Wales, located in the south west of the United Kingdom, offers a stunning variety of beautiful scenery. It is similar in climate and feel of Ireland, but has a UK twist. Over the summer of 2019, I spent about a week traveling from north to south via car, giving me the opportunity to stay in quaint villages, to hike breathtaking mountain passes, and to visit a variety of museums. I highly recommend visiting the area, especially in the summer when the weather is mild. Here are the places I visited…
Photographs by tala parker and kevin parker
* Things that are italicized are places that I did not have time to visit but that did look interesting
My journey actually began in Ireland. I had been staying with my mom for three weeks before meeting my dad in Dublin to fly to Wales. We then flew to Liverpool which is a small airport. If you’re flying to Wales from the States, you will most likely need to fly into Heathrow or Dublin first.
Vaults Live attraction
The Vaults is a small acting production which tells some of the history of Ireland. An actor does a monologue in a surprisingly detailed and impressive set before you are led to another room in which another actor preforms. Throughout the attraction, there are several opportunities to participate. Though entertaining, the attraction was not very historically accurate. In addition, I would discourage bringing young children to the Vaults, as I can imagine a few of the scenes would be quite scary to a young child who may not understand the difference between pretend and real danger.
St. Audoen’s Church
Free to public entry, the church was a interesting quick stop to make. My favorite part of the church was the open air arches (pictured below) as well as visually seeing how the church expanded with increased demand.
National Gallery of Ireland
Decent art museum which features works from all over the world. If you’re on holiday touring Dublin, I would skip the museum as it isn’t anything different than what you might see at home. My opinion would probably be different if the museum only displayed Irish art.
A cute fishing town near Dublin which features nice sea views. I would recommend stopping if you happen to have a car but are only staying in Dublin rather than venturing out to the country side, as Howth gives you a taste of what rural Ireland feels like.
Radisson Bly Royal Hotel, Dublin
A great hotel which is in the heart of Dublin. Was undergoing a bit of remodeling construction while I was there, and the noise was a bit bothersome at nine in the morning, but the benefits of the hotel (mainly location and design) still outweighed the cons.
Check out my previous post about dublin for more ideas of places to explore
Liverpool is a very interesting city visually and historically. Large red brick warehouses, as well as a huge red brick church, are remnants from a time when Liverpool was receiving huge amounts of goods and therefore becoming very wealthy. Today, there is a marriage between the old and the new as the city attempts to breath life into the long deserted buildings.
Royal Albert Dock
Museum of Liverpool 10am-5pm
Tate Liverpool 10am-5pm
Mersey Maritime Museum 10am-5pm
We arrived to Liverpool in the late afternoon, and by the time we got the rental car and drove to the city, the museums at the Royal Albert Dock were closed. However, it was nice to walk around the large brick buildings. If you do plan to eat dinner there, I recommend making reservations as we were unable to get a table anywhere and it was a Thursday.
Titanic Hotel Liverpool
The Titanic Hotel is in a recently remodeled brick dock building a few minutes drive away from the Royal Albert Docks. I loved the industrial design. However, the service we received during our stay was just ok. The hotel can feel empty, as it is in a very large building, so it is important to remember the history of the space and to forgive its expansive layout. I would recommend that you book the cheapest room (pictured below), as it is just the right size. We were later moved to a room with a waterfront view because there was a fluke in our plumbing (which seemed very out of the ordinary but which was not handled particularly well by hotel staff, ie. somewhat reluctantly moved us to another room which had smaller twin beds) and the room was entirely too big. Overall, I would still recommend staying there if you are interested in the history of the building and the design, but be prepared to be forgiving of a few of its oddities.
There were tons of things to do and see in north western Wales. You could spend days just hiking in Snowdonia. If I was going back, I’d spend most of my time in this region.
Great Orme Ancient Copper Mines
Really cool pre-historic bronze age copper mine. The discovery of this mine in the late 80’s changed how we understand Europes history, for it was thought that the Romans brought the knowledge of mining to the UK/Wales. (The stones pictured below are river stones that were used to mine the copper originally)
Ruins of a massive fortress. It was very impressive and would take upwards of 75 minutes to fully explore. I highly recommend this castle, as it was like nothing I had ever come across even after traveling extensively in Ireland.
Snowdon pass hike
When driving southward through Snowdonia, we stopped at the highest point of the particular pass we were driving along. After pulling over and finding a safe place to park, we took a walk among the sheep. The ground was very wet even though it was not raining and I recommend wearing waterproof shoes when hiking through the park. (Fun fact: many Welsh farmers choose not to dock their sheep’s tails, so as you are traveling through the country you will likely see the unusual sight of many long tailed sheep)
Bodnant Garden 9 am-5 pm
Snowdon Mountain Railway (Llanberis) (Snowdonia National Park)
My father and I were really hoping to ride on this scenic mountain railway, but we weren’t sure on what time we’d get there and therefore didn’t buy our tickets weeks in advance. When I checked a few days before our trip, they were sold out until the end of the month. So if you want to do this make sure to book in advance!
