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Wales is a small country with a big heart. A forward-looking nation with an optimistic outlook packs an incredible punch in terms of natural wonders and unique heritage. Whether you’re a prospective immigrant or someone who loves learning about new cultures and places, here’s a full list of the things Wales is known for.
1. The Welsh Flag
A giant red dragon on a white and green background red represents the Welsh to a tee; proud, defiant, fierce. As far back as 655AD, Welsh kings adopted the mythical dragon as a symbolic representation of authority following the Roman withdrawal.
In the legend of Merlin of the 12th Century, two fighting dragons, one red and one white, are said to signify the conflict between the Welsh and the English.
These days, rather than flying the Welsh flag as a battle symbol, you see it flying in a manner that reflects the history and culture of the Welsh.
2. The Welsh Language
Welsh is the traditional language of Wales and was the most spoken language in the country for over 2,000 years! The history of the Welsh language is long and complex, but it’s fair to say that it’s had a challenging few centuries.
An ancient language of Europe, Welsh emerged around 4000 years ago. And what was once the dominant language across much of Wales fell out of favour as English took over as the primary means of communication.
As a result, many people stopped speaking Welsh and spoke English with an accent influenced by their first languages. These days the Welsh language is spoken by around 883,300 people worldwide.
But, ever the epitome of patriotism, schools and communities throughout Wales do their part to revive the native tongue, with the language becoming a modern ‘in’ thing for young people.
Sheep are more than just a part of the Welsh landscape; they have played a meaningful role in the history and well-being of Wales for centuries. Agricultural statistics show that 90% of Wales’s land area is devoted to sheep farming, making it the country’s most important agricultural sector.
Additionally, sheep now outnumber people three to one in Wales, with 9.81 million sheep and lambs compared with 3,026,000 people! This is because Wales exports a lot of lamb, one of its top exports. Out of a total of £17bn in sales abroad, lamb accounts for about £500m.
More than 600 castles dot the hills and valleys of Wales, accounting for more castles per square mile than any other European country. A total of 427 castles or castle ruins have been identified here, some of which date back to the Roman era.
There are so many castles in Wales because it has been a highly contested country throughout history. Built to defend against invasion, most were constructed between the 11th and 13th centuries when threats were at their peak.
Check out my dedicated article for a list of my favourite castles in Wales.
It’s fair to say that daffodils bloom nowhere else on earth with such magnificent splendour as in Wales. The wild daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) has become synonymous with our nation.
Perhaps due to their abundance or because they symbolise new beginnings as they blossom in early spring, emerging from the long, dark winter.
There are different varieties of daffodils in Wales, but visitors won’t have trouble spotting them. They are everywhere, carpeting the green slopes of Wales!
As a symbol of Wales, leeks are known as the country’s national vegetable. Who would have thought that a root vegetable could be a national emblem? Yet, its history dates back to 1346.
The reason why a leek is a symbol of Wales is often debated. Legend has it that St. David (Dewi Sant) advised the Welsh to wear leeks in battle against the invading Saxons in 655-682AD. So you could argue that the leek was the Welsh’s talisman of good fortune.
Although a far more likely story is that a leek field in Northern France was the scene of the Battle of Crécy (1346) between Welsh archers and French soldiers. And now, on St David’s Day, we wear leeks to commemorate the bravery of the Welsh arrowmen.
7. Male Voice Choirs
Us Welsh are known for our singing. And our male voice choirs are an iconic part of Welsh identity and tradition.
Rooted in communities through religion, patriotism, friendship, coal mining, and competition- the bardic tradition of the National Eisteddfod of Wales (a festival of poetry and music) can be traced back to the 12th Century.
Welsh male voice choirs are among the most soul-stirring sounds in the world. Home to some of the world’s oldest and most famous male voice choirs, many of them have been active for over 100 years.
As one of history’s most incredible choral ensembles, Treorchy Male Choir was established 130 years ago.
8. Long Place Names
If you’ve ever been to Wales, you’ll know that the country is famous for its long place names. But why is this? There are a few theories.
One theory is the Welsh language itself. Welsh is a Celtic language, and Celtic languages tend to have longer words. It contains more consonants than English, has two letters for each letter and uses seven vowels compared to five in English.
Take a look at 30 Places in Wales With the Longest Names for more fun facts.
There is also the possibility that the long names result from the Welsh tradition of naming places after natural features. Angelsey has the second-longest place name in the world with 58 letters.
