Getting there & away
All direct ferry crossings to Wales are from Ireland. There are four routes: Dublin and Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead (1½ to 3¼ hours); Rosslare to Pembroke Dock (four hours); Rosslare to Fishguard (two to 3½ hours); and Cork to Swansea (10 hours).
Fares vary considerably (depending on the season, day, time and length of stay) and some return fares don’t cost much more than a one-way ticket.
It’s worth keeping an eye out for promotional fares that can reduce the cost considerably. International Student Identity Card (ISIC) holders and HI members qualify for a discount on the normal fare.
The following companies operate ferries between Ireland and Wales:
Typical one-way fares for a peak-season crossing are in the region of €30 to €50 for a foot passenger, and €150 to €200 for a car and driver, plus €22 per extra passenger.
There’s a bewildering array of ferry services to England from continental Europe, including services from Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands to Harwich; a service from Belgium to Dover; and a service from France to Dover, Newhaven, Poole, Portsmouth and Plymouth. Check out www.directferries.co.uk or www.ferrybooker.com.
Compared to trains, buses are slower but cheaper, and serve a greater variety of destinations.
National Express (0870 580 8080; www.nationalex press.co.uk) is the largest national network and has frequent services between most major cities.
Megabus (0900 160 0900; www.megabus.com) has one-way fares from London to Cardiff from as little as £6.
Travelling by bus from Europe can be a slow, painful process and with so many cheap flights available it isn’t always cost effective either. You can book a bus ticket right through to Wales via London with Eurolines (www.eurolines.com), Europe’s largest international bus network.
Another possibility is Busabout(www.busabout.com), a hop-on, hop-off network linking some 70 European cities. Buses run from April to October, but the only UK stop is in London.
All rail connections from continental Europe to Wales will pass through London. The high-speed passenger service Eurostar (08705 186 186 in the UK, 0892 35 35 39 in France; www.eurostar.com) links London (Waterloo) with Paris (Gare du Nord) or Brussels.From November2007, Eurostar trains will use the new St Pancras International rail terminal.
Cheaper rail connections involve a Channel crossing by ferry or SeaCat.
Fast train services run to Cardiff from London (Paddington), Bristol, Birmingham, York and Newcastle. You can also take the train to Mid-Wales (including Welshpool and Machynlleth) or North Wales (including Llandudno, Bangor and Holyhead; or Porthmadog and Pwllheli) from London (Euston) via Birmingham.
Trains in the UK are privatised and expensive in comparison to the rest of Europe. The fare structure is bewildering but in general the cheapest tickets are those bought well in advance of the date of travel.
Wales’ main international airport is Cardiff International Airport (01446-711111; www.cwlfly.com). There are scheduled flights into Cardiff from Canada, a handful of European cities, and several cities in England, Scotland and Ireland, plus loads of charter flights from European, Middle Eastern, North African and Caribbean destinations.
Just over the border in England (some 45 miles from Cardiff) is Bristol International Airport (0870 121 2747; www.bristolairport.co.uk), which serves a variety of UK domestic routes and also has flights to European destinations. Manchester and Birmingham also have international connections and are convenient for quick access to Mid- or North Wales.
Most of the world’s major airlines fly to Heathrow and Gatwick airports in London. Many flights from European centres go to London City, Stansted or Luton airports. It’s easiest to travel overland to Wales from Heathrow and Gatwick.
For flights to Cardiff (and Bristol) from European destinations, the main scheduled airlines serving Cardiff International Airport are the best source if you’re looking for cheap fares. The airlines and their phone numbers in the UK are listed below.
Aer Arann (0800 587 2324; www.aerarann.com)
Air Southwest (0870 241 8202; www.airsouthwest.com)
bmibaby (0870 264 2229; www.bmibaby.com)
Eastern Airways (08703 669 100; www.easternairways.com)
Excel (0870 169 0169; www.xl.com)
KLMUK (0870 507 4074; www.klmuk.com)
Thomsonfly (0870 1900 737; www.thomsonfly.com)
Zoom (0870 240 0055; www.flyzoom.com)
Many of the low-cost airlines send an email notification to members when there is a promotional fare available on certain routes, so it may be worth registering as a member in advance of your trip. The following websites are best for finding flights to London.
Many airlines compete on flights between Australia and New Zealand and the UK and there is a wide range of fares. Round-the-World (RTW) tickets are often real bargains and can sometimes work out cheaper than a straightforward return ticket.
Expect to pay anything from A$2000 to A$3000. It’s also possible to fly into Amsterdam; adding a connecting flight from there to Cardiff should only add around A$100 to the cost of the ticket.
STA Travel (1300 733 035; www.statravel.com.au) has offices in all major cities and on many university campuses. Flight Centre (131 133 Australiawide; www.flightcentre.com.au) has dozens of offices throughout Australia and New Zealand.
Also, a limited number of charter flights operate during the summer season; your travel agent will be the best place to inquire. Heavy competition on transatlantic routes into London makes it cheapest to fly there and then continue to Wales by bus or train, but there are also scheduled flights to Manchester and Birmingham.
Fares from the East Coast can cost as low as US$350; fares from the West Coast are about US$100 to US$150 higher. Travel time from New York is approximately seven hours.
In the USA there are discount-travel agencies (known as consolidators) that sell cut-price tickets on scheduled carriers; they can be found by looking in the Yellow Pages or in major newspapers. The Sunday travel sections of the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle-Examiner, Los Angeles Times or the Chicago Tribune list cheap fares, as do the travel sections of the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun.
Canadian Affair (1877 8FLY2UK; www.canadianaffair.com) This agency sells cheap one-way fares to British cities.
Skylink(1800 759 5465)
STA Travel(1888 427 5639)
Travel Cuts (1866-246 9762; www.travelcuts.com)
Skylink (1800 247 6659; www.skylinkus.com)
STA Travel (1800 781 4040; www.statravel.com)
Worldtrek Travel (1800 243 1723; www.worldtrek.com)
Go Voyages (08 92 89 18 32; www.govoyages.com)
Nouvelles Frontières (08 25 00 07 47; www.nouvelles -frontieres.fr)
OTU Voyages (01 55 82 32 32; www.otu.fr)
Voyageurs du Monde (08 92 23 56 56; www.vdm.com)
Just Travel (089-747 3330; www.justtravel.de)
STA Travel (069-743 032 92; www.statravel.de)
CTS Viaggi (199-501 150; www.cts.it)
Travel Price (199-400 466; www.travelprice.it)
Air Fair (0900-7 717 717; www.airfair.nl)
NBBS Reizen (0900-10 20 300; www.nbbs.nl)
No-frills air carriers offer reduced-price tickets on flights from Wales to other parts of the UK and to Ireland. The carrier bmibaby flies to Belfast, Edinburgh and Glasgow; Air Southwest flies to Manchester; Eastern Airways to Newcastle; and Aer Arann to Dublin, Galway and Cork.
Prices on all these flights vary considerably depending on the day and even time of day you fly, so it’s worth checking the websites regularly.
Discount air travel is big business in London. If you are looking for a cheap ticket from the UK, note that cheap international fares often appear in the weekend broadsheet papers and, in London, in the Evening Standard, Time Out and the free TNT magazine. Bargain ticket agencies for tickets include the following:
Flight Centre (0870 499 0040; www.flightcentre.co.uk)
Saga (0800 414 525; www.saga.co.uk) Air-fare bargains for the over-50s.
STA Travel (0871 2 300 040; www.statravel.co.uk)
Trailfinders (0845 054 6060; www.trailfinders.com)
Travel Bag (0800 082 5000; www.travelbag.co.uk)