Best Things To Do In Wales
Planning a trip and looking for the best things to do in Wales? Symbolism and traditions are a part of a country’s culture and a window into the history and way of life of a people. In our guide, we give you the back stories on some of the most beloved Welsh landmarks and customs. We explain where and how these practices came into being, giving you an appreciation for their cultural significance.
We’ll share the best locations to connect with iconic Welsh symbols like the red dragon emblem and the daffodil. Go back in time to historic sites that reveal ancient layers of Welsh culture, like its Roman and Celtic heritage. Connect with King Arthur through visiting ancient hill forts and legendary lakes. Learn the difference between a Norman and Edwardian castle. Explore sites associated with milestones in Welsh contemporary history, like the highest aqueduct in the whole world, as well as coal and copper mines that fueled the Industrial Revolution in Wales. We present where to experience a staple of Welsh life, the traditional men’s choirs, as well as extraordinary annual cultural celebrations like the Eisteddfod Festival.
Enjoy this introduction to more than twenty locales that offer insights into Welsh culture, symbolisms, and heritage.
A word on COVID-19: Because of the country’s lockdown, the situation is in flux. Be sure to check the country’s requirements, the policies of individual establishments, and whether the attraction you plan to visit is open.
Cultural Lay Of The Land
Wales is the smallest of the three countries that make up the island of Great Britain. While Wales shares much in common with its neighbors England and Scotland, the history of Welsh-English relations has been complicated to put it mildly. This ambivalence/animosity dates back for almost a thousand years, and is the result of centuries of power struggles. Wales officially became part of Great Britain in 1707…but relations between people of the two countries have been described alternatively as a friendly rivalry or downright contemptuous.
The Welsh are Celtic in heritage, meaning that the language and culture is Central European in origin. The heritage of the English is largely Anglo-Saxon, which is Germanic and Norman (Norse-French) in origin.
The nature of the relationship between the two countries is perhaps revealed in the name each country uses. The word “Wales” derives from the Old English “Wealys”, meaning a foreigner, whereas the Welsh name for Wales is “Cymru”, which means “brothers”.
Politics aside, Wales has a rich history and culture, including its own language, customs, politics, holidays and music.
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Experience Roman Heritage
Prior to the invasion of the Romans in 48 A.D., Wales was occupied by a number of native Celtic tribes including the Ordovices and Deceangli in the north, the Silures and Demetae in the south, and the Cornovii in the center. As part of its conquest of Britain, Rome occupied Wales until 383 A.D. During their rule, the Romans built roads and military camps as well as mined the mineral-rich land. Ultimately, the challenging geography and antagonistic Celts led the Romans to exit Wales.
The National Roman Legion Museum and adjacent Roman Baths Museum in Caerleon, south-west Wales, are built on and near the remains of several Roman structures. These include a defensive fort, the most complete Roman amphitheater in Britain, as well as a bathhouse for Roman soldiers.
The Roman fortification Isca Augusta was built in 75 A.D. and was the remotest part of Britain that the Roman Empire reached. A force of 5,600 men were held here, ready for battle. The stone amphitheater was likely used for gladiatorial combats, and its remains are characteristic to Roman legionary forts. Today, Wales has the only remains of Roman legionary barracks at Prysg Field in all of Europe.
Ancient Roman Artifacts Revealed
When the museum was created, several exciting discoveries were made including intricately carved magnificent gemstones from between 80 A.D. and 230 A.D. were found in the bath house remains, and the oldest piece of recorded writing in Wales was uncovered within a well on the site. The museum also features fascinating artifacts like the bones of an early 3rd century man within a bath stone coffin, buried with an ancient bottle of perfume, and a large collection of Roman pottery from this time.
The reconstructed Barrack Room is popular with guests of all ages, as you can see what it may have looked like and how the soldiers lived within it. On weekends and school holidays, children can dress up in period costume and understand what it felt like to be a Roman soldier.
