Britain is not everyone’s first choice for a post-summer getaway.
It has a reputation for being freezing cold and rainy even in the peak travel season, and it certainly lacks the warm oceans and cloud-free skies of Europe’s Mediterranean South, but that’s not to say it should be easily discarded.
Or, we must add, that it lacks natural beauty. Far from that.
In fact, one of our favorite fall destinations is a country that is part of the United Kingdom, hugely overlooked compared to historic neighboring nations of England and Scotland, but a homeland to the oldest ethnic group and most ancient culture found across all of the British Isles.
This is why you should give the enchanting Wales a chance this fall:
Welcome to The Land of Song
There is a reason why Wales is never even mentioned when discussing the United Kingdom as a country.
For much of its History, ‘The Land of Song’ was considered to be an integral part of the Kingdom of England that subjugated and controlled much of the territory throughout the Middle Ages.
Welshness only re-emerged strongly as a separate entity to that of English nationality from the 18th century onward, as efforts were made to revive Welsh culture and language, previously quashed by iron-fisted English monarchs.
One way or another, Wales has always retained its distinctiveness from England, even though it only conquered devolved powers and the right to its own national Parliament in the 20th century.
Welsh is markedly different from the Germanic-originated English, as it is of Celtic origin and the Welsh predate Anglo-Saxons in the British Isles by several thousands of years.
In a way, Wales is the oldest part of the modern-day United Kingdom, as well as a cultural hotspot awaiting discovery.
There Is More To Britain Than Just London
With a majority of tourists flying to Britain either staying only in London, which is far from being reflective of the country as a whole, or at best, taking a weekend trip out to Scotland, Wales has seen tourism figures dwindle in recent years.
This has been largely attributed to the absence of a competitive airport – Cardiff Airport, which serves the capital, is easily outshone by the much larger Bristol International, only 40 or so miles away across the English border – and lackluster promotion.
While England and Scotland, and even more recently, Northern Ireland have been actively promoted as the incredible destinations they are in global markets, with the latter witnessing a surge in tourism due to its links to the Game of Thrones blockbuster show, Wales has been all but forgotten.
A majority of visitors to Wales are still English nationals, who still count as domestic, or travelers with journeys originating from other parts of the U.K.
It hosts very few Americans, with only 111,000 U.S. visitors recorded last year and around 460,000 Europeans.
Interestingly, Wales does not suffer from a less-than-impressive tourist offer, in spite of not being on everyone’s radar like the British capital or the Highlands of Scotland, and if you’ve read it so far, you may be wondering what exactly this tiny nation of only 20,779 km² has to offer.
So why should you visit Wales if no one else is going?
Some Truly Breathtaking Nature
It will only take a quick Google search for you to fall in love with the breathtaking nature of the country.
It comprises tall peaks, verdant valleys, and rugged patches of coast interspersed with sandy North Atlantic beaches that may not be appropriate for swimming – unless you like icy waters – but provide the perfect background for a road trip.
On a visit to Wales, you simply can’t miss Snowdonia, a mountainous region in the North made up of majestic mountains and glacial formations, a skiing hotspot in winter, and a go-to destination for hikers and nature enthusiasts in the fall, when foliage is everywhere to be seen.
Taking the historic Snowdon Mountain Railway, which summits Wales’ highest mountain, the vertiginous Mount Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa in Welsh), you will be met with a sweeping panorama of the lake-dotted countryside below, and far beyond on a clear day, you will even spot Ireland across the sea.
Snowdonia also features countless tourist-friendly trails that lead to over 100 lakes and more peaks with equally stunning viewpoints, such as Cadair Idris, Tryfan, and Pen y Fan.
Charming Coastal Villages And Fossils
As already stated above, Wales’ coastline is a region of outstanding beauty, particularly the section known as the Glamorgan Heritage Coast.
Lined with centuries-old fishing villages, cobbled towns, and a long stretch of sand known to hide Jurassic fossils – every now and then, children dig up well-preserved dinosaur bones with their plastic shovels – Glamorgan is one of Britain’s most underrated natural sites.
