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Did you know that Wales is home to the fastest zip-line in the world, 250 dolphins, and the grave of Dobby the House Elf? If the answer to any of these is no, then you’re in the right place.
Wales is known for its mountainous landscape and picturesque coastlines, but there are plenty of other facts about Wales that are not so well-known. In this article, we’ll cover 22 facts about the mighty Celtic nation we call Cymru.
1. Wales IS a country
Many people debate whether or not Wales is a country. The fact is there are two types of countries; constituent countries and sovereign countries.
Wales is a constituent country because it has its own government and national identity. However, it’s not a sovereign country because it does not have full control over its law-making, this falls to the UK government in Westminster.
The same can be said for the other parts of the UK; Scotland, England, and Northern Ireland, which are all constituent countries.
2. Wales has more castles per square mile than anywhere else in Europe
Among the 427 castles that are packed into a reasonably small area, you’ll find everything from ruins and structures that were never finished, right up to well-preserved castles.
3. The population of Wales is just 3 million
According to the latest census data, the population of Wales is 3,063,456. This represents around 5% of the UK population, making it the third biggest country in the UK by population, behind England and Scotland.
4. It’s one of three countries in the world to have a dragon on its flag
The Welsh flag is immediately recognisable with the red dragon against a white and green background which makes it very different from most flags in the world. But, why is there a dragon on the Welsh flag?
The origin of the red dragon dates back to a mythical story from the 5th century when a red dragon, representing the Celtic people, fought and won against a white dragon, representing the Saxons3 (source: University of Rochester).
Since then it has become a popular emblem for the country, being used by Cadwaladr, Owain Glyndwr, and the Tudors to name a few. It was officially recognized by the British government in 1959.
The only other countries to feature a dragon on their flag are Bhutan and Malta.
5. A village in Angelsey has the second-longest name in the world
A small village of just 3,000 or so people in North Wales is known across the world, although few people outside of Wales can correctly pronounce it.
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is the second-longest place name in the world with 58 characters. However, most people simply refer to it as Llanfair P.G.
The translation of this into English is roughly ‘St. Mary’s Church in the hollow of white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio near the red cave’4 (source: Rick Steves Europe). This is just one of several places in Wales with long names.
The longest place name in the world is Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapiki-maungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitnatahu on the North Island in New Zealand with 85 characters5 (source: Business Insider).
6. Dobby the House Elf died in Wales
Wales has earned itself a reputation for creating great TV shows with the likes of Dr Who, His Dark Materials, Sherlock, and Sex Education all being filmed on Welsh soil.
However, it’s also landed some noteworthy spots on the big screen too. A waterfall in the Brecon Beacons was used as the entrance to the Batcave in The Dark Knight Rises and Freshwater West beach in South Wales was used as the filming location for some Harry Potter scenes including Dobby’s death.
You can visit Dobby’s grave today and pay tribute to your favourite house elf.
7. Wales is just over 20,000 square km
Wales is 20,779 km square (12,911 square miles) making it around the same size as Slovenia or the state of New Jersey. It makes up around 8.5% of the landmass of the United Kingdom.
8. Leeks and daffodils are among some of the emblems of Wales
Wales has many emblems including the red dragon on its flag, the leek, and the daffodil. One of the oldest Welsh emblems is the leek which became symbolic after the Battle of Crécy in Northern France in 1346.
During this battle, Welsh archers defeated French foot soldiers helping the English secure victory. The battle was said to take place in a field of leeks which is why people back in Wales began wearing the green and white vegetable in the caps to honour the bravery of those that fought.
A more recent emblem is the daffodil which is Wales’s national flower. How the daffodil became a symbol of Wales is not fully clear, but it’s blooming date just in time for St David’s Day (1st March) is likely a key reason.
Other emblems of Wales include the harp, red kites, and the Welsh national dress.
9. Wales has 6 cities, including the smallest city in the UK
Although Cardiff and Swansea are the best-known places in Wales, it is actually home to 6 cities in total. These are Bangor, Cardiff, Swansea, Newport, St Asaph, and St Davids.
The latter, St David’s, is the UK’s smallest city, about the size of a village with a population of just 1,600. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Davids The city has a cathedral and was made a city in 1992 as part of the 40th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation7 (source: BBC).
Although small, the city is a key part of Christian heritage as it’s built on the site where St David (the patron saint of Wales) founded a monastery in the 6th Century.
10. Wales is home to three national parks
There are three national parks in Wales, these are (in order of size): Snowdonia, the Brecon Beacons, and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.
Snowdonia is over 800 square miles and is home to Wales’s highest mountain, Snowdon (or Yr Wyddfa in Welsh) which stands at 1,085 metres (3,560 ft) making it the third tallest in Britain.
There are also five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Wales which are areas that are protected due to their ‘significant landscape value’. They are Anglesey, Clwydian Range and Dee Valley, Gower, Llŷn, and Wye Valley.
