Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Constitutionally, the UK is a de jure unitary state, its parliament and government in Westminster. In the House of Commons – the lower house of the UK Parliament – Wales is represented by 40 MPs (out of 650) from Welsh constituencies. At the 2019 general election, 22 Labour and Labour Co-op MPs were elected, 14 Conservative MPs and 4 Plaid Cymru MPs. The Wales Office is a department of the United Kingdom government responsible for Wales, whose minister the Secretary of State for Wales sits in the UK cabinet.
Following devolution in 1997, the Government of Wales Act 1998 created the National Assembly for Wales. Powers of the Secretary of State for Wales were transferred to the devolved government on 1 July 1999, granting the Assembly the power to decide how the Westminster government's budget for devolved areas is spent and administered. The 1998 Act was amended by the Government of Wales Act 2006, which enhanced the institution's powers, giving it legislative powers akin to those of the Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly. The Parliament has 60 Members of the Senedd (MS) who are elected to four-year terms under an additional member system. Forty of the MSs represent geographical constituencies, elected under the First Past the Post system. The remaining 20 MSs represent five electoral regions, each including between seven and nine constituencies, using proportional representation. The Senedd must elect a First Minister, who selects ministers to form the Welsh Government. The Assembly was in 2020 renamed Senedd Cymru – the Welsh Parliament.
The twenty areas of responsibility devolved to the Welsh Government, known as "subjects", include agriculture, economic development, education, health, housing, local government, social services, tourism, transport and the Welsh language. On its creation in 1999, the National Assembly for Wales had no primary legislative powers. In 2007, following passage of the Government of Wales Act 2006 (GoWA 2006), the Assembly developed powers to pass primary legislation known at the time as Assembly Measures on some specific matters within the areas of devolved responsibility. Further matters have been added subsequently, either directly by the UK Parliament or by the UK Parliament approving a Legislative Competence Order (LCO, a request from the National Assembly for additional powers). The GoWA 2006 allows for the Assembly to gain primary lawmaking powers on a more extensive range of matters within the same devolved areas if approved in a referendum. A referendum on extending the law-making powers of the then National Assembly was held on 3 March 2011 and secured a majority for extension. Consequently, the Assembly became empowered to make laws, known as Acts of the Assembly, on all matters in the subject areas, without needing the UK Parliament's agreement.
Relations between Wales and foreign states are primarily conducted through the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, in addition to the Foreign Secretary, and the British Ambassador to the United States. However, the Senedd has its own envoy to America, primarily to promote Wales-specific business interests. The primary Welsh Government Office is based in the Washington British Embassy, with satellites in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, and Atlanta. The United States has also established a caucus to build direct relations with Wales. In the United States Congress, legislators with Welsh heritage and interests in Wales have established the Friends of Wales Caucus.
For the purposes of local government, Wales has been divided into 22 council areas since 1996. These "principal areas" are responsible for the provision of all local government services.
By tradition, Welsh Law was compiled during an assembly held at Whitland around 930 by Hywel Dda, king of most of Wales between 942 and his death in 950. The 'law of Hywel Dda' (Welsh: Cyfraith Hywel), as it became known, codified the previously existing folk laws and legal customs that had evolved in Wales over centuries. Welsh Law emphasised the payment of compensation for a crime to the victim, or the victim's kin, rather than punishment by the ruler. Other than in the Marches, where law was imposed by the Marcher Lords, Welsh Law remained in force in Wales until the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284. Edward I of England annexed the Principality of Wales following the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, and Welsh Law was replaced for criminal cases under the Statute. Marcher Law and Welsh Law (for civil cases) remained in force until Henry VIII of England annexed the whole of Wales under the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542 (often referred to as the Acts of Union of 1536 and 1543), after which English law applied to the whole of Wales. The Wales and Berwick Act 1746 provided that all laws that applied to England would automatically apply to Wales (and the Anglo-Scottish border town of Berwick) unless the law explicitly stated otherwise; this Act was repealed with regard to Wales in 1967. English law has been the legal system of England and Wales since 1536.
