has many castles as well as the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. The best-known religious building in the area is the cathedral of St David’s, Britain’s smallest city.
Aberystwyth: A university town midway round Cardigan Bay, and a popular resort. It is the base for visits to Devil’s Bridge Waterfalls, one of Britain’s most notable beauty spots, linked to the town by the Vale of Rheidol narrow-gauge steam railway. There are two other similar railways close by; the Tal-y-Llyn Railway, which runs for about 10km (16 miles) from Abergynolwyn through beautiful countryside to Tywyn; and the Fairbourne Railway linking Fairbourne with the Barmouth Ferry. Aberystwyth also has Britain’s longest electric cliff railway, and the Ceredigion Local History Museum.
Machynlleth: Celtica is a major visitor attraction here, focusing on Wales’ Celtic heritage, while underground boat trips and spectacular showcaves feature at King Arthur’s Labyrinth. The town also boasts the Centre for Alternative Technology, which highlights environmental issues and sustainable energy use; Senedd-Dy Owain Glyndwr (the 15th-century Welsh parliament building) and the Y Tabernael modern art gallery.
See more information on the next page... (next)