Wales //

Travel essentials

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Costs

Wales is certainly not a cheap destination, but prices are generally lower than in many parts of England, particularly London. With the current weakness of the pound, many foreign visitors should find prices quite reasonable.

The minimum expenditure, if you’re camping and preparing most of your own food, would be £20–25 per day, rising to £35–40 per day if you’re using the hostelling network, some public transport and grabbing the odd takeaway or meal out. Couples staying at budget B&Bs, eating at unpretentious restaurants and visiting a fair number of tourist attractions are looking at £60 each per day – if you’re renting a car, staying in comfortable B&Bs or hotels and eating well, you should reckon on at least £80 a day. Single travellers should budget on spending around sixty percent of what a couple would spend, mainly because single rooms cost more than half the price of a double. For more detail on the cost of accommodation, transport and eating, see the relevant sections.

VAT

Most goods in Britain, with the chief exceptions of books and groceries, are subject to a 20 percent Value Added Tax (VAT), which is almost always included in the quoted price. Visitors from non-EU countries can get a VAT refund when leaving the country on goods bought through the Retail Export Scheme: participating shops have a sign in their window. See wcustoms.hmrc.gov.uk for details.

Student and youth cards

The various official and quasi-official youth/student ID cards are of relatively minor use in Wales, saving only a few pence for entry to some sites. If you already have one, then bring it, but if you don’t, it’s barely worth making a special effort to get one.

Full-time students are eligible for the International Student Identity Card (ISIC, wisiccard.com), while anyone under 26 can apply for an International Youth Travel Card, which carries the same benefits. Both cost £9.

Several other travel organizations and accommodation groups also sell their own cards, good for various discounts. A university photo ID might open some doors, but is not as easily recognizable as the ISIC cards.

Tipping and service charges

In restaurants a service charge is sometimes included in the bill; if it isn’t, leave a tip of 10–15 percent unless the service is unforgivably bad. Taxi drivers expect a tip in the region of ten percent. You do not generally tip bar staff – if you want to show your appreciation, offer to buy them a drink.

Tourist attractions

Many of Wales’ most treasured sites – from castles, abbeys and great houses to tracts of protected landscape – come under the control of the privately run UK-wide National Trust or the state-run CADW, whose properties are denoted in the Guide by “NT” and “CADW”.

Both organizations charge an entry fee for most places, and these can be quite high, especially for the more grandiose NT estates. We’ve quoted the standard adult entry price, but UK taxpayers are encouraged to pay the gift aid price, which adds around ten percent to the normal adult price, but through tax offsets gives the NT considerable benefit.

If you think you’ll be visiting more than half a dozen NT places or a similar number of major CADW sites, it’s worth buying an annual pass. Membership of the National Trust (t0844 800 1895, wnationaltrust.org.uk; £50.50, under-26s £23.50, family £88.50) allows free entry and parking at its properties throughout Britain. Sites operated by CADW (t01443 336000, wcadw.wales.gov.uk; £35, seniors £22, ages 16–20 £20, under-16s £16) are restricted to Wales, but membership also grants you half-price entry to sites owned by English Heritage and Historic Scotland.

CADW offers the Explorer Pass, which allows free entry into all CADW sites on three days in seven (adult £13.20, family £28), or seven days In fourteen (£19.85/£38.75). Entry to CADW sites is free for Welsh residents over 60: check their website to obtain a pass.

Many other old buildings, albeit rarely the most momentous, are owned by the local authorities, and admission is often cheaper. Municipal art galleries and museums are usually free, as are sites run by the National Museums and Galleries of Wales (wmuseumwales.ac.uk), including the National Museum and St Fagans National History Museum, both in Cardiff. Although a donation is usually requested, cathedrals tend to be free, except for perhaps the tower, crypt or other such highlight, for which a small charge is made. Increasingly, churches are kept locked except during services; when they are open, entry is free. (You’ll normally be able to find a notice in the porch or on a board telling you where to get a key if the church is locked.) Wales also has a number of superb showcases of its industrial heritage, mostly concerned with mining and mineral extraction.

