On a recent trip through Wales, I was struck by how perfect it is as a family destination. From castles to beaches, hiking trails to adventure attractions, city lights and country walks: Wales has it all. You could spend at least a week or two taking in everything this amazing country has to offer with your family, and still come home wanting more.
Travel Wales – But First Arrive in Manchester
Start your trip by flying into Manchester International Airport, where you can hire a car and quickly hit the road for your Welsh adventure. Spend the first few days exploring the beauty of North Wales from your base in Conwy, a medieval walled town that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I recommend staying at the Castle Hotel in Conwy. Situated on the site of a medieval Cistercian Abbey, it’s centrally located within the city walls and has a unique “boutiquey” appeal with easy access to the town’s attractions. Conwy Castle itself is not to be missed!
A tour with one of the knowledgeable Castle Custodians affords the full experience as you tour the castle’s ramparts. There are twenty-one towers, three gateways (be sure to try to spot the 12 medieval latrines sticking out of the walls near the Mill Gate), and dark dungeons. The walls of the town itself are almost fully intact, and at nearly a mile long are very walkable. They offer superb views of the castle below and the sea beyond it.
Eat, Drink, and …. Zip?
Heading out of Conwy towards Dolgarog, be sure to take the short drive to the Bodnant Food Centre, where you can sample some of the best local Welsh food and drink, largely sourced from the surrounding Bodnant Estate. In less than an hour you’ll reach Zip World, located on the site of the Llechwedd Slate Caverns (an old mine site in Blaenau Ffestiniog). Zip World houses no fewer than eleven adrenaline-fueled adventures, including the largest zip zone in Europe (over 8,000 metres total distance). Here you can group zip in a seated position over Blaenau Ffestiniog and down the valley beyond.
Don’t miss the opportunity to visit Bounce Below while you’re there, where you can play, slide, roll, jump and bounce from net to net in a cavern the size of a cathedral. Recent renovations include four new industrial slides, the height of two double decker buses and six new levels of bouncing fun! While you’re underground, we strongly recommend The Caverns experience. Prepare to enter another world as you take an exhilarating journey through the underground caverns on zip lines, rope bridges, via ferrata and tunnels. The staff are professional and helpful at Zip World, and you will feel well-prepared for whatever level of adventure you choose.
Your next stop in North Wales should definitely be Snowdonia National Park, where you can explore spectacular scenery ranging from mountains and hills, to river valleys, forests and beaches. Snowdonia’s Welsh name of ‘Eryri’ means ‘the place of the eagles’, and its origin is evident from any of the incredible walking trails accessible here. Be sure to check out Britain’s National Trail network, which traverses the country – even passing through private property with quaint features like kissing gates.
After your adventures in North Wales, head to Pembrokeshire, making sure to stop in the town of Newport on the way for a meal at one of its excellent restaurants, cafés or pubs. It’s known for its dining scene, so if you have a budding foodie in the family, you won’t want to miss it. Newport is also a great base for exploring the rugged coastline of north Pembrokeshire and the dark, atmospheric Preseli hills, where the giant Bluestones of Stonehenge stones come from.
To satisfy the history (or mystery) buffs in the family, visit Pentre Ifan, a giant 4500 year-old burial chamber with no one buried inside. So, what was it used for? No one knows, so feel free to let your imagination run wild! Wales has many beautiful beaches to offer along its coastline, but while you’re in Pembrokeshire we highly recommend making a point of visiting Barafundle beach, which was recently voted one of the top ten beaches in the world!
If you have any Harry Potter fans in your family, another Pembrokeshire must-see is Freshwater West beach, which was the shooting location for Shell Cottage in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts 1 & 2. Fans of the series will recognize the charming cottage that was built at the north end of the beach as well as the gravesite of Dobby the Elf. (For more Harry Potter locations to visit while in Britain, check out this list of the Top 10 Harry Potter Locations on the Visit Britain website.
Next stop: Cardiff. As Wales’ capital, and it has everything you would expect in a modern, cosmopolitan capital city. There are cultural and sporting events as well as a world-class National Museum. While in the capital, stay at the Hilton Cardiff. Be sure to take the time to visit historic Cardiff Castle located right across the street. It’s worthwhile to arrange for one of the 50-minute house tours while you’re there. The guides are remarkably knowledgeable and the Castle has over 2,000 years of history!
Back in Britain, any aspiring knights or dragonslayers will also enjoy a visit to Cornwall’s famous Tintagel Castle. This is birthplace of the mythical King Arthur and inspiration for countless stories over its 1500-year history. But don’t mistake Tintagel for a stuffy old relic – there are features for every age. Children especially will enjoy the story stones around the medieval garden ruins and searching for Merlin’s face hidden in the rocks on the beach. On the Cornish leg of your trip, we recommend the Rosevine in Portscatho, which is a great place to stay with kids. They have a pool, soccer pitch, plenty of toys and the beach is just a few steps down from the hotel.
Of course, these are just a few of the amazing things that families can do while visiting Wales. Truly, the possibilities are endless!