Haggling is practically nonexistent in Wales; expect to pay the marked price.
Dangers & Annoyances
Wales is a pretty safe place to travel, but use your common sense.
- Never assume that it will be warm and dry, even in summer, and especially in the mountainous parts of Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia national parks. Mist can drop suddenly, leaving you dangerously chilled and disoriented. Never venture onto the heights without checking the Met Office (www.metoffice.gov.uk) mountain forecast and without being sensibly clad and equipped with good waterproof gear and a compass. Always make sure someone knows where you're heading.
- High winds can be treacherous for coastal walkers, particularly if you're carrying a large backpack.
There are several passes available to travellers that offer good value for people keen on castles, stately homes, ruined abbeys and other properties owned by Wales' two heritage trusts, Cadw (ka-doo; Welsh for 'to keep') and the Welsh arm of the UK-wide National Trust (NT).
A one-year Cadw membership costs £41 for individuals, £61 for couples and £66 for a family (two adults plus all children under 16 years). Visitors with disabilities, together with assisting companions, are admitted free to all Cadw monuments.
A one-year National Trust membership costs £63 for individuals, £105 for a couple and £111 for a family (two adults plus up to five children under 18). As well as entry into NT properties, membership allows free parking at the many trust-owned car parks, particularly those dotted around the Pembrokeshire and Gower coast.
Membership of one, or both, of the trusts is well worth considering, especially if you're going to be in Wales for a couple of weeks or more. Both organisations care for hundreds of spectacular sites and membership allows you to visit them for free. You can join at any staffed Cadw or NT site, by post or phone, or online.
It's also worth noting that students carrying valid National Union of Students (NUS) cards and people carrying a valid 16–25 Railcard (www.16-25railcard.co.uk) can get discounted entrance to many attractions across Wales.
Travellers aged 60 and over can get 30% off standard National Express bus fares with a Senior Coachcard (www.nationalexpress.com; annual fee £10) and 30% off most rail fares with a Senior Railcard (www.senior-railcard.co.uk; annual fee £30). Many attractions have lower admission prices for those aged over 60 or 65; it's always worth asking even if it's not posted.
If you plan to do a lot of travelling by bus or train, there are some good-value travel passes. Most local bus operators also offer day and family passes.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Wales (& UK) country code||44|
|International access code||00|
|Traveline Cymru (public transport)||0300 200 22 33|
|Visit Wales (tourist information)||0333 006 3001|
Entry & Exit Formalities
The UK strictly controls its borders and will not hesitate to deny entry to travellers lacking the correct visas or other appropriate documentation.
- Goods brought in and out of countries within the EU incur no additional taxes provided duty has been paid somewhere within the EU and the goods are strictly for personal consumption only. Duty-free shopping is available only if you're leaving the EU.
- Travellers arriving in the UK from other EU countries can bring in up to 800 cigarettes, 400 cigarillos, 200 cigars, 1kg of tobacco, 10L of spirits, 20L of fortified wine, 90L of wine and 110L of beer, provided the goods are for personal use only.
- For travellers arriving from outside the EU, the duty-free allowance for adults is a maximum of 200 cigarettes or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco; 4L of still table wine; 16L of beer; 1L of spirits or 2L of fortified/sparkling wine; and £390 worth of all other goods (including gifts and souvenirs). Anything over this limit must be declared to customs officers. People under 17 do not get the alcohol and tobacco allowances.
- For details of prohibited and restricted goods (such as meat, milk and other animal products), and quarantine regulations, refer to the HM Revenue & Customs section of www.gov.uk.
Not required for most citizens of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA.
- If you're a citizen of one of the European Economic Area nations or of Switzerland, you don't need a visa to enter Britain.
- Citizens of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Malaysia, Japan, Israel, Brazil, Argentina, the USA and several other countries do not require a visa to stay for up to six months as a tourist, but are prohibited from working.
- Visitors from most other countries will need to apply for a Standard Visitor visa (£87).
- Visa regulations are always subject to change, so check with your local British embassy, high commission or consulate before leaving home. For more information, visit www.gov.uk.
Wales has very similar standards of etiquette to England: politeness is prized, queues are sacrosanct and if someone shouts a round of drinks, you're expected to reciprocate.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
In general, Wales is tolerant of homosexuality but the macho image of the rugby-playing Welshmen still prevails in some smaller communities – although the public 'coming out' of Welsh rugby hardman Gareth Thomas has challenged even that bastion of blokedom.
Cardiff, Swansea and Newport have at least some gay venues, with Cardiff's being by far the best, however, even the Cardiff scene is rather sluggish. Wales' biggest LGBT bash is Pride Cymru, held in Cardiff.