English law is regarded as a common law system, with no major codification of the law and legal precedents are binding as opposed to persuasive. The court system is headed by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom which is the highest court of appeal in the land for criminal and civil cases. The Senior Courts of England and Wales is the highest court of first instance as well as an appellate court. The three divisions are the Court of Appeal; the High Court of Justice and the Crown Court. Minor cases are heard by the Magistrates' Courts or the County Court. In 2007 the Wales and Cheshire Region (known as the Wales and Cheshire Circuit before 2005) came to an end when Cheshire was attached to the North-Western England Region. From that point, Wales became a legal unit in its own right, although it remains part of the single jurisdiction of England and Wales.
The Senedd has the authority to draft and approve laws outside of the UK Parliamentary system to meet the specific needs of Wales. Under powers approved by a referendum held in March 2011, it is empowered to pass primary legislation, at the time referred to as an Act of the National Assembly for Wales but now known as an Act of the Senedd in relation to twenty subjects listed in the Government of Wales Act 2006 such as health and education. Through this primary legislation, the Welsh Government can then also enact more specific subordinate legislation.
Wales is served by four regional police forces, Dyfed-Powys Police, Gwent Police, North Wales Police and South Wales Police. There are five prisons in Wales; four in the southern half of the country and one in Wrexham. Wales has no women's prisons; female inmates are imprisoned in England.
Wales is a generally mountainous country on the western side of central southern Great Britain. It is about 170 miles (270 km) north–south. The oft-quoted 'size of Wales' is about 20,779 km2 (8,023 sq mi). Wales is bordered by England to the east and by sea in all other directions: the Irish Sea to the north and west, St George's Channel and the Celtic Sea to the southwest and the Bristol Channel to the south. Wales has about 1,680 miles (2,700 km) of coastline (along the mean high water mark), including the mainland, Anglesey and Holyhead. Over 50 islands lie off the Welsh mainland; the largest being Anglesey, in the north-west.
Much of Wales' diverse landscape is mountainous, particularly in the north and central regions. The mountains were shaped during the last ice age, the Devensian glaciation. The highest mountains in Wales are in Snowdonia (Eryri), of which five are over 1,000 m (3,300 ft). The highest of these is Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa), at 1,085 m (3,560 ft). The 14 Welsh mountains, or 15 if including Garnedd Uchaf – often discounted because of its low topographic prominence – over 3,000 feet (910 metres) high are known collectively as the Welsh 3000s and are located in a small area in the north-west. The highest outside the 3000s is Aran Fawddwy, at 905 metres (2,969 feet), in the south of Snowdonia. The Brecon Beacons (Bannau Brycheiniog) are in the south (highest point Pen y Fan, at 886 metres (2,907 feet)), and are joined by the Cambrian Mountains in Mid Wales (highest point Pumlumon, at 752 metres (2,467 feet)).
Wales has three national parks: Snowdonia, Brecon Beacons and Pembrokeshire Coast. It has five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty; Anglesey, the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley, the Gower Peninsula, the Llŷn Peninsula, and the Wye Valley. The Gower Peninsula was the first area in the United Kingdom to be designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in 1956. As of 2019, the coastline of Wales had 40 Blue Flag beaches, three Blue Flag marinas and one Blue Flag boat operator. Despite its heritage and award-winning beaches; the south and west coasts of Wales, along with the Irish and Cornish coasts, are frequently blasted by Atlantic westerlies/south westerlies that, over the years, have sunk and wrecked many vessels. In 1859 over 110 ships were destroyed off the coast of Wales in a hurricane that saw more than 800 lives lost across Britain. The greatest single loss occurred with the sinking of the Royal Charter off Anglesey in which 459 people died. The 19th century saw over 100 vessels lost with an average loss of 78 sailors per year. Wartime action caused losses near Holyhead, Milford Haven and Swansea. Because of offshore rocks and unlit islands, Anglesey and Pembrokeshire are still notorious for shipwrecks, most notably the Sea Empress oil spill in 1996.
The first border between Wales and England was zonal, apart from around the River Wye, which was the first accepted boundary. Offa's Dyke was supposed to form an early distinct line but this was thwarted by Gruffudd ap Llewellyn, who reclaimed swathes of land beyond the dyke. The Act of Union of 1536 formed a linear border stretching from the mouth of the Dee to the mouth of the Wye. Even after the Act of Union, many of the borders remained vague and moveable until the Welsh Sunday Closing act of 1881, which forced local businesses to decide which country they fell within to accept either the Welsh or English law.