11. There’s a path for walking around the entire coastline of Wales
The Wales Coastal Path is a long-distance footpath that stretches for 870 miles (1,400 km) around the entire coastline of Wales.
12. There are ALOT of sheep in Wales
Many English people use this fact as the basis for name-calling against the Welsh (we all know what!) making it one of the reasons why the Welsh don’t like the English.
13. There’s an Italian village in North Wales
Nestled away in Gwynedd, North Wales, there’s a surprising Italian-styled village called Portmeirion that was created by the architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis in the late 19th Century.
The village was inspired by the fishing village of Portofino in Italy of which the architect was a big fan.
Nowadays, the village is a big tourist attraction with hotels, cottages, and a plethora of restaurants, all set against the backdrop of rolling Welsh hills. There’s even a music festival that takes place there each year.
14. St David’s Day on 1st March is Wales’s national day
The 1st of March marks St David’s Day, the national day of Wales. It’s not a public holiday but a day to celebrate all things Welsh.
The day is usually celebrated with the wearing of daffodils, parades in the street, and eating traditional Welsh dishes such as cawl (a Welsh stew), bara birth (a fruit cake), and welsh cakes. In schools across the country, pupils often take part in competitions and might wear the Welsh national dress.
St David is the patron saint of Wales, he was a devout monk and one of the earliest vegetarians. It is said that he performed miracles such as raising the ground underneath him, bringing a youth back from the dead, and surviving after being poisoned12 (source: BBC).
15. In Wales, you can take a canal boat across the highest aqueduct in the world
The Llangollen canal connects parts of North Wales with Shropshire and Cheshire in England. The canal features 21 locks to help boats navigate across the terrain and one of the most impressive features is Pontcysyllte Aqueduct which carries the canal across the River Dee.
The aqueduct is 307m long and stands at 38m high, making it the highest aqueduct in the world13 (source: Wikipedia). As well as viewing it from below, one of the best things to do in Wales is taking a boat across the top.
16. Wales has its own language with a 29-letter alphabet
The Welsh alphabet has 29 letters. There is no k, q, v, or z in Welsh, instead, there are 8 digraphs (a pair of characters that count as one).
So, the full Welsh alphabet goes like this:
a, b, c, ch, d, dd, e, f, ff, g, ng, h, i, j, l, ll, m, n, o, p, ph, r, rh, s, t, th, u, w, y
17. Rugby is the national sport of Wales
Rugby Union is the unofficial national sport of Wales and has been played there for centuries. It is played by all ages from school children to adults.
The Welsh rugby team is one of the most successful in the world and regularly competes in the Rugby World Cup.
Closer to home, they have won the Six Nations Championship a record 39 times (as of 2022), placing them joint first with England.
18. Around 60 currencies are made in Wales
Wales does not have its own currency, it uses the Great British Pound (GBP) just like the rest of the UK. But what you may not know is that all of the coins used in the UK are produced at the Royal Mint in Llantrisant, South Wales.
It’s not just the domestic currency that’s made here, it’s the world’s leading export mint making currencies for more than 60 countries around the world including Jamaica, Tanzania and Thailand15 (source: Welsh Government).
If you fancy a money-making day out (quite literally), you can visit the Royal Mint Experience to find out more about the history of the mint and how it produces more than 5 billion coins each year.
19. The country receives over 10 million visitors per year
Wales is a hotspot for tourists. According to the latest government figures, Wales receives over 10 million overnight visitors each year. This includes 1 million international visitors and the rest coming from other parts of the UK16 (source: Welsh Government).
20. An area of Wales is known as ‘Waterfall Country’ for its high concentration of waterfalls
An area of the Brecon Beacons known as ‘Waterfall Country’ is a tourist hotspot due to having a large number of waterfalls in one area.
One of my favourite day trips is the four falls walk which is a circular walking route that encompasses four incredible waterfalls.
21. Wales has the fastest zipline in the world
The Velocity 2 zipline in Wales is located at the Penrhyn Quarry near Bethesda. It stretches for 1.5km through Snowdonia and reaches speeds up to 100mph, making it the fastest zipline in the world.
The quarry was used for slate mining from the late 18th century until the early 21st century, and it is now a popular tourist destination. Zip World offers several other zip lines and adventure activities, making it a great place for thrill-seekers to visit.
22. Around 250 dolphins live off the coast of Wales
Our final fact about Wales will go down well with anyone that loves wildlife spotting. Britain’s largest population of dolphins live in Cardigan Bay, just off the coast of Wales.
For the best chance of seeing them, tourists can take a boat from New Quay or Aberaeron which will take you to some of the dolphin hotspots such as Aberporth, Mwnt, and Cardigan Island.
Kieren is the founder and editor-in-chief of Wales Guidebook. Originally from rural Mid-Wales, he has lived all over the country from Cardiff to Wrexham. A true Welshman, Kieren created this site to share his passion for Wales and help others discover this beautiful country.