For more information try the following:
Diva (www.divamag.co.uk) British lesbian magazine.
Gay Times (www.gaytimes.co.uk) Longstanding gay magazine.
Gay Wales (www.gaywales.co.uk) Wales-specific site, with news, events, listings and helplines.
Pink UK (www.pinkuk.com) UK-wide gay and lesbian resource.
Switchboard London-based LGBT helpline.
However you're travelling, make sure you take out a comprehensive travel insurance policy that covers you for medical expenses, luggage theft or loss, and cancellation of (or delays in) your travel arrangements. When choosing a policy, check whether the insurance company will make payments directly to providers or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures.
Paying for your flight tickets with a credit card often provides limited travel-accident insurance (ie it covers accidental death, loss of limbs or permanent total disablement). You may be able to reclaim the payment if the operator doesn't deliver the service, but this should not be relied upon instead of a full travel insurance policy.
It's a good idea to photocopy all of your important documents (including your travel insurance policy) before you leave home. Leave one copy with someone at home and keep another with you, separate from the originals.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
If you're travelling in Wales with a digital device, getting online has never been easier. Most accommodation providers now offer free wi-fi internet access to guests – with the exception of some top hotels, budget chain hotels and hostels. Plenty of cafes, bars and tourist attractions also offer free wi-fi, as do some train and coach services.
With the widespread availability of free wi-fi, internet cafes are few and far between these days. If you don't have your own device, the best places to check email and surf the internet are public libraries – almost every town and village in Wales has at least a couple of computer terminals devoted to the internet, and they are mostly free to use. Many of the larger tourist offices across the country have internet access as well.
If you are a victim of petty crime, head to the nearest police station to file a crime report; you will need this for your insurance claim. It's a good idea to take some identification with you, such as a passport.
Police have the power to detain anyone suspected of having committed an offence punishable by imprisonment (including drug offences) for up to six hours. They can search you, take photographs and fingerprints, and question you. You are legally required to provide your correct name and address – not doing so, or giving false details, is an offence – but you are not obliged to answer any other questions.
After six hours, the police must either formally charge you or let you go. If you are detained and/or arrested, you have the right to inform a lawyer and one other person, though you have no right to actually see the lawyer or make a telephone call. If you don't know a lawyer, the police will inform the duty solicitor for you.
Possession of a small amount of cannabis is an offence punishable by a fine, but possession of a larger amount of cannabis, or any amount of harder drugs, is much more serious, with a sentence of up to 14 years in prison. Police have the right to search anyone they suspect of possessing drugs.
Drivers may not exceed a blood alcohol level of 80mg/100mL (35mg on the breath). Traffic offences (illegal parking, speeding etc) often incur a fine, which you're usually given 30 to 60 days to pay. Speeding incurs a minimum £100 fine and three penalty points if you hold a UK driving licence.
For motorists, there is a huge array of maps available. You can pick up a decent detailed road map, such as the Philip's Navigator Wales Cymru or the AA Road Atlas Great Britain and Ireland, at just about any motorway service station you stop at on the way through Wales.
For walkers and cyclists, it's essential to have a good map before setting off on any trip. Most tourist offices and local bookshops stock maps produced by the UK's national mapping agency, the Ordnance Survey (www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk), which cover its regions, including the useful 1:50,000 Landranger series and the extremely detailed 1:25,000 Explorer series. The Pathfinder Walking Guides cover short walks in popular areas at 1:25,000. Maps can be ordered online at the OS website or purchased from tourist offices, national park offices, outdoors stockists and bookshops.
- DVDs Wales, the UK and most of the rest of Europe uses the Region 2 DVD format, which is also used in the Middle East and South Africa.
- Newspapers The Western Mail is Wales' only national English-language daily newspaper.
- Magazines For the low-down on what's happening around the country, try the magazines Cambria, Planet or Golwg (Vision), the latter only available in Welsh.
- Radio Tune in to BBC Radio Wales for English-language news and features or BBC Radio Cymru for the Welsh-language version; both are broadcast on a range of frequencies.
- TV The national Welsh-language television broadcaster is S4C (Sianel Pedwar Cymru), while BBC Wales services broadcast mainly in English.
ATMs are widely available. Major credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard are accepted in most but not all hotels and restaurants.
Nearly all banks in Wales have ATMs linked to international systems such as Cirrus, Maestro or Plus. However, an increasing number of ATMs, especially the ones you find in small shops and at service stations, will charge for withdrawal (at least £1.50). It's best to avoid these and simply seek out a regular ATM that offers free withdrawals.
