Wales (or Cymru, in Welsh) is the friendly, green hilly country on the western side of Great Britain. We are about two hours west of London by rail or by road.
Although it’s also a part of Great Britain, Wales is very different place from England. There’s our language: Welsh (Cymraeg) is one of the oldest in Europe, spoken by around one in five of the population – though we all speak English too. Then there’s the landscape. It’s green, lush and very hilly. The facts and figures could lead you to believe that Wales is small – it covers an area of around 8,000 square miles (or 20,800 square kilometres). But if we could roll the country out flat, we bet it would be bigger than the state of Texas in the USA.
The sea surrounds Wales on three sides, giving us a 1,680-mile (2,700km) coastline with a varied succession of beaches and bays, headlands and harbours.
A part of the coastline in Pembrokeshire forms Britain’s only coastal-based National Park. Elsewhere, hundreds of miles of seashore fall within Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or have been declared Heritage Coast.
We have three National Parks and five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. That means we have lots of green open spaces – ideal for activities such as walking, cycling, golf, coasteering, mountain biking and paragliding.
Our population currently stands at around 12.5 million – that’s 3 million people and 9.5 million sheep – yet there’s still plenty of room!
We also have lots and lots of castles (more than 600 at the last count), the Welsh National Opera (one of the world’s premier opera companies), the largest single-span glasshouse in the world (at the National Botanic Garden of Wales) and a cool flag with a red dragon on it.
Our capital city is Cardiff. The Romans had a fortress here in the first century AD, but Cardiff’s a lively youngster, really. It was officially designated the capital of Wales in 1955.
Our weather tends to be mild and variable. Visitors are often surprised by the long summer days, which are a consequence of our northerly latitude. It often doesn’t get dark until 10 pm in midsummer. Conversely, winter days are short. July is normally the warmest month in Wales, and the highest temperatures occur further away from the cooling breezes of the Atlantic.
Wales: fast facts
- The Red Dragon appears on the Welsh Flag. Legend has it that the Welsh King Vortigern was building his castle in the mountains of Eryri (Snowdonia), but the foundation stones kept disappearing. He consulted a young magician called Merlin (from Carmarthen), who told him that underneath the castle was a pool where two dragons lived – the white dragon of the Anglo-Saxons, and the red dragon of Wales. It was prophesied that they would continue to fight, red against white, until at last the dragon of Wales would triumph. A friendly rivalry lives on between the two nations of England and Wales – particularly on sporting occasions.
- Leeks and daffodils are both emblems of Wales. Legend has it that when Welsh soldiers were fighting the English on a muddy battlefield, the Welsh identified themselves to each other by wearing leeks from a nearby field in their helmets (and went on to win the battle). The daffodil has more recently become the national flower of Wales – perhaps because its Welsh name, cenhinen Bedr, translates as ‘Peter’s leek’. (More on the Symbols of Wales)
- Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) is the highest mountain in England and Wales. You can access the summit via the Snowdon Mountain Railway – the only rack and pinion railway in Britain – or take one of the seven main walking routes to the top. Sir Edmund Hillary and his team trained in the mountains of Eryri (Snowdonia) before their first successful assault on Everest.
- St David is the patron saint of Wales. There’s a cathedral bearing the saint’s name in St Davids, Pembrokeshire – Britain’s smallest city (with fewer than 2,000 residents). Its city status was confirmed by Queen Elizabeth II in 1994.
- King Arthur is claimed as a Welsh hero, although a number of other places with Celtic connections also claim him as their own. Many locations in Wales are said to be associated with the Arthurian legends.
- Llyn Tegid in Bala is home to a unique fish known as the gwyniad. The species was left isolated in this single location at the end of the last ice age.
- The royal corgis owned by Queen Elizabeth were a specific registered breed from Wales: Pembroke Welsh corgis. (More about corgis - a very Welsh dog breed)
- Britain’s only leech farm can be found in South West Wales. Biopharm Leeches was established in 1812, and moved to Hendy, near Swansea, in 1984.
- There’s an established population of rare red kites in Mid Wales, attracting birdwatchers from all over the world.
- Robert Recorde, the man who invented the equals sign (=), came from Tenby in Pembrokeshire.
- The smallest cathedral in Britain is at St Asaph, North Wales.
- Rupert the Bear’s creator, Alfred Bestall, lived in Beddgelert in Eryri (Snowdonia) National Park.
- Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland stories were inspired by Alice Liddell, who spent her childhood summers in Llandudno, on the North Wales coast. There’s now an Alice in Wonderland trail in the town.