- Address: High St, Caerleon, Newport NP18 1AE, United Kingdom
- Opening hours: 10 am to 5 pm, Monday through Saturday, and 12 pm to 3 pm on Sundays.
- Admission fees: Entry is always free!
After the Romans departed from the area that would later become Wales, the Irish arrived. In the 4th and 5th centuries, Irish settled and created substantial kingdoms across much of present-day Wales. The Irish legacy is reflected in many place names, as well as by the presence of Ogham stones.
Ogham was a medieval alphabet in the early Irish language, originating in the 4th century and used for about 500 years. It’s known as the “Celtic Tree Alphabet” for it’s connection of letters to Irish-named trees. Ogham stones were used to commemorate someone, and read from the left hand side, bottom up, across the top, and occasionally down the right side. Interestingly, the edge of the stone was used as the center line, making for an interesting piece of work.
There are 35 Ogham stones in Wales, all in south Wales save three in the Kingdom of Gwynedd in the north. This reflects the strong resistance of the northern Britons to the Irish incursions. In the south, however, there are 12 stones in Pembrokeshire, 5 in Powys, and 4 in Carmarthenshire. This built heritage suggests peaceful coexistence and intermingling of the Britons and Irish in the south, but a strong resistance of the northern Britons to the Irish incursions.
Where to See Ogham Stones
One significant Irish landmark in Wales is a marker called the Grave of Vortigern in northern Pembrokeshire. The memorial is one of five stones on the grounds of the Church of St. Brynach engraved with both Ogam and Latin script. It’s doubtful Vortigern is buried here; his very existence is debatable. It’s said he was a 5th century Briton high king who unintentionally set in motion the Saxon invasion that would change the course of the region’s history.
In lore, Vortigen made a deal with Germanic tribes to serve as mercenaries on his behalf in his war with the Picts and the Scot tribes of the north. Squabbles over payment led to mutiny, and, ultimately, the mass migration and settlement of Germanic people to Britain. These tribes included the Angles and the Saxons, whose language was Anglo Saxon, or Old English. They fought to become the dominant power on the island, driving the Britons to its edges.
The Church of St. Brynach was erected by Saint Brynach who lived around the 6th century. It is believed that Brynach came from Ireland, as his name has Irish origins from the name Bernach.
The gravestone of Vortigern is off the A487, right between Fishguard and Cardigan.
Address: Nevern, Newport, United Kingdom
Connect With King Arthur
Was King Arthur real? While the details of the legends surrounding his name and exploits were quite likely embellished, it is widely believed he was a real person. General consensus is that during the 5th century, Arthur was in fact a Romano-British leader who bravely fought against the invading Anglo-Saxons. One ancient Welsh text documented Arthur’s participation in a known 5th century historical battle at Badon. Alas, the claim in the same account that Arthur single-handedly killed 960 men would tend to dilute it’s credibility.
Between 446 A.D. and the 10th century, there was ongoing conflict between the native Britons and the Anglo-Saxons. This is the period known as the “Dark Ages,” because with the departure of the literate Romans, there are few written records from this entire epoch.
One significant record of another sort remaining from this period of time is Offa’s Dyke. Created as a rough border between England and Wales, this earthwork was 65 wide and 8 feet tall at one point. It was named after the Anglo-Saxon King of Mercia, Offa, who reigned in 757 to 796 A.D.
Legends and Myths
In Wales, King Arthur’s name holds significant meaning and is closely identified with numerous landmarks, which each have their own myths. One of those is about the ancient hill fort of Craig y Ddinas in Brecon Beacons, a large mountain range in South Wales characterized by it’s old, red sandstone peaks. More than 20 hill forts created during the Iron Age are part of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Legend has it that King Arthur remains sleeping in a cave in Craig y Ddinas, waiting to reclaim Britain from the Saxons, if the time ever comes. He and his thousands of soldiers lay behind a vertical, 45m limestone cliff face. They protect a mound of gold and silver, while the cave itself is lined with bells to wake the soldiers if someone intrudes their resting place.
