Historic, mountainous, stunning are three words that sum up Wales. Find out all about the country here before you book your next holiday in Wales.
Where is Wales?
Wales is part of the United Kingdom mainland and is bordered by England to the east, the Bristol Channel to the south and the Irish Sea in the north and west.
The population of Wales in 2011 was 3,063,456 making it 2nd smallest of the countries that are part of the United Kingdom. Population density in the country is 381 people per square mile giving it a comparable density to Cornwall where it’s 390 people per square mile. The population in Wales has been increasing since the 1980s due to net migration from other parts of the UK.
Brief history of Wales
The first settlements on Welsh land are thought to have been around 230,000 years ago. After the Romans left Britain in the 5th century, Britain divided into several different cultures which spoke their own languages. Wales was the largest of these settlements and began to be known as Wales.
Since 1282 the heir apparent to the English monarch has been known as the “Prince of Wales”. During the 15th and 16th century the Welsh launched several revolts against the English, which were all unsuccessful. In 1707 Wales become part of the Kingdom of Great Britain, and then in 1801 they became part of the United Kingdom retaining much of their culture under this new ruling.
The industrial revolution saw large-scale change in the country particularly in the south with a dramatic rise in population. The National Assembly for Wales had their first sitting in 1999 and have regained some powers from the British government.
Geography and ecology
Wales covers a substantial 8,023 square miles with large sections of the landscape being largely mountainous terrain. The English counties that border Wales are Cheshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire.
The regions that are particularly noted for their mountain ranges are Snowdonia (above - where you’ll find the highest mountain in Wales, which is Mount Snowdown at 914m), Brecon Beacons and the Cambrian Mountains. Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons are also National Parks along with the Pembrokeshire Coast.
Major cities, towns, and villages in Wales
Cardiff is the capital of Wales and also the largest city in the country. There are five over cities in the country; Bangor, Newport, St Asaph, Swansea and the smallest city in the United Kingdom, St Davids with a population of just 2,000 people.
The largest town in Wales is Wrexham closely followed by Barry, both with populations of over 50,000 people.
Weather and climate in Wales
Wales has a maritime climate and generally experiences long warm summer days. The country has a wide range of average temperatures due to the difference of altitudes, with coastal locations averaging at 10.5 °C, whereas Snowdonia will only experience an average temperature of 5 °C. The South West coast of Wales can expect over 1700 hours of sunshine each year where mountainous regions may only see 1200 hours. For up to date information for the weather in Wales, check the Met Office website.
The main road that runs through Wales is the M4 which crosses into Wales from England via the Second Severn Crossing and then runs through the south of the country before ending at Port Abraham. Before the opening of the Second Severn Crossing the main access used to be via the Severn Bridge which is still operational today. The two main roads that provide access in the north of the country are the A55 and A494. The A483 and A470 link the north and south of Wales passing through the centre of the county.
Wales has two airports with Cardiff providing services to other UK airports and international destinations, while Anglesey runs two return flights daily to Cardiff. There are 923 miles of mainline railway in Wales and these provide a vital link to a number of rural destinations along with the major towns and cities.
Economy and industry
The Welsh economy was worth £47.3 billion in 2012 with the major industries in the country being services and manufacturing. Wales is a large-scale exporter of goods with recent estimates putting international exports at a value of £14.8 billion in 2013.
Tourism contributes a significant amount to the Welsh economy with Cardiff proving the most popular destination attracting over 15 million visitors each year. Large investment has been made to make visitors aware of the fantastic scenery that can be found in the rest of Wales.
Culture and customs
With its own language, customs and iconic flag, Wales is a fascinating country which boasts a wealth of culture to see and discover. The country is symbolised by its vibrant flag, which features a red dragon and Tudor colours, once used by Henry IVV during the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.
Other symbols that are linked to the country include the daffodil and leek. The use of the daffodil was encouraged by the politician and statesman David Lloyd-George in the 19th century, while the association with the leek dates back even further to the 16th century. The leek once featured on British Pound Coins.
The Welsh language, which stems from the Celtic languages, is still spoken in Wales. However, in the 2011 census less than 30% reported that they were able to speak Welsh. The country also has its own mythology which was passed orally through generations by early poets.
The Welsh cuisine is very similar to that of the other British nations with the most popular meat being lamb which is unsurprising as sheep are the most farmed animal in Wales. Served with mint sauce, this makes a traditional Welsh roast dinner. The national vegetable is leek and is used regularly in dishes prepared in the country. Faggots and Shepherd’s Pie are dishes associated with British culture but actually originated in Wales.
A Glamorgan sausage is dish that is unique to Wales and is a combination of cheese, eggs and breadcrumbs in the shape of a sausage. Cockles are very popular in Wales and are often found being served in the coastal locations around the country. The favoured drink in Wales is beer with SA Brain being the largest producer in the country.
Rugby Union is the national sport of Wales with the team competing in the Six Nations Championship alongside France, Italy, England, Ireland and Scotland with their last win coming in 2013. There are four professional teams in the country; Cardiff Blues, Ospreys, Llanelli Scarlets and Newport Gwent Dragons who all play in the Pro12 which is a league with teams from Wales, Ireland, Scotland and Italy.
Football is also popular in Wales, but the popularity hasn’t converted into success on the international stage with the national team’s only appearance at a World Cup coming in 1958. The Welsh Premier League is competed by 12 teams with the most successful team ever being The New Saints with 8 wins. The biggest teams in Wales compete in the English Football system with both Cardiff City and Swansea City playing in the Premier League during the 2013/2014 season. The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff was the temporary home of English Football hosting the Community Shield, FA and League Cup finals while Wembley Stadium was redeveloped.
Wales has produced many notable athletes who have gone on to achieve success on the World stage with Tanni Grey-Thompson and Dave Roberts each winning 11 Paralympics Gold medals each. Other Olympic medallists from Wales include Nicole Cooke, Geriant Thomas and David Davies. Colin Jackson won numerous medals at the Olympic Games and European Championship and was a former 110m hurdle record holder.
Joe Calzaghe is arguably the most famous boxer from Wales finishing his 46-fight career undefeated. Cricket is popular during the summer months with the national team combining with England to play for the England and Wales Cricket Board. The only Welsh county who play in the Cricket County Championship are Glamorgan, playing their home games at the SWALEC Stadium.
Famous people from Wales
The list of people below all have links to the country after having been born here or living in Wales for a sustained period of time.
- Catherine Zeta Jones (Actress)
- Gareth Bale (Footballer)
- Christian Bale (Actor)
- Tom Jones (Singer)
- Ryan Giggs (Footballer)
- Roald Dahl (Author)
- Anthony Hopkins (Actor)
- Timothy Dalton (Actor)
- Bonnie Tyler (Singer)
- Shirley Bassey (Singer)
- Charlotte Church (Singer)
- Katherine Jenkins (Singer)
- Rob Brydon (Actor)
- Tanni Grey-Thompson (Olympian)
- Joe Calzaghe (Boxer)
- Dylan Thomas (Poet)
- Gareth Edwards (Rugby player)