- The world's fastest and Europe's longest zip line is Zip World's Velocity in Penrhyn slate quarry at the heart of the slate landscape of north-west Wales, now designated UNESCO World Heritage .
- Welsh gold has been used in wedding rings for the British Royal Family for over a century.
- The Great Little Trains of Wales are seven narrow-gauge steam railways, covering spectacularly scenic routes. Many sections date back more than 100 years.
- The world’s first passenger-carrying railway (opened in 1804) ran along the seafront between Swansea and Mumbles on the South Wales coast. It closed in 1960.
- Built by Richard Trevithick, the world’s first operational steam locomotive ran between Merthyr Tydfil’s Penydarren ironworks and Abercynon in the South Wales valleys in 1804 – beating Robert Stephenson’s Rocket by 25 years.
- The world's first major suspension bridge was built in Wales. Designed by Thomas Telford and completed in 1826, it still carries road traffic today from the island of Anglesey in the north-west, and the mainland, and is a Grade I listed structure.
- Walk the full 186 miles (299km) of the Pembrokeshire section of the Wales Coast Path, and you’ll cover 35,000 feet (1,067m) of ascent and descent – with no chance of altitude sickness!
- The last-ever attempted invasion of Britain took place at Fishguard on the Pembrokeshire coast, by an ill-equipped French force of 1,400, on 22 February 1797. Legend has it that local women led by Jemima Nicholas dressed as soldiers, foiling the attempt. A tapestry in Fishguard tells the tale.
- With over 500 tranquil lakes and reservoirs in Wales, covering a total of about 50 square miles (130 sq km), there are plenty of opportunities for sailing, fishing and relaxing by the water.
- Wales was the first country in the world to establish a continuous path running along its entire coastline. The Wales Coast Path is 870 miles (1,400 kilometres) long and offers endless views of secluded bays and pristine beaches.
- The Offa’s Dyke Path is a beautiful 177-mile (285km) National Trail that links South and North Wales, tracing the England-Wales border. The dyke itself was built by Offa, king of Mercia from 757 to 796, to mark the border between his own lands and the Welsh kingdom of Powys.
- Visitors can follow in the footsteps of Owain Glyndŵr, Prince of Wales and national hero, on Glyndŵr’s Way. The long-distance footpath loops through Mid Wales from Knighton to Welshpool, with spectacular views along its 135-mile (217km) route.
- Around 1,200 miles (1,930km) of the National Cycle Network are within Wales. The routes use a mixture of cycle lanes, traffic-calmed streets through urban areas, traffic-free paths along dismantled railways, canal towpaths, forestry roads and quiet country lanes.
- Many Welsh castles were built by Edward I of England. He declared his son and heir to be Prince of Wales, starting the tradition that the heir to the English throne should be given the title of Prince of Wales.
- Wales is said to have more castles per square mile than any other country in the world: more than 600 sites have been counted. Since 1986, Caernarfon, Conwy, Beaumaris and Harlech Castles have been part of a UNESCO World Heritage site – the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd.
- Wales is home to seven UNESCO sites. There are four UNESCO World Heritage sites (a title reserved only for the planet’s most significant landmarks): The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales, Castles and Town Walls of King Edward I, Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal and Blaenavon Industrial Landscape; two global geoparks (GeoMôn in Anglesey and Fforest Fawr in the Brecon Beacons) and a biosphere (the Dyfi biosphere).
- Wales has been a popular filming location for TV and film productions for many years. Shows including Doctor Who, Gavin and Stacey, Sex Education, His Dark Materials, and most famously (possibly) The Prisoner, which was set in Portmeirion. We have also been backdrop to international blockbusters like Requiem, The Witcher, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life.
- Welsh footballer Gareth Bale broke the record for the world's most expensive footballer when he was transferred to Real Madrid in 2013 for £85.1 million.
- Coasteering (a mix of swimming, jumping, and scrambling along the coast) was invented in Pembrokeshire (and remains the ideal high adrenalin way to explore the wonderful Welsh coastline).
- Llanwrtyd Wells in Mid Wales is home to the World Bog Snorkelling Championship, which takes place here every year.
- Pendine Sands was used as a venue for car and motor cycle races in the early 1900s. Five land speed world records have been set there.
- Harlech Castle overlooks the Royal St David’s Golf Club, the most famous course in North Wales.
- Harry Wilson from Wrexham is the youngest player to be capped for playing for Wales. He made his debut at 16 years and 207 days.