Sygun Copper Mine 9:30 am-5 pm
Royal Ship Hotel
A very cute pub/inn in a very cute and very small village. The location was in close proximity to Snowdonia which was super convenient. If you do stay here, there’s a great wool shop just down the road which offers lots of Welsh and English fibers!
Snowdonia pass hike #2
On the way over the pass from our hotel to Welshpool, we parked the car and took a quick hike along the mountain. It was breathtakingly beautiful.
Powis Castle & Garden 11-4pm
My father’s family hails from Powis (hence my middle name and name for my blog) so we ended up spending much of the day here. That being said, I could see everybody spending much of the day here. Not only is there a huge castle to explore with multiple floors, stunning furnishings and design, and fascinating historical displays, but there’s also a huge garden to explore. Powis is by far my favorite castle that I have ever been to (including all the ones in Ireland) and I highly recommend making the stop there.
Devil’s Bridge (Pontarfynach)
I first heard of Devil’s Bridge in the first episode of the detective show Hinterland. Since it was more or less on the way and helped to break up the driving time, my dad and I stopped there to take a quick walk. You insert pound coins into a gate which turns in order to enter, meaning that you can go whenever you want (though I would highly recommend NOT going at night, the hike was already difficult as is). We chose the longer route which took us over a cool old fashioned bridge and down some incredibly steep stairs but we didn’t get a great view of the three bridges that make up Devil’s Bridge. It was great fun, but be prepared to really hike!
Hammet @ Castell Malgwyn
I was really excited to stay at Hammet because it was the highest starred hotel we were stopping at and looked great online. However, it was just ok. Though the staff was nice, the rooms were typical of a country hotel and the location itself was isolated and difficult to find.
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
Beautiful beaches. Be mindful of very narrow roads.
Impressive burial chamber that dates back before Stonehenge.
Tudor merchant’s house
Very informative look into what Tendy was like in the past. All of the staff were extremely nice and helpful! Highly recommend if you are in Tenby, but I personally was not impressed with the town (very holiday-y feeling) so I’d skip it unless you were staying right in town.
St. Catherines Island
The Imperial Hotel
The Imperial Hotel was a dingy, odd hotel comprised of multiple buildings which had once been all combined. Though it was dated, it served its purpose for the night.
Brecon Beacons National Park
Brecon Mountain Railway
The Brecon Beacons Mountain Railway and steam trains were a great way to experience the railway which is so integral to the history of Wales. It’s by no means thrilling, but it takes you past some stunning views and allows one to contemplate on what life would have been like two hundred years before. I would have preferred to take the Snowdon railway, but Brecon was a good alternative.
Brecon pass hike
My dad and I drove to the top of the Brecon pass, parked the car, and set off on a hike. We were rewarded with great light and gorgeous views.
Llwyn Onn Guest House
Llwyn Onn was by far the most surprising place we stayed. It was in the perfect location (outside of the large town, not too secluded, and near Brecon) and had a very nice bedroom and a decent breakfast service too. I would highly recommend staying here in the future.
Big Pit National Coal Museum 9:30 am-5 pm
The Big Pit museum is free to the public. Real miners will outfit you in a helmet with a strong light before you take an elevator down into the pit to experience what it would have been like to be a miner way back in the day. It was a really interesting experience, and I learned a lot from it. Besides the underground tour, there are various other exhibits around the mine but I found trying to take it all in a bit overwhelming. I’d recommend just sticking to the tour (which takes over an hour) unless you’ve got buckets of energy for learning about mining.
Caerphilly Castle was yet another castle that completely blew me away. It was a massive fortress with towering turrets and tons of rooms to explore— and it even had a moat. It was fantastic. The castle did a great job of adding informational aspects to the rooms without making it feel cheesy. I’d highly recommend visiting.
Cardiff Castle, located in the heart of Cardiff is comprised of several buildings. My favorite one which made the tour worthwhile held several rooms which seemed to be decorated in a medieval tudor style. However, it was so well maintained my father and I couldn’t believe it. As it turns out, the rooms were decorated by the owner of the castle hundreds of years after the tudor period in what was his glorified and romanticized version of the time. The luxurious decorations were amazing and I recommend checking them out.
Cardiff Story Museum
Cardiff Central Market
National Museum Cardiff
Jurys Inn Cardiff
A really nice, cheap hotel in the heart of Cardiff with a good breakfast. I would recommend, but beware they charge extra for everything!