The earliest geological period of the Paleozoic era, the Cambrian, takes its name from the Cambrian Mountains, where geologists first identified Cambrian remnants. In the mid-19th century, Roderick Murchison and Adam Sedgwick used their studies of Welsh geology to establish certain principles of stratigraphy and palaeontology. The next two periods of the Paleozoic era, the Ordovician and Silurian, were named after ancient Celtic tribes from this area.
Wales lies within the north temperate zone. It has a changeable, maritime climate and is one of the wettest countries in Europe. Welsh weather is often cloudy, wet and windy, with warm summers and mild winters. The long summer days and short winter days result from Wales' northerly latitudes (between 53° 43′ N and 51° 38′ N). Aberystwyth, at the midpoint of the country's west coast, has nearly 17 hours of daylight at the summer solstice. Daylight at midwinter there falls to just over seven and a half hours. The country's wide geographic variations cause localised differences in sunshine, rainfall and temperature. Average annual coastal temperatures reach 10.5 °C (51 °F) and in low lying inland areas, 1 °C (1.8 °F) lower. It becomes cooler at higher altitudes; annual temperatures decrease on average approximately 0.5 °C (0.9 °F) each 100 metres (330 feet) of altitude. Consequently, the higher parts of Snowdonia experience average annual temperatures of 5 °C (41 °F). Temperatures in Wales remain higher than would otherwise be expected at its latitude because of the North Atlantic Drift, a branch of the Gulf Stream. The ocean current, bringing warmer water to northerly latitudes, has a similar effect on most of north-west Europe. As well as its influence on Wales' coastal areas, air warmed by the Gulf Stream blows further inland with the prevailing winds.
At low elevations, summers tend to be warm and sunny. Average maximum temperatures range between 19 and 22 °C (66 and 72 °F). Winters tend to be fairly wet, but rainfall is rarely excessive and the temperature usually stays above freezing. Spring and autumn feel quite similar and the temperatures tend to stay above 14 °C (57 °F) – also the average annual daytime temperature. The sunniest months are between May and August. The south-western coast is the sunniest part of Wales, averaging over 1700 hours of sunshine annually, with Tenby, Pembrokeshire, its sunniest town. The dullest time of year is between November and January. The least sunny areas are the mountains, some parts of which average less than 1200 hours of sunshine annually. The prevailing wind is south-westerly. Coastal areas are the windiest, gales occur most often during winter, on average between 15 and 30 days each year, depending on location. Inland, gales average fewer than six days annually.
Rainfall patterns show significant variation. The further west, the higher the expected rainfall; up to 40% more. At low elevations, rain is unpredictable at any time of year, although the showers tend to be shorter in summer. The uplands of Wales have most rain, normally more than 50 days of rain during the winter months (December to February), falling to around 35 rainy days during the summer months (June to August). Annual rainfall in Snowdonia averages between 3,000 millimetres (120 in) (Blaenau Ffestiniog) and 5,000 millimetres (200 in) (Snowdon's summit). The likelihood is that it will fall as sleet or snow when the temperature falls below 5 °C (41 °F) and snow tends to be lying on the ground there for an average of 30 days a year. Snow falls several times each winter in inland areas but is relatively uncommon around the coast. Average annual rainfall in those areas can be less than 1,000 millimetres (39 in).
Wales' wildlife is typical of Britain with several distinctions. Because of its long coastline, Wales hosts a variety of seabirds. The coasts and surrounding islands are home to colonies of gannets, Manx shearwater, puffins, kittiwakes, shags and razorbills. In comparison, with 60 per cent of Wales above the 150m contour, the country also supports a variety of upland habitat birds, including raven and ring ouzel. Birds of prey include the merlin, hen harrier and the red kite, a national symbol of Welsh wildlife. In total, more than 200 different species of bird have been seen at the RSPB reserve at Conwy, including seasonal visitors. Larger mammals, including brown bears, wolves and wildcats, died out during the Norman period. Today, mammals include shrews, voles, badgers, otters, stoats, weasels, hedgehogs and fifteen species of bat. Two species of small rodent, the yellow-necked mouse and the dormouse, are of special Welsh note being found at the historically undisturbed border area. The pine marten, which has been sighted occasionally, has not been officially recorded since the 1950s. The polecat was nearly driven to extinction in Britain, but hung on in Wales and is now rapidly spreading. Feral goats can be found in Snowdonia.