The currency in Wales is the pound sterling (£) and Wales has the same major banks as the rest of the UK. There are 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2 coins and £5, £10, £20 and £50 notes.
Most banks and larger post offices can change foreign currency; US dollars and euros are the easiest currencies to change.
Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted in Wales (American Express and Diners Club less so), although some smaller businesses and B&Bs may prefer payment in cash. If your credit card is lost or stolen, contact the relevant provider.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
There is absolutely no obligation to tip in Wales, even if a 'service charge' has been automatically added to your bill (although this is still uncommon in Wales). Tips are only left if the service is particularly good or at least satisfactory.
Restaurants, cafes and bars with table service Up to 10% for good service. If you order at the bar or counter, you're not expected to tip.
Taxis Fares are often rounded up.
Opening hours tend to be fairly standard throughout the year, except at venues with an outdoor component (castles, gardens, beach cafes etc), which close earlier in winter.
Banks 9.30am–5pm Monday to Friday, 9.30am–1pm Saturday
Post offices 9am–5pm Monday to Friday, 9am-12.30pm Saturday
Cafes 9am–5pm Monday to Saturday, 11am–4pm Sunday
Restaurants noon–2pm and 6–10pm; often closed Sunday evening and Monday
Shops 9am–6pm Monday to Saturday, 11am–4pm Sunday
Wales follows the general UK conventions when it comes to opening hours, but as Great Britain moves closer to a 24-hour society, hours are extending and Sundays are no longer a day of rest.
Business hours are generally 9am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday. Banks are open from 9.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday and 9.30am to 1pm Saturday (main branches). Single-function post offices open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 12.30pm Saturday, although many of Wales' postal services are now handled by retail stores and offer greatly expanded hours.
Shops generally open from 9am to 5.30pm or 6pm Monday to Saturday, with an increasing number of shops also opening on Sunday from 11am to 4pm. Late-night shopping (to 8pm) is usually on Thursday or Friday nights.
Cafes tend to open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Saturday and from 11am to 4pm Sunday, while restaurants generally open from noon to 2pm and also 6pm to 10pm. Many restaurants close on Sunday evenings and all day Monday. Pubs and bars usually open at around 11am and close at 11pm (10.30pm on Sunday). Many bars in larger towns have a late licence and stay open until 2am from Thursday to Saturday.
Some businesses in small country towns still have a weekly early closing day – it's different in each region, but is usually Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. However, not all shops honour it. Early closing is more common in winter. From November to Easter many tourist sights and associated businesses close entirely.
If someone tells you a place (eg a shop, cafe or restaurant) opens daily, they may mean 'daily except Sunday'.
The Royal Mail service (www.royalmail.com) is generally very reliable. There's a handy branch finder on www.postoffice.co.uk.
Mail sent within the UK can go either 1st or 2nd class. First-class mail is faster (normally next-day delivery) and more expensive (64p for a letter up to 100g) than 2nd-class mail (55p); rates depend on the size and weight of the letter or package.
International services start at £1.05 for a postcard to anywhere in the world.
If New Year's Day, Christmas Day or Boxing Day falls on a weekend, the following Monday is usually treated as a public holiday instead.
Most businesses and banks close on official public holidays (hence the quaint term 'bank holiday') but most larger attractions stay open for all but Christmas Day. However, if a smaller museum or other attraction usually closes on a Sunday, it will probably be shut on bank holidays as well.
Virtually everything – attractions, shops, banks, offices – closes on Christmas Day, although pubs are often open at lunchtime. There's usually no public transport on Christmas Day and a very minimal service on Boxing Day.
New Year's Day 1 January
Good Friday March/April
Easter Monday March/April
May Day First Monday in May
Spring Bank Holiday Last Monday in May
Summer Bank Holiday Last Monday in August
Christmas Day 25 December
Boxing Day 26 December
- Smoking Forbidden in all enclosed public places. Many pubs now have an outdoor smoking area.
Taxes & Refunds
Value-added tax (VAT) is a 20% sales tax levied on most goods and services and is included in advertised prices. Travellers living outside the EU can claim the tax back by presenting the (unused) goods and a completed VAT 407 form (obtained from the retailer) as they leave the country. Note, only some 'tax-free' retailers can issue the VAT 407 forms.
The UK uses the GSM 900/1800 mobile phone network, which is the standard for most of the world but isn't compatible with the GSM 1900 network commonly used in the Americas. Most modern mobile devices can function on both networks; check before you leave home, just in case.