Another King Arthur legend involves the Excalibur, a sword that could only be removed from its place in a stone by a true king. After many nobles tried to remove the sword, hoping to discover their royal heritage, King Arthur tries and easily removes the sword from the stone. Popular belief is that on his deathbed, Arthur ordered his knight Bedivere to throw Excaliber into Glaslyn, a lake within Snowdonia National Park, to prevent anyone else from using it.
Today, there are no less than three other lakes within Snowdonia that lay claim to being the final resting place of Excalibur: Llydaw, Dinas, or Ogwen. If it seems like Snowdonia inspires a lot of epic tales, there is a good reason. To name just one, Snowdonia is home to more than 250 lakes!
If the preponderance of mythical bodies of water isn’t intriguing enough, Wales also has a host of sites featuring grand or unusual rock formations. Many of these have become known as “Arthur’s Stones.” The legends connected to these rocks are lively and mythical, but make a great story and tourist attraction.
In the ancient ridge of Cefn Bryn lies the Maen Ceti, or Arthur’s Stone. At 25 tons, 13 feet wide and 7 feet tall, featuring a tomb underneath, this massive stone has been a tourist attraction for centuries. One legend says that while marching to the Battle of Camlann, Arthur found a pebble in his shoe and tossed it. The size of the stone suggests that Arthur was either a giant, or the stone grew “with pride” by the King’s touch.
Another legend, and perhaps more mythical, is that maidens would bring cakes of barley, honey, and milk, and place it on the stone. After crawling around the stone three times, the maiden’s lover’s would either appear, indicating good intentions, or would not appear, which was a sign their lovers are not for keeping.
Lastly, there’s the Carn March Arthur, or “the stone of Arthur’s horse,” located along the lake Llyn Barfog. One legend says that as Arthur was fighting the Afanc, or the water monster that terrorized the lake. As he was pulling the beast out of the lake with the help of his sturdy horse, his horse left a hoofmark in a rock. Another popular legend is that the hoofmark was left after Arthur and his horse lept from a nearby cliff while evading the Saxons. Today, it lies next to the path leading to Loggerheads Country Park.
Red Dragon Emblem
The national flag of Wales is iconic; with three main colors and an image of a fierce dragon, it is definitely eye catching. But why exactly is there a dragon on Wales’ flag? It all starts with a legend dating back to the 5th century.
After retreating from the Anglo-Saxons, a noble Celtic King Vortigern found refuge in the town of Beddgelert, specifically at the Dinas Emrys, a rocky and wooded hill. He and his men spent each day erecting towers for the King’s retreat. However, the next day they’d be destroyed. Vortigern was led by the local people to a young boy, now known as Merlin the Magician. Supposedly, he’d have the answers.
Merlin informed Vortigern and his men that beneath their chosen location, an underground lake sat where two dragons fought. After digging into the ground, Vortigern and his men found a red dragon fighting a white dragon. When the red dragon came out victorious, it was believed that the red dragon represented Wales, and the white represented England. The red dragon became an emblem representing the powerful Welsh people.
While this legend may seem completely impossible, an excavation of Dinas Emrys in Beddgelert in 1945 revealed evidence of a lake and a fortress from around the time Vortigern was said to have lived.
While the red dragon has been a powerful symbol since the 5th century, the flag featuring this emblem was only recognized by Queen Elizabeth in 1959. Today, it is the country’s national flag and the oldest one in use in the world! It continues to inspire the Welsh people and is an important and popular emblem representing Wales.
In a country that has more than 600 castles, one that stands out is Cardiff Castle. Located in the center of the country’s capital city, Cardiff Castle’s history dates to the first century A. D. Initially built by the Romans as a fort, in the 11th century, the Normans extended it to create a castle. The castle was built upon throughout the centuries, erecting defensive fortifications for protection as well, only to be torn down years later. The 2,000 years of history this castle has seen is evident by the continuous architectural changes it faced at the hands of different owners.