The waters of south-west Wales of Gower, Pembrokeshire and Cardigan Bay attract marine animals, including basking sharks, Atlantic grey seals, leatherback turtles, dolphins, porpoises, jellyfish, crabs and lobsters. Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, in particular, are recognised as an area of international importance for bottlenose dolphins, and New Quay has the only summer residence of bottlenose dolphins in the whole of the UK. River fish of note include char, eel, salmon, shad, sparling and Arctic char, whilst the gwyniad is unique to Wales, found only in Bala Lake. Wales is known for its shellfish, including cockles, limpet, mussels and periwinkles. Herring, mackerel and hake are the more common of the country's marine fish. The north facing high grounds of Snowdonia support a relict pre-glacial flora including the iconic Snowdon lily – Gagea serotina – and other alpine species such as Saxifraga cespitosa, Saxifraga oppositifolia and Silene acaulis. Wales has a number of plant species not found elsewhere in the UK, including the spotted rock-rose Tuberaria guttata on Anglesey and Draba aizoides on the Gower.
Over the last 250 years, Wales has been transformed first from a predominantly agricultural country to an industrial, and now a post-industrial economy. In the 1950s Wales' GDP was twice as big as Ireland’s; by the 2020s Ireland's economy was four times that of Wales. Since the Second World War, the service sector has come to account for the majority of jobs, a feature typifying most advanced economies. in 2018, according to OECD and Eurostat data, gross domestic product (GDP) in Wales was £75 billion, an increase of 3.3 % from 2017. GDP per head in Wales in 2018 was £23,866, an increase of 2.9% on 2017. This compares to Italy’s GDP/capita of £25,000, Spain £22,000 , Slovenia £20,000 and New Zealand £30,000. In the three months to December 2017, 72.7 per cent of working-age adults were employed, compared to 75.2 per cent across the UK as a whole. For the 2018–19 fiscal year, the Welsh fiscal deficit accounts for 19.4 percent of Wales' estimated GDP.
In 2019 Wales was the world’s 5th largest exporter of electricity on the planet (22.7 TWh).
By UK laws, Wales must pay for items that do not directly benefit Wales e.g. over £5 billion for HS2 "which will damage the Welsh economy by £200m pa", according to the UK and Welsh Government's transport adviser Prof. Mark Barry. Wales also pays more for military costs than most similar sized countries e.g. Wales pays twice the amount Ireland spends on the military. The UK government spends £1.75bn per year on the military in Wales which is almost as much as Wales spend on education every year (£1.8 billion in 2018/19) and five times as much as the total amount spent on the police in Wales (£365 million).
From the middle of the 19th century until the post-war era, the mining and export of coal was a dominant industry. At its peak of production in 1913, nearly 233,000 men and women were employed in the south Wales coalfield, mining 56 million tons of coal. Cardiff was once the largest coal-exporting port in the world and, for a few years before the First World War, handled a greater tonnage of cargo than either London or Liverpool. In the 1920s, over 40% of the male Welsh population worked in heavy industry. According to Professor Phil Williams, the Great Depression "devastated Wales", north and south, because of its "overwhelming dependence on coal and steel". From the mid-1970s, the Welsh economy faced massive restructuring with large numbers of jobs in traditional heavy industry disappearing and being replaced eventually by new ones in light industry and in services. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Wales was successful in attracting an above average share of foreign direct investment in the UK. However, much of the new industry was essentially of a "branch (or "screwdriver") factory" type where a manufacturing plant or call centre is in Wales but the most highly paid jobs in the company are elsewhere.
