What better reminder of Wales than something beautiful to appreciate back home for yourself or your loved ones? At best, a Welsh souvenir embodies a bit of Wales’ history, culture or spirit, and a blend of wild geography, Celtic influences and abundance of time-lost, traditional regions where ancient crafts flourish has ensured this country keeps creating truly special products making for unique gifts.
It is, however, very easy to go wrong when you’re buying Welsh pressies: as in England, Scotland and Ireland there is a terrible amount of tat to distract potential present-purchasers from what would otherwise be a wonderful and humblingly authentic shop window.
With this in mind, we thought we’d do something a little bit different from the norm on the site today and, in the run-up to Christmas, (although of course any of the below Welsh gift ideas would be equally suitable for any occasion), talk about the best genuine mementos from Wales to get as gifts. So: our fifteen favourites follow! And as we believe in experiences (because nothing beats visiting the places where a present is crafted or sold) our list also tells you where to go in Wales to have far more fun experiencing choosing your gift than you would online.
Here they are: counted down from fifteen to one – with the best saved until last!
Fifteen: Welsh vintage/antiques
Where to experience: We always make a point of visiting Hatts Emporium in Cardiff Market for antique, vintage and retro Welsh clothes. Nor can we resist the two emporiums flanking either side of the road in the little village of Trecastle including Trecastle Antiques in the Brecon Beacons for a host of random rural paraphernalia and furniture. We also have a soft spot for Junk n Disorderly in old spa town Llandrindod Wells, Mid Wales – specialising in one-of-a-kind retro and vintage pieces.
Fourteen: Tickets to a Welsh event
Wales is well-known as a bastion of wacky, ancient and traditional festivals and happenings. A ticket to one of these might not look so impressive when it is unwrapped but it will probably generate more lasting memories than most presents when the recipient gets to enjoy the event later on. The biggest one is the Eisteddfod, due to be held in Tregaron in Mid Wales in 2021, the world’s oldest still-running cultural event and one of the biggest annual cultural festivities on the planet. It showcases Welsh-language poetry and Welsh music, in a festival originally dating back to 1176. The Llangollen International Music Eisteddfod annually hosts a celebration of international competitive and performance music. And for one of the ultimate experiences of Welshness, how about getting a ringside seat at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff for the very finest display of Wales’ national sport rugby at a home Six Nations game? The tiny town of Llanwrtyd Wells in Mid Wales, meanwhile, has reinvented itself as capital of quirky goings-on, with outlandish Llanwrtyd festivities at least monthly and spanning everything from stone-skimming to pitting yourself in a race against a horse.
Where to experience: With the Principality Stadium, you could combine (in non-Covid-19 times) a look round Cardiff and a stadium tour with buying the tickets. Otherwise, enquire about getting tickets at the Eisteddfod, International Music Eisteddfod, Principality Stadium or Llanwrtyd Wells Festivals websites.
Thirteen: Welsh Ceramics
There can be few more iconic images of traditional life in Wales than opening the cottage door into a cosy interior flanked by a Welsh dresser sporting a set of fine china, nor many sounds more Welsh than that of a best Welsh tea set tinkling as tea is poured in. Why not translate that into a tradition-steeped gift (if you can wrap it carefully)?! Wales has produced some ceramics of high and internationally renowned calibre, although many are no longer manufacturing. Best of the traditional names still manufacturing pieces today are Ewenny Pottery in Bridgend, owned by the same family for eight generations. Founded in 1974 and also internationally known are Portmeirion Pottery, set up by the daughter of the creator of fantasy Italianate village Portmeirion, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. Of course, there are also many smaller producers in tourist-frequented villages and towns across Wales too.
Where to experience: Ewenny Pottery have their own charming shop near Bridgend in South Wales to this day. As for Portmeirion Pottery, the most fun way to experience it is through the shop in surreal Portmeirion (home to The Prisoner in the famous TV series) itself.
Twelve: Welsh Lovespoons & other Welsh wooden products
The wooden Lovespoon is perhaps Wales’ most recognisable souvenir, and, being inexpensive, makes for a popular keepsake. Because of the plethora of choice (almost every gift shop in the country sells some form) it is very easy to end up with one where the craftsmanship is below par. Whilst plumping for a Love Spoon for a present will not win you too many marks for originality, it is one of the nation’s most traditional gifts, being exchanged since at least the 17th century. Elaborate curving designs on the decorative utensil’s handle are intended to show the skill of the carver, and can communicate a medley of romantic messages from fidelity to a wish to elope.
