Viator’s team of travel insiders is obsessed with finding the best things to do everywhere we travel. From traditional tours to once-in-a-lifetime experiences, everywhere from Australia to Zimbabwe, we spend our time scouring the globe for the best tours and activities around the world.
Whether traveling for work or pleasure (or both!) our staff members are always on the go and we want to share their experiences with you! In this new series, Out of Office, we’ll bring you their stories, highlighting the best things to do and see in destinations around the world, as experienced by a real Viator Insider.
The Traveler: Katie Hammel, Senior Travel Editor
What’s your role at Viator? I manage Viator’s network of blogs, assigning, editing and curating content to help our readers get inspired and plan their perfect trip.
The trip: Wales for six days in March, 2015
Why did you choose this destination? What appealed to you about the place? I’ve never been to the UK, so I jumped at the chance to explore Wales, one of its less-visited (by Americans, anyway) corners. I was also intrigued by the history, culture, and language as well as the newly-completed Coastal Path, which allows walkers to travel the country’s whole coastline and border. Plus, Cardiff is only two and a half hours on the train from London, so it’s an easy side trip.
What did you do on the trip?
I spent most of my time in the southern half of Wales. I started with two days in Cardiff, where I saw the Cardiff Castle, visited the Dr. Who Museum, saw the impressionist art at the National Museum, checked out the amazing Millennium Center cultural complex and the revitalized waterfront, and strolled the city’s lovely streets and arcades.
From there, I spent a few days in smaller towns: St. David’s (named for the patron saint of Wales), Llandeilo (a delightful—and colorful—small town) and Mumbles, a seaside neighborhood not far from Swansea (possibly most famous to Americans as the home of Catherine Zeta-Jones).
Along the way I visited a Welsh winery, chocolate factory, and cheese shop, explored several incredible castles, walked part of the Wales coastal path, visited the home and writing workshop of Dylan Thomas, and saw hundreds of thousands of fluffy white sheep dotting the country’s beautiful green hills.
On the last day, I hopped on the train from Swansea to London – a comfortable, three-hour ride.
What was the best experience?
My favorite moments were found in all the small towns and castles I visited. It was incredible to walk along the same path that Dylan Thomas did, and to see the tiny shed where it’s said his wife would lock him to force him to get his work done. I also really enjoyed visiting all the castles, which ranged from totally renovated and perfectly preserved to completely crumbling and eerily beautiful on an overcast day.
One of my favorites was Carreg Cennen, which is located on the site of a family farm, set on a hill dotted with sheep. A short climb to the top of the hill revealed the castle ruins and an incredible view over the green hills that surrounded it.
Which attraction did you enjoy the most, and why?
The scenery of Wales is an attraction unto itself. Simply driving around the beautiful countryside was so lovely, and the coastal path along the rocky cliffs and above the blue ocean was stunning.
What surprised you the most about the destination?
I had naively expected Welsh culture to be very similar to English culture, but there were quite a few differences, of which the Welsh people are quite proud. Wales is bilingual and all signs are in Welsh and English and it was interesting to learn about the number of Welsh words that have had an impact on English.
It was also fascinating to learn about the history of Wales. Wales is home to more than 600 castles, but most weren’t actually built as defenses by the Welsh people; they were built by the invading Romans, Normans, and Anglo-Saxons. So while the castles are quite beautiful, they also represent the tumultuous history of Wales.
What was the best thing you ate or drank?
Welsh food surprised me. Throughout my stay, I didn’t have a bad meal. In fact, I ate quite well, enjoying Welsh lamb at several meals, along with some delicious local seafood, tasty Welsh cakes, Welsh rarebit, and plenty of fresh veggies. I also got to try Penderyn’s whisky, which is locally made and delicious.
And I discovered that Wales has some of the world’s best sticky toffee pudding, which was on the menu at every single restaurant I ate at throughout Wales. Thankfully, I was traveling with some friends so we were able to share a dessert each night.
What are your top three recommendations to any visitor?
- Spend a day or two in Cardiff, but then get out to explore some of the smaller towns and villages in Wales. The people are some of the friendlies I’ve met (especially in the small towns) and it was easy to get around as roads are well-marked. Just be prepared to drive on the left.
- Come hungry. Welsh food is hearty meat, potatoes and root vegetable fare. And save room for the sticky toffee pudding.
- If you’ve never seen an episode of Dr. Who, it’s worth watching, especially if you plan to visit the Dr. Who Museum (and you should – it’s good fun). I watched one episode on the plane ride form San Francisco to London and that provided enough context to really enjoy the museum’s kitschy interactive experience.
What’s the best Insider Tip you can offer future visitors to this destination?
Do a little bit of reading to get a basic understanding of Welsh history. While I learned quite a bit on my trip, I read up on some historical information afterwards and it really helped put what I learned in context. Having that knowledge before I went would have helped me better understand Welsh culture at the time.
Where are you off to next?
This spring and summer will be busy with travel for me: NYC and Barcelona in April for a conference, a personal vacation in France and Switzerland in May, and then a family wedding in the Florida Keys.
I’m most looking forward to the personal vacation, of course. My husband and I are spending the bulk of the trip exploring the wine region of Burgundy, where we’ll stay in the small town of Beaune and bike to nearby villages.