We feel that Wales has always been a bit under appreciated. On March 1st it’s St. David’s Day, and in honour of the Welsh patron saint, we’ve put together a short guide to some of the most interesting and exciting things to do in Wales this year.
St. David’s Day in Cardiff
Let’s start with the big day itself. The best way to celebrate it is to join the faithful on the annual parade that winds its way through the streets of Cardiff, the Welsh capital. With local performers dressed in red, green and gold costumes and Welsh flags and St. David’s crosses fluttering in the air, it’s a colourful and noisy celebration of national culture and identity. Some years you might find legendary Welsh musicians like Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey making an appearance. The parade finishes outside St. David’s Hall, where the whole crowd will join in a rendition of the national anthem, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau. Then, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales performs a special gala concert — joined this year by Welsh soprano Rebecca Evans, tenor Joshua Mills, and 2016 BBC Young Musician string finalist Charlie Lovell-Jones.
Top Tips: Cardiff has plenty more to offer tourists these days. There’s history at Cardiff Castle, family entertainment at the Doctor Who Experience, and Championship football at Cardiff City Football Club.
Award-winning beaches in Swansea
Located 40 miles down the coast, Swansea has often played second fiddle to the capital. There’s one thing, however, that Swansea and the Gower Peninsula has over Cardiff, and that’s some of the finest beaches in the country. Take a journey down the coast from the city and you’ll find dramatic, award-winning locations like Three Cliffs Bay and Caswell Bay Beach. The latter is perfect for families, with gentle water, soft sand, rock pools filled with sea life, and relaxing coastal walking routes. On a clear day, you might even spot the north coast of Devon on the horizon.
Top Tips: Swansea is (at the time of writing) the only part of Wales in which you can watch Premier League football. Swansea City has enjoyed the most successful period in its history over the last fews years – a trip to the Liberty Stadium is not to be missed.
Literature in Powys
The Brecon Beacons are rightfully lauded for their stunning natural beauty – a walk in this part of the country is not to be baulked at. However, the main attraction of Powys, the tall county spanning that portion of Wales bordering England, is the Hay Festival. This annual event invites writers and comedians to the historic little town of Hay-on-Wye for a celebration of the written word. So big is this unlikely hit, that it has spawned imitations all around the world; that way, people from Beirut to Belfast can enjoy a taste of this great Welsh institution. Some of the most famous figures in contemporary literature can be found speaking at the festival, including Martin Amis, Hilary Mantel and Ian McEwan, as well as general speakers like Stephen Fry and philosopher AC Grayling.
Alternative: The Brecon Beacons region is home to many more festivals and events, including the UK’s highest music festival, the Steelhouse rock festival, which this year features classic acts like Saxon and Skindred, and Green Man, an alternative folk festival in Crickhowell.
Medieval castles in North Wales
Between Anglesey and the English border, Wales is blessed not only with a beautiful stretch of coastline, but also with the glorious scenery of Snowdonia national park. The obvious thing to do in this region would therefore be to explore these landscapes and check in to the charming little seaside towns. However, North Wales is also an excellent place to explore the country’s medieval history, with a whole host of castles available to visit. The best include the ruined shell of Denbigh Castle, and the superb and climbable fortifications of Conwy Castle. Caernarfon, just north of the edge of Snowdonia, is home not only to intact city walls, but also a huge and imposing castle, once a symbol of the medieval English conquest of Wales.
Alternative: Wales may be the castle capital of the world, but it is also home to a much older heritage. Head to the Isle of Anglesey to see some remarkable neolithic burial mounds, some of which are as much as 6,000 years old.
Wildlife watching in West Wales
One thing that Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire have in abundance is wildlife. Near Carmarthen, the National Botanic Garden of Wales is dominated by a futuristic glass dome designed by Norman Foster, inside of which is a beautiful Mediterannean landscape with streams, waterfalls and a whole host of exotic flora and fauna. For a more authentic Welsh experience, head to the coast to catch a sight of seals, porpoises, puffins and gannets. Inland, spring brings a wealth of wildflowers to the landscape, and overhead you might spot some kestrels and falcons in flight. If you’re really lucky, a walk along one of the region’s rivers might reward you with a rare glimpse of an otter. Whatever you spot, walking around this green and pleasant corner of the country is well worth it.
Alternative: In November, head to the River Marteg in the Gilfach Nature Reserve and catch a sight of one of the most unique sights in nature: salmon leaping upstream to their breeding grounds.
Where to stay
- South Wales
The Manor Hotel is a grand but cosy spa hotel set amid the natural beauty of the Brecon Beacons. It treats its guests to a stylish restaurant, a heated indoor pool, a sauna and a steam pool. From £65 including Wi-Fi and parking.
- North Wales
Built in 1522, the Black Boy Inn is one of the oldest pubs in Wales. Today, the hotel retains all its historic charm, with beamed ceilings, creaking floorboards and narrow staircases. From £58, including wireless internet.
The Vale Resort is a luxurious golf and spa hotel just outside Cardiff, featuring its own gym, squash and tennis courts, 20-metre pool, sauna, steam room and spa bath. From £125 including parking and high-speed internet access.
Featured image: St David’s Day at the Senedd 2012 / Dydd Gŵyl Dewi yn y Senedd – Image by National Assembly for Wales via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
St David’s Day parade – Image by Guardian Cardiff via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Three Cliffs Bay – Image by William Pearce via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)
The Books of Hay on Wye – Image by Visit Britain via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
conwy castle – Image by underclasscameraman via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Puffin (Close Up 1) 4 – Image by David Anderson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)