For anyone who has seen Wales’ extensive forests it will come as no surprise that Welsh wood has been long coveted by those over the border in England: Welsh wood was constructing English cathedrals 800 years ago. No wonder, then, that Wales is adept at turning wood into some other truly memorable gifts including Welsh wooden furniture and the unique coracle, the round Welsh vessel still used on some West Wales rivers to catch sewin, or Welsh sea trout.
Where to experience: For Love Spoons, we suggest heading to Wales’ only dedicated love spoon store, the Lovespoon Gallery in the Mumbles near Swansea, rightly claiming to offers the largest selection of hand-carved wooden love spoons anywhere! For one-of-a-kind pieces of wooden furniture from already-felled pieces of North Wales wood and driftwood, Taran Eco Designs at the brilliant Corris Craft Centre are a cut above. You can view their studio and those of other talented craftspeople working in different mediums in Corris, a woodsy former mining village on the edge of Snowdonia. Whilst the coracle and the people who made them were once a common sight in Wales, the coracle is now only glimpsed on two main rivers, the Tywi and the Teifi. In Cilgerran in Ceredigion is the only coracle maker left in Wales, Teifi Coracle Makers.
Eleven: Welsh sweets and chocolate
In terms of traditional Welsh sweets, the two of note are Barra Brith, a teacake made with tea-soaked fruit, and the Welshcake, a fat rounded griddle cake halfway between a cookie and a scone and studded with raisins. However, these days an incredible variety of food producers have seized the mantle to further the diversity of fabled Welsh sweet treats. Especially of note are artisan chocolatiers The Mallow Tailor, who also make mallows (in the Brecon Beacons), Wickedly Welsh Chocolate (in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire) and Sarah Bunton Chocolatier (in Devil’s Bridge, Mid Wales), as well as ice cream producers Lochmeyler Farm (Pembrokeshire) and Cowpots (Whitland, Carmarthenshire, South Wales).
Where to experience: Wind your way down to the pretty Pembrokeshire harbour village of Solva to MamGu Welshcakes, where you can munch a few of the artisan welshcake varieties in the cafe before buying a load for gifts in the shop. On the journey there you can detour via Cowpots, which doubles as a bistro, and dally in Haverfordwest at Lochmeyler Farm’s Haverfordwest ice cream cafe, milkshake bar and shop and Wickedly Welsh Chocolate’s chocolate factory-cum-shop.
Ten: Welsh music
Cardiff is one of the seminal centres of British music, with legendary venues and a whole wave of famous acts hailing from hereabouts – including Shirley Bassey, the Cool Cymru trio of Super Furry Animals, Catatonia, Manic Street Preachers (Caerphilly area) and Charlotte Church, with Tom Jones raised not far away in Treforest. Go further afield within Wales and you can add John Cale from the Velvet Underground, Bonnie Tyler, Bullet for My Valentine, Goldie Lookin’ Chain and the Stereophonics alongside many others. That is before you have even got within earshot of communities still reverberating to male voice choirs and the fantastic folk music showcased at festivals countrywide.
Where to experience: Much of the above, true, can be downloaded or bought on Amazon. But for a truly special gift, such as an arcane album or limited-edition record, nowhere beats Cardiff’s secondhand record shops where you can make a purchase following an unhurried, atmospheric rummage through rows and rows of vinyl with knowledgable staff on hand for questions. Kelly’s Records in Cardiff Market has been around since 1969 and is Wales’ largest vinyl record shop, while Spillers Records in Morgan Arcade traces its roots back to 1894 and claims to be the oldest record shop still in business in the world. Or, experience the best of Welsh music at a festival – see gift idea 14, above.
