Visiting Holyhead (Anglesey).
The Isle of Anglesey is undeniably romantic, which might be why the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge chose to spend early married life in sweet seclusion there. The couple lived in the diminutive Welsh-speaking hamlet Bodorgan and used to enjoy regular lunch dates at The White Eagle on Holyhead, just 15 minutes’ drive from Holyhead Port (whiteeagle.co.uk).
Holyhead is also the jumping-off point for South Stack and its atmospheric Lighthouse, a magnet for thousands of seabirds including the cutest of them all – puffins (rspb.org.uk). See it as part of a walk around Holyhead Mountain for some of the best and most dramatic coastal scenery in Wales. The summit of the mountain is home to Caery Twr, one of Wales' most impressive Iron Age sites.
A short walk from Holyhead Port takes you to St Cybi’s Church, a mix of fourth century Roman walls and a Gothic church, parts of which date from the 13th century (stcybi.co.uk). Today, it’s very much in use and visitors are most welcome – if you’re lucky, you’ll experience a moving performance from the local male voice choir. Don’t miss the gorgeous stained-glass windows made by William Morris’ workshop. And in case you’re wondering, it’s pronounced ‘Saint Cubby’!
If you’ve more time, hire a car or take a tour straight from the port and head for half an hour by road to Beaumaris, where you can inspect the ‘most technically perfect castle in Britain’ (cadw.gov.wales). Its perfect symmetry, round towers and square turrets, plus the surrounding mountain scenery, makes this a true gem among Wales’ 641 castles – but there is one even more intimidating just 25 minutes across the Menai Strait on Wales’ mainland: Caernarfon Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (caernarfon-castle.co.uk).
Why not dive into Wales’s adventure playground at Zip World, approximately 25 minutes from Beaumaris, where you’ll zoom at speeds of up to 100 mph (160km per hour) over the world’s fastest zip line (zipworld.co.uk)?
If you prefer to have both feet on the ground – but still want a great view – head to nearby Llanberis, the start point of the Snowdon Mountain Railway (snowdonrailway.co.uk). Chug up to the 1,085 metre (3,560ft) summit with spellbinding views on either side, and enjoy the surreal experience of having tea at the top of Wales’s tallest peak, at the fabulous visitor centre.
On your way back to port, stop off for a panoramic shot at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch , which boasts the second longest place name in the world!
Getting from the port: from Holyhead Port, it is about 15 minutes’ drive to The White Eagle, and approximately ten minutes to where you can walk over to South Stack.
From London to Anglesey: 4h30 to 5h30 by train, 300 mi / 480 km. From Birmingham to Anglesey: 160 mi /260 km. From Liverpool to Anglesey: 86 mi / 140 km.
Read more about Britain's Islands.
See the capital of Wales in one go on a Cardiff Cycle Tour, which takes you past majestic big-hitter attractions and smaller hidden gems in roughly three hours.
Alternatively, there’s plenty to explore under your own steam. Start off at Cardiff Castle, where you can climb up the 12th-century Norman keep for fantastic city views (cardiffcastle.com).
Shopaholics should continue by exploring the alleyways that form the city’s arcades. The Morgan Arcade shelters the treasure trove Spillers, the oldest record store in the world (morganquarter.co.uk and spillersrecords.co.uk).
Then, a few stylish steps away is The Brogue Trader, for men who like fine footwear, while fashionable females will love Renate - and, for herbal toiletries, St Kitts Herbery. Out of the Arcades, all the high street and designer shops you could possibly desire are in the St David’s shopping centre, including department store John Lewis.
Rugby runs through the veins of most Welshmen and women, so make your way to the heart of the game at the Principality Stadium. Take a 40-minute tour, which could include spying on a live team training session or a rehearsal for one of the big-name music shows that regularly grace the hallowed ground (principalitystadium.wales/tours).
Find out why Cardiff is Wales’ cultural hub at National Museum Cardiff, which has the largest collection of Impressionist art outside of Paris, as well as works by Monet, Rodin and Cézanne. There are also meteorites, volcanoes, dinosaurs and woolly mammoths in the Evolution of Wales gallery (museumwales.ac.uk/cardiff).
Factor in an excellent meal at an unexpected venue – Cardiff’s prison. The Clink is one of the city’s top-rated restaurants, where food is cooked and served by inmates. Their innovative approach to rehabilitation has garnered much praise for the restaurant (theclinkcharity.org/the-clink-restaurants/cardiff-wales).
For local flavours, Madame Fromage in the Castle Arcade has an inviting range of cheeses from all over Wales, as well as a café serving up SLOW food (locally produced food and regional cooking) while the Barker Tea House in the High Street Arcade is the number one spot for afternoon tea.
Spend some time exploring Cardiff Bay, dominated by the elegant Wales Millennium Centre (wmc.org.uk). Time it right to catch a lunchtime concert or take a tour of the impressive building.
If you love nothing more than travelling through space and time, visit the Doctor Who Experience, which takes you on an immersive adventure with the Time Lord – played by Peter Capaldi himself – and where Doctor Who fans can explore costumes through the ages, and come up close to all the best baddies, from Cybermen to Daleks.
Getting from the port: the Port of Cardiff is adjacent to Cardiff Bay and just under one mile / 1.4 km from the city centre. It is approximately five minutes by taxi/20 minutes on foot to the Wales Millennium Centre or ten minutes by taxi to Cardiff Castle.
From London: 2 h to 2h30 by train, 155 mi /250 km by car. From Birmingham: 2h15 by train, 118 mi / 190 km by car.
Enter the world of ‘dark arts, riotous parties, war heroes, crocodiles and crucifixes’ – that’s what the National Trust promises you’ll find at Tredegar House, a 17th-century mansion just on the edge of Newport (nationaltrust.org.uk).
Flamboyance is the keyword here, with one room decorated floor-to-ceiling in gold and dining rooms full of intricate carvings imbued with hidden symbols. Explore ‘below stairs’ too, then head out to the stunning formal gardens and have a walk in the peaceful parkland. It’s less than ten minutes’ drive from the port to Tredegar House.
Go even further back in time at Caerleon Roman Fortress and the National Roman Legion Museum – roughly 15 minutes from Tredegar House and both free to visit (cadw.gov.wales and museumwales.ac.uk/roman).
The former shows first-hand where the Second Augustan Legion and other Roman residents used to bathe and socialise, while over at the museum, explore a far-flung outpost of the Roman Empire, one of only three permanent fortresses in Roman Britain.
Back in Newport, walk over the magnificent Newport Transporter Bridge over the River Usk, a majestic monument to Edwardian engineering that is Grade 1 listed and one of only eight such constructions in use in the world (newport.gov.uk).
If you’ve got more time, just a short drive from Caerleon is the magnificent Celtic Manor Resort, whose golf course hosted the greats of the game during the 2010 Ryder Cup. Play a round on one of their championship courses while any kids in tow enjoy the onsite treetop adventure Forest Jump (celtic-manor.com).
Kids and adults alike will be engrossed by the attractions at Blaenavon World Heritage Site, located partly in the Brecon Beacons National Park, roughly half an hour’s drive from Newport.
Awaiting discovery are Big Pit National Coal Museum, Blaenavon Ironworks, the World Heritage Centre and Blaenavon Heritage Railway - all a few minutes’ drive or walk from each other; learn about the area’s important role as the world’s major producer of iron and coal in the 19th century (visitblaenavon.co.uk).
Alternatively, take a scenic road trip east of Newport through the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Less than half an hour’s drive away is Chepstow, where you can see Europe’s oldest surviving castle doors – 800 years old, to be precise – at atmospheric Chepstow Castle, before continuing along the river to the marvellous Tintern Abbey (cadw.gov.wales).
Continue up to Monmouth, a quaint market town with a bustling main street to potter about in before returning to your ship, just half an hour’s drive south.