The EU has largely gotten rid of roaming charges for member states, but for all others international roaming rates can be prohibitively high and you'll probably find it cheaper to get a UK number. This is easily done by buying a SIM card (around £10, including credit) and sticking it in your phone. Your phone may be 'locked' by your home network, however, in which case you'll have to either get it unlocked or purchase a pay-as-you-go phone along with your SIM card (around £50).
Pay-as-you-go credit can be recharged by buying vouchers from a large variety of shops or online.
To dial a UK number from overseas, dial your country's international access code, then 44 (the country code for the UK), then the local number without the initial 0. To call internationally from the UK, dial 00 and then the country code.
The UK uses the GSM 900/1800 network, which is compatible with most of the world except the Americas. However many new phones have a multiband function that will allow them to work anywhere; check before leaving home.
All of Britain is on GMT/UTC in winter. Clocks go forward for 'summer time' by one hour on the last Sunday in March and are set back on the last Sunday in October.
|Paris, Berlin, Rome||1hr ahead|
|Sydney||9hr ahead Apr-Sep, 10hr Oct, 11hr Nov-Mar|
|Auckland||11hr ahead Apr-Sep, 12hr Oct, 13hr Nov-Mar|
|Los Angeles||8hr behind|
|New York||5hr behind|
UK toilets are almost always of the plain, sit-down variety.
Public toilets can be a hit-and-miss affair, depending on how much the local council spends on their upkeep, but they are almost always equipped with toilet paper and hand soap. In major towns and cities, the public toilets are generally clean but there may be a small fee to use them. Likewise, toilets at train stations and motorway service stations are regularly maintained and fine on the whole.
For a more luxurious loo off the beaten track, you can always stop off at a local cafe, a village pub or a rural coffee shop to use the facilities. You will be expected to buy a drink while you're there, but it's a chance to sit down and plan your route at the same time.
Austerity measures have forced the closure of many local tourist offices in recent years, but where they're open, you'll find them excellent. They're usually well stocked with free maps and brochures and often also sell books on Welsh culture and local sights, Ordnance Survey maps for walkers and even local art. Staff speak English, often Welsh, and sometimes have a basic grasp of other major European languages. The national parks also have their own tourist offices, which are well worth visiting for advice and details of track and weather conditions.
Many tourist offices make local hotel and B&B reservations, sometimes for a small fee. Some tourist offices also have internet access.
Visit Wales The department for tourism within the Welsh Assembly. Its contact centre is your first port of call for information on holidays and short breaks in Wales.
Visit Britain (www.visitbritain.com) Run by the UK's official tourist board and has in-depth coverage of the entire island.
Travel with Children
With glorious beaches, monumental castles, thrilling adventure sports, hands-on museums and trails to hike, bike, ride and wander, Wales is a kid's dream destination. The whole country is very family friendly, so roll up and let loose.
Best Regions for Kids
The best museums and hands-on exploration in the country.
- Southeast Wales
Explore uplifting landscapes in the Black Mountains, Brecon Beacons and along the meandering Wye.
- Swansea, Gower & Carmarthenshire
Surf the Gower and explore Wales' most dramatic castle.
Home to fantastic clifftop walking and some of Wales' best beaches.
Discover hidden valleys, get back to the land with a farm stay, or ride horses over wild Cambrian uplands.
- Snowdonia & the Llŷn
Hike, bike, sail and kayak in the shadow of the country's highest peaks.
Wales for Kids
Wales is well geared towards family travel. Children are generally made to feel welcome, facilities are uniformly good and there are discounts at many attractions for family tickets, plus under-fives often go free. Public transport is easy to negotiate (and free for under-fives) and baby-changing facilities are widespread.
Most hotels and B&Bs can rustle up a cot or heat a bottle, cafes and restaurants usually have high chairs and offer children's menus, and pubs serving food often have gardens with playgrounds. If you're travelling with small children, your biggest difficulty may be finding a family room, as B&Bs and hotels have a limited supply, so it's worth checking self-catering options as well.
Whitesands Bay, St Davids A wide, sandy Blue Flag beach with excellent swimming, surfing and rock pooling.
Barafundle Bay, Stackpole Follow the cliff path over dunes and through stone archways and you'll discover a superb hidden beach.
Tresaith, near Cardigan Golden sands, rock pools, a cascading waterfall and, if you're lucky, dolphins visible from the shore.
Oxwich Bay, Gower Peninsula Miles of golden sand backed by dunes, salt marshes and woodland.
South Beach, Tenby A velvety-soft beach perfect for sandcastles, ball games and kite flying.
Beaumaris Castle The most perfect of Edward I's great castles, with sturdy concentric walls and a wide moat.
Conwy Castle A stunning fortress looming over the complete medieval walls of Conwy.