Poor-quality soil in much of Wales is unsuitable for crop-growing so livestock farming has traditionally been the focus of farming. About 78% of the land surface is harnessed for agriculture. The Welsh landscape, with its three national parks and Blue Flag beaches, attracts large numbers of tourists, who bolster the economy of rural areas. Wales like Northern Ireland has relatively few high value-added employment in sectors such as finance and research and development, attributable in part to a comparative lack of 'economic mass' (i.e. population) – Wales lacks a large metropolitan centre. The lack of high value-added employment is reflected in lower economic output per head relative to other regions of the UK – in 2002 it stood at 90% of the EU25 average and around 80% of the UK average. In June 2008, Wales made history by becoming the first nation in the world to be awarded Fairtrade Status.
The pound sterling is the currency used in Wales. Numerous Welsh banks issued their own banknotes in the 19th century. The last bank to do so closed in 1908; since then, although banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland continue to have the right to issue banknotes in their own countries, the Bank of England has a monopoly on the issue of banknotes in Wales. The Commercial Bank of Wales, established in Cardiff by Sir Julian Hodge in 1971, was taken over by the Bank of Scotland in 1988 and absorbed into its parent company in 2002. The Royal Mint, who issue the coinage circulated through the whole of the UK, have been based at a single site in Llantrisant since 1980. Since decimalisation, in 1971, at least one of the coins in circulation emphasises Wales such as the 1995 and 2000 one Pound coin (above). As at 2012, the last designs devoted to Wales saw production in 2008.
The M4 motorway running from West London to South Wales links Newport, Cardiff and Swansea. Responsibility for the section of the motorway within Wales, from the Second Severn Crossing to Pont Abraham services, sits with the Welsh Government. The A55 expressway has a similar role along the north Wales coast, connecting Holyhead and Bangor with Wrexham and Flintshire. It also links to northwest England, principally Chester. The main north-south Wales link is the A470, which runs from Cardiff to Llandudno. The Welsh Government manages those parts of the British railway network within Wales, through the Transport for Wales Rail train operating company. The Cardiff region has its own urban rail network. Beeching cuts in the 1960s mean that most of the remaining network is geared toward east-west travel connecting with the Irish Sea ports for ferries to Ireland. Services between north and south Wales operate through the English towns of Chester and Shrewsbury along the Welsh Marches Line. Trains in Wales are mainly diesel-powered but the South Wales Main Line branch of the Great Western Main Line used by services from London Paddington to Cardiff is undergoing electrification, although the programme has experienced significant delays and costs-overruns.
Cardiff Airport is the international airport of Wales. Providing links to European, African and North American destinations, it is about 12 miles (19 km) southwest of Cardiff city centre, in the Vale of Glamorgan. Intra-Wales flights run between Anglesey (Valley) and Cardiff, operated since 2017 by Eastern Airways. Other internal flights operate to northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Wales has four commercial ferry ports. Regular ferry services to Ireland operate from Holyhead, Pembroke Dock and Fishguard. The Swansea to Cork service was cancelled in 2006, reinstated in March 2010, and withdrawn again in 2012.
A distinct education system has developed in Wales. Formal education before the 18th century was the preserve of the elite. The first grammar schools were established in Welsh towns such as Ruthin, Brecon and Cowbridge. One of the first successful schooling systems was started by Griffith Jones, who introduced the circulating schools in the 1730s; these are believed to have taught half the country's population to read. In the 19th century, with increasing state involvement in education, Wales was forced to adopt an education system that was English in ethos even though the country was predominantly Non-conformist, Welsh-speaking and demographically uneven because of the economic expansion in the south. In some schools, to ensure Welsh children spoke English at school, the Welsh Not was employed as corrective punishment; this was much resented, although the extent of its use is difficult to determine. State and local governmental edicts resulted in schooling in the English language which, following Brad y Llyfrau Gleision (the Treachery of the Blue Books), was seen as more academic and worthwhile for children.
The University College of Wales opened in Aberystwyth in 1872. Cardiff and Bangor followed, and the three colleges came together in 1893 to form the University of Wales. The Welsh Intermediate Education Act of 1889 created 95 secondary schools. The Welsh Department for the Board of Education followed in 1907, which gave Wales its first significant educational devolution. A resurgence in Welsh-language schools in the latter half of the 20th century at nursery and primary level saw attitudes shift towards teaching in the medium of Welsh. Welsh is a compulsory subject in all of Wales' state schools for pupils aged 5–16 years old. While there has never been an exclusively Welsh-language college, Welsh-medium higher education is delivered through the individual universities and has since 2011 been supported by the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol (Welsh National College) as a delocalised federal institution. In 2018–2019, there were 1,494 maintained schools in Wales. In 2018–2019, the country had 468,398 pupils taught by 23,593 full-time equivalent teachers.
