Wales is west of England and across the water from Ireland. It has a population of less than three million and a land mass of just over 20,000 square kilometers. Welsh culture is more than just rugby and male voice choirs. It’s a country that has fought hard to retain its national identity in the face of adversity, through good and bad economic times, and has succeeded in preserving its own language and traditions. Wales is replacing the gap left by a failed coal mining industry with tourism.
Wales has much to offer the outdoor enthusiast, from beautiful rugged coastlines to snow-capped mountains like Mount Snowdon, the region’s highest at a mere 3560 feet. Cycling, hiking, kayaking (known as canoeing here), horse riding, rock climbing and mountain biking are all activities on offer in the Welsh countryside.
The beloved home of Hollywood’s Catherine Zeta Jones, it also has a landscape that passed for China in the latest Tomb Raider film. Johnny Depp is said to have bought a round in his ‘local’ whilst filming his latest film. Stars have put the nation in the limelight, although these are not the only glamorous things about Wales – capital city Cardiff’s nightlife is on the up and up and time traveler Dr. Who even parked his Tardis here during another mission to save Earth.
England and Wales have a temperate climate. Weather is changeable and it’s wise to be prepared for all eventualities. Between November and March, the winter temperatures vary, rarely dropping below freezing. Summer months (June to September) can bring a mixture of sun, rain and winds so pack waterproofs and be prepared for every eventuality. If you’re lucky, temperatures might peak above 25C. If you want to experience the outdoor life, late June to early September is the period with fairer weather.
The cities are lively all year round. Out of season, from December to May, you can benefit from 2-for-1 entry into many of London’s main attractions with promotions organised by London transport. There are fun events held year round like the London Marathon in May,Glastonbury Festival in June, the Notting Hill Carnival in August, or Bonfire Night (one of the few remaining traditional festivals) in November. June to August is the season for regional fairs, music and arts festivals, and partying outdoors.
Visitors from member states of the European Union can enter and work without a visa. If you are visiting from Canada, USA, Australia, South Africa or New Zealand you can stay on a short term basis without a visa. If intending to work you will need to apply for a working holiday visa before arriving in the country.
The British Currency is the Great British Pound.For up to date currency information, check the Currency Converter.
Britain has one of the strongest currencies and therefore economies in the world, which means that England and Wales can be a very expensive place to visit or travel around. Living expenses and accommodation in London and the southeast of England tend to be much higher than in the north of England or Wales. London is more expensive than Paris or New York.
As an average budget you should allow $40 to $80 a day depending on where you are. Hostels will cost at least $18 a night, a bed and breakfast can vary from $45 up to $100 and modest hotels cost from $100 a night for a single room. Double your budget for days spent in London and investigate lodgings in the suburbs which can half your accommodation costs. All prices marked including tax, and cafes and restaurants vary with some including service charges. Check your bill carefully, if no service is included allow 10% to 15% for tips. It is a no bargaining culture but most business people are honourable so you’re unlikely to be ripped off just for being a tourist.
Traditional English food tends to be stodgy and filling and are either regional or post World War Two dishes. Fish and chips is probably the most well-known and palatable but also try toad in the hole (battered sausage), Yorkshire pudding, Cornish pasty, chips and gravy, black peas, jellied eels, or pie and mash. Indo-British and a British version of Chinese cuisines have long been established in England; in every small town you will find a Chinese takeaway and an Indian restaurant serving anglicised version of curries like chicken tikka masala – said to have been invented in Britain and now the most popular dish here. England’s food scene is much criticised as lack lustre, however, insiders know that what England lacks in national foods it makes up for in the diversity and quality of foods from incoming cultures. Food from many other countries are widely available in the major cities and bigger towns; expect to find Italian, Malaysian, Morrocan, French, Afro-Caribbean and Thai restaurants amongst others. The breakfast fry-up is a British institution. Workman’s cafes have long been serving the dish – which includes bacon, eggs, sausage, black pudding (blood sausage), baked beans, tomato, bubble and squeak (fried leftovers) – long before Dr. Atkins created his diet plans. For just a few dollars, you can start the day the English way and it will probably fill you up until teatime, where traditionally the British stop at 4pm for tea and cake.
Welsh rarebit (grilled cheese sauce on toast) is probably the most well known Welsh dish, whilst the leek is their national symbol. Welsh national dishes tend to be ‘hearty’ foods: cakes, stews or bread. barra claddu (cake), welsh cakes (biscuits), laver bread (seaweed and oatmeal cakes fried with bacon) are some of the dishes that you can try.
English is the national language of England and although other minority languages are also spoken, you will always be greeted in English where ever you are traveling. Whether or not you can understand the many diverse regional accents is another matter all together!
Welsh, a complex Celtic language, is the national language of Wales. Although only around 20% of the population are fluent, there is a big move to bring Welsh back into the classroom and home. Over the centuries the English have attempted to assimilate the Welsh and so English is spoken by 99% of the population.
England has a mixture of cultures, predominantly of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic origins. People of Indian, Pakistani, African, Chinese, and West Indian descent also make up a large proportion (8%) of the population – mainly in the major cities with some small towns in the north of England made up almost entirely of Asians. More recently since the expansion of the European Union more Eastern European immigrants have arrived in Britain. Race relations are generally good between different peoples, although occasionally there can be troubles in the northern regions with high Asian populations. The population of Wales remains dominantly white Celtic and Anglo-Saxon. This is perhaps due to employment prospects not being quite as good as in England. The English people, while not the most naturally friendly people in the world, have a great sense of humour and if you can get through the dry humour and accept that customer service comes as optional, you should make a few friends, particularly down the pub (drink house) where most people go to socialise.
Travelling in England and Wales is easy. There are many tour companies who offer hop-on hop-off bus tickets, Euro rail tickets incorporate the UK, public transport is easy to navigate (if not always that regular in rural areas) and cheap airlines offer a fast effective way to fly between London and other cities. Competition has brought the prices of travel down dramatically in recent years, if you’re happy to travel in a little less luxury then Megabus offers routes between major cities for as little as $2.
Car hire can be expensive but is perhaps the best way to travel if you want to get off the beaten track and the roads are very safe. Watch out for the congestion charge (a hefty $14 charge per day which is very complex to pay) if hiring a car from central London and forget about driving within the cities. Hitchhiking is not really recommended. Not so much because it is unsafe, more likely that you will have to wait for hours in the rain before anyone will stop for you!
Trains are somewhat unreliable and very expensive (and more so since the network was privatised), particularly compared to other Western European countries, unless you buy a ticket a week or more in advance from National Rail. However, trains prove the best way to get from London to the northern cities or to travel around the southeast. Coaches are ideal for short haul journeys. Tickets cost generally half the price of train tickets for an ultra reliable service, the main service provider being National Express.
In the cities, use the expensive underground in London and modern tram services in Manchester, Sheffield, and Nottingham. Local buses are often comprehensive and easier to navigate than in other countries although don’t expect to get around quickly – many of the cities are approaching gridlock status and travel in London was quicker in the 19th century Victorian era. Look out for the double-decker buses in the cities – a British phenomena. In London they are painted red and make for a great photo opportunity. The top deck offers a great view and is much cheaper than a tour bus at $1 or so.
There are no major health risks associated with travelling in England and Wales. Health services are free for nationals and European Union members, water is safe to drink, and street food is generally reliable. Make sure your travel insurance covers you for all activities and bring waterproofs to protect you from the ever-present rain.
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