Rugby is the national sport of Wales (although you'll see football played here a lot as well)
Wrexham AFC made headlines when purchased by two Hollywood stars, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. It's the oldest club in Wales, and the third oldest club in the world.
Cymraeg! The Welsh language
- Cymraeg (Welsh) is a thriving Celtic tongue, and is spoken by about half a million people in Wales.
- It’s known as Cymraeg (pronounced Kumreyeg), and is a language with entirely regular and phonetic spelling – although you wouldn’t necessarily know it to look at a word like ‘Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwll-llantysiliogogogoch’ (the longest place name in Wales - shortened by locals to Llanfair PG). Most Welsh words are a lot shorter, and once you know the rules, you can learn to read and pronounce Welsh fairly easily.
- The Welsh language has been in daily use in Wales for centuries. Although it’s heard mainly in Wales, the language is also spoken in Y Wladfa, the Welsh colony in Patagonia, Argentina. You’ll also find Welsh speakers elsewhere within the UK, and in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
- Cymraeg is a living language, used in conversation by thousands and heard throughout Wales. Legislation including the Welsh Language Act 1993, the Government of Wales Act 1998 and the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 ensure that the Welsh and English languages are treated equally. Public bodies are required to prepare and implement a Welsh language scheme. Local councils and the Welsh Government use Welsh as an official language, issuing literature and publicity in Welsh as well as in English. Road signs in Wales are in both languages, and include the Welsh versions of place names.
- Studying Welsh is compulsory for all pupils in all state schools in Wales up to the age of 16. This has had a major effect in keeping the language alive and thriving.
- The language has greatly increased its prominence since the creation of the Welsh language television channel S4C in November 1982, which broadcasts exclusively in Welsh. There is also a Welsh language radio station, BBC Radio Cymru, which was launched in 1977.
- Recently there has been celebrity interest in the language, with Hollywood owners of Wrexham AFC Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney speaking Welsh while promoting the club.
- The Welsh language was first heard across the airwaves on 13 February 1923, when the song Dafydd y Garreg Wen was broadcast from a tiny studio on Castle Street, Cardiff.
Our capital city: Cardiff (Caerdydd)
- Cardiff is a sporting capital. The Principality Stadium has hosted countless big events – including the Rugby World Cup final and yearly Six Nations rugby matches, the UEFA Champions League final, the FA Cup final and League Cup final, football matches for the 2012 Summer Olympics, and Wales Rally GB. The city was a venue for the Volvo Ocean Race 2018 and the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup.
- Cardiff was designated the world’s first Fairtrade capital, in a bid to encourage ethical trading and pay fair prices to producers in the developing world.
- Cardiff is one of the flattest cities in Britain (making the Cardiff marathon and half marathon popular events for runners).
- National Museum Cardiff, part of Amgueddfa Cymru (the National Museum of Wales) has one of the biggest collections of Impressionist paintings outside Paris.
- The £1.8 billion development of Cardiff Bay was Europe’s largest waterfront regeneration project – and the opening of the £106 million Wales Millennium Centre helped turn Cardiff into an important destination for leisure and business travel.
- Cardiff is known as a vibrant centre of learning. You'll find the campuses of Cardiff University, Cardiff Metropolitan University, the University of South Wales and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama there.
- The first time the British Royal Family were captured on film was in 1896. Pioneering cinematographer Birt Acres filmed the Prince and Princess of Wales visiting the Cardiff Industrial and Fine Art Exhibition.
- Award-winning singer Dame Shirley Bassey was born in Cardiff's Tiger Bay in 1937. She is one of the best-selling female artists of all time.
- Cardiff has one of the oldest Somali communities in the UK.
- The author Roald Dahl was born in Cardiff and was christened in its Norwegian church.
- Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated 1910 expedition to the Antarctic set off from Cardiff – though without its leader. Scott joined the Terra Nova in South Africa.
- The Coal Exchange in Cardiff is reputedly where Britain’s first million-pound deal was struck.
- Cardiff has the oldest record shop in the world – Spillers, established in 1894.
- The director of Hollywood films Return of the Jedi and Jagged Edge was the Cardiff-born Richard Marquand.
- Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp grew out of a women’s peace march that started from Cardiff in August 1981.
- Author Bernice Rubens – the first woman to win the Booker prize, for The Elected Member in 1970 – was born and brought up in Cardiff.
- The cartoon characters Superted and Sam Tân (Fireman Sam) were created in Cardiff in the 1980s firstly in Welsh to be shown on S4C – Wales’s Welsh-language television channel. They were later translated into English.