Public healthcare in Wales is provided by NHS Wales (GIG Cymru), originally formed as part of the NHS structure for England and Wales by the National Health Service Act 1946, but with powers over the NHS in Wales coming under the Secretary of State for Wales in 1969. Responsibility for NHS Wales passed to the Welsh Assembly under devolution in 1999, and is now the responsibility of the Minister for Health and Social Services. Historically, Wales was served by smaller 'cottage' hospitals, built as voluntary institutions. As newer, more expensive, diagnostic techniques and treatments became available, clinical work has been concentrated in newer, larger district hospitals. In 2006, there were seventeen district hospitals in Wales. NHS Wales employs some 80,000 staff, making it Wales' biggest employer. A 2009 Welsh health survey reported that 51 per cent of adults reported their health good or excellent, while 21 per cent described their health as fair or poor. The survey recorded that 27 per cent of Welsh adults had a long-term chronic illness, such as arthritis, asthma, diabetes or heart disease. The 2018 National Survey of Wales, which enquired into health-related lifestyle choices, reported that 19 per cent of the adult population were smokers, 18 per cent admitted drinking alcohol above weekly recommended guidelines, while 53 per cent undertook the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity each week.
The population of Wales doubled from 587,000 in 1801 to 1,163,000 in 1851 and had reached 2,421,000 by 1911. Most of the increase came in the coal mining districts, especially Glamorganshire, which grew from 71,000 in 1801 to 232,000 in 1851 and 1,122,000 in 1911. Part of this increase can be attributed to the demographic transition seen in most industrialising countries during the Industrial Revolution, as death rates dropped and birth rates remained steady. However, there was also large-scale migration into Wales during the Industrial Revolution. The English were the most numerous group, but there were also considerable numbers of Irish and smaller numbers of other ethnic groups, including Italians, who migrated to South Wales. Wales also received immigration from various parts of the British Commonwealth of Nations in the 20th century, and African-Caribbean and Asian communities add to the ethnocultural mix, particularly in urban Wales. Many of these self-identify as Welsh.
The population in 1972 stood at 2.74 million and remained broadly static for the rest of the decade. However, in the early 1980s, the population fell due to net migration out of Wales. Since the 1980s, net migration has generally been inward, and has contributed more to population growth than natural change. The resident population of Wales in 2011 increased by 5% since 2001 to 3,063,456, of whom 1,504,228 are men and 1,559,228 women, according to the 2011 census results. Wales accounted for 4.8% of the UK population in 2011. Wales has six cities. In addition to Cardiff, Newport and Swansea, the communities of Bangor, St Asaph and St Davids also have city status in the United Kingdom.
The Welsh language is an Indo-European language of the Celtic family; the most closely related languages are Cornish and Breton. Most linguists believe that the Celtic languages arrived in Britain around 600 BCE. The Brythonic languages ceased to be spoken in of England and were replaced by the English language, which arrived in Wales around the end of the eighth century due to the defeat of the Kingdom of Powys. The Bible translations into Welsh and Protestant Reformation, which encouraged use of the vernacular in religious services, helped the language survive after Welsh elites abandoned it in favour of English in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Successive Welsh language acts, in 1942, 1967, 1993, and 2011, have improved the legal status of Welsh. Starting in the 1960s, many road signs have been replaced by bilingual versions. Various public and private sector bodies have adopted bilingualism to a varying degree and (since 2011) Welsh is the only official language in any part of the United Kingdom. English is spoken by almost all people in Wales and is the main language in most of the country. Code-switching is common in all parts of Wales and is known by various terms, though none is recognised by professional linguists.