Nine: Welsh jewellery
You don’t get a better endorsement for a country’s jewellery than when Princes William and Harry both opted to tie the knot with wedding rings made from Welsh gold! Of course, with jewellery you have to really know what you are looking for to match personal tastes and in this respect, nothing beats seeing what you will be buying in reality rather than online. Rhiannon Jewellery in Tregaron (Mid Wales) claim to stock the jewellery made with the highest percentage of Welsh gold, whilst Clogau jewellery is the closest you’ll come to ‘single origin’ Welsh gold: it’s wrought with gold left behind in an abandoned gold mine near Barmouth in Snowdonia. For silver jewellery, we personally love Pa-Pa Designer Jewellery based at the Gower Heritage Centre in Parkmill on South Wales’ Gower Peninsula, with designs in solid silver based on casts of shells and other seashore things.
Where to experience: The Rhiannon Centre in Tregaron is much more than just a jewellers: it’s developed a name for its high quality Welsh gold jewellery over five decades, and you can watch the jewellers at work on their latest designs. There is a lot of other jewellery and crafts besides, with interpretation of traditional Welsh and Celtic designs a major theme. At the Gower Heritage Centre you can also get milled-on-the-premises Welsh flour and feisty local cider besides perusing Pa-Pa Designer Jewellery’s outlet. The Corris Craft Centre in Corris, North Wales also has Celtic jewellery as one of its nine craft studio-shops with demonstrations. Also very good, and with a very extensive range of fine jewellery, is the Ruthin Craft Centre in Northeast Wales, where you can also see artist workshops. Or how about going searching for gold in the only known Roman gold mines in Britain, Dolaucothi Gold Mines (Mid Wales)? Of course, in tourist-frequented spots in Snowdonia and Pembrokeshire there are also many other jewellers where you can visit jewellery shops-cum-studios too: there is at least one in every holiday hotspot in Pembrokeshire.
Eight: Welsh cosmetics
A distillation of Wales into a bottle, balm or lotion makes for a great present. There are surprisingly few Welsh cosmetic companies given the diverse palette of the Welsh countryside (we might have given cosmetics a higher rank if there were). However, those that do exist set the bar high. Several are also extremely ethical companies. Between the Brecon Beacons and the Cambrian Mountains, Myddfai Trading Company, taking the name of the legendary Physicians of Myddfai (whose herb-based remedies kept Welsh royalty in good health for centuries), sometimes use local plants and herbs in their range of cosmetics besides providing employment to young adults with learning difficulties. We also cannot resist the lavendery scents of Welsh Lavender near Builth Wells, where farm-grown lavender is transformed into balms and creams.
Where to experience: Welsh Lavender near the former Mid Wales spa town of Builth Wells: you can tour the lavender farm, meet the owners for questions on cosmetics-making and view the range of products in their shop – all set in photogenic hilly terrain. For more information on the herbs used by the Physicians of Myddfai you can visit the community centre in Myddfai on the edge of the Brecon Beacons – then see if you can find the plants in the nearby hedgerows for yourself.
Seven: Welsh art
There is A LOT of artists working across Wales to truly exceptional standards: the special light, the otherworldly landscapes, the palpable sense of history and the fact that many parts of the country are on holiday-makers’ radars are some of the reasons why the country inspires such a broad range of talent. Works by talismanic Welsh artists like Augustus John (a Tenby-born post-impressionist once considered Britain’s most important living artist), Anglesey-born Sir Kyffin Williams (Wales’ most renowned landscape painter of the 20th century) or Graham Sutherland (who painted many Pembrokeshire scenes) are now collectors pieces and either hard to come by or very expensive. Of the many contemporary Wales artists we especially like the work of colourist Helen Elliott, with her gaudy Welsh townscapes, and Gary Hamer Rees, distinctive for his expression-rich depictions of workaday mining and farming characters going about their business against moody, often charcoal-etched backdrops.
Where to experience: Snap up a great selection of prints of the most famous works of Welsh art at the shop of the exceptional National Museum in Cardiff. Welsh art-focused Oriel Mimosa Gallery in the charming little South Wales town of Llandeilo has original works for sale by Sir Kyffin Williams and Graham Sutherland as well as local South Wales talent. Best of all, though, in our opinion, is to go to the entrancing Llyn Peninsula gallery of Plas Glyn-y-weddw near Pwlheli which showcases the best contemporary artists from across Wales in a breathtaking series of rooms and exhibits.