Keen birders might consider joining the RSPB, where membership (wrspb.org.uk; £36 a year) gives you free entry to its reserves throughout Britain.

Entry charges given in the Guide are the full adult rates, but the majority of the fee-charging attractions located in Wales have 10–25 percent reductions for senior citizens and full-time students, and 20–50 percent reductions for under-16s – under-5s are admitted free almost everywhere. Proof of eligibility is required in most cases. Family tickets are also common, usually priced just under the rate for two adults and a child and valid for up to three kids.

Finally, foreign visitors planning on seeing more than a dozen stately homes, monuments, castles or gardens might find it worthwhile to buy a Great British Heritage Pass (£39 for 3 days, £69 for 7 days, £89 for 15 days, £119 for 30 days; wbritishheritagepass.com), which gives free admission to over four hundred sites throughout the UK, over forty of them in Wales.

Climate

The climate is fairly consistent across Wales, though it is considerably wetter, and a little cooler along the mountainous spine, particularly in Snowdonia.

Electricity

In Britain, the current is 240V AC at 50Hz. North American appliances will need a transformer, though most laptops, phone and MP3 player chargers are designed to automatically detect and adapt to the electricity supply and don’t need any modification. Almost all foreign appliances will require an adapter for the chunky British three-pin electrical sockets.

For details of how to plug your laptop in when abroad, phone country codes around the world, and information about electrical systems in different countries look at wkropla.com.

Emergencies and police

As in any other country, Wales’ major towns have their dangerous spots, but these tend to be inner-city housing estates where you’re unlikely to find yourself. The chief risk on the streets – though still minimal – is pickpocketing, so carry only as much money as you need, and keep all bags and pockets fastened. Should you have anything stolen or be involved in an incident that requires reporting, go to the local police station. The
t
999 (traditional British) or t112 (pan-European) numbers for police, fire and ambulance services should only be used in emergencies. There is also a non-emergency number for the police t101 (10p per call).

Entry requirements

Citizens of all European countries – other than Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina and most republics of the former Soviet Union – can enter Britain with just a passport, generally for up to three months. US, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand citizens can travel in Britain for up to six months with just a passport. All other nationalities require a visa, available from the British consular office in the country of application.

For stays longer than six months, check details on the UK Border Agency website (wind.homeoffice.gov.uk), where you can download the appropriate form. Do this before the expiry date given on the endorsement in your passport.

Embassy contact details are listed on the website of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (wfco.gov.uk): look for links to “Find Embassies” and “Find a Foreign Embassy in the UK”.

Tobacco: 200 cigarettes; or 100 cigarillos; or 50 cigars; or 250g of loose tobacco.

Alcohol: Four litres of still wine, plus one litre of drink over 22 percent alcohol, or two litres of alcoholic drink not over 22 percent, or another two litres of still wine.

You’re also allowed other goods (including perfume) to the value of £390.

For details, contact HM Revenue & Customs (whttp://www.hmrc.gov.uk).

Biosecurity is also an issue. It is illegal to import meat, milk and other animal products from outside the EU: see
w
defra.gov.uk for more details. The website also has details of the fairly strict PETS scheme which allows pet cats and dogs to enter Britain without quarantine.

Gay and lesbian Wales

Homosexual acts between consenting males were legalized in Britain in 1967, but it wasn’t until 2000 that the age of consent for gay men was made equal to that of straight men at sixteen. Lesbianism has never specifically been outlawed, apocryphally owing to the fact that Queen Victoria refused to believe it existed. In December 2005, civil partnerships between same-sex couples were legalized – marriage in all but name.