"Wenglish" is the Welsh English language dialect. It has been influenced significantly by Welsh grammar and includes words derived from Welsh. According to John Davies, Wenglish has "been the object of far greater prejudice than anything suffered by Welsh". Northern and western Wales retain many areas where Welsh is spoken as a first language by the majority of the population, and English learnt as a second language. The 2011 Census showed 562,016 people, 19.0% of the Welsh population, were able to speak Welsh, a decrease from the 20.8% returned in the 2001 census. Although monoglotism in young children continues, life-long monoglotism in Welsh no longer occurs.
The largest religion in Wales is Christianity, with 57.6 per cent of the population describing themselves as Christian in the 2011 census. The Church in Wales with 56,000 adherents has the largest attendance of the denominations. It is a province of the Anglican Communion, and was part of the Church of England until disestablishment in 1920 under the Welsh Church Act 1914. The first Independent Church in Wales was founded at Llanvaches in 1638 by William Wroth. The Presbyterian Church of Wales was born out of the Welsh Methodist revival in the 18th century and seceded from the Church of England in 1811. The second largest attending faith in Wales is Roman Catholic, with an estimated 43,000 adherents. The 2011 census recorded 32.1 per cent of people declaring no religion, while 7.6 per cent did not reply to the question.
The patron saint of Wales is Saint David (Dewi Sant), with Saint David's Day (Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant) celebrated annually on 1 March. In 1904, there was a religious revival (known by some as the 1904–1905 Welsh Revival, or simply The 1904 Revival) which started through the evangelism of Evan Roberts and saw large numbers of people converting to non-Anglican Christianity, sometimes whole communities. Roberts' style of preaching became the blueprint for new religious bodies such as Pentecostalism and the Apostolic Church.
Non-Christian religions are small in Wales, making up approximately 2.7 per cent of the population. Islam is the largest, with 24,000 (0.8 per cent) reported Muslims in the 2011 census. There are also communities of Hindus and Sikhs, mainly in the south Wales cities of Newport, Cardiff and Swansea, while the largest concentration of Buddhists is in the western rural county of Ceredigion. Judaism was the first non-Christian faith to be established in Wales since Roman times, though by 2001 the community had declined to approximately 2,000 and as of 2019 only numbers in the hundreds.
Wales has a distinctive culture including its own language, customs, holidays and music. The country has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: The Castles and Town walls of King Edward I in Gwynedd; Pontcysyllte Aqueduct; and the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape.
Remnants of native Celtic mythology of the pre-Christian Britons was passed down orally by the cynfeirdd (the early poets). Some of their work survives in later medieval Welsh manuscripts: the Black Book of Carmarthen and the Book of Aneirin (both 13th-century); the Book of Taliesin and the White Book of Rhydderch (both 14th-century); and the Red Book of Hergest (c. 1400). The prose stories from the White and Red Books are known as the Mabinogion. Poems such as Cad Goddeu (The Battle of the Trees) and mnemonic list-texts like the Welsh Triads and the Thirteen Treasures of the Island of Britain, also contain mythological material. These texts include the earliest forms of the Arthurian legend and the traditional history of post-Roman Britain. Other sources of Welsh folklore include the 9th-century Latin historical compilation Historia Britonum (the History of the Britons) and Geoffrey of Monmouth's 12th-century Latin chronicle Historia Regum Britanniae (the History of the Kings of Britain), and later folklore, such as The Welsh Fairy Book by W. Jenkyn Thomas.
Wales has one of the oldest unbroken literary traditions in Europe going back to the sixth century and including Geoffrey of Monmouth and Gerald of Wales, regarded as among the finest Latin authors of the Middle Ages. The earliest body of Welsh verse, by poets Taliesin and Aneirin, survive not in their original form, but in much-changed, medieval versions. Welsh poetry and native lore and learning survived the Dark Ages, through the era of the Poets of the Princes (c. 1100 – 1280) and then the Poets of the Gentry (c. 1350 – 1650). The former were professional poets who composed eulogies and elegies to their patrons while the latter favoured the cywydd metre. The period produced one of Wales' greatest poets, Dafydd ap Gwilym. After the Anglicisation of the gentry the tradition declined.
