Car Driving will get you to remote corners of Wales not connected to public transport. Cars can be hired from the main cities and the airports.
Bus The most useful form of public transport, with routes connecting most towns and villages. Many services don't run on Sunday. National Express coaches only stop in major destinations.
Train The network isn't extensive, but it's handy for those towns connected to it. Trains are comfortable and reliable, but more expensive than the buses.
When people talk of the north–south divide in Wales, it's not just about language – part of it is physical. The barrier created by the Cambrian Mountains, Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia means that it's often quicker to duck in and out of England to get between north and south Wales. The same is true by train: there's a network of lines that slowly zigzag their way through the country but the faster trains head through Bristol and Birmingham. That said, both roads and rail lines are extremely scenic. In Wales that old adage about the journey outweighing the destination is aptly demonstrated.
Wales is one of those places where Brits come to get back to nature, so it's extremely well set up for walkers and cyclists. With a flexible schedule and a modicum of patience, it's quite possible to explore the country by public transport. However, it's worth considering hiring a car for at least part of your trip, especially if you're on a limited time frame and you're not averse to losing yourself in the sort of narrow country lanes that require pulling over when a car approaches from the other direction.
Buses are nearly always the cheapest way to get around but you'll generally get to places quicker by train. For information on services, your best bet is the local tourist office where you'll be able to pick up maps and timetables. For up-to-date information and a journey planner covering public transport throughout Wales, visit Traveline Cymru.
If you're planning a whirlwind tour of Wales by public transport, you might like to consider an Explore Wales pass (www.arrivatrainswales.co.uk/ExploreWales/; adult/child £99/50). It allows free travel in Wales and adjacent areas of England on all rail routes and nearly all bus routes. The passes allow unlimited bus travel plus four days of train travel within an eight-day period. Cheaper passes (£69/35) are available if you're only wanting to visit South Wales or North and Mid-Wales. The passes can be bought at most staffed train stations and rail-accredited travel agencies in Wales.
The only useful internal flights are the Citywing (www.citywing.com) services between Cardiff and Anglesey.
Rural Wales is a great place for cycling: traffic on back roads is limited, and there are loads of multi-use trails and three long-distance cycling routes as part of Sustrans' National Cycle Network (www.sustrans.org.uk). For long-distance travel around Wales, though, the hilly and often mountainous terrain is mostly for experienced tourers.
In the larger towns and cities, there are few bike lanes and the usual problems with inconsiderate motorists. Bike theft can also be a major problem in urban areas.
Bikes can be taken on most trains, although there is limited space for them. On most services it's worth making a reservation for your bike at least 24 hours in advance; there is a small charge for this on some routes.
Arriva Trains Wales, which operates most rail services in Wales, publishes an annual guide called Cycling by Train. It's also available for download from the website.
Most sizeable or tourist towns in Wales have at least one shop where you can hire bikes from £14 to £28 per day for a tourer and £25 to £50 for a full-suspension mountain bike. Many hire outfits will require you to make a deposit of about £50 for a tourer and up to £100 for a top-of-the-line mean machine.
Aside from tourist boats to some of the offshore islands, there are no ferry services between ports in Wales.
Wales' bus services are operated by dozens of private companies but you'll find centralised information on routes and timetables with Traveline Cymru. Buses are mostly reasonably priced and efficient, although some have limited weekend services (many routes don't run at all on Sundays). Generally you'll need to hail the bus with an outstretched arm and pay the driver on board. Some buses, particularly in the cities, don't give change, so it pays to carry coins.
Coaches are mainly run by National Express, and for these you'll need to book and pay in advance.
Long-distance bus services are thin on the ground. Following are the principal cross-regional routes, most of which operate daily:
701 Cardiff, Swansea, Carmarthen, Aberaeron, Aberystwyth
T2 Aberystwyth, Machynlleth, Dolgellau, Caernarfon, Bangor
T3 Wrexham, Llangollen, Bala, Dolgellau, Barmouth
T4 Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil, Brecon, Llandrindod Wells, Newtown
T5 Haverfordwest, Fishguard, Cardigan, Aberaeron, Aberystwyth
Apart from the combined bus-and-rail Explore Wales passes, there are lots of regional and local one-day and one-week passes, but many are only worthwhile if you're planning to do a lot of travelling. You can usually buy tickets from the bus driver.
First Week South & West Wales Pass Unlimited travel on all First bus services in South and West Wales for seven days (adult/child £25/14).
First Day Swansea Bay Pass Unlimited travel on First and Pullman buses in Swansea and the Gower Peninsula for the day of purchase (adult/child £5/3.50). You can buy these passes at Swansea bus station, or from the driver on any First bus.
Red Rover Valid for one day on buses 1 to 99 in Gwynedd and the Isle of Anglesey in northwest Wales (adult/child £6.80/3.40). You can buy these tickets from the driver; for full details ask at a tourist office.
If you are planning to travel throughout the UK, National Express has a variety of passes and discount cards, including options for senior travellers. More information is available online at www.nationalexpress.com.
Car & Motorcycle
If you want to see the more remote regions of Wales or to cram in as much as possible in a short time, travelling by car or motorcycle is the easiest way to go.
Getting around North or South Wales is easy, but elsewhere roads are considerably slower, especially in the mountains and through Mid-Wales. To get from the northeast to the southeast, it's quickest to go via England. Rural roads are often single-track affairs with passing places only at intervals, and they can be treacherous in winter. In built-up areas be sure to check the parking restrictions as traffic wardens and wheel clampers can be merciless.
Wales can be a dream for motorcyclists, with good-quality winding roads and beautiful scenery. Just make sure your wet-weather gear is up to scratch.