With such a rural culture, it’s perhaps not surprising that Wales is less used to the lesbian and gay lifestyle than its more cosmopolitan English neighbour. That said, there’s little real hostility, with the traditional Welsh “live and let live” attitude applying as much in this area as any other. Several Welsh musicians, academics, TV stars and politicians have come out in recent years, and no one’s really batted an eyelid.

The organized gay scene in Wales is fairly muted. The main cities – Cardiff, Newport and Swansea – have a number of pubs and clubs, with Cardiff especially beginning to see a worthy and confident gay scene – a Mardi Gras festival in early September included – more in keeping with the capital’s size and status. Details are given in the text of the Guide. Out of the southern cities, however, gay life becomes distinctly discreet, although university towns such as Lampeter, Bangor and Wrexham manage support groups and the odd weekly night in a local bar, while Aberystwyth is a significantly homo-friendly milieu. The wgaywales.co.uk website is the best resource for gay and lesbian events, venues and accommodation, and has links to other relevant sites. Alternatively, there are some informal but well-established networks, especially among the sometimes reclusive alternative lifestylers found in mid- and west Wales. Border Women (who should surely have called themselves Offa’s Dykes; wborderwomen.org) is a well-organized lesbian network for mid-Wales and the Marches.

Health

No vaccinations are required for entry into Britain. Citizens of all EU countries are entitled to free medical treatment at National Health Service hospitals; citizens of other countries are charged for all medical services except those administered by accident and emergency units at National Health Service hospitals. Thus a US citizen who has been hit by a car would not be charged if the injuries simply required stitching and setting in the emergency unit, but would be if admission to a hospital ward were necessary. Health insurance is therefore strongly advised for all non-EU nationals.

Pharmacies (known generally as chemists in Britain) can dispense only a limited range of drugs without a doctor’s prescription. Most pharmacies are open during standard shop hours, though in large towns some may stay open as late as 10pm. Doctors’ surgeries tend to be open from about 9am until early evening; outside surgery hours, you can turn up at the casualty department of the local hospital for problems that require immediate attention – unless it’s a real emergency, in which case ring for an ambulance on
t
999 or t112.

Insurance

Wherever you’re travelling from, it’s a good idea to have some kind of travel insurance to cover you for loss of possessions and money, as well as the cost of any medical and dental treatment. Before paying for a new policy, however, it’s worth checking whether you are already covered: some all-risks home insurance policies may cover your possessions when overseas, and many private medical schemes include cover when abroad. Students will often find that their student health coverage extends during the vacations and for one term beyond the date of last enrolment.

After exhausting the possibilities above, you might want to contact a specialist travel insurance company, or consider the travel insurance deal we offer. A typical travel insurance policy usually provides cover for the loss of baggage, tickets and – up to a certain limit – cash or cheques, as well as cancellation or curtailment of your journey. Most of them exclude so-called dangerous sports unless an extra premium is paid: in Wales this can mean whitewater rafting, windsurfing and coasteering, though probably not ordinary hiking. If you take medical coverage, ascertain whether benefits will be paid as treatment proceeds or only after return home, and whether there is a 24-hour medical emergency number. When securing baggage cover, make sure that the per-article limit – typically under £500 – will cover your most valuable possession. If you need to make a claim, you should keep receipts for medicines and medical treatment, and in the event you have anything stolen, you must obtain an official statement from the police.

Internet

Throughout Wales, almost all public libraries now have free internet access with several computers and wi-fi. Typically you just front up, and sign in for the next available half-hour or hour-long slot. Cybercafés (where you can expect to pay £2–4 an hour) are a dying breed, supplanted by the plethora of free wi-fi hotspots at cafés and bars – the Wetherspoon pub chain, many Brains pubs and even McDonald’s. Free wi-fi is also common (but not universal) at B&Bs and hotels.