The 19th century saw the Bute family restore the castle into a Victorian Gothic home. Working closely with the famous architect William Burges, the Butes decorated the castle with murals, stained glass, and more. Each room has its own special theme, like the Mediterranean gardens room or the Arabian room. When the 4th Marquess of Bute died in 1947, the castle was given to the city of Cardiff, and for 25 years functioned as the National College of Music and Drama. Today, it is a popular tourist attraction that brings visitors in for their summer concerts, indoor and outdoor film screenings, and many family events.
- Address: Castle St, Cardiff CF10 3RB, United Kingdom
- Opening hours: 9 am to 6 pm
- Admission fees:Adults at £14.50 (17+), youths at £9.50 (5-16). Children under 5 receive free entry. Family tickets are available for £39.00
Norman and Edwardian Castles
Mention castles and Great Britain springs to mind immediately. Yet, have you ever wondered about why that is?
In fact, William the Conqueror can be credited with proliferation of castles across England and Wales. The Norman king introduced the age of castle-building with his 1066 invasion, and it lasted through the 13th century. These were originally motte and baileys, or a combination of earthworks and enclosed wooden courtyards. The castles were given by William to local noblemen who aligned with him. Over time, these structures were rebuilt in stone and became increasingly grandiose.
Some of the greatest examples of Norman castles include Tretower Castle, “the place of the tower.” Located in Crickhowell, the castle’s walls are nine feet thick and was a popular location for Welsh poets to drink fine wines or eat lavish feasts. Another notable example of Norman castles is Kidwelly Castle in Kidwelly, sitting above the river Gwendraeth. In fact, Kidwelly Castle was the location for the opening scene of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
Alongside the creation of Norman castles was the development of Edwardian Castles. In his conquest over Wales, King Edward I imagined an “iron ring of colossal forces” to subdue the Welsh. It was important for each castle to be accessible by sea to restrict revolts coming from the Welsh. These castles were inhabited by English settlers. The Welsh were only allowed inside the town during the day but could not trade or carry arms!
St Fagans National Museum
St. Fagans National Museum of History is the perfect opportunity to truly delve into the history and cultural traditions of Wales. Rated as one of the top ten free attractions in the UK by TripAdvisor, this 100-acre heritage site is located in the country’s capital Cardiff, and within the 16th century St. Fagans Castle. It’s known as one of the finest Elizabethan manor houses in Wales with its exterior of charming gardens, fountains, and a vinery.
The venue features more than forty historical buildings from different eras that have been relocated to the site since 1948. The authentic buildings give insight to Welsh life over the centuries and include Iron Age roundhouses; a 16th century farmhouse; a 17th century cockpit where bird fights were staged for sport; an 18th-century Unitarian chapel; coal miner’s community center; and more!
Choose from multiple different galleries within the museum to focus on specific aspects of Welsh culture. The “Wales Is…” gallery allows visitors to learn about and understand Wales’ history through their collection of items. These include the 230,000 year old remains of a Neanderthal boy and items made by soldiers in World War I.
The “Life Is…” gallery features historic clothing the Welsh people used for work, weddings, and play. Visitors can even try on these period pieces to channel the Welsh culture! This gallery is great for kids with old-time games to play and a piano to use. This gallery also sheds some light on how the Welsh people have dealt with death over the years, and how they continue to remember their loved ones.
Lastly, the “Gweithdy” gallery serves as an informational display where visitors can learn how human skills develop over time.
For those interested in agriculture, log on to the museum’s website to access the LambCam! ith “lambing,” or the mass birth of lambs, being one of Wales’ main industries, the Welsh take great pride in their lambs born every year. The LambCam allows visitors to see live videos of lambs being born at the museum during the season, which usually starts at the beginning of March.
