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Don’t dismiss Wales as some backwater cousin of England. This magical little nation with its impossible language is home to 641 castles, a couple of very lively cities in Cardiff and Swansea, and an unbelievable quantity of preserved nature and coastline. If England feels too tame, simply hop across the border with your car and create your own adventure. Wales is waiting.
Who to Book With
Since nearly all of Wales is undeveloped countryside pierced by a handful of roads, this is one country where a car is essential if you want to maximise your experience. Most of the big car hire companies are on hand in the larger cities like Swansea and Cardiff, which serve as travel gateways to the Welsh countryside. Whether you arrive by train, plane or bus, you can find rental offices at the major transport stations. Since vehicle selection can be limited at peak travel periods like summer, it’s advised to book your car online in advance to avoid frustration and get the best possible rates.
Best Time to Go
Wales covers the far western nub of Great Britain, so its climate is some of the wettest and coolest in Europe. Winters are actually quite mild but very wet, while summers are slightly drier and enjoy relatively balmy temperatures of around 19°C. Most Welsh festivals take place between June and August, but the country rarely feels crowded. May is actually a superb month to visit as well, with comfortable temperatures, reasonable amounts of sunshine and hardly any tourists.
Need to Know Essentials
Most Welsh car rental companies require the following documents:
- A valid EU or UK driving license or an International Driving Permit
- A secondary piece of photo ID
- The credit card used for online booking
- A printed confirmation slip (if possible)
Driving around Wales is the best way to experience this wonderful country. Most of the development, and access from England, is in the southern half of Wales, where major motorways like the M4 enter near Cardiff and the A55 enters near Bangor. Travelling north to south within Wales is usually done via the A470 between Cardiff and Llandudno.
Traffic isn’t much of a problem except at the few big motorway junctions like the J32 roundabout in Cardiff during rush hour. Swansea and Cardiff are the only large cities in Wales, and therefore the only places where there’s even a remote possibility of traffic congestion. The same holds true for parking. Both Cardiff and Swansea have a good system of downtown car parks as a convenient alternative to looking for a space on the street. Outside of these two Welsh cities, there shouldn’t be any trouble finding a place to park your car.
You can drive between north and south Wales in just four hours, so car rental is definitely a good option for travel in this country. Wales also has limited rail transport with Arriva, mainly between the big cities in the south. More practical is the handful of coach companies that provide the bulk of transportation within Wales, covering most Welsh towns in the north and the south. Traveline Cymru is a great source of travel planning information.
It’s not hard to reach Wales by train, as both the north and south regions have good connections to English cities. Arriva runs good service between the three main Welsh cities of Swansea, Cardiff and Newport, while First Great Western has a direct service to London. Other rail companies with regular services to Wales include Virgin Trains and Central Trains.
The North Wales Coast Line connects northern towns like Holyhead and Bangor to Manchester and beyond. There’s also a very scenic special rail line called the Heart of Wales, which runs from Shrewsbury in central England to Swansea.
Within Wales itself, Arriva Trains Wales provides most of the services. There is frequent efficient services between the three main cities in South Wales: Cardiff, Newport and Swansea. The Valley Line runs from Cardiff to the former coal mining towns of the Valley region, while the Heart of Wales line provides transport between Swansea and mid-Wales towns like Llanelli. All rail connections between the south and north of Wales actually cross back into England first.
Taxi companies can be found in most of Wales’ larger cities or popular tourist destinations. Cardiff and Swansea, in particular, has several taxi companies to choose from, such as Capital Cabs in Cardiff. Calling the cab company directly for a pick-up is always the easiest way to arrange transport.
Buses are one of the best travel options within Wales as the trains simply don’t reach many Welsh towns. There are several companies to choose from, each of which typically focuses on a specific region. Traws Cambria has one of the most extensive networks covering all parts of Wales. Arriva is busy in northern Wales, while Stagecoach focuses on southern Wales. First Cymru is the other option, primarily covering southwest Wales.
Since you can drive from one end of Wales to the other in around four hours, it’s possible to really get out and see a lot of undiscovered Welsh countryside without too much time behind the wheel. The southern cities and beaches are the most popular region for tourists, with the area also boasting some excellent national parks, such as Brecon Beacons. But don’t neglect the north, where Mount Snowdon dominates the incredible Snowdonia National Park, and fishing villages like Holyhead seem caught in another era.
Snowdonia National Park - This is one of the most beautiful places you’re likely to ever see. It contains England’s highest peak, the largest lake in Wales and miles of deserted walking trails. Best of all, roads wind right through the park, offering lots of scenic driving, and charming village sit along its edges providing food and lodging.
Caernarfon - This is a royal town in northwest Wales, famous for its UNESCO Caernarfon Castle, one of the finest examples of 13th century architecture in all of Europe. The town itself is also amazing, as 80 per cent of the population speaks Welsh. This is a timeless destination where you can really feel the heart and soul of Wales.
Pembroke - Lies at the extreme southwestern end of Wales, a wild place of coastal majesty and timeless villages. It’s the perfect daytrip destination from Swansea and a great place to use as a base for deeper exploration of this magical corner of Wales. Don’t miss Pembroke Castle and the stunning coastal road that runs along this remote peninsula.