22 reasons why a trip to Wales is better than a holiday in the Med

·8-min read
Cardigan Bay  - iStock
Cardigan Bay - iStock

The Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed he is considering introducing a tourism tax for Wales in the next five years. The decision may be controversial, but we can all agree that Wales is one of the best British holiday destinations.

With 2021 set to be another summer of staycations, while foreign travel remains clouded in uncertainty and restrictions, this could be the year more Britons than ever before discover its charm – from the Pembrokeshire coast and the mountains of Snowdonia and Brecon Beacons to its inviting villages and adrenaline-fuelled attractions.

The wonderful, the wild and the somewhat weird – Wales has it all. Here are 22 reasons why you should forget the Med and head to Wales instead this summer.

1. You could almost be in Italy

Yes, really. The twee coastal town of Portmeirion in North Wales was in fact modelled on an Italian village and on a sunny day the colourful facades of its baroque buildings could almost trick you into believing you’re on the Italian Riviera. Almost.

2. Its beaches are exquisite

A beach holiday might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of visiting Wales, but perhaps it should be: the country’s coastline has some of the finest stretches of sand in the UK, including Coppet Hall in Pembrokeshire and Llanddwyn Bay in Anglesey. The Gower’s Rhossili beach has even been known to rank in TripAdvisor's best beaches in the world (yes, really).

Rhossili beach - Anthony Thomas/Moment RF
Rhossili beach - Anthony Thomas/Moment RF

3. Wildlife abounds

Wales’s rugged coastline, windswept islands and verdant valleys offer bountiful opportunities to spot the country’s endemic wildlife, which includes red kites, falcons, puffins, basking sharks, dolphins, orcas and whales (that's right, whales in Wales). Top spots include: Puffin Island, The Skerries, Grassholm, Anglesey, Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons.

4. It’s home to Britain’s smallest city...

With just 1,800 inhabitants, St David’s is hardly a teeming metropolis. Nevertheless, this diminutive destination enjoys city status thanks to its spectacular cathedral, which is the final resting place of St David, Wales’s patron saint. Other notable attractions include Pebbles Espresso Bar and Gallery, Oriel y Parc Gallery and the crumbling ruins of Bishop’s Palace.

St Davids Cathedral - Hilda Weges/Getty
St Davids Cathedral - Hilda Weges/Getty

5. ...and its smallest house

Quay House in Conwy has the dubious distinction of being Britain’s smallest house; a claim to fame that has turned this tiny abode into something of a tourist attraction. It costs £1 to enter the property, which at 1.8m high was deemed unfit for human habitation in 1900, much to the chagrin (and possibly relief) of its then owner, Robert Jones, a 6ft 3in fisherman.

6. You can ride the Ffestiniog Railway…

Riding this iconic narrow gauge railway is much easier than pronouncing it. Some 13 miles long, this heritage track runs from the harbour at Porthmadog to the slate mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, wending its way through the forests and foothills of Snowdonia National Park en route.

Ffestiniog Railway - Wales News Service
Ffestiniog Railway - Wales News Service

7. …and visit forgotten railway stations

The author Dixe Wills unearths dozens of tranquil request stops in his book Tiny Stations, and chose his 10 favourites for Telegraph Travel – four of which were in Wales. They include Sugar Loaf on the Heart of Wales Line, which receives an average of five passengers a month, and Penychain, on the site of a former Butlin's holiday camp.

8. You can climb Snowdon

The loftiest mountain in Wales and the third highest in the UK, Snowdon is easily conquerable and the views from the top are well worth the effort. However, if you really can’t be bothered to schlep to the top on foot, there’s a railway that will do the hard work for you.

Snowdon - Joe Dunckley/Getty
Snowdon - Joe Dunckley/Getty

9. Surf’s up - always

If the thought of waiting for waves in the chilly Atlantic Ocean is enough to make you flog your wetsuit, you should hit the Conwy Valley, which is home to a new artificial wave lagoon. Generating consistent waves all day long, the freshwater facility will help you hone your board riding skills in no time (surfsnowdonia.com).

10. It’s mad for zip lines

North Wales is the self-styled “zip-line capital of the world” and seems to have reasonable stake to that claim. Zip World Velocity, at Bethesda, offers riders the opportunity to exceed 100mph, while Zip World Titan, in Blaenau Ffestiniog, offers one of the world’s longest zip rides with 8,000m of cables. And then there’s Zip World Fforest, which gives riders the chance to “fly” through the forest canopy at Betws y Coed.

Brecon Beacons - Michael Roberts/Moment RF
Brecon Beacons - Michael Roberts/Moment RF

11. The Brecon Beacons are exceptional

Glorious upland, beautiful waterfalls and amazing wildlife awaits visitors to the Brecon Beacons. The best view? Jon Pimm, a warden at the park, suggests Mynydd Illtud Common, close to the village of Libanus. “On a clear day you can see the four main hill ranges that make up the park and the view is dominated by Pen y Fan, the highest point in the National Park at 886m," he said.

12. You can camp on a cliff…

Snowdonia-based climbing operator, Gaia Adventures, were the first to launch a cliff-camping experience in the UK. Don’t expect to see a listing in the Camping and Caravanning Club guidebook; instead of a tent, campers bed down on a nylon tray suspended from a cliff in Anglesey. Not one for sleepwalkers.

Anglesey - iStock
Anglesey - iStock

13. …and throw yourself off one

Coasteering (which involves scrambling over rocks, swimming, and jumping off cliffs into the sea) is a downright fun day out. And Pembrokeshire is one the best places in Britain to have a go.

14. You could meet a Barry in Barry

As well as being a popular Seventies name, Barry is a seaside town in the Vale of Glamorgan and is best known for its starring role in the television series Gavin and Stacey. Believe it or not there are tours dedicated to this popular comedy show for those who want to see what’s occurring in this kiss-me-quick seaside resort.

Barry beach huts - Phil Darby/iStock
Barry beach huts - Phil Darby/iStock

15. You can hit the Dylan Thomas trail

Re-tracing the steps of Wales' most turbulent poet is perhaps the country's most intriguing literary attraction. Visit the Taf estuary and some of Thomas' other haunts, including Laugharne, the likely inspiration for his most famous work, Under Milk Wood, and his birthplace in Swansea.

16. There are more than 200 golf courses

There are an amazing variety of courses across Wales; hugging the coastlines, at the top of mountains and down in the valleys. Some will be familiar with names like Royal Porthcawl, Royal St David's, Aberdovey and Nefyn, but of the 200-plus courses in Wales, many of them have been built and maintained by the communities that surround them.

the Offas Dyke path - Chris Griffiths
the Offas Dyke path - Chris Griffiths

17. You can walk the Offa's Dyke path

This 177-mile path links Prestatyn in North Wales with Chepstow on the Severn estuary, more or less following the Welsh border in the shape of the great earthwork thrown up by the eighth-century King Offa of the Mercians. This long, beautiful, wild walk is not too difficult but covers sometimes mountainous country.

18. The local cuisine is getting very good

Wales is rapidly becoming a destination for discerning gastronomes. The Walnut Tree, near Abergavenny, Tyddyn Llan, at Llandrillo in Denbighshire, and The Checkers at Montgomery, have long boasted Michelin stars, and more continue to join the club.

hay festival - Warren Allott
hay festival - Warren Allott

19. There's the Hay Festival

Britain's foremost literature festival takes place each year in the small market town of Hay-on-Wye, attracting scores of writers, actors, and personalities. It took place virtually in 2021 but will hopefully return, in-person, in 2022.

20. You can take on “The Monster”

More terrifying than anything fiction can conjure, The Monster now known as the Dragon Ride, is a gruelling cycle ride that threatens to “rip your legs off”. Taking place in September, the longer version of the sportive is 300km long and climbs 6,000m. Only around half of entrants are expected to finish.

Wales bog snorkelling - Geogg Caddick/AFP
Wales bog snorkelling - Geogg Caddick/AFP

21. The currency is sterling

Particularly good news for foreign travellers, many of whom are now getting much more bang for their buck in the UK since the EU referendum in 2016.

22. You can go bog snorkelling

And finally, here’s one for those who fancy something a little out of the ordinary. The World Bog Snorkelling Championships take place every August (postponed until 2022) in Llanwrtyd Wells, where competitors battle it out to see who can snorkel through a swamp the quickest. Bring your flippers.

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