The Welsh mountains, valleys and beaches attract hikers, surfers and climbers all year round. However, it is much more than a destination for adventurers alone. These backstories and deeply rooted traditions have stimulated generations of artists and poets, whose legacies spread through the city’s galleries and literature trails. The rugged lines also reveal compelling tales of the country’s industrious past, and whether it’s centuries-old castles or cavernous mines given a new lease of life, Wales has a wealth of attractions to keep visitors inspired and entertained. We’ve handpicked a selection of cultural attractions that are great four itineraries for your winter travels…
Where is the art
Generations of artists have put Wales on the map and a thriving creative scene can be seen across the country, with the capital a great place to start. Part of Cardiff’s Civic Centre, the National Museum Cardiff is an expansive gallery of art and natural history, with an impressive permanent collection that sees local heroes such as Richard Wilson, Thomas Jones and Gwen John sharing hanging space with the likes of Turner, Monet and Van Gogh.
Head down the south coast of Wales to Glen Vivian Art Gallery in Swansea, which houses an extensive collection of visual arts bequeathed a century ago by local philanthropist Richard Glen Vivian. Choosing not to follow his family into coppersmithing, he has instead traveled the world collecting notable works—including ceramics and textiles from Europe and Asia—which are now displayed alongside a progressive slate of contemporary exhibitions.
For fans of Art Nouveau, the rural town of Machynlleth in North Wales provides an unexpected if charming setting. Housed in a Victorian country house and former Wesleyan church, Moma Machynlleth highlights leading Welsh contemporary artists, with current galleries including Llandudno-born Colin Williams, whose disjointed artwork blends painting and sculpture, and Vicky Ellis’s woven responses to abstract art.
Read between the lines
Whether native to Wales or drawn to its landscapes, many authors have found inspiration within its borders. Perhaps the most celebrated literary son of Wales is Dylan Thomas, the Swansea-born poet and author whose footsteps can be followed by a series of paths that chart his connections across South Wales. Produced by the Dylan Thomas Center in Swansea, these guides make it easy to trace Thomas’ life–in the Carmarthenshire town of Laugharne, his picturesque former residences and writing shed at the Boathouse (not to mention his favorite drinking dens) offer a glimpse into the creative process behind the genius. You can also see his final resting place.
JRR Tolkien described it as “the supreme language of the men of Britain”, and the influence of the Welsh language on the author of The Lord of the Rings is visible in the Elvish dialect and the various place names used throughout his work. Those equally mesmerized can visit the National Welsh Language and Heritage Center at Nant Gwrtheyrn on the Llŷn peninsula, while – for an immersive Tolkien-inspired experience – the herb-roofed hobbit havens of Florence Springs in Pembrokeshire offer fantastic experiences, complete with hot tubs.
And if that feels a little too comfortable for you, why not weave the compelling legacy of the Welsh language ‘soldier-poet’ Hedd Wyn – influenced by nature and religion as well as the outbreak of World War I, which took his life in 1917. His former home is on Yr Ysgwrn, a traditional stone farmhouse In the heart of Snowdonia National Park, as a tribute to his lasting cultural influence.
Unsurprisingly, the “land of castles” is endowed with magnificent castles. Perhaps the most picturesque is Caernarfon Castle on the banks of the River Sjont. Restored in the 19th century, this World Heritage site dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries, and the site’s towering towers, grounds and galleries – including one dedicated to Wales’ oldest infantry regiment – provide a fascinating insight into life within its walls.
With a touch of grandeur, Tredegar House in Newport is one of the United Kingdom’s most important late 17th-century homes. This sprawling estate managed by the National Trust was home to the Morgan family – influential industrialists and politicians whose key role in the social and economic history of the region can be explored via the ornate mansion house and surrounding walled gardens and parks.
Less manicured but hugely influential is the Big Pit National Coal Museum in Blaenavon, a former colliery that employed up to 1,300 miners and produced about 250,000 tons of coal annually at its peak. Now a living monument to the region’s deep-rooted relationship with mining, this powerful ode to the Welsh coal industry includes tours that travel more than 90m (300ft) underground. There are also animated multimedia exhibits to immerse visitors in a lifestyle that continues to define local history.
Everyone in the family
Another adrenaline-filled way to immerse yourself in Welsh industrial heritage is at the Zip World Caves. Located in Llechwedd Quarry in North Wales, this impressive subterranean site has been repurposed as an underground course, with ziplines, rope bridges and narrow ropes offering a roaring adventure against a dramatic backdrop.
On the Menai Strait, a wonderful family day awaits at Anglesey Sea Zoo, the largest aquarium in Wales. Its 40 tanks – from the invertebrate-centric boneless zone to the shipwreck with its eels and massive starfish – showcase species endemic to British waters. There are interactive talks and feed shows to inspire the next generation of marine biologists.
Finally, get your money’s worth with the Royal Mint Experience just outside Cardiff, which offers a behind-the-scenes look at more than 1,000 years of coinage. Follow the manufacturing journey from concept to creation, mint your own coin and get inspired by interactive exhibits that explore the figures – from royalty to Olympians – that adorn the coins and medals manufactured here.
Find inspiration for your winter holiday at Visit Wales