Mail

Virtually all post offices (swyddfa’r post) are open Monday to Friday 9am to 5.30pm, Saturday 9am to 12.30pm. In small communities, you’ll find sub-post offices operating out of a shop, but these work to the same hours even if the shop itself is open for longer. Stamps can be bought at post office counters and from a large number of newsagents and other shops, although often these sell only books of four or ten stamps. A first-class letter to anywhere in Britain (up to 100g) costs 46p and should arrive the next day; second-class letters cost 36p, taking two to four days to arrive. Postcards cost 68p to EU countries, and 76p to everywhere else. For parcel rates visit
w
royalmail.com.

Maps

Most bookshops will have a good selection of maps of Wales and Britain, though the best can be found in specialist travel bookshops. Virtually every petrol station in Britain stocks large-format road atlases produced by the AA, RAC, Collins, Ordnance Survey (OS) and others, which cover all of Britain at a scale of around three miles to one inch and include larger-scale plans of major towns. The best of these is the Ordnance Survey road atlas, which handily uses the same grid reference system as their accurate and detailed folding maps.

For hiking, go for the widely available maps by Ordnance Survey (wordnancesurvey.co.uk), renowned for their accuracy and clarity. The 204 maps in its 1:50,000 (a little over one inch: one mile) Landranger series (£6.99 each) cover the whole of Britain, while the more detailed 1:25,000 Explorer series (£7.99 each) also covers the whole country, has field boundaries to aid navigation, and is at an ideal scale for walkers.

Measurements

Like the rest of Britain, Wales is in very slow transition from imperial to metric measurements. Groceries are sold in packets quoted in grams and litres but usually in portions equivalent to a pound or a pint. Maps show mountain heights in metres but road distances are in miles and speeds in miles per hour. Petrol is sold by the litre. In pubs, beer is still sold in pints.

Money

The British pound sterling (£; punt in Welsh, and informally referred to as a “quid”) is divided into 100 pence (p; in Welsh, c for ceiniogau). Coins come in denominations of 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2. Notes come in denominations of £5, £10, £20 and £50. Shopkeepers will carefully scrutinize any £20 and £50 notes tendered, as forgeries are not uncommon.

Cards, cheques and ATMs
Most hotels, shops and restaurants in Wales accept the major credit, charge and debit cards, particularly Access/MasterCard and Visa/Barclaycard. American Express and Diners’ Club are less widely accepted. Cards are even accepted at lots of B&Bs, though you should always be prepared to pay cash. Many businesses that do accept cards require a £10 minimum purchase. With a suitable PIN (ask at your bank before leaving home) your card will also enable you to get cash advances from most ATMs, though there may be a standard fee which makes it more cost-effective to withdraw larger sums. In addition, you may be able to make withdrawals from your home bank account using your ATM cash card – check before leaving home.

The safest way to carry your money is in travellers’ cheques, available for a small commission (normally one percent) from any major bank. These can be exchanged at banks and bureaux de change and replaced if lost of stolen. Recognized brands – American Express, Thomas Cook, MasterCard and Visa – are accepted in all major currencies, but travellers’ cheques (even in sterling) aren’t accepted as cash.

Banks
Almost every Welsh town has a branch of at least one of the major banks: NatWest, Halifax, HSBC, Barclays and Lloyds TSB. As a general rule, opening hours are Monday to Friday 9 or 9.30am to 4.30 or 5pm, and branches in larger towns are often open on Saturday from 9am to 1pm. In the larger towns you may be able to find a bureau de change (often the post office), which will be open longer hours but may charge high commission.

Opening hours and public holidays

General shop hours are Monday to Saturday 9am to 5.30/6pm, although there’s an increasing amount of Sunday and late-night shopping in the larger towns, with Thursday or Friday being the favoured evenings. The big supermarkets also tend to stay open until 8 or 9pm from Monday to Saturday, and open on Sunday from 10am to 4pm, as do many of the stores in the shopping complexes springing up on the outskirts of major towns. Note that not all service stations are open 24 hours, although you can usually get fuel around the clock in the larger towns and cities. Also, most fee-charging sites are open on bank holidays, when Sunday hours usually apply.