Despite the extinction of the professional poet, the integration of the native elite into a wider cultural world did bring other literary benefits. Renaissance scholars such as William Salesbury and John Davies brought humanist ideals from English universities. In 1588 William Morgan became the first person to translate the Bible into Welsh. From the 16th century the proliferation of the 'free-metre' verse became the most important development in Welsh poetry, but from the middle of the 17th century a host of imported accentual metres from England became very popular. By the 19th century the creation of a Welsh epic, fuelled by the eisteddfod, became an obsession with Welsh-language writers. The output of this period was prolific in quantity but unequal in quality. Initially excluded, religious denominations came to dominate the competitions, with bardic themes becoming scriptural and didactic.
Developments in 19th-century Welsh literature include Lady Charlotte Guest's translation into English of the Mabinogion, one of the most important medieval Welsh prose tales of Celtic mythology. 1885 saw the publication of Rhys Lewis by Daniel Owen, credited as the first novel written in the Welsh language. The 20th century saw a move from verbose Victorian Welsh prose, with works such as Thomas Gwynn Jones's Ymadawiad Arthur. The First World War had a profound effect on Welsh literature with a more pessimistic style championed by T. H. Parry-Williams and R. Williams Parry. The industrialisation of south Wales saw a further shift with the likes of Rhydwen Williams who used the poetry and metre of a bygone rural Wales but in the context of an industrial landscape. The inter-war period is dominated by Saunders Lewis, for his political and reactionary views as much as his plays, poetry and criticism.
The careers of some 1930s writers continued after World War Two, including those of Gwyn Thomas, Vernon Watkins, and Dylan Thomas, whose most famous work Under Milk Wood was first broadcast in 1954. Thomas was one of the most notable and popular Welsh writers of the 20th century and one of the most innovative poets of his time. The attitude of the post-war generation of Welsh writers in English towards Wales differs from the previous generation, with greater sympathy for Welsh nationalism and the Welsh language. The change is linked to the nationalism of Saunders Lewis and the burning of the Bombing School on the Llŷn Peninsula in 1936. In poetry R. S. Thomas (1913–2000) was the most important figure throughout the second half of the twentieth century. He "did not learn the Welsh language until he was 30 and wrote all his poems in English". Major writers in the second half of the twentieth century include Emyr Humphreys (born 1919), who during his long writing career published over twenty novels, and Raymond Williams (1921–1988).
Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales was founded by royal charter in 1907 and is now a Welsh Government sponsored body. The National Museum is made up of seven sites across the country, including the National Museum Cardiff, St Fagans National History Museum and Big Pit National Coal Museum. In April 2001, the attractions attached to the National Museum were granted free entry by the Assembly, and this action saw the visitor numbers to the sites increase during 2001–2002 by 87.8 per cent to 1,430,428. Aberystwyth is home to the National Library of Wales, which houses some of the most important collections in Wales, including the Sir John Williams Collection and the Shirburn Castle collection. As well as its printed collection the Library holds important Welsh art collections including portraits and photographs, ephemera such as postcards, posters and Ordnance Survey maps.
Works of Celtic art have been found in Wales. In the Early Medieval period, the Celtic Christianity of Wales was part of the Insular art of the British Isles. A number of illuminated manuscripts from Wales survive, including the 8th-century Hereford Gospels and Lichfield Gospels. The 11th-century Ricemarch Psalter (now in Dublin) is certainly Welsh, made in St David's, and shows a late Insular style with unusual Viking influence.
Some Welsh artists of the 16th–18th centuries tended to leave the country to work, moving to London or Italy. Richard Wilson (1714–1782) is arguably the first major British landscapist. Although more notable for his Italian scenes, he painted several Welsh scenes on visits from London. By the late 18th century, the popularity of landscape art grew and clients were found in the larger Welsh towns, allowing more Welsh artists to stay in their homeland. Artists from outside Wales were also drawn to paint Welsh scenery, at first because of the Celtic Revival.
An Act of Parliament in 1857 provided for the establishment of a number of art schools throughout the United Kingdom and the Cardiff School of Art opened in 1865. Graduates still very often had to leave Wales to work, but Betws-y-Coed became a popular centre for artists and its artists' colony helped form the Royal Cambrian Academy of Art in 1881.The sculptor Sir William Goscombe John made works for Welsh commissions, although he had settled in London. Christopher Williams, whose subjects were mