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Top Destinations for 2017: Wales

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Only a stone's throw away for many, the smallest nation on the isle of Great Britain, often affectionately referred to as The Land of the Red Dragon, is as steeped in cultural history and natural beauty as its more substantial neighbours.

For such a small place, in the grand scheme of things, Wales is absolutely teeming with historical landmarks, inherent beauty spots, and diverse events and activities, that could keep you busy 'til the cows come home.

Where to go

When visiting Wales, your starting point is likely to be dependent on a number of factors: how you're getting there, where you might be staying, and how much time you have. Though, unless you're only heading over on a day trip, it's highly unlikely that you'll be limited to a mere single facet of the marvels it has to offer. Thus is the country's modest size, that you could conceivably set off on a drive from its southernmost point in Barry, just after midday, and arrive in Llanbadrig - its northernmost point - well in time for tea.

However, let's start with the capital, Cardiff. The city is home to a number of popular tourist spots, ranging from the striking Cardiff Castle - built on top of a Third Century Roman fort by Norman invaders at the request of William the Conquerer in the late 11th Century - to the equally as imposing, but far less archaic Wales Millenium Centre. Primely located on Roald Dahl Plass, which looks out on to Cardiff Bay, the centre has hosted a vast spectrum of operas, ballets, theatre productions and comedy shows since its opening back in 2004.

Cardiff Bay

Heading out of the capital, but remaining in the south, a quick mosey around the foreboding Caerphilly Castle, before a trip to the stunning Gower Peninsula for a day of leisure at one of its legendary beaches is an absolute must. Further west, venturing into Carmarthenshire, those of a strong literary persuasion may fancy a peek at the Boathouse in which the famed poet and writer, Dylan Thomas, spent the last four years of his life. Situated in the town of Laugharne, overlooking the Taf Estuary, it's not all that far from the exquisite National Botanic Garden of Wales.

Whereas, if you were to commence your exploration of this fine land on its north coast, no one would blame you for making a bee-line for the quaint Isle of Anglesey. Home to the longest place name in Europe; Llanfairpwllgwyngyll... - a brief pitstop at which, certainly wouldn't go a miss as far as your photo album is concerned - as well as the formerly glorious UNESCO World Heritage site of Beaumaris Castle.

Conwy Castle

The true pièce de résistance of Wales' medieval collection is undoubtedly the monumental Conwy Castle. Described by UNESCO as one of "the finest examples of late 13th Century and early 14th Century military architecture in Europe", the rectangular fortification's eight towers, and the mammoth defensive walls that bind them, sit at the opposite side of the River Conwy to that of another place that deserves a slice of your time - Llandudno. Referred to as the 'Queen of the Welsh resorts' since as far back as the 1860s, the seaside town's prodigious north shore promenade, leading up to the Great Orme, is just one of its many attractions. 

What to do

Delve into the riches of the Brecon Beacons

Essentially forming the backbone of South Wales, the beautiful Brecon Beacons and the national park which surrounds them are simply awash with hidden wonders both natural and man-made. Coed-y-Rhaeadr, or Waterfall Country, is one of the most picturesque and popular areas of the national park. Standing upon a foundation of red sandstone and outcrop limestone, it comprises a plethora of steep-sided tree-lined gorges, rivers ideal for whitewater canoeing and kayaking, along with an alluring assortment of caves, such as Porth-yr-Ogof, as well as the old silica mines near Craig-y-Ddinas. There are, of course, also a number of waterfalls, the most famous of which - Sgwd-y-Eira - possesses a natural path that leads behind its curtain of water. It truly is a paradise for both the casual and more experienced of explorers.

Brecon Beacons National Park

Stop by Portmeirion for Festival N°6

Since September 2012, the village has played host to Festival N°6 - so-named in tribute to the lead character of 1960s TV series predominantly filmed in Portmeirion, The Prisoner. It told the story of a captive secret agent known as 'Number 6' - a man who embodies the same free-thinking spirit that the festival itself strives to impart, year on year. Past lineups have included artists and bands such as Manic Street Preachers, Johnny Marr, and Noel Gallagher's High-Flying Birds, as well as comedians and literary figures like Caitlin Moran, Joe Lycett, and Irvine Welsh - who will be doing a talk at this year's festival too. Other acts lined up for the 2017 edition of the festival include; Pulp's Jarvis Cocker, sketch-comedy duo Cardinal Burns, and music's current man of the moment Rag'n'Bone Man.   

Relax and unwind at Barafundle Bay

Sandwiched in between the craggy cliffs of the dramatic Pembrokeshire coast, on a clear summer's day, the beach at Barafundle Bay and its surroundings are a breath-taking sight to behold. Named as one of Passport Magazine's 25 best beaches in the world, this smooth swathe of sand, encompassed by the rolling hills of the National Park in which it sits, elicits a rare, panoramic presence of ecstatic beauty.

Barafundle Bay, Pembrokeshire

Barafundle Bay, Pembrokeshire

Sample the ethereal hospitality at Craig-y-Nos

For those with a hankering for the paranormal, a brief stay at this place might be right up your street. Nestled in the depths of Powys’ expansive countryside is Craig-y-Nos Castle - a historic gothic country house, dating all the way back to the early 1840s. Located on the southern edge of the upland area of Fforest Fawr, by the banks of the River Tawe, it is reputed to be one of, if not the, most haunted castle in Britain. Having once belonged to the late Adelina Patti – one of the most famous sopranos in history – it is now a boutique hotel, capable of hosting a wide variety of social events - including, of course, an array of regular ghost hunts through the supposed hotbeds of activity within its walls.

Take a trip on the Snowdonia Mountain Railway

Not one for hiking? Not a problem, as Heritage Great Britain's got you covered. The mountain railway is clearly the most efficient and least physically taxing way to experience the might of Snowdonia National Park in all its splendour. Starting off in Llanberis, situated on the southern banks of Llyn Padarn, the 4.7-mile track will take you right up to the summit of Mount Snowdon itself, passing a near-endless multitude of awe-inspiring vistas on the way. With the journey only taking an hour each way, with a 30-minute stopover at the top, by the time you get back down to Llanberis, you may even still have time to try out some of the other outdoor activities that the village has to offer, other than mountaineering.

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