- In 1896, a hospital for sailors suffering from cholera was built on Flat Holm island, around five miles from Cardiff in the Bristol Channel. This helped prevent epidemics of the disease breaking out in Cardiff.
- In 1987, David Bowie headlined the first rock concert staged at Cardiff Arms Park.
- The famous landscape architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was involved in laying out Bute Park in the 18th century.
- Michael Barratt, better known as singer Shakin’ Stevens, was born in Ely, Cardiff on 4 March 1948.
- Ken Follett, author of Eye of the Needle, Lie Down with Lions and On Wings of Eagles was born in Cardiff in 1949.
- Sir Anthony Hopkins, who has twice won the Oscar for Best Actor – for The Silence of the Lambs (1992) and The Father (2021) – was a student at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in the 1950s.
- Cardiff-born David Ivor Davies, better known as Ivor Novello, was a composer, singer and actor who became one of the most popular entertainers of the early 20th century.
Business in Wales
Did you know...
- There are 225,000 students served by 8 universities in Wales.
- Wales has the highest rate of active graduate start-ups in the UK at 13.25%.
- At just under two hours by train, Wales is the closest UK capital city to London.
- From its headquarters in Cardiff, IQE has a 55% global market share in compound semiconductor technology. So your smartphone probably contains a little piece of Wales.
- With an internationally recognised ecosystem and as a founding member of the Global Epic initiative, Wales is home to over 100 cyber companies and is boosted by one of the largest Cyber Forums in the UK, Cyber Wales, with over 2000 active members.
- Wales was the birthplace of the insurance aggregator and is now one of the UK’s top emerging FinTech hubs.
- Wales has a rich heritage in manufacturing, and over 150,000 employed in the sector.
- The Life Sciences sector in Wales has over 260 companies across all disciplines and established clusters of excellence in Medtech, in-vitro diagnostic, single use technology, and wound care.
- The UK’s first commercial wind farm was developed off the coast of North Wales (North Hoyle Offshore Wind Farm).
- Wales was the first nation in the world to declare a climate emergency.
- Wales was the first country in the world to create an independent office to act as a guardian of future generations. The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales is responsible for providing advice and support on sustainable development, encouraging government and public bodies to take a longer term view on policy decisions, and protect and promote the needs of future generation.
- When it comes to recycling, Wales is first in the UK, second in Europe and third in the world.
Creative Industries in Wales
Did you know?
- Wales is a nation of talented creatives. The creative industries employs over £35,000 people across Film, TV and Animation, Games, Music and Publishing, turning over £1.7 billion annually
- Our talented people, breath-taking and diverse landscape and vast infrastructure has attracted major production companies like Bad Wolf, Netflix and Lucasfilm to locate in Wales
- We champion a broad range of initiatives for the commercial music industry and its musicians, providing funding for grassroots venues and businesses. Wherever you go in the world, people listen to Wales. We have superb venues, festivals, promoters, studios and record labels. There’s no end to our international stars, including Stereophonics, Super Furry Animals, Funeral for a Friend and Manic Street Preachers
- Across our nation, games developers are producing interactive masterpieces, with strong hubs in South East and North East Wales. From here, brands like Wales Interactive and Tiny Rebel Games make their way to screens across the world.
Find out more about the creative industries in Wales and the funding and support available on the website creative.wales
A taste of Wales - food and drink
Welsh food and drink is a secret worth sharing. Welsh food has a long-established reputation for distinctiveness and quality. Our nation prides itself on supplying some of the finest produce, and we value freshness and variety.
Traditional Welsh foods include cheeses, crempog (pancake), bara brith and cawl – a rich stew made with bacon, Welsh lamb and vegetables including Wales’ emblem, the leek.
A great way to find out about food in Wales is to visit a local farmers’ market. These are held at many locations throughout Wales, letting you buy food direct from producers.
Swansea Market is the largest and most fascinating food market in Wales. Visitors can sample a range of Welsh delicacies, including cockles from Penclawdd and laverbread. Fresh, locally caught fish can also be bought here.
Laverbread - Laver is an edible seaweed commonly found on the coast of South West Wales. It needs to be prepared at great length – by washing many times, boiling for up to five hours, and draining to form a gelatinous puree. It is usually mixed with fine oatmeal, formed into small cakes and fried in bacon fat.
Laver sauce - This is particularly good with shellfish and lobster. The laver needs to be prepared as for laverbread, and is then heated and whisked with orange juice, butter, cream and mutton (or lamb) stock.