If you're bringing your own vehicle from abroad, make sure you check that your insurance will cover you in the UK; third-party insurance is a minimum requirement. If you're renting a car, check the fine print – policies can vary widely and the cheapest hire rates often include a hefty excess (for which you are liable in the event of an accident).
- 30mph (48km/h) in built-up areas
- 60mph (97km/h) on main roads
- 70mph (113km/h) on motorways and dual carriageways
The main motoring organisations – such as the Automobile Association, Royal Automobile Club and the Environmental Transport Association – provide services such as 24-hour breakdown assistance, maps and touring information. Others, such as the Auto-Cycle Union and British Motorcyclists Federation, are more like clubs.
Hire cars can be expensive in the UK but you'll usually get a better rate by booking online in advance. To hire a car, drivers must usually be between 23 and 65 years of age – outside these limits special conditions or insurance requirements may apply. You will also need a credit card to make an advance booking and act as a deposit.
For a compact car, expect to pay in the region of £110 a week (including insurance etc). Most cars are manual; automatic cars are available but they're generally more expensive to hire. If you need a baby chair or booster seat, specify this at the time of booking.
Hire-car companies include the following:
A copy of the Highway Code can be bought in most bookshops or read online at www.gov.uk/highway-code.
The most basic rules:
- Drive on the left, overtake to the right.
- When entering a roundabout, give way to the right.
- Safety belts must be worn by the driver and all passengers.
- Motorcyclists and their passengers must wear helmets.
- The legal alcohol limit is 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood or 35mg on the breath.
- It is illegal to use a mobile phone while driving a car unless you have a hands-free kit installed.
You'll usually find a taxi rank outside the train station in bigger towns. In smaller places, the best place to find the local taxi phone number is in the local pub.
Like in the rest of the UK, the Welsh rail network has been privatised. National Rail provides centralised timetable information for all train operators in the UK, and allows you to buy tickets online using a credit card. You can also buy tickets online through http://thetrainline.com.
In Wales, most of the services are operated by Arriva Trains Wales, although the Great Western Railway operates the London Paddington–Newport–Cardiff–Swansea route and Virgin Trains has the London Euston–Chester–Llandudno Junction–Bangor–Holyhead route.
Classes & Costs
There are two classes of rail travel in the UK: 1st class and 'standard' class. First class costs about 50% more than standard and simply isn't worth the extra money.
You can roll up to a station and buy a standard single (one-way) or return ticket, but this is often the most expensive way to go. Each train company sets its own fares and has its own discounts, and passengers can only use tickets on services operated by the company that issued the ticket.
You might find that the same journey will have a different fare depending on whether you buy it at the station, over the phone or online. The fare system is so bizarre that in some cases two singles are cheaper than a return ticket, and even a one-way journey can be cheaper if you split it into two (ie if you're going from A to C, it can be cheaper to buy a single from A to B, and another single from B to C; go figure). You can check your options at www.splityourticket.co.uk.
The least expensive fares have advance-purchase and minimum-stay requirements, as well as limited availability. Children under five years travel free; those aged between five and 15 pay half-price for most tickets. When travelling with children, it is almost always worth buying a Family & Friends Railcard.
Main fare classifications:
- Advance Has limited availability so must be booked well in advance; can only be used on the specific trains booked.
- Anytime Buy any time, travel any time.
- Off-peak Buy any time, travel outside peak hours.
Railcards are valid for one year and entitle the holder to discounts of up to 30% on most rail (and some ferry) fares in the UK. You can buy a railcard at most train stations or at www.railcard.co.uk, but it must be delivered to a UK address. Railcards are accepted by all train companies.
- 16–25 Railcard (£30) For those aged 16 to 25 years, or a full-time UK student of any age.
- Two Together Railcard (£30) For two people travelling together, aged 16 or over.
- Disabled Persons Railcard (£20) Applies to its holder and one person accompanying them.
- Family & Friends Railcard (£30) Allows discounts for up to four adults travelling together (only one needs to hold a card and you'll need one child in tow), and a 60% discount on children's fares.
- Senior Railcard (£30) For anyone aged 60 or over.
BritRail passes (available only to non-Brits and bought overseas) are not cost effective for a holiday in Wales. More useful are the Rover and Ranger day passes (adult/child £12/6) offered by Arriva Trains Wales, covering its Cambrian Coast, Cardiff and Valleys, West Wales and North Wales networks. Other passes include the Ffestiniog Round Robin (£36/17) and Heart of Wales Circular (£39/20).
To a large extent, trains along Wales' north and south coasts were built to link the English rail network with seaports at Swansea, Pembroke Dock, Fishguard and Holyhead. But there are some fine rail journeys across the middle of the country and a staggering number of 'heritage' railways (mainly steam and narrow-gauge), survivors of an earlier era, worth seeking out for their spectacular scenery and hypnotic, clickety-clack pace.
Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways An integral, but incredibly scenic, part of the network heading from Porthmadog (on the Cambrian Coast Line) to Blaenau Ffestiniog and Caernarfon.
Heart of Wales Line (www.heart-of-wales.co.uk) One of Wales' most beautiful railway journeys heading from Shrewsbury to Swansea through southern Mid-Wales.
Cambrian Lines (www.thecambrianline.co.uk) The Cambrian Main Line crosses northern Mid-Wales from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth, and its spectacular branch line heads up the coast from Machynlleth to Pwllheli and the Llŷn.
Conwy Valley Line (www.conwy.gov.uk/cvr) A little gem heading down through Snowdonia from Llandudno to Blaenau Ffestiniog.