“Mae cenedl heb iaith yn genedl heb galon”-Welsh Proverb
When you first saw that quote, you were probably like, “someone fell asleep on their keyboard!” Well, I did not! Actually, it is a Welsh Proverb loosely translated to “A nation without language is a nation without heart.” The people of Wales speak both English and Welsh, and sadly the Welsh language is on a decline due to the popularity and extensive use of English, and the decrease in the language being taught in school. This quote is so interesting to me because I actually have a student who is researching the dying languages of Wales- super fascinating! When we began researching for this trip I was so intrigued that this small country speaks another language. So when we entered into Wales from England I was prepared, yet still surprised, to see Welsh on all of the traffic signs. The language, despite using letters similar to the English alphabet (they use three additional letters), seems impossible to read with English phonetics. We had quite a few laughs trying to navigate and pronounce these words as we made our way through the country. Wales is absolutely beautiful, and we encountered such nice people! We stayed in two different cities: Cardiff and Conwy. These two towns were so different!
Cardiff is the largest city in, and capital of, Wales, and a major Welsh tourism center. We did not really have many plans or points of interests we were excited to see in Cardiff, it was really just a convenient location between Bath, England and Conwy, Wales, so we decided this would be a good stopping point for our first overnight stay, where we stayed a few minutes from the Cardiff Castle. By the time we left Stonehenge and Bath, we arrived in Cardiff too late to visit any attractions. If we had the time we planned to visit Cardiff Castle (Admission is £13; open 9:00-6:00 pm, last entry is 5:00 pm), the Cardiff Story Museum (free admission; open 9:00-4:00 pm), and Cardiff Bay where you can walk through gardens, see castles, and eat and drink at local pubs and restaurants. After an overnight flight and day of sightseeing, when we got to the Airbnb we were all exhausted and wanted to shower and sleep, so we did.
The next morning we woke up before the sun and hit the road by 5:30am. We made a quick stop to snap a picture of the Cardiff Castle, since we couldn’t make it in to see the inside, and began our trek through the Welsh countryside toward Conwy. On our way to Conwy we had a couple stops planned out: Snowdonia National Park and Aber Falls Trail.
We scheduled the 10:00 am train tour for the Snowdon Mountain Railway; driving from the Cardiff Airbnb, it took us about four hours and 15 minutes to get to the railway, but it was only about 34 minutes to out next accommodation in Conwy (specifically Colwyn Bay). This railway takes about two and half hours for the entire trip where you take a little train to the summit of the highest mountain in Wales, with a 30 minute stop at at top. There are several different tour options available, and a couple different trains from which you can choose. We chose the traditional summit service at 10:00 am that costs £30.00 per adult. The train ride up the mountain was very relaxing and we got to see the different angles of mountain. At the summit we were able to explore the visitor center, fully equipped with restrooms and a restaurant, and hike around the top of the mountain. The views from the top of the mountain were gorgeous, despite it being absolutely freezing, we hiked around a bit, and warmed up with a hot chocolate for the ride down the mountain. Another option you have is to hike up and down the mountain, or take the train on half of the mountain, and hike the other half. So technically we could have chosen to hike down after exploring the top, but then we thought- eh, better not. The views from the top of the mountain were absolutely incredible, and we were so lucky we had such clear skies, since it started pouring down rain as soon as we got off the train at the end of our tour.
Our next stop was the Aber Falls trail which was 23 min from Railway and 23 minutes to the Conwy Airbnb. As soon as we returned to the car from our train ride, it started pouring rain, the kind of rain where you cannot see out the window. We stayed in the parking lot debating as to whether we should even try to hike up the trail. The rain let up slightly, and we decided to chance it. We got to Aber Falls Trail and were greeted with a nice couple who gave us their parking pass for the day, and we bundled up in our rain gear over our winter gear, grabbed our umbrellas, and hit the muddy trail.
Have you ever read that the UK can experience all four seasons in one day? I read this over and over as I was preparing and packing for this trip, so I was prepared with several layers! This day all four seasons hit us! We started the trail in pouring rain and 35 degrees, as the rain continued to let up, the rain jacket came off. A few turns later, the winter jacket, scarf and hat came off. By the time we made it up to the water fall I was in my long-sleeved shirt…and then stripped to my tank top for the walk back. Pro tip: dress in layers!