Welsh cakes - The Welsh cake is a traditional Welsh snack, somewhat similar to a scone. The cakes (picau ar y maen in Welsh) are sometimes known as bakestones because they are traditionally cooked on a bakestone – a thick cast-iron griddle that’s placed on the fire or cooker.
Bara brith - In past times, the stove was lit once a week in Welsh homes for baking day. As the heat began to fade, a handful of currants would be added to the last of the bread dough, and the speckled loaf became valued as a treat. This spiced, honey-glazed fruit bread is still produced all over Wales.
Welsh rarebit - Welsh rarebit, or caws pobi is an ideal savoury snack. It consists of toasted bread covered in a thick cheese sauce, often made with ale and mustard.
Crempog - These are thick Welsh pancakes, served hot and buttered. Traditionally, the filling would be whatever the cook had to hand, or the household liked the most. A savoury crempog, hot and fresh, makes an excellent starter.
Glamorgan sausages - These are a vegetarian recipe, made mainly from grated cheese mixed with breadcrumbs, herbs and chopped leeks or onions.
Cheese - A wide range of award-winning cheeses are made by independent producers in Wales. One example is Caws Cenarth, which makes farmhouse Caerphilly – a traditional crumbly Welsh cheese – along with a range of other artisan cheeses including Perl Las and Perl Wen. The family farm with its own herd of cows is fully organic, and no artificial fertilisers, insecticides or pesticides are used. www.cawscenarth.co.uk
Meat - The world-famous Welsh Black beef and Welsh mountain lamb are featured on menus in pubs and restaurants all over Wales.
Thanks to leading chefs across Britain, mutton is enjoying a revival in our kitchens. Mutton (meat from fully grown sheep) has a particularly rich, gamey flavour, making it suitable for casseroles and hearty stews. Graig Farm Organics is known for its award-winning produce – not just Welsh mutton, but sustainably caught fish, rabbit, pheasant and a range of other organic goods. www.graigfarm.co.uk
The Beacons Farm Shop at the Welsh Venison Centre, in the heart of the Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons) National Park is a family firm that observes the highest standards in animal welfare. It produces premium-quality Middlewood Welsh lamb as well as venison. www.breaconbeacons.org/business/retail-welsh-venison-centre-beacons-farm-shop
Gower Salt Marsh Lamb gets its distinctive flavour from the coastal marshlands on which the sheep graze. In 2021, it became the first product to be awarded UK Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, preventing imitation and guaranteeing its quality. www.gowersaltmarshlamb.co.uk
- Afon Mêl Honey Farm - This is the largest honey farm in Wales, with 500 hives across the counties of Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire. The unspoilt countryside of this part of West Wales means the honey comes almost entirely from wild plants that grow in the hedgerows, valleys and clifftops, such as sycamore, hawthorn, willow, clover and blackberry. As well as its range of raw honeys, the farm also produces award-winning mead, preserves and even skincare products. www.afonmel.com
- Penderyn distillery - Launched in 2004, Penderyn was the first new whisky distillery to open in Wales for more than 100 years. It now produces its multi-award-winning spirits at three locations: its original headquarters in the Brecon Beacons (Bannau Brycheiniog), a second distillery in Llandudno, and a third in Swansea Copperworks. As well as its range of single malt whiskies, Penderyn makes gin, vodka, rum and a cream liqueur, and exports to over 50 countries. www.penderyn.wales
- Celtic Spirit Company - The Celtic Spirit Company is based near Holyhead, Anglesey. It produces a range of spirits and liqueurs, including the award-winning Black Mountain fruit brandy and Danzy Jones whisky liqueur. www.celticspirit.co.uk
- SA Brain & Co Ltd - Having been in the brewing business for more than 130 years, Brains is proud of its strong Welsh heritage. The company brings together centuries of brewing tradition with a willingness to innovate. The beers produced at the company’s Dragon brewery in Cardiff include time-honoured favourites such as Brains Bitter, Dark and SA, and newer additions including Bayside Welsh Lager and Barry Island IPA. www.sabrain.com
- Food Festivals - Wales’ culinary calendar includes a wealth of food festivals throughout the year celebrating the nation’s great flavours. Popular events include Cardiff International Food and Drink Festival, Cardigan River and Food Festival, Abergavenny Food Festival and Barmouth Food Festival. The events are a great opportunity to taste, talk about and buy the best local produce directly from farmers and producers. www.visitwales.com/things-do/events/festivals/welsh-food-festivals
Statistics and data correct at time of writing - page last updated July 2023