The ‘Queen of Welsh resorts’ is a great starting point for any journey, but don’t rush off just yet. Llandudno is an immaculate Victorian/Edwardian resort, complete with pier-and-prom. The best views are from Great Orme, a mighty limestone crag that you can ascend by the Great Orme Tramway or cable car. On top, there’s a visitor centre, nature reserve and the Great Orme Copper Mine, while its eastern flanks shelter the Llandudno Snowsports Centre and the manicured Happy Valley, where you can pick up the town’s Alice in Wonderland trails.
We once asked Prince Charles to name his favourite gardens, and he rates Bodnant as ‘one of Wales’ national treasures’. The upper section around Bodnant Hall comes with terraced gardens and informal lawns, while the lower Dell has a fabulous wild garden. The standard of excellence continues throughout the estate and into nearby Garden Centre, Craft Centre and Welsh Food Centre.
Adventure Parc Snowdonia
Yes, you could do it in the sea. But Adventure Parc Snowdonia has created a head-high wave that peels perfectly along a 300m lagoon in the middle of the Conwy Valley countryside, every 90 seconds. There’s also a watery assault course, the Crash & Splash Lagoon and regular left-field events.
They still work the quarries at the old ‘slate capital of the world’, but Blaenau Ffestiniog has reinvented itself as an all-action adventure centre. Mountain bikers hurtle down the screes at Antur Stiniog, while zip wires soar overhead at Zip World Titan. In the vast slate caverns below ground, there are yet more zip zones and the surreal, trippy Bounce Below: layers of bouncy cargo nets connected by slides and ladders. To get it all into historical perspective, start with an underground tour of Llechwedd Slate Caverns.
National Showcaves Centre for Wales
The 3 different caves - Dan-yr-Ogof Cave, Cathedral Cave and Bone Cave each offer a unique underground experience. In Dan-yr-Ogof you walk through the beautifully decorated passageways for just under 1 kilometre; in Cathedral Cave you walk through its enormous caverns, carved out millions of years ago, and at the end of this cave experience the excitement of walking behind the 40 feet high waterfalls that cascade around you in the ‘Dome of St Paul’s’, an atmospheric end to a truly wonderful cave.
The soldier-poet Ellis Evans – better known by his bardic name, Hedd Wyn – is a major figure in Welsh cultural life. He was killed in action at Passchendaele just weeks before he was due to be awarded top honours at the 1917 National Eisteddfod. The poet’s family farm, Yr Ysgwrn, near Trawsfynydd, is now a visitor centre with exhibitions about his life and legacy, Welsh language and culture, the bardic tradition, rural history, and the First World War.
Brecon does everything a good market town should: coaching inns, galleries, cafés and lots of indie shops line its handsome Georgian streets. On top of that, there’s a 12th-century cathedral, Regimental Museum of The Royal Welsh and an annual jazz festival. You can leave town by means of a couple of intriguing non-car options: the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal flows for 35 miles (56km) into the glorious Brecon Beacons, while the Taff Trail walking/cycling route runs 55 miles (88km) all the way to the sea at Cardiff Bay.
This biggest castle in Wales ticks all the boxes: mighty towers, Great Hall, drawbridge, siege engines that actually work, all surrounded by the most elaborate water defences in Britain. Caerphilly Castle was originally built in the 1200s by Norman lords, and was restored to its present grandeur by various Marquesses of Bute in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Nearby, you can step back in time the splendour of the past, by roaming the stately house and gardens of Colonel Edward Pritchard, a friend and later enemy of the King. Llancaiach Fawr Manor is well worth a stop, but mind where you step - the house is said to be one of the ten most haunted houses in Britain, and is a magnet for ghost hunters.
Every single coin in your pocket, purse and piggy bank was made in Llantrisant at the Royal Mint. That’s around 30,000,000,000 coins, with a face value of £4.6bn, give or take. As well as minting British coins here, they make money and medals for dozens of other countries, too. The visitor centre and behind-the-scenes tours give a fascinating insight into the whole process.
One of the world’s best open-air museums, St Fagans National Museum of History is a must visit. . More than 40 original Welsh buildings, from Celtic times onwards, from chapels and farms to a pub and miners’ institute, have been moved to the grounds of an Elizabethan manor just outside Cardiff. The buildings are fascinating places to poke around, but it’s the skills of the traditional craftsmen and women, not to mention native livestock in the fields and farmyards, that bring it all so vividly to life. Like all our National Museums, it’s free.
Cardiff, our capital city, is a perfect city-break destination: compact, easy to navigate, and easy to enjoy. Start at Cardiff Castle, whose Roman walls, Norman keep and sumptuous Victorian mansion stand at the edge of Bute Park. Across the road, National Museum Cardiff has natural history and a world-class art collection under one roof. Head south and you’re in the pedestrianised shopping district, dominated by the giant St David's centre, and criss-crossed by Victorian and Edwardian arcades. Down in Cardiff Bay, the old coal ports have been transformed by a shiny new waterfront, dominated by the copper roof of the Wales Millennium Centre.