Pembroke Castle A forbidding but family-friendly castle with walks along the walls and passages from tower to tower.
Carreg Cennen Atmospheric 13th-century ruins with a clifftop passage down to an eerie natural cave.
Caernarfon Castle A massive, intimidating stronghold with excellent exhibitions pitched at kids and adults alike.
Zip World Blaenau Ffestiniog Strap the kids in, and watch them sail down zip lines at breathtaking speeds over mountainsides and quarries.
Talyllyn Railway, Tywyn What kid wouldn't love getting to ride the inspiration behind Thomas the Tank Engine?
Living Room Treehouses, Machynlleth Sleeping, eating and playing in the canopy is something kids will never tire of.
Gwydyr Stables, Penmachno Explore Snowdonia's hills and forests on horseback, and at your own pace.
Lôn Las Cymru National Cycle Route 8 lets you take the littlies off-road, all the way from Cardiff to Holyhead.
Thousand Islands Expeditions, St Davids Head to the edge of the Celtic Deep to spot whales, porpoises and dolphins.
Techniquest, Cardiff Whizz-pop science adventures for all.
Centre for Alternative Technology, Machynlleth Educational, fun and truly green, CAT offers plenty of interactive displays and a great adventure playground for curious kids.
King Arthur's Labyrinth, Corris Trudge deep into the belly of an old slate mine to see Britain's mythical past resurrected.
National Waterfront Museum, Swansea For a hands-on family visit, Swansea's landmark museum is hard to beat.
Dan-yr-Ogof, Fforest Fawr Eerie caves, dinosaurs, shire horses and a petting farm should keep everyone entertained.
Urdd National Eisteddfod One of Europe's largest youth festivals.
Haydays The part of the famous Hay Festival that's just for kids.
Big Cheese A fantastic free weekend of historical re-enactments, folk dancing, music and fire-eating.
Victorian Extravaganza Good old-fashioned family fun with fancy dress, parades and fun fairs.
World Bog Snorkelling Championships Stand by and watch competitors as they submerge themselves in boggy water for a 110m swim.
Travellers with Disabilities
For many travellers with a disability, Wales is a strange mix of user-friendliness and unfriendliness. Most new buildings are wheelchair accessible, so large new hotels and modern tourist attractions are usually fine. However, most B&Bs and guesthouses have been converted from hard-to-adapt older buildings. This means that travellers with mobility problems may pay more for accommodation than their able-bodied fellows.
It's a similar story with public transport. Newer buses sometimes have steps that lower for easier access, as do trains, but it's always wise to check before setting out. Most tourist offices, tourist attractions and public buildings reserve parking spaces for people with disabilities near the entrance. Most tourist offices in Wales are wheelchair accessible, have counter sections at wheelchair height and provide information on accessibility in their particular area.
Many ticket offices and banks are fitted with hearing loops to assist the hearing impaired; look for the ear logo.
- Visit Wales (www.visitwales.com/explore/accessible-wales) publishes useful information on accessibility on its website.
- The National Trust (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/visitors-with-disabilities) has information for visitors with disabilities on its website and offers free admission to all sites for companions of people with disabilities.
- Cadw allows wheelchair users and the visually impaired (and their companions) free entry to all monuments under its auspices.
- Disability Rights UK publishes Holidays in the British Isles, an annually updated guide to accessible accommodation in the UK and Ireland.
- Disability Wales, the national association of disability groups in Wales, is a good source of information.
- The Royal National Institute for the Blind offers support for people affected by sight loss.
- Shopmobility is a UK-wide scheme under which wheelchairs and electric scooters are available in some towns at central points for access to shopping areas.
- Tourism for All is a UK-based group that provides tips and information for travellers with disabilities.
- Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
For volunteering opportunities within Wales, refer to the websites of Volunteering Wales (www.volunteering-wales.net) and the Wales Council for Voluntary Action (www.wcva.org.uk).
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Wales uses the metric system for weights and measures. However, speed and distance are measured in miles and pubs still pull pints.
Women travellers shouldn't encounter any particular problems in Wales, though it's worth keeping your wits about you and taking the usual precautions for your safety in larger cities, especially at night.
- Although regulations could potentially change, at present most citizens of the European Economic Area can work in the UK.
- Commonwealth citizens with a UK-born parent may have a 'right of abode' (including to work) in the UK.
- Commonwealth citizens with a UK-born grandparent could qualify for a UK Ancestry visa, allowing them to work full-time for up to five years in the UK.
- The Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) visa allows citizens of certain countries (Australia, Canada, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan), aged 18 to 30 and with £1890 in savings, to work for up to two years in the UK.