Climb a mountain and come down a poet.
Sleep in Dylan Thomas’ house after a five star dinner in his dining room.
Attend the world’s oldest poetry slam.
Explore a world of dragons, elves and dwarves that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to create the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
   
   

Wales for Readers

Today’s voracious Harry Potter and Twilight readers can look to Wales
for the origins of the fantastic serial tale that has taken hold of the
world’s imagination. Long before there was a Hogwarts, the
Mabinogion, a series of magical tales from medieval Wales told
stories of teen princes, poets and warriors and their quests for
power, glory and the perfect magic spell. Welsh literature is one of
the oldest written languages in the world and the Welsh tradition of
honoring the cyfarwedd or storyteller remains to this day.

You will also find a magic landscape where every rock or tree has a
connection with a tale—a living museum of language. To this day, the
entire country pays homage to the best poets at The National Eisteddfod.
This festival, held every year during the first week of August is an eight-day
competition of music and poetry, attended by over 150,000 visitors. The culmination of the festival is the crowning of the bard, the awarding of the highest national prize for poetry. Hundreds of tents, performers and events make the Eisteddfod, a poetry slam version of Woodstock—and everyone is welcome.

The Dylan Thomas trail

Dylan Thomas is perhaps the most universally beloved Welsh bard. Born in Swansea, Thomas himself claimed that the musical language and transcendent vision of his poems were inexorably intertwined with the Welsh landscape. Dylan (pronounced “Dullin” by locals) derived his name from a hero of the Mabinogion and has become a hero himself. Catherine Zeta-Jones, a Swansea native herself, has named her young son, Dylan in honor of the poet who is arguably, the best known Welsh writer in the world.

The Dylan Thomas trail starts naturally in Swansea, the town the poet called “ugly, lovely by the side of a long and splendid curving shore.” A visit to The Dylan Thomas Centre and its permanent exhibition on the “Man and Myth” prepares literary pilgrims for forays further into Wales. The Centre is also the home of the annual Dylan Thomas Festival, held in October and November. Swansea itself is redolent with the sounds and sights that inspired Dylan’s poetry, including the famous Mumbles, the headlands that stretch from Swansea out into Swansea Bay and the Gower Peninsula. In Dylan’s day, Mumbles Mile was a stretch of hard-drinking pubs (The Mermaid was one of his favorites) which is now a somewhat sedate, but friendly clutch of upscale restaurants, gastro pubs and coffee shops. If you close your eyes and listen to the sea while you sip your glass of Welsh Brains ale, you can get a salt-tinged taste of the inspiration the poet found here. Also in Swansea, you can enjoy a stay at the house where the poet grew up. Dylan Thomas' Birth House, 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, is now a boutique vacation rental - be inspired in the place where Dylan Thomas began his literary journey.

A short drive northwest of Swansea is the seaside town of Laugharne which was the poet’s home for the last years of his life. The Dylan Thomas Boathouse is the house museum where Dylan, wife Caitlin and his children lived in the four years before Dylan’s death. The simple, cozy rooms and the adjacent writer’s shed are preserved as they were in Dylan’s day. Dylan and Caitlin had lived in Laugharne in several locations. Dylan had come to the town “one day, for the day and never left; got off the bus and forgot to get on again.” 

Land of legends

Literary pilgrims traveling through Wales will find a landscape where standing stones, haunted churchyards and abbeys and the pristine beauty of the Welsh countryside all have connections to famous writers and literary legends. Pentre Ifan, a small circle of standing stones near the Pembrokeshire Coast is said to be “Arthur’s Cairn” or a legendary burial place of King Arthur. It is also said that anyone standing within the stone’s cold embrace will receive the gift of poetic inspiration. Another site connected with literary ambition is the peak of the mountain Cadair Idris in Snowdonia. It is said if you scale its volcanic igneous face to the summit and stay the night you will either come down a poet—or a madman.

In Monmouthshire, near the English border of Glouchestershire, Tintern Abbey and the wilderness around it in the Wye River Valley inspired poet William Wordsworth to write some of the most evocative poetry in the English language. Tintern Abbey, a ruined Cistercian monastery, remains as it was in Wordsworth day—a puzzle box of vaulted arches abandoned when Henry VIII (of Tudor fame) dissolved the Catholic monasteries. In more recent times, Tintern Abbey has inspired artists like Iron Maiden who set their music video “Can I Play With Madness” in the ruins.

Hay-on-Wye, a picture perfect town nearby is also known as the world’s largest second-hand bookstore (there are currently 32 in town) and the site of the annual Hay-on-Wye Book Festival and its kids literary event, Hay Fever. The world’s greatest writers come to the Festival to celebrate books and the writing life—a modern day version of the ancient Welsh festivals dedicated to the art of the storyteller described by Bill Clinton as “the Woodstock of the Mind.”

 

For more information on Wales' literary heritage visit our international Visit Wales website.

Planning Tips

 
  • When to go
    Wales is beautiful year long. The Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea and the Dylan Thomas Boathouse in Laugharne are open year-round. The National Eistedfodd is held once a year but smaller Eistedfodds are held around Wales all year. The Hay Festival is a once a year special event, but the living bookstore that is Hay-on-Wye, the town is open all the time.
  • Can I bring the children?
    Wales, the European country with the most castles, is one of the most kid-friendly destinations in the world.  Public exhibitions like castles and museums have kid-friendly exhibition and learning spaces.  One of Dylan Thomas’ most famous books was A Child’s Christmas in Wales and kids can learn about his life and legend (and get a copy of the book) at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea.  Wales’ natural beauty, clean air and organic food are all healthy additions to a kid-friendly holiday.  The Welsh are traditionally a family-centric people with a love of children built in to their culture.  All major hotels and most B&B’s welcome families with children as guests.
 
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  • Special Group Tours'
    “South Wales Heritage Trail” is a four-day tour covering the highlights of South Wales with a special literary focus. >>MORE