Wales is easily one of Europe’s best-kept secrets — it offers nearly all the components of the most desirable family destinations, but with none of the crowds. The country has stunning natural scenery, charming and historic castles straight out of European fairy tales, a variety of active and outdoor pursuits, and, shockingly, some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. Who knew?
A trip to Wales is not for everyone. For example, if your family desires urban thrills, Michelin-star restaurants around every corner, a wide range of fancy resorts of the highest quality and bucket-list sightseeing, then Wales is likely not a destination you will enjoy. But if, instead, you and your children crave the great outdoors, history, down-to-earth hospitality and time away from hordes of tourists, this little nation is for you.
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One of the biggest factors to consider at the start of the planning process for a trip to Wales is how much time you can or want to spend there. Seven to twelve days would be ideal, especially if your family wants to get to two or three of the regions referenced below. As there are no direct flights into Wales from the U.S., you’ll need to connect (London, Amsterdam, and Dublin are all possibilities for connections into Cardiff). Consider spending a few days in one of these cities before continuing on to Wales.
Another factor that will dictate trip plans is whether or not to self-drive, which can be very challenging in Wales. Twisty, narrow roads combined with driving on the opposite side can add unnecessary stress to what is supposed to be a relaxing vacation. For families who are not experienced international drivers, it is best to invest in a driving service to get around. Ciao Bambino Family Vacation Advisors can make some great suggestions on the best services to use.
Local taxis are also an option for impromptu journeys. But families with an adventurous spirit who have tackled driving overseas on previous trips will really enjoy the freedom that a rental car provides.
Three regions stand out for an amazing family vacation, although you’ll find gorgeous scenery and charming villages throughout the country. Even just traversing from one area to the next is enjoyable.
Pembrokeshire. If you had to pick one region to explore in Wales, Pembrokeshire would be a top choice. This is where visitors can enjoy some of the most tucked-away, beautiful beaches on the planet — not tropical, of course, but perfect for pulling on your wellies and making muddy sand castles while your children run wild with no crowds or beach chairs in sight. Bliss! Families with older children can explore a variety of water sports like sea kayaking. As with other regions in Wales, hiking is fabulous here, with coastal trails that offer phenomenal sea views as well as footpaths that connect the various villages.
A memorable day trip idea is Skomer Island, where you can observe the colorful and delightful puffins … a must for all animal lovers and bird watchers.
Clydey Cottages is a favorite property in the region for families. Children will love the onsite amenities, especially the pool, playroom and daily animal feeding sessions. Parents will love the space and convenience (not to mention the charm) of the self-catering cottages and the kids’ club that’s open during school holidays.
Snowdonia. For those who truly want to get off the grid and away from the stress of modern-day life, Snowdonia is the answer. During our long weekend trip here, we not only felt miles and miles away from civilization, we actually were miles and miles away. Hiking is really the draw here, and it’s best enjoyed with children who can handle rugged trails (or littles ones in carriers). A train ride up to the top of Mount Snowdon is spectacular.
Wales is known for its castles, a necessity since it was constantly invaded from all directions for hundreds and hundreds of years. Conwy Castle in this region has one of the best children’s discovery trails we’ve ever tackled as a family, and the town itself is fun to wander around.
Small and very casual bed-and-breakfasts and independent cottage and cabin rentals dominate the accommodation scene in this remote part of Wales. For those who don’t want to give up hotel comforts, a standout experience is Pale Hall, a Relais & Chateaux property that allows children. While small and intimate, it has a variety of onsite activities and several rooms that adjoin.
Brecon Beacons. If you can only dip into Wales for a couple of nights on a longer trip around the U.K., this region makes the most sense, as it borders the western side of England. The highlight here is Brecon Beacons National Park, which offers a wide variety of activities for adventurous families: horseback riding, orienteering, mountain biking, stargazing and hiking trails galore.
For accommodations here, we love The Angel Hotel in Abergavenny. Several different room configurations work for families, and it is nice to be located just steps away from the main street in town. Guests who stay here are conveniently based right on the edge of the national park, just under an hour from Cardiff.
Wales works well for babies and toddlers straight through the teen years. An interest in being outdoors and enjoying nature trumps any age limitations. That said, be sure to invest in a good hiking carrier for those with young children. And those with teens might seek out some more intense thrills, like surfing, spelunking or ziplining, to make the trip a real thrill.
This is a destination to prepare for in terms of proper clothing and knowing what weather conditions to expect, especially if you plan to do any rigorous hiking. Waterproof hiking shoes or boots are a must, as is a good waterproof jacket.
Be sure to stock up on snacks and drinks before a long car ride. It can be quite a distance between service stations on some of the remote roads throughout the country.
Wales is one of the four countries that make up the U.K. (and one of three that make up Great Britain). Referring to locals as British is accurate, but using the term Welsh is preferable — and definitely don’t call them English! You’ll see the Welsh language on signs and hear it spoken throughout your travels, but everyone speaks English as well.
Some families who are averse to large crowds are deterred from traveling to Europe. For those, and for all lovers of the outdoors, Wales is well worth experiencing. You’ll be tempted to keep it a secret all for yourself, though.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Nicole Wiltrout.
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