In addition to the public holidays your travels around Wales may be disrupted by school holidays, when accommodation in popular areas (especially near beaches) is stretched by holidaying families. The main school holidays are two weeks around Christmas and New Year, two weeks around Easter, and six weeks from mid-July to early September. There is also a one-week break in the middle of each term, one usually falling in late May.

Phones

Given the near-ubiquity of mobile phones, most people don’t have much need for public payphones (teleffon), which are operated by BT (wbt.co.uk), and are still found all over the place. Some also allow SMS text messaging (20p) and have internet access (£1 for 15min). Calls to anywhere in the UK (except to mobiles and premium numbers) cost 60p for the first 30 minutes then 10p for every 15 minutes thereafter. Most payphones in out-of-the-way places no longer take coins, forcing you to use credit and debit cards (UK calls 20p/min, plus a £1 connection charge), or account-based phonecards available from post offices and some shops. When buying such cards, read the small print, as there are often all manner of extra charges and penalties.

Call costs vary greatly depending on whether you are calling from a private land line, public pay-phone or the mobile network you are on. We’ve given call cost guidelines below.

To call Wales from outside the UK, dial the international access code (t011 from the US and Canada,
t
0011 from Australia and t00 from New Zealand), followed in all cases by 44, then the area code minus its initial zero, and finally the number.

Shopping

The quintessential Welsh memento is a lovespoon – an intricately carved wooden spoon that in centuries gone by was offered by suitors when courting. The meanings of the various designs range from a Celtic cross (symbolizing faith/marriage) to vines (growing love) and a double spoon (commitment), with dozens of others available. Prices range from a few pounds for a small version, to several hundred pounds for a large, elaborate spoon by a well-known carver. You’ll find them in craft shops all over the country, including some dedicated solely to these ornaments.

Other unique items include some superb paintings, jewellery, leatherwork and screen-printing from arts and crafts galleries throughout Wales; some are run by the artists themselves, and you can watch them at work. Given that Wales has an estimated three to four times as many sheep as humans, it’s not surprising that there are some wonderful woollen products available.

A good online resource is the Wales Crafts Council (wwalescraftcouncil.co.uk).

Smoking

Since 2007 smoking has been banned in restaurants, bars and clubs and on public transport. You’ll now see clusters of die-hard smokers outside pubs and occupying café pavement tables in all weathers. Cigarettes are seldom on display (you’ll have to ask for them) and may soon come in plain packaging.

Studying in Wales

There are numerous places around Wales where you might attend full-day or multi-day courses (residential or otherwise) to pursue all manner of interests. Some of the most interesting are:

Nant Gwrtheyrn 10 miles north of Pwllheli t01758 750334, wnantgwrtheyrn.org. If you’re keen on acquiring some Welsh beyond the basics, this is about the best bet there is. Residential courses are run for everyone from complete beginners to near-fluent speakers: either weekend (full board £225), three-day (£280) or five-day (£485).For more information, see Nefyn and Porth Dinllaen.

Plas Menai: The National Watersports Centre near Caernarfon t01248 670964, wplasmenai.co.uk. All manner of predominantly two- and five-day courses covering sailing, windsurfing, kayaking and jet skiing in a beautiful location on the Menai Strait. For two-day courses expect to pay £185 (£125 non-resident), for five-day budget on £400 (£300).

Plas Tan y Bwlch near Porthmadog t01766 772 600, wplastanybwlch.com. Snowdonia National Park Study Centre which runs residential courses focusing mainly on the environment and appreciation of the countryside. They extend to landscape photography (3 days, £160), botanical painting (5 days, £430), mushrooms and toadstools (2 days, £160), drovers and drovers’ roads (4 days, £290), heritage railways (6 days, £465) and much more. Many are taught in Welsh or bilingually, and are suitable for Welsh-language beginners.