Six: Welsh cheese
There’s nothing cheesy about this gift idea. Wales is more renowned for its sheep, but it’s Welsh cows helping produce one of the nation’s foremost products (although to be fair there are a few sheep and goats having a go these days as well). The Welsh cheese game has some standout players: perhaps best-known are North Wales veterans Snowdonia Cheese Company, based in Rhyl, with their potent range of cheddars in fetching rounds. We equally highly admire Caws Cenarth on the Carmarthenshire-Pembrokeshire border, especially for their distinctive modern take on Caerfilli, and Blaenavon Cheddar Co in the South Wales Valleys for their daring strong cheddars, one of which is matured at the foot of a shaft in the Big Pit, a former mine and now a major tourist attraction. Then, perhaps most intriguing of all is Holden Farm Dairy’s Hafod Organic Cheese, with their unpasteurised cheddar that changes taste by the batch depending on where the cows have been grazing and what the weather has been doing: try to get a better facsimile of Wales than that! See Caws Cenarth, Blaenavon Cheddar Company and Hafod Organic Cheese face off in a taste-off – one of the first documented online Welsh cheese tastings ever, here on this site!
Where to experience: Follow your nose to irresistible Wally’s Delicatessen in Cardiff’s Royal Arcade where this Welsh produce-focused old-style deli with separate counters for different products might detain roving gastronomes some time. But Caws Cenarth, squeezing (just) inside the borders of Carmarthenshire in South Wales, is our favourite experiential cheese destination. Set within gorgeous undulating green hills, the business has a museum on cheese production, a viewing window into the cheese factory and of course a shop to purchase their finest cheesy wares (farm visits in non-Covid-19 times only though).
Five: Welsh books
How could we not put this one high on the list, given how Powys’ Hay-on-Wye is Britain’s bookshop capital? It’s not just Hay though. There are dozens of spectacular independent bookshops, both secondhand and new, dotted across Wales – many of which have lovely cafes attached for a spot of post-purchase reading. Whether it’s an unusual volume of Dylan Thomas poetry or a rare reference book on an aspect of Welsh geology, geography, history, music, rural life or whatever, you’re bound to find something of interest perfectly suiting the interests of the lucky person you are buying a present for. You could even buy them a guide book to the part of Wales they are interested in. (Undiscovered Wales don’t do guide books – yet – but as an additional gift you could also point them in the direction of this website!)
Where to experience: Hay-on-Wye on the cusp of the Black Mountains would be a very good start point – you could spend days perusing the self-titled ‘Town of Books’ as there are over 20 bookshops here (we love cafe-cum-bookshop-cum-craft shop The Old Electric Shop). One of our all-time favourite bookstores for Welsh interest titles is Aberystwyth’s Ystwyth Books – an Aladdin’s cave rammed with rare and out-of-print titles on all facets of Welsh culture.
Four: Welsh woollen products
Of course, it was only a matter of WHERE wooly gifts would feature on this ultimate Welsh gift list – not IF. Whether it is Welsh flannel, Welsh tapestry, Welsh tweed or another wooly item, the country where sheep outnumber people by over three to one can oblige, and there are no knitters or seamstresses more highly skilled or experienced in making woollen products anywhere on the planet. A shop stocking woollens can, however, be a dull or daunting place to search for a present, because once again there is so much choice and so much to consider. Do you go for a blanket, a nice thick jumper, socks, a table decoration, a bag, a child’s toy or – well, any of the many other items made out of Welsh sheep’s wool?
Where to experience: Arming yourself with some knowledge of Wales’ colourful woollen history is important when choosing a gift. Work out where you want to buy your present that is synonymous with quality and you are already well on your way to finding your ideal woollen pressie. Newtown, Mid Wales, as the birthplace of Welsh flannel and home to Laura Ashley’s factory for many decades, is a good source of top-notch woollen products, with Newtown Textile Museum a good first port of call to get acquainted with the fleecy history here. We also highly recommend visiting and supporting the few original purpose-built woollen mills still in operation, as they are very much in need of custom to survive. Try the National Wool Museum near Llandysul in Mid Wales, still in the original mill, where former staff will demonstrate how archaic machinery was used and lots of soft, furry wooly products are available in the shop. Showing their sewing is still up-to-date, though, their online shop even has beautiful Welsh tapestry face coverings! Or stop by the still-working, atmospheric whitewashed mill of Melin Tregwynt near Haverfordwest: a mill has occupied this site since the 17th century, and the current mill in the same family of accomplished loom-workers since 1912. The shop vends everything from blankets to clothing to bags and makes a memorable day out. Both Melin Tregwynt and The Wool Croft in Abergavenny also stock authentic Cambrian Wool, one of the highest-grade types of wool.