One of the best spots for ‘finding dinosaurs’ on the Welsh Coast is Lavernock Point, near the capital city Cardiff, where remains of the carnivorous Dracoraptor hanigani were found in 2014, and some of the largest and most impressive bone beds and fossilized footprints can be seen.
Looking for cute, small towns in the wider Vale of Glamorgan to beat the Cardiff crowds?
You can find some peace and quiet in Cowbridge, a market town renowned among natives for its independent craft shops, Llantwit Major, a quintessential Welsh port town, and sleepy Penarth, equipped with a long boardwalk and a pier stretching out into the ocean.
More Castles Than Any Other Country In Europe
Another huge part of Wales’ appeal to visitors is its medieval heritage. Mark this: no other country, in Europe or elsewhere, has a higher concentration of medieval castles than Wales.
There are more than 600 castles distributed across the relatively small territory, more per square mile than any other country in the world, dating back to several different historic periods, and in varying states of preservation.
If you associate Europe with fairytales, Disney-like princess castles, and beautiful fortified citadels, then you shouldn’t put off visiting Wales for much longer.
Our favorites include:
- Caenarfon, the largest and most imposing, given its current form by King Edward I of England between in the 13th century
- Conwy Castle, a major fortification with a complex system of defensive towers, ramparts, and drawbridges that could have been cut out of the pages of an illustrated children’s book
- Pembroke Castle, the leading tourist attraction in Pembrokshire, and the former seat of the traditional Earldom of Pembroke
- Raglan Castle, sitting proudly atop a ridge and surrounded by the most scenic country, with origins traced back to the mid-15th century
- Cardiff Castle, an icon of the city of Cardiff, featuring both an ancient fortification and an adjacent Victorian palace
A Charming Capital City
No article about Wales could ever be complete without mentioning Cardiff, the cultural and administrative center of the country.
A small city of only 362,000 or so residents, it was a strategic fort in the Middle Ages, as well as an important coal port during Britain’s mining era. The cityscape combines both ancient structures, including Cardiff Castle, and more recent Victorian-era architecture.
The number one tourist attraction in Cardiff is undoubtedly the castle, a small fort sitting atop a mound and surrounded by massive walls. Tickets cost roughly $18.13 and include a visit to the Victorian development within the complex and the medieval structure.
Among other unmissable Cardiff spots, there is Bute Park, a tranquil municipal park with footpaths flanked by leafy trees that seem to block out the noise and traffic, the National Museum, where visitors can learn more about Wales’ fascinating History and the struggles of the Welsh, and Cardiff Bay, home to Family Fun Park, an amusement park.
The Best Thing About Wales Is Welsh Culture
Perhaps the main reason why you should visit Wales, other than the abundant nature and its numerous attractions, is Welsh culture.
As the Welsh predate every other indigenous group of Britain – even the Anglo-Saxons – Wales has millennia upon millennia of accumulated heritage, evidenced in its Celtic-originated language and distinct cuisine.
When in Wales, you simply have to try cawl, the national dish and a stew made from Welsh lamb or beef, bacon (in some variations), and root vegetables, the rich Glamorgan sausages, and our personal favorites, the deliciously soft, warm to the palate, Welsh cakes, a dried-fruit bread.
You may be able to find Welsh cuisine in other parts of Britain, but there’s really no better place to dive into the realm of Welsh gastronomy than in its country of origin, of course.
During your visit, other than gorging on the hearty food, perhaps you should also challenge yourself to try and learn some Welsh.
The village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, which carries the longest place name in Europe, may be a good place to start.
How To Get To Wales From America
Though there are no nonstop flights from the United States or Canada to Wales, Americans can easily reach this stunning country by flying to either London or Manchester, in neighboring England, first.
From the British capital, the fast-speed train departing several times per day from Paddington takes only 1h49 to complete the journey, which makes Cardiff the perfect day trip if you’re short on time and can’t explore more of Wales.
Booked in advance, tickets can be as cheap as $35 one-way. From Manchester Piccadilly, the shortest takes 3h35.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com