Getting to the port: the Port of Newport is just over ten minutes’ drive from Tredegar House and a ten-minute walk from the Newport Transporter Bridge Visitor Centre.
Newport from London: 1h45 by train, 140 mi /225 km by car. Newport from Birmingham: 2h by train, 105 mi /170 b y road.
The birthplace of famous poet Dylan Thomas, Swansea is currently enjoying regeneration and has boomed in recent years. Visit Dylan Thomas’s birthplace at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive to explore his life and works, and hear velvet-voiced Richard Burton read the famous play Under Milk Wood at the Dylan Thomas Centre (dylanthomasbirthplace.com).
Another cultural hotspot is the National Waterfront Museum, an attractive glass and slate construction with 15 hands-on galleries and a fantastic shop for souvenir-seekers (museumwales.ac.uk).
If the sun’s out and your sea legs need a stretch, hire a bicycle – or a tandem if you’re two – at The Bike Hub and whizz straight onto sweeping, scenic Swansea Bay. It’s about 20 minutes of leisurely cycling to reach the quaint village of Mumbles, whose pastel-coloured fisherman’s cottages and a set of two piers sticking out to sea cry out for a little Instagram action.
Trek up to hilltop Oystermouth Castle for magnificent sea views and cycle out to Mumbles Pier to peer at the grand lifeboats poised and ready for action at the state-of-the-art new lifeboat station (swansea.gov.uk/oystermouthcastle and mumbles-pier.co.uk).
Mumbles is known as the ‘Gateway to the Gower Peninsula’, Britain’s first-ever designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Find out why on a joyful journey ticking off South Wales’s best beaches. On foot, you can walk the Wales Coast Path from Mumbles to pretty Rotherslade, Langland and Caswell Bay – stop off at sophisticated Langland Brasserie for a coffee with a view of surfers out to sea (langlandsbrasserie.co.uk).
Travelling by car, venture out to Rhossili Bay, regularly voted in the top ten world’s best beaches on TripAdvisor (nationaltrust.org.uk).
Seen enough of the sea? Choose a scenic road trip inland from Swansea. Heading north east for half an hour takes you to Penderyn, the Welsh whisky distillery that also produces the crisp and delicious Brecon Gin. Take a tour, have a tasting, then head into the nearby Brecon Beacons National Park for an atmospheric waterfall walk (welshwhisky.co.uk and breconbeacons.org/waterfalls).
Half an hour’s drive north west of Swansea in neighbouring Carmarthenshire is the National Botanic Garden of Wales, a dazzling collection of plants from all over the world, much of which is gathered under the UFO-like great glasshouse that was designed by Lord Norman Foster (gardenofwales.org.uk). Swing by Wright’s Food Emporium before returning to port - a fabulous food store with an irresistible array of freshly baked cakes (wrightsfood.co.uk).
Getting there from the port: the Port of Swansea is less than 20 minutes’ walk from the Dylan Thomas Centre, or a five-minute drive away.
Swansea from London: 3h15 by train, 190 mi /305 km by car. From Birmingham: 3h15 by train, 150 mi / 245 km by car.
Start exploring Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Britain’s only coastal National Park, with a bracing walk around Strumble Head, less than 15 minutes’ drive west from the port. Take binoculars, as you might spy Common porpoise, dolphins, sunfish and even basking sharks (pembrokeshirecoast.org.uk).
You’re also likely to see walkers – the Pembrokeshire Coast Path is a National Trail (and part of the Wales Coast Path), winding for 186 miles (300km) along some of the most scenic coastline in Britain. Of course, you won’t have time for all of it – explore the rugged stretch around Strumble Head, then pick up the Strumble Shuttle back to Fishguard.
Alternatively, drive approximately 25 minutes from Fishguard to Britain’s smallest city, St David’s, which sits on the westernmost point of Wales. Head straight for the Cathedral, a pilgrimage destination for the past millennium and a half that was founded by St David in 550 (stdavidscathedral.org.uk). On the opposite bank of the river lie the brooding remains of The Bishop’s Palace, a dramatic backdrop to open-air theatre in the summer months (cadw.gov.wales).
In the northern part of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park lie the Preseli Hills, providing a refreshing contrast to the seaside parts of the Park. Walk through wild moorland in the footsteps of our ancient ancestors, treading the Golden Road, an eight-mile (13km) track that follows a route dating back to the Neolithic period, 5,000 years ago.
Look out for the stunning Bronze Age remains Foel Drygarn, where stone ramparts and banks have merged with the natural landscape over time. Visit the village of Pontfaen for a pint of beer at historic ‘Bessie’s Pub’, the Dyffryn Arms, where your beer is served by the jug through a sliding hatch.
For a different sort of liquid refreshment, try Pembrokeshire’s most famous sporting activity, coasteering. Under 15 minutes’ drive from Fishguard is the headquarters of Preseli Venture, who run all manner of outdoor activities in the National Park (preseliventure.co.uk). They’re licensed by the National Trust to take groups out to their pretty, pristine stretches of coast to practise the adrenalin-pumping activity that will see you cliff-jump, swim and scramble your way around the coastline. Wetsuits and helmets are provided, and you can do a half-day session if you’re limited on time.
Getting from the port: the Port of Fishguard is about five minutes’ drive from Fishguard.
Fishguard from Cardiff: 3h15 by train, 110 mi / 180 km by car. Fishguard from Birmingham: 210 mi /320 km.
Visiting Milford Haven.
Explore the beautiful southern side of Pembrokeshire from Milford Haven, which is just a short distance from the gorgeous Marloes Peninsula. At the tip of the peninsula is the Deer Park, somewhat confusingly named as it has never been home to any deer. Instead, you can admire beautiful Welsh mountain ponies here and spot seals and their pups playing on the rocks below – in the distance, spot Skomer Island.
Just 20 minutes’ drive from Milford Haven – about ten from the Deer Park – is the quaint seaside village of Dale, a watersports mecca, family-holiday haven and popular stop for walkers. Head to The Griffin Inn, whose award-winning seafood is caught in the pub’s own boat, ‘Griffin girl’, while the views are worth a medal.
Alternatively, around 30 minutes’ drive from Milford Haven to the east is the picturesque walled town of Tenby, which attracts artists, craftspeople and creative types, so you’re guaranteed to leave with a unique sea-inspired memento. Explore cute cafés and gorgeous beaches, wander the cobbled streets, and, if you’re brave, discover the town’s gory past on a ghost walk (guidedtourswales.co.uk).
Harry Potter fans should take a detour back from Tenby to Freshwater West, the beach that saw Harry, Ron and Hermione seek refuge at ‘Shell Cottage’ in the final films; it was also used in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood and Snow White and the Huntsman . Positioned overlooking the beach is quirky street food stall Café Môr, where lobster and burgers with a sea view are an unforgettable experience. The Pembrokeshire Beach Food Company, who run the café, also organise seaside picnics and foraging.
If the timing’s right, spend all your shore leave in the company of the cutest creature of them all – puffins. Thousands of the birds live on Skomer Island, a ten-minute boat ride from Martin’s Haven. The flowers on the islands are just as special as the wildlife, with a rich carpet of bluebells in the spring and vibrant pink campion in summer – the colours are so bright, they can be seen from the mainland.
Or if you’re a Dylan Thomas fan, drive less than an hour from Milford Haven to the seaside town of Laugharne. Visit The Boathouse where he lived and peer into his writing shed, perched over the Laugharne Estuary, where he wrote Under Milk Wood and other much-loved works (dylanthomasboathouse.com).
Getting from the port: from Milford Haven port, it’s a short walk to the centre of Milford Haven.
Milford Haven from Cardiff: 2h50 by train, 105 mi /170 km by car.
Read also about Snowdonia National Park, north Wales.
Source: Adapted from Visit Britain's guide "Britain’s waterways. Cruise ports, canals, lakes and islands", 2016.