Plas y Brenin: The National Mountain Centre Capel Curig t01690 720214, wpyb.co.uk. This internationally recognized outdoor training centre runs a huge range of residential courses and two-hour samplers at all levels up to expert, plus expedition training. Examples of beginner courses include: the two-day Navigation Skills course for hill-walkers (£230), the five-day Advanced Scrambling week (£560), the weekend introduction to rock climbing (£295), a five-day intro to sea kayaking (£475), a multi-activity weekend (£175), and many more. Also offers qualification courses for all levels of instructors.For more information, see Walks from the Ogwen valley.

Time

Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is in force from late October to late March, when the clocks go forward an hour for British Summer Time (BST). GMT is five hours ahead of New York, ten hours behind Sydney, and twelve hours behind New Zealand.

Tourist information

Wales promotes itself enthusiastically, broadly through Visit Britain and more specifically through Visit Wales, both with extensive websites offering a wealth of free literature, some of it just rose-tinted advertising copy, but much of it extremely useful – especially the maps, city guides and event calendars.

Visit Wales and tourist offices

Visit Wales (aka Croeso Cymru: t0870 830 0306, wvisitwales.com) operates a central information service that’s excellent for pre-trip planning, with a detailed website and plenty of free brochures which can either be downloaded or sent by mail. There is also representation at Visit Britain, 1 Regent St, London SW1Y 4XT (t020 8846 9000, wvisitbritain.com).

Tourist offices (usually called Tourist Information Centres or TICs) exist in many Welsh towns – you’ll find their contact details and opening hours throughout the Guide. The average opening hours are much the same as standard shop hours, though in summer they’ll often be open on a Sunday and for a couple of hours after the shops have closed on weekdays; opening hours are generally shorter in winter, and in more remote areas the office may well be closed altogether. All centres offer information on accommodation (which they can often book), local public transport, attractions and restaurants, as well as town and regional maps.

Areas designated as national parks (the Brecon Beacons, Pembrokeshire Coast and Snowdonia) also have a fair sprinkling of National Park Information Centres, which are generally more expert in giving guidance on local walks and outdoor pursuits.

Travellers with disabilities

Visitors with disabilities will find travelling in Wales easier than in much of the world, though many older buildings (and especially cheaper places to stay) are difficult or impossible to adapt and it always pays to call ahead to check the situation. Disabled parking spaces are common, new buildings (including accommodation) are required to make appropriate provision, and a fair number of existing hotels, B&Bs and restaurants are retrofitting accessible bathrooms and ramps. Some YHAs (see Camping, caravanning and self-catering) also have disabled facilities.

Public transport companies are beginning to make more of an effort to accommodate passengers with mobility problems. Some rail services now cater for wheelchair users in relative comfort, and some assistance is available at stations if you call at least 24 hours in advance; call National Rail Enquiries to get the number of the appropriate rail company. You may be eligible for the Disabled Persons Railcard (£20 per year), which gives a third off most tickets for you and a companion. The link for “Passengers with disabilities” at wnationalrail.co.uk has reams of information for journey planning, including maps identifying stations that have access to platforms without steps. There are no bus discounts for disabled passengers who are not Welsh citizens. Rental cars with hand controls are rare and expensive; Hertz offers models at the same rate as conventional vehicles, though in the more expensive categories. Call their dedicated line t0870 840 0084.

Access to monuments and museums is improving all the time. The National Trust produces a downloadable sheet detailing accessibility to NT properties in Wales; disabled visitors must pay entry fees, but they can bring a friend or carer in to assist them free of charge. CADW allows wheelchair users and the visually handicapped, along with their assisting companion, free entry to all monuments. You can download a booklet with detailed site access details. Access to theatres, cinemas and other public places is slowly improving.

Some public toilets are kept locked, but some local authorities have joined the National Key System (NKS) in which disabled people can gain access to facilities via a standard key (£3.50; contact RADAR). Some tourist offices also hold a key which you can borrow.

There’s no shortage of contact points for information, the best being RADAR and Disability Wales.

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