Wales, located in the South West of Great Britain, is the geographic size of New Jersey. But with only a third of the population, there are a lot of lovely landscapes to roam and revel.
Outstanding cultural, heritage and urban adventures await, both in the cities and the wilderness, making it a destination for thrill-seekers as well as those who just want to slow down, enjoy the scenery and get back to nature.
Here are 5 ideas to build a trip around, including an LGBT night out in Cardiff.
Discover the Outdoors
Mountains and forests, rivers and waterfalls, and miles and miles of beaches are accessible by cycling and walking trails, providing up-close access to some of Europe’s most pristine landscapes. Many of Wales’ beautiful waterfalls, including Pistyll Rhaeadr, the highest in the country, can be spotted by walking trails. To cover more ground, rent a car and drive along the 870-mile Wales Coast Path, which runs along the northern coastline past harbours, coves, and islands. Even the islands can be easy to access up close, with the help of a kayak or paddleboard; perhaps one of the resident dolphins or seals will swim by and say hello.
True outdoors aficionados can sign up for bushcraft courses, held on an enormous estate between the cities of Swansea and Cardiff. Learn traditional Welsh skills like foraging for tasty edibles in the woods or along the beach, starting fires with flint, and cooking outdoors over an open fire. Eating directly off the land and from the ocean is part of Welsh tradition, and foraging courses are common and fun. Many of the ingredients—crab, oysters, whelks, berries, mushrooms—end up on the menus at high-end restaurants throughout Britain, but they are most flavorful and nutritious when cooked on the beach right after they have been foraged, fresh to fire.
Only thirteen areas in the world have been designated as International Dark Sky Reserves, areas that possess “distinguished quality of starry nights,” and two of these areas are in Wales. Brecon Beacons National Park and Snowdonia National Park provide exceptional viewing of the Milky Way, shooting stars, and bright clouds of gas and dust called nebulas. Both parks offer campsites ranging from basic stays in tents to glamping, but if your love of the outdoors ends at bedtime, there are lots of towns with guesthouses. The Brecon Beacons, in the south of the country, is near cities like Cardiff and Swansea where hotels are plentiful.
Discover Unique Sites in Wales
There are plenty of adventures in Wales without braving the forces of nature. Wales boasts more than 600 castles, more per square mile than anywhere on earth. These castles range from classic ancient ruins to the beautifully preserved, and many are open to the public for tours, general wandering about, and posing for photos that fulfill your travel fantasies. The capital of Wales, Cardiff, is a great place to start with a tour of Cardiff Castle, where visitors can learn about its origins in the Roman Empire and its role as a World War II air raid shelter. In the north, Penrhyn Castle is a spectacular structure with grounds and gardens to match.
For a trip you will never forget, take a ride on the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, in the north-central town of Froncysyllte. The aqueduct is part of a previously running canal system, and this remaining journey by boat is only 300 meters long. The view from the aqueduct is breathtaking, and it becomes even more intense if you look at the drop over the side, straight down. For visitors who come to Froncysyllte on a Monday or a Thursday, drop by rehearsals for the Froncysyllte Male Voice Choir (known as Fron Choir), which is one of the leading cultural exports of Wales. Fron Choir has recorded gold and platinum classical music albums, and they have won enough choral competitions around Europe to put them at the top of the field. Attending rehearsals is free and fun.
Discover Unique Lodging
Discovering Wales is more than finding adventures. The cities, towns, and countryside offer opportunities to stay in unique accommodations described as “self-catering.” Visitors can stay in country estate houses, farms where the eggs are fresh from the chickens, carriages parked in fields, yurts in the wilderness, even boats floating on canals. Many of these spots roll out the welcome mat, and they are great ways to share an authentic experience with locals. Want to stay in a converted windmill? Head to the northwest coast to the island of Anglesey, and take a short walk down the path to beautiful beaches, or tour Beaumaris Castle in the nearby town. No worries about the solitude of staying in a windmill. There are plenty of towns nearby. Take a drive to Conwy, one of the best-preserved walled towns in Europe and a World Heritage Site, and stop by for a Welsh craft beer, and a chat with the locals at Albion Ale House.
Discover Urban Areas
That Welsh craft beer is good, isn’t it? There is plenty to be enjoyed, in the cities along Wales’ southern coast. Swansea and Cardiff have much to enjoy alongside delicious food and beverages, including world-class cultural sites. The National Museum Cardiff contains collections of Impressionist paintings—as well as an international array of great restaurants.
Artes Mundi, where visual artists compete for a generous grand prize, takes place every two years at the National Museum.
Book a night out at Cardiff Bay’s Wales Millennium Centre, where you can enjoy ballet and opera in a spectacular venue.
LGBT social life benefits from the friendly and inclusive nature of the people, and Swansea and Cardiff host Pride celebrations. Cardiff’s nightlife scene is clustered around Charles Street and Churchill Way, and the Eagle is worth a night out–or five.
The Golden Cross is a pub for karaoke and cabaret. Lab 22 is the place for happy hour. WOW Bar features great music and DJs. The Kings features a terrace while Pulse is patronized by the dance club crowd. Check out Minsky’s Showbar for drag.
All in all, Wales is wonderfully unexpected and full of adventure; a place you should definitely experience sooner rather than later as a part of your own gay travel agenda.
Photos courtesy of Love is GREAT Britain