The hike up Aber Falls Trail was very easy, you pass along a little creek, a small farm house, beautiful fields of flowers and sheep, and end at a great waterfall. We all explored around the fall, climbed the rocks, snapped some pictures, watched some youngsters act like magazine models, and worked our way back to the car to head to Conwy. When we got to the parking we lot, we gave our parking pass, that had been given to us, to a couple for them to use. They, again such nice people, were really appreciative and we talked in the parking lot for like 10 minutes about their recommendations in the area.
Conwy is a medieval, fortified town with a castle, town walls, and quaint shops and pubs. We had more time to spend here than we did in Cardiff, this may be one of the reasons I preferred Conwy to Cardiff. It seemed cleaner, we met such nice people, our Airbnb was awesome, and we really just enjoyed the entire experience. I have heard this from others as well, however I suggest you visit both places, and see for yourself!
While exploring Conwy we stopped by the oldest house in Wales, the Aberconwy House (10:00-5:00 pm) we did not visit inside the house, just from outside as we ate fish and chips across the street. Nearby you can also walk across the Conwy Suspension bridge (11:00-4:00 pm) which costs £6.00 total for access to both the bridge and house. Everything is close to each other in Conwy, so you can walk along the original town walls to the Conwy Castle (9:30-5:00 pm; costs £12.10 per adult for both the Castle) and Plas Mawr, which is the best surviving Elizabethan townhouse anywhere in Britain. One thing I really wanted to do, but we were not able to get to was walking down to the Riverfront to purchase fresh mussels off the boats. I do not even like mussels, but I thought it would have been a really neat experience. From this downtown area we drove nine minutes to our Airbnb, where we checked in with the super hospitable host, walked to the beach, and stopped at a market to grab some things for dinner and breakfast for the next morning.
The next morning we work up early, again, and took the 7:30 am Holyhead Ferry to Dublin. This was the first time we had taken a ferry like this (i.e. we were driving from island to island), and is was very easy. We booked online, as if you would a flight and showed up a little early to make sure we were where we needed to be. We had almost an hour drive from our Airbnb in Conwy to the Holyhead port with an additional two and a half hours on the ferry. The ferry was a lot of fun, we brought a deck of cards (these are also for sale on the Ferry’s mini-store), had some hot chocolate and muffins, and watched the water as we cruised across the Irish Sea to Dublin, Ireland.
What should I eat?
Welsh Cakes are a traditional staple of Wales. If you have never had one before I would describe it as a cross between a pancake and scone. Not as dry and crumbly as a scone, and not as flimsy and soft as a pancake, and very floury. The literal only redeeming factor of our Cardiff Airbnb (see explanation below) is that the host left us some of these in the kitchen. Score.
We have stayed in a bunch of Airbnbs while on our travels, all over the U.S., France, and the U.K. We had one of the best, and one of the worst, Airbnb experiences in Wales. I have very strict rules, and wholly trust the reviews on Airbnb, but we were sorely led astray in Cardiff. The Cardiff Airbnb was fairly awful. A clogged shower drain, glass shattered in the living room on the damp carpet, drug deals on the streets, and it was super hot in our room and we couldn’t open the windows because smoke from the streets blew in. No Bueno. After being over tired from our overnight travels and a fully loaded day exploring Stonehenge and Bath, it was so hard to actually get to sleep! Luckily this was the only disappointment; all of the other eight accommodations on this trip were perfect.
Conwy, as opposed to Cardiff, was amazing! We stayed in the quaint Rose Cottage guest house in Colwyn Bay. The cottage was clean, had everything we needed, the hosts were hospitable and gave us recommendations on where to eat and pick up groceries. We were able to walk to the beach at sunset, then to a grocery store to pick up snacks and breakfast for the next morning. Overall a great experience, and would totally stay there again.
Overall Wales was fantastic, we absolutely loved our time in Conwy, exploring Snowdonia, and hiking Aber Trails Fall: these were our favorite highlights of Wales. Have you been to Cardiff, Conwy, or another city in Wales, what was your experience?
Siarad yn fuan,