Take an adventure to Wales

Take an adventure to Wales

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

Does flying through the air in a dark green forest, beachcombing the pebbly shoreline or taking in a world-class show in an ultra-modern theater sound like fun? If so, you can do all of the above and so much more on your next trip to the United Kingdom. Avoid the crowds of London and Edinburgh and head in the opposite direction. The small yet uniquely charming country of Wales is bursting with plenty of thrilling escapades just waiting for you. With three breathtaking national parks, spectacular coastlines and waterfalls, ancient castles and legends, Wales will leave you with wonderful memories and more.

A little history

Wales has been inhabited for hundreds of thousands of years, with evidence showing Neanderthals once roamed through the region. Wales has been part of numerous kingdoms and empires in more modern times. In the 1500s, King Henry VIII passed legislation to fully incorporate the country into what is now known as the U.K. While it has had a heavy English influence, the Welsh have steadfastly and proudly retained their culture and language.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the plethora of iron and coal found in Wales led to an economic and industrial boom. Steelworkers and coal miners from around the U.K. settled in Wales. In the post-World War II era, the demand for steel and coal decreased drastically. As the times shifted, Wales became a devolved nation—one that is part of the U.K. but can decide how to spend and administer its budget and create many of its own laws.

Magnificent national parks

Wales is home to three of the 15 national parks in the U.K.; Snowdonia in the north, Pembrokeshire Coast along the southwest shores and Brecon Beacons in the south-central part of the country. Known for its craggy peaks and namesake, Snowdon (the tallest mountain in Wales), Snowdonia is a popular spot with visitors all year. Avid hikers can ascend to the top of Snowdon for stunning views of the countryside. Centuries-old castle ruins and crumbling abbeys dot the landscape, making for fascinating hikes and treks through the park.

Further south, Brecon Beacons offers lush meadows, rolling hills, lakes and some spectacular waterfalls. Evidence of ancient Roman stone circles, burial mounds and other prehistoric landmarks can make your imagination run wild. For those who love stargazing, Brecon Beacons was the first national park in Wales (and the U.K.) to be designated as an International Dark Sky Reserve. On a clear night, visitors can look up and see an incredible blanket of twinkling stars stretching across the horizon.

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park follows 186 miles of pristine coastline in southwest Wales. Outdoor enthusiasts can hike along the shoreline in its entirety or break it up into smaller chunks. Rocky beaches teeming with marine life and waterfowl are a nature lover's paradise. Visitors can pitch a tent, rent an RV or do a little glamping along the coast.

Ziplining and forest adventures

Adrenaline junkies will have plenty of opportunities to get their thrills. Ziplining, which consists of strapping into a harness and zipping through the landscape on a wire, is popular in Wales, and Zip World operates at four different locations in the country. Visitors can choose to soar over old mining quarries, beneath the ground through caverns, or through the lush forest canopy. Zip World Penrhyn is home to the world’s fastest and Europe’s longest zipline. Measuring at more than 1.5 kilometers and with speeds above 100 mph, Velocity 2 will give you an adrenaline jolt like nothing else.

If ziplining is a little too extreme, but you’re still looking for an outdoorsy experience, head to the town of Llangollen. This northern area offers plenty of stunning scenery and activities. The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is one of the tallest canal aqueducts in the world, with an array of hiking trails nearby. Visitors can also partake in gorge walking—hiking along the river’s edge, with plenty of sliding down rocks and rappelling along the canyon walls. Or take a less intense trek to Horseshoe Falls and enjoy all that nature has to offer.

Galivant through the capital city

Sometimes the urban jungle is more appealing than the rugged great outdoors. Dating back to the 1st century, Cardiff has been at the forefront of trade and export for Wales. The history, culture and traditions woven together make the capital an alluring destination to visit. Sitting atop a former Roman fort, the Cardiff Castle is a great place to start. Visitors can explore the Norman Keep, Castle Apartments and tunnels used as air-raid shelters during the war or simply walk the gardens and enjoy the beautiful exterior of the imposing fortress.

The Norwegian Church is another timeless spot in the city. During the height of the Industrial Revolution, Norwegian seafarers often used the church as a landmark to guide them to port. In WWII, it was used as a refuge and meeting point. The famous Welsh children’s author, Roald Dahl, was baptized and often attended services at this beautiful house of worship.

Theater and musical art aficionados will want to make a beeline to the Millennium Centre. Built with materials sourced exclusively from Wales, it’s a breathtaking homage to Welsh Culture. Emblazoned with the inscription, “In these stones horizons sing,” in both Welsh and English, this performing arts venue is worth a visit.

When planning a trip to the U.K., veer off the beaten path and see just how enchanting and wonderful Wales can be. This tiny hidden gem of a country will not disappoint with jaw-dropping thrills, incredible countryside, coastlines and cities.

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