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogoch roughly translates as “St Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near the rapid whirlpool by St. Tysilio of the red cave.” No need to say more.
In the world of rugby, Wales has a big reputation. With six Nations Championships, and other notable achievements, including three World Cup Semi-Finals, the Welsh national team is one of the most successful in the sport.
But, the Welsh people value more than just their triumphs. It is a sport steeped in tradition, camaraderie, and national pride.
- Wales formed a national team in 1881
Rugby helped shape Welsh nationhood because it allowed a small nation to reach the pinnacle of world sports.
10. Welsh Cakes, Bara Brith, and Other Welsh Foods
As with so much else in Wales, there is far more to its food than just one characteristic. Some of its dishes are almost non-existent elsewhere: who, for instance, has heard of Bara brith? A traditional Welsh tea bread infused with dried fruits and spices.
- Cawl: A traditional broth or soup made with potatoes, swedes, carrots, leeks, and meat
- Welsh Rarebit: Rabbit? No. A cheese-based sauce served over toasted bread
- Laverbread: An edible seaweed used primarily in Welsh cuisine
- Welsh cakes: A traditional sweet bread in Wales made from flour, sultanas, raisins, or currents
There may not be many native Welsh speakers left in the country, but our food remains as distinctive and delicious as ever.
11. Many Great TV Shows and Movies
This small country and its people have been responsible for some of the most captivating TV shows and movies in recent years. The interesting part is that some of them are not even entirely in Welsh! Making them even more accessible.
The following are prime examples of movies and TV shows made in Wales:
- Twin Town: A dark comedy-drama set in Swansea and Port Talbot
- How Green Was My Valley: A coalfield family’s story of hard work
- Tiger Bay: Cardiff docklands murder drama featuring a young Hayley Mills
- The Proud Valley: When a pit disaster threatens a Welsh coal mining valley, a young man with a beautiful voice makes the ultimate sacrifice
Others include Submarine, Under Milk Wood, Mr Nice, Pride, Human Traffic, Hedd Wyn, World War Z, and The Englishman Who Went up a Hill but Came down a Mountain.
- Gavin & Stacey: All of us enjoyed the BBC comedy about a couple of young Essex boys and Barry girls
- Torchwood: Torchwood is the show for those who wonder what aliens and other sci-fi monsters can be found in Wales
- Hinterland / Y Gwyll: An English and Welsh crime drama set in Aberystwyth
- Merlin: A thrilling adventure based on the legend of King Arthur and Merlin
Others include Doctor Who, Keeping Faith, Sex Education, Bang, Ryan and Ronnie, The Crown, The Pembrokeshire Murders, and Sherlock.
12. St David
The 6th-century Welsh Bishop St David (Dewi Sant) is the patron saint of Wales. St David is often referred to as the “Welsh Apostle” due to his extensive missionary work throughout Wales and other parts of Great Britain.
Having been officially canonised in 1123, Wales celebrates St David’s Day on March 1st every year.
As well as honouring our national saint, these celebrations have provided opportunities for festivities throughout Wales.
13. The Prince of Wales
The history of the “Prince of Wales” is bloody and complex. It is perhaps not surprising that non-native kings and warriors sought to gain political influence in this country. Even so, the Welsh fought for independence as early as 800AD.
In 1282, the last prince of Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (Llywelyn the Last), grandson of Llywelyn the Great, was killed at the Battle of Orewin Bridge. Dafydd ap Gruffydd, Llywelyn’s brother, was executed the following year, ending Welsh independence.
The prince of Wales has a fascinating and significant history that is sometimes a source of contention with Welsh patriots. The title now belongs to the British monarchy.
14. Love Spoons
The tradition of lovespoons in Wales dates back much further than 1667, although the earliest known dated lovespoon is located at the St Fagans National History Museum near Cardiff.
Love spoons were a customary Welsh love token and dating ritual. Traditionally, a lovespoon was a decoratively carved wooden spoon given as a gift of romantic intent.
The intricate designs demonstrated the carver’s craftsmanship. These skills showcased a young man’s woodworking skills and, therefore, ability to provide for the family.
15. Celtic Myths and Legends
Our Celtic myths and legends reflect the rich heritage of the Welsh.
The very familiar Merlin originated in Celtic mythology. Myrddin (Merlin) possessed supernatural powers. Through magic and mystery, he matures into an enlightened sage and engineers the birth of King Arthur.
In medieval mythology, King Arthur was a legendary Celtic leader of the Knights of the Round Table. As a warrior, knight, and king, he killed giants, witches, and monsters and led many daring adventures with a band of heroes.
Whether literary or oral, Celtic mythology is a vibrant and varied body of stories of gods, goddesses, heroes, and villains — all set against the striking and challenging backdrop of the Welsh landscape.
The history of sailing ships and pirate captains is filled with tales, but how much of it is true? Well, in the case of Wales, there is some truth to it. Wales was historically known as a land of pirates and privateers because it was one of the most inaccessible places in Europe.
Welsh ports became the final refuge for many ships whose captains were unwilling to hand their cargo to the English authorities for almost two centuries.
Has legend has it, pirates once hid their treasures on a small coastal beach called Brandy Cove in Swansea. The beach is surrounded by towering cliffs, making it easy for ships to dock and hide there during rough weather and prying eyes.
It wasn’t until 1955 that Cardiff became Wales’ capital after thousands of years without one. This city’s claim to be the capital is based on its coal-related history, diverse population, and economic growth.
Cardiff has been voted Europe’s third-best city to live in, and it’s one of the top tourist destinations.
As well as its beautiful surroundings, the city hosts significant cultural, sporting, and art events. Learn more about Cardiff’s prominence with our guide to Cardiff.
18. Coal Mining
Wales has been a centre for coal mining since the 15th century when it became a significant supplier of raw materials to other parts of Great Britain. This reputation grew during the 18th century when demand increased during the industrial revolution.
More than 600 mines were established. And Barry and Cardiff became two of the largest coal exporting ports in the world.
Today, South Wales’ mining community plays a much smaller role in the Welsh economy, with only around 1,200 people employed in the sector.
As the location of some of the world’s largest mines, mining tourism reminds us of the area’s former economic significance.
19. Mail Order
Can you imagine what life would be like without Welsh inventions? Specifically, mail order? Our thanks go to Welshman Sir Pryce-Jones!
A pioneer of “next-day delivery,” he didn’t have a website or app. Without internet and delivery drivers, Pryce-Jones relied on the railways and parcel services for his distribution network. Making a small town in Montgomeryshire a major international trade centre.
In the mid-1800s, his customers included Florence Nightingale and Queen Victoria.
20. Snowdonia National Park
Snowdonia National Park is part of the chain of National Parks stretching over 800 miles along North Wales.
Not just for pleasant strolls – as famous peaks like Snowdon and Yr Wyddfa attest – Snowdonia has plenty for everyone to enjoy. The spectacular mountains are surrounded by lush green valleys dotted with sleepy villages and small market towns, all offering a wide range of accommodation and visitor services.
Snowdonia is one of the most picturesque regions in the country and is a powerful source of local pride. See my full guide to the best things to do in Snowdonia to find out more.
21. The Harp
The Welsh Triple Harp is perhaps the most distinctive of all the instruments associated with Wales. The iconic instrument symbolises deep historical significance related to medieval bards and druids.
The harp has been a feature of Welsh life for many centuries, and its presence in the country today can be traced back to the 11th century.
Due to Wales’ penchant for being different, the traditional Welsh Triple Harp has three rows of strings as opposed to the conventional harp, which has one row. Our playing style is also different from that of many other countries.
22. Famous Welsh People
If you love Wales – and let’s face it, who wouldn’t? – then you’ll probably appreciate knowing more about its fascinating history and famous inhabitants. After all, these people have made an incredible impact on the world in one way or another.
- Aneurin Bevan: Welsh Labour Party politician famous for founding the National Health Service
- Anthony Hopkins: Oscar winnings actor
- Gareth Bale: Footballer
- Shirley Bassey: Renowned singer
- Michael Sheen: Acclaimed actor
- Saunders Lewis: Welsh activist, poet, nationalist, playwright, and historian
- Joe Calzaghe: Former Professional Boxer
- Roald Dahl: Celebrated author
- Catherine Zeta-Jones: Oscar-winning actress
- John Rhys-Davies: Celebrated actor
- Dylan Thomas: World-famous writer and poet
- David Lloyd George: Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The Welsh are amiable, welcoming, and warm people. They also happen to be some of the most famous people in the world. Over the years, they have made their mark in almost every field imaginable.
23. Waterfall Country
The Brecon Beacons is an upland region and national park bordering south and mid-Wales. It’s named after ancient signal fires (beacons) lit on mountains to warn off incoming invaders.
These days, it’s a veritable paradise for those who love rural scenery, rivers and streams flowing over rocky beds and through deep gorges.
The beautiful and rugged landscape of Waterfall Country in Brecon Beacons National Park is dotted with more than 20 dramatic waterfalls. Many are hidden away, but there are also some awe-inspiring ones that are accessible to the public.
24. The Welsh National Anthem
Few things in life are more stirring than a thousand Welsh voices raised in harmony. The words of the Welsh national anthem are stirring and uplifting. They encapsulate the spirit of a nation and help define its character, history, and values.
You will often hear ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ sung in Welsh before international sporting events, stirring the crowd to great patriotic passion. The song means “Old Land of my Fathers.”
In this sense, the national anthem is one of the most important symbols of a nation built upon endurance.
See my full article to find out more famous Welsh songs and their meanings here.
25. Picturesque Coastline
The Wales coastal path is an 870-mile-long national cohesion and strategy network that runs along the entire length of the coast of Wales. It’s one of Britain’s most scenic paths, passing through award-winning beaches, rocky cliffs, and 11 areas of National nature reserves.
The trail passes through some of the country’s most beautiful and remote coastlines and offers some challenging ascents and descents.
In 2012, it became the first coast path covering an entire country’s coastline and was recognised as the first of its kind.
26. Welsh Corgi
Welsh Corgi is a dog breed with several variations, such as Pembroke and Cardigan. These types of herding dogs originated from the Wales region and have since spread out to other parts of the world.
The name “corgi” is derived from Welsh meaning dwarf- dog. It turns out that the Welsh Corgi has been around for 1,000 years due to Vikings and Celtic ancestry!
Other dogs originating from wales include the Welsh Terrier, Sealyham Terrier, Welsh Hound, Welsh Springer Spaniel, and Welsh sheepdog.
27. Being Called ‘Jones’
A name like Jones might be the perfect choice if you’re looking for something that stands out but isn’t over the top; just kidding! Jones is just as symbiotic with Wales as the Welsh people themselves!
Up until Medieval times, Welsh children take their father’s given name as their surname. So if your name was Richard and your father was John, you would be Richard ap John.
However, when King Henry VIII merged Welsh law with English law, a new requirement was that everyone has a surname. This meant Welsh people had to come up with a family name. The most popular way they did this was by adding an ‘s’ to existing names. So ‘ap John’ became Jones, ‘ap William’ became Williams, and so on1 (source: Historic UK).
28. The Gower Peninsula
There’s just something so extraordinary about the “The Gower,”- a stunning peninsula that hugs the southern tip of Swansea and juts out into the Atlantic like an open hand.
With its sandy beaches, hidden coves, and rugged cliff-top walks, the Gower Peninsula is one of Wales’ most picturesque spots.
Designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Gower Peninsula is also home to some of the most spectacular beaches in the world. Its ancient sedimentary rocks have been shaped over millennia by natural forces, resulting in countless subterranean features.
29. Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas was a Welsh poet and author born in Swansea, Wales, in 1914. As a child, Thomas began writing poetry, and by his teens, he was publishing his work.
Known as one of the greatest Welsh poets of all time, Thomas built a reputation for using vivid language and vibrant imagery in his poetry.
Despite writing predominantly in English, his writing style has been unclassifiable by many literary critics, possibly because of his hybrid Anglo-Welsh identity.
The best-known works of his career include the radio drama Under Milk Wood and the stirring poem “Do not go gentle into that good night”.
30. Welsh Colloquialisms
No list of things Wales is famous for would be complete without a nod to Welsh slang.
Often, we use terms that double up and sound stupid (but to us, it is perfectly normal), such as “I’ll be there now in a minute”.
- Making up words: “Mun” doesn’t mean anything but is used to emphasise whatever you’re saying
- Adding words for no reason: “whose coat is this jacket?”
- A simple act of being Welsh: “Thanks, drive”
- Cwtsh or Cwtch: Hug
- Tamping: Annoyed
- Lush: Amazing
- Buzzing: Horrible
- Chopsing: Talking too much/arguing
The wonderful way Wales’ inhabitants speak is not the least of Wales’ unique characteristics.
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.