By Debi Lander
American tourists often overlook Wales, an independent country about the size of Massachusetts, belonging to the United Kingdom along with Scotland, England and Northern Ireland; however, of all the countries I’ve visited, Wales is the most family-friendly I’ve encountered.
Small Wales once ruled with might, and 600 castles remain from former kings and nobles. Some sit as ruins and others enchant with fabulous art and furnishings. Festivals and special events at various castles appeal to young children, teens and adults. I saw children participating in knights’ school classes like archery, jousting and fencing complete with princess-type costumes or pretend chainmail, and soft swords and arrows.
Cardiff Castle in the capital city lets you relive medieval times as you climb and explore its keep, dating back to 1081. Another part of the structure contains exquisitely painted and crafted rooms designed for the Bute family who made a fortune from coal. Bute donated the castle to the government with the stipulation that the surrounding land be kept green; hence the center city property sits within a spectacular garden.
In St. David’s, on the western corner of Wales, I followed footsteps from the past through the remains of a lavish medieval Bishop’s Palace. Then, on to the pilgrimage Cathedral, dating back to 1181, but still in use. Family-centered adventures around St. David’s include the offshore islands. A one-hour rafting trip around Ramsay Island brought giggles and shouts of delight from the children onboard. We observed seals lazing in the sun, nesting birds (puffins are often spotted), brief excursions inside caves and a bumpy ride over rapids.
I drove north through scenic Snowdonia National Park (elevation 3,650 feet) to a Victorian seaside resort town named Llandudno. Many residents speak Welsh as well as English in this part of Wales. Here I searched for statues along the Alice in Wonderland trail. Alice, who inspired the story, is from the city.
Northern castles are rock stars with guided historical tours for adults that are usually free of charge. In Conwy, I walked around the ancient town walls leading to the multi-turreted castle. Imposing Caernarfon Castle sits above the sea and is the ceremonial investiture site of the Prince of Wales.
Bumper crops of flowers flourish in the often-drizzly climate. Bodnant Gardens provides a half-day on entertainment for children as well as adults. Stroll trails around wildlife, ponds, a giant redwood forest and stop at a tearoom for snacks or lunch.
Many museums are free and the National Museum in Cardiff buzzed with energy on the Saturday morning I dropped in. Dinosaurs and bugs for the kids; the best collection of impressionist art outside Paris for all. The National Slate Museum in North Wales portrays the former importance of slate to the Welsh economy. A live demonstration of slate splitting proved eye-opening.
All attractions in Wales are not free, but typically family packages include two adults and two to four children at far less than individual ticket prices. Seniors start at age 60 and are called Concession fares.
A full Welsh breakfast includes eggs, sausage, bacon, black pudding, broiled tomatoes, baked beans, potatoes, toast and coffee or tea. Most lodgings include breakfast in the price. Travel in this country is affordable. At the moment, the cost is even better as the price of the British pound is down.
Visit www.bylandersea.com to read more of local travel writer Debi Lander’s stories and travel tips.
Photos courtesy Debi Lander
Cardiff Castle Keep