There is so much more available at St. Fagans National Museum of History, like learning programs for all ages and real craftsmen at work to sell their products. However, you’ll have to visit and find out for yourself! Happy learning!
- Address: Cardiff CF5 6XB, United Kingdom
- Opening hours: Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, from 10 am to 5 pm.
- Admission fees: Free of charge! However, it is important that guests still book their visit beforehand in order to assure enough space and time. If traveling by car, guests must purchase parking tickets in advance for £6.00 per day
Best Things To Do In Wales | Canal Mania
If you are a fan of slow travel, consider making a jaunt on one of Wales canals. The country has 5,000 miles worth of these waterways, built mostly in the 18th century by aristocratic landowners, merchants, coal mine owners, textile manufacturers and pottery barons. Constructed as a means of opening new markets for their products, when these industries declined after WWII, the network of canals faced irrelevance.
Happily, their recreational value was recognized and today, you can take a trip for just the day, or even a week on a type of craft known as “narrowboats.” At four miles per hour on the water, you’ll have plenty of time to take in the scenery! The network of canals is home to more than 2,700 “listed” structures (meaning of national significance), 50 monuments and five UNESCO world heritage sites.
Of all the many great canals in Wales, there are four that truly stand out as the best. First, there is the the Llangollen Canal, which is 41 miles long and traverses from Cheshire in England into Wales, and on through hilly countryside along Snowdonia and ends near Llangollen A highlight of the journey is crossing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, an 18-arch structure that is 12 feet wide, and 126 feet above the River Dee. The Thomas Telford-designed structure is the highest canal aqueduct in the world.
- Admission fees: To rent a narrowboat for the day on weekdays is £140, and £195 on weekends. There are also horse-drawn trips from £4 to 21.
- Website: pontcysyllte-aqueduct.co.uk/
Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal and Montgomery Canal
Second, there is the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, a 36-mile long waterway that connects Brecon and Pontypool. Consistently rated as the prettiest canal in the UK, this boat ride will take you through the Brecon Beacons National Park and passes by the Blaenavon World Heritage Centre.
Third, the Montgomery Canal is the perfect option for a peaceful day trip through a region known as the Welsh Marches. The term comes from the Middle Ages and originally meant a border region between Wales and England. While the original canal stretched 38 miles, only seven miles are currently available for navigation from Frankton Junction to Gronwyn Wharf. However, the stunning wildlife and environment contribute to a nature conservatory that’s beauty is eye-catching and jaw-dropping.
Best Things To Do In Wales | Eisteddfod Festival
Looking for an immersion in Welsh culture? Consider attending the annual National Eisteddfod of Wales This eight-day festival, which takes place at the beginning of August every year, celebrates Welsh literature, music and performance. The location changes each year and typically draws about 150,000 attendees.
The roots of the Eisteddfod date back to 1176 and a feast and tournament held by Lord Rhys, one of the princes of Wales. He convened the first gathering over Christmas at Cardigan Castle, which he had recently rebuilt. Rhys was apparently a clever politician and invited Normans, English and Irish rulers to attend, as well as bards from across the country.
The term “Bards” comes from the Celtic culture, meaning verse-maker, music composer, oral historian, and storyteller. At the forerunner to today’s Eisteddfod, Lord Rhys had the bards engage in verbal repartee by speaking in rhymes. This competition was the basis for the tradition that is observed today at Eisteddfod. each year, more than 6,000 participants vie in the Welsh language in competitions in the realms of theater, instrumental, recitation, brass bands, choral, dance, and more.
Eisteddfod | Preserving the Welsh Language
The Eisteddfod celebrates Welsh culture and is conducted in the Welsh language, which has existed for 1,400 years, with its roots in British, a Celtic language. The purpose of the 1536 Act of Union between England and Wales was ostensibly to unite both countries under one common law and language; in reality, the intention was to repress use of the Welsh language. While Welsh continued to be spoken almost exclusively in Wales up until 1800, by 1900 only 50% of the population spoke the language.
In the 18th century, school systems began to stigmatize the use of the Welsh language, with a shaming technique called a “Welsh Not”, a piece of wood given by the teacher to the first pupil she heard speaking Welsh. Students were encouraged to scorn others speaking Welsh by telling on them to the teacher, and passing on the Welsh Not. An 1847 report by the English government concluded the Welsh were “lazy” and “immoral”, and blamed the “evil” Welsh language.
A Welsh Language Act in 1993 created a resurgence in national pride in the language. At the 2000 National Eisteddfod, a call was made for a new Welsh-language movement, and it became compulsory for all school children to learn Welsh up to age 16. In 2001, the number of Welsh speakers in Wales increased for the first time in over 100 years, to about 20% of the population. The Welsh government aims for one million speakers of the language by 2050, and the National Eisteddfod is a major catalyst in its growing popularity.
Eisteddfod | The Gorsedd
The Gorsedd is a society of well-respected artisans, poets, writers, and others who have made a significant contribution to Wales and its culture. The collective is a relatively recent one, and was formed in 1792 by an eccentric scholar Edward Williams, who gave himself the bardic name of Iolo Morganwg. He developed the rituals associated with Gorsedd, based on his study of ancient Celtic druids. The Gorsedd became affiliated with Eisteddfod at the beginning of the 19th century.
Eisteddfod is kicked off with a procession of the Gorsedd in colorful costumes, accompanied by the sound of blaring trumpets. Ceremonies honor the winning contestants, with the highlight being the “crowning of the bard” which is awarded to the victor of the free verse poetry competition. A moving ceremony called Cymru a’r Byd, or “Wales and the World” welcomes attending members of the Welsh diaspora.
Each festival leaves behind a large circle made of Gorsedd stones. These are groups of standing stones placed just for the Eisteddfod. In the middle lies a large flat stone that acts as a platform, and is surrounded by 12 stone pillars. Even after the Eisteddfod is over, the stones remain in place and tells the people that the annual celebration was held here.
The next festival will be from July 31st to August 7th, 2021 and held in the village of Boduan in Gwynedd. There’s something for everybody here at the National Eisteddfod of Wales, so look into making a visit!
Places to see Daffodils
When one thinks of Wales, the image of daffodils often springs to mind. What’s the connection? Patron Saint of Wales, St. David was a courageous leader during the 6th century. He encouraged his army men to wear daffodils and leeks while fighting, to distinguish each other from their enemies. After his death on March 1st, 589 A.D., he and the daffodils became an icon for Wales.
Today, Wales celebrates “St. David’s Day” on the first of March. The Welsh commonly wear a leek or daffodil to honor the special saint.
Today, there are many places around Wales that have exquisite displays of daffodils. However, some of the most popular include Bodnant Garden in Conwy, meaning “dwelling by the stream,” and Powis Castle in Powys, a 13th century medieval castle transformed to a beautiful garden and estate over the course of 400 years.
- Opening hours: Powis Castle is typically open 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm; The Garden and Courtyard Cafe is open 10:00 am to 4:00 pm; The Shop is open 10:30 am to 3:30 pm
- Admission fees: £14.20 for adults, £7.10 for children, and family discounts for £35.50
Other locations include the Dyffryn Gardens in Dyffryn, with Edwardian gardens spanning over 55 acres, and Penrhyn Castle in Gwynedd, which is right on the Menai Straits and beside the Snowdonia mountain range.
- Opening hours: The Gardens are typically open 11:00 am to 4:00 pm; The Stable Yard Kiosk is open 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
- Admission fees: £13.36 for adults, £6.63 for children, and family discounts for £33.15
Daffodils are the most evident February through early May, with the best blooming time in March. The green meadows turning into seas of yellow is something you don’t want to miss.
Large scale industrial mining in Wales goes back as far as the Roman times. Yet, in the 19th and early 20th century, mining served as a major economic, social and political force within Wales. Coal mining, in particular, shaped the identity of many Welsh and their relationship with the landscape; it provided a dangerous yet relatively lucrative livelihood for the rural valleys. Out of the hazardous working conditions emerged traditions that are still beloved today. There are multiple options for exploring the mining heritage in Wales, like the Big Pit National Coal Museum, Sygun Copper Mine, and Rhondda Heritage Park.
Big Pit National Coal Museum
In Pontypool is a leading national museum dedicated to interpreting the lifestyle of miners in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Visitors can go 300 feet underground with a former miner and experience the lives of the thousands of men who worked there.
- Address: Pontypool NP4 9XP, United Kingdom
- Opening hours: Currently closed until further notice.
- Admission fees: When open, admission is free.
Sygun Copper Mine
The Sygun Copper Mine is a Victorian-style mine that ceased activity in 1903 and was converted to a tourist attraction in 1986 by the Aimes family. On a 40-minute self-guided tour you can explore three levels of the mine, experiencing serpentine tunnels and chambers of impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations. The site’s museum features displays on the history of copper mining.
- Address: Beddgelert, Caernarfon LL55 4NE, United Kingdom
- Opening hours: Currently closed.
- Admission fees: When open, £10 for adults, £7.50 for children ages 3 to 15, £9 for students, and multiple family ticket options available.
Rhondda Heritage Park
Lastly, there is the Rhondda Heritage Park which offers guided tours by former miners of the Lewis Merthyr Colliery, an underground coal mine. Once one of the world’s most important mining centers, at its height, the Rhondda Valley area had 53 collieries in a 16-mile area. A media presentation reveals the impact of mining on the region, including moving stories of its disasters, social uprisings over conditions and wages, and the camaraderie of the tight-knit communities.
- Address: Rhondda Heritage Park, Coedcae Rd, South Wales CF37 2NP, United Kingdom
- Opening hours: Currently closed. When open, 9:00 am to 4:30 pm, Tuesday through Saturday
Best Things To Do In Wales | Welsh Men’s Choirs
One of the most distinctive features of Welsh culture are the male voice choirs that have been hugely popular over several centuries. Almost every town in Wales has their own choir that practices weekly, which are open to the public. The tradition stems from the 18th century Nonconformist Protestant religious movement in Wales, whose members did not “conform” to the governance of the Church of England. Choirs sprung up in the mines, where voices raised in song became an antidote to danger and an affirmation of fellowship. The male choirs soon became an integral part of the country’s culture. It satisfied their desire to maintain their Welsh individuality and language amidst political struggles with the English.
Some current popular choirs include Maelgwn Choir in Llandudno Junction and Caernarfon Male Voice Choir in Pwllglas. Check out any town’s local tourism office to find the nearest choir where you can hear their wonderful singing, including hymns and songs like “Cwm Rhondda” (Bread of Heaven) or “Calon Lân” (A Pure Heart)! You can also check out the North Wales Choral Festival, held in Llandudno March 5th through the 7th, and view choirs from all over the world! There’s also the International Choral Festival Wales held in July. While the festival awards are different from the original pairs of boots and trousers, choirs of men still compete for recognition within Wales.
There’s no doubt that the lengthy history of Wales is both unique and alluring. From its ancient origins to its contemporary traditions, Wales is an intriguing cultural destination. If you have any insider knowledge on Welsh symbolism or traditions, we invite you to leave a comment! Planning a trip to Wales? Feel free to ask any questions. We hope this article inspires you to explore the rich culture of Wales!
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Reporting by Hannah Haslam, a senior at Endicott College who is currently interning with Best Cultural Destinations. As a major in Communications, she enjoys all forms of expression and creativity, including content creation, social media marketing, storytelling, writing, and video production.