And as an offshoot of the above idea, Wales produce an awful lot of sheep-themed gifts. Some made with real sheep’s wool, some made with other materials into a range of fetching sheep likenesses!
Three: Welsh beer
Kicking off the top three Welsh gift ideas with a mighty hop is a product likely to become still more associated with top-quality mementos of Wales in the future. No movement, even within the ever-evolving Welsh food and drink sector, can rival the rise of Welsh craft beer – epitomised by the facts that Wales can now boast a far-higher density of craft breweries than either England, Scotland or Northern Ireland, and that Welsh beer has now garnered Champion Beer of Britain awards. There are too many quality breweries to name all worthy of consideration for that special gift, but we especially rate Cardiff’s Pipes Brewery, South Wales’ Kingstone and Tiny Rebel breweries, Pembrokeshire’s Bluestone Brewing Company and Tenby Bewing Company, Mid Wales’ Monty’s Brewery and North Wales’ Purple Moose and Conwy Breweries.
Where to experience: All of these breweries do a variety of gift packs, orderable online if in sufficient quantities. Experience? We most recommend visiting Kingstone Brewery, the coolest and quirkiest-looking of any brewery on this list and hidden away in the Wye Valley, a trip to Monty’s Brewery Visitor Centre in Montgomery which perfectly caps off a visit to this fantastic Mid Wales town, or a nice chilled pint at bar -cum-street food joint Sandbar & Cwlbox, sporting the full array of Tenby Brewing Co beers and easily the best place to hang out in Tenby too (you can buy beers to take home at any of these).
Two: Welsh slate products
How do you come by a more genuine Welsh gift than that which is comes from deep underground? Wales was the world’s key quality slate supplier for many, may decades and slate is engrained into the history and culture of slate mining towns like Blaenau Ffestiniog, the ‘slate capital of the world.’ On a slate-piled mountain above town perches the Llechwedd Slate Caverns, where, after you have had the full slate experience including being guided by former miners down under to one of Wales’ deepest slate mines on Europe’s steepest cable railway, you can purchase a slate gift often hand-cut by experts in front of you: think slate plaques and signs, slate wine racks, slate coasters and slate key rings. The cutting of the slate is a notoriously difficult process, enhancing the special nature of the gift.
Where to experience: Lechwedd Slate Caverns, Blaenau Ffestiniog. As detailed above. In addition to the above you can also ramp up the slate experience by speeding through the stark mountainous slate-scape above on the thrilling downhill biking circuits of Antur Stiniog.
One: Welsh gin
We don’t want anyone to think we’re booze-obsessed on this site, but we do adore the fact that Wales is producing such a consistently high quality of the stuff these days – so much so that for the second time in the top three on this list, and for our overall number one recommendation for an authentic Welsh present, our vote goes to Wales’ favourite spirit, gin. What we love about the drink in Wales which gives it the edge over beer is how much of the process can use predominantly Welsh ingredients. A cornucopia of moors and other wild places with lots of gorse, heather and other botanicals makes this possible. Take Forager’s Gin, concocted using gorse, heather and other plants from the Snowdonia mountains. We also have a lot of love for Aber Falls Gin, also form Snowdonia, Cygnet Gin hailing from Swansea and – despite it being the best-known of the bunch, Brecon Gin from Penderyn in the Brecon Beacons: all made with some of Wales’ purest water.
Where to experience: In the south, Penderyn Distillery, where the more famous whisky as well as Brecon Gin is made, offers spectacular distillery tours and has a large shop stocking the full range of its boozy products. In Llandeilo on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, the spectacular Ginhaus offers pretty much every Welsh gin that can be bought, as well as a huge range of other British and international gins, a cool bar-restaurant and a deli concentrating on other gourmet Welsh foods and drinks. In the north, the location and delivery of the memorable experience at Aber Falls Distillery in Abergwyngregyn makes this our favourite place to shop for gin. The icing on the cake is actually just upstream: here, sighting the sublime, tumbling Aber Falls waterfall that supplies the distillery will leave would-be spirit-buyers in little doubt how fresh the mountain water used in this gin is. Cheers!