In 2005 tourism in Wales contributed to the Economy of Wales supporting over 100,000 service-sector jobs, more than 8% of total employees in Wales. The most popular activities undertaken by tourists in Wales were walking, shopping, hiking in the mountains and visiting historic attractions, museums and galleries. Over 1.1 million trips were made to Wales by overseas tourists in 2006. The main countries of origin of overseas visitors were the Republic of Ireland, USA, and Germany.
The capital, Cardiff is the most popular area in Wales for tourists, with 11.7 million visitors in 2006., and provides 8,400 full time jobs in the sector. In 2004, tourists spent the most money in Gwynedd, followed by Conwy and Cardiff.
Wales' history and culture have been exploited to attract tourists. The scars of the industrial revolution and its industrial heritage can still be seen on parts of the Welsh landscape today. The Museum of Welsh Life, which focuses largely on the industrial past of Wales, is currently the most popular tourist attraction in Wales, attracting over 600,000 visitors annually. Other historical destinations, such as the many castles across Wales, such as Caernarfon castle or Caerphilly castle — most of them built to either enable or to consolidate English conquest of Wales, during the reign of the English king Edward I — also attract large numbers of tourists.
The varied landscape of Wales also helps tourism. There are three national parks in Wales, the Brecon Beacons National Park, Snowdonia National Park and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Popular activities at the national parks include hill walking, hiking, canoeing, hang gliding, kayaking and climbing. Wales is also becoming increasingly popular for 'extreme' sports, such as surfing, mountain biking and downhill cycling (in which Wales hosts the 'Dragon Downhill Series'). The terrain of Wales has also attracted the World Rally Championship (WRC). The Wales Rally GB is held annually. The 2005 Wales Rally GB saw the first WRC stage to be set indoors, at the Millennium Stadium.
Another increasingly popular reason for going to Wales, as with the rest of the UK — especially by those from North America — is genealogy, with many visitors coming to Wales to explore their family and ancestral roots. 1.8 million United States citizens are estimated to have Welsh ancestral roots, including former presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson.
The Wye Valley witnessed the birth of British tourism in the eighteenth century. The area became widely known following the publication in 1782 of Observations on the River Wye by the Reverend William Gilpin. The first illustrated tour guide to be published in Britain, it helped travellers locate and enjoy the most "picturesque" aspects of the countryside, such as Tintern Abbey. The Wye Valley's particular attraction was its river scenery, and the many guidebooks, engravings and paintings ensured a continuing steady stream of visitors which grew after the building of a new turnpike road up the valley in 1822 and the opening of a rail line in 1865.
However, when George Borrow wrote Wild Wales in 1862 it is clear from his descriptions that the notion of tourism in more mountainous parts of Wales hardly existed except for the most intrepid traveller. Indeed he records that many locals regarded the mountainous and wild landscapes as monstrous and ugly rather than romantic or picturesque. It was only as the Victorian era developed that the concept of mountains and valleys as both interesting and visually pleasing landscapes developed. North Wales in particular benefitted from this changed vision with development of towns and villages such as Betws-y-Coed to accommodate the increasing numbers of visitors.
The changing face of industrialisation in the North West of England and in the Midlands, with increasing pay rates and the provision of paid time off for industrial workers, allowed many people to enjoy an annual holiday for the first time. Many chose to visit the seaside resorts such as Llandudno, Prestatyn and Rhyl in North Wales, Aberystwyth and Barmouth in Mid Wales and Barry, Tenby, Swansea and Penarth in South Wales as well as many others were developed to cope with this burgeoning new trend.
Wales is connected to the rest of the United Kingdom (its principal tourist market) by road, rail and domestic flights. The M4 Motorway connects South and West Wales to Southern England and London. The A55 road is the principal route linking North Wales to North West England.
There are numerous rail links between Wales and England, including services to Cardiff Central, Newport and Swansea from London Paddington, and to Cardiff Central from Portsmouth, Gloucester, Birmingham New Street, Manchester Picadilly, Nottingham and Newcastle. Cardiff Central offers connections to the South Wales Valleys, the Vale of Glamorgan and West Wales, and Swansea offers connections to additional stations in West Wales. There are direct services from London and Birmingham to Holyhead via the North Wales Coast. Internally, there are services from Cardiff to Holyhead.
Cardiff International Airport is the international gateway to South and West Wales, offering international and domestic flights. There are a number of budget airlines operating out of Cardiff to Europe, Africa and North America. Internally, there are twice daily return flights from Cardiff to Anglesey with Highland Airways. Many daily flight operate to and from other major UK cities such as Newcastle upon Tyne, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Belfast.
The country is also connected to the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland by car ferry services operating daily from a number of Welsh ports, principally Holyhead. These services are frequent and usually operated aboard fast ferries.
There are several towns and cities that are popular with tourists and visitors in Wales.
There are several features of the Welsh landscape that are popular with visitors:
There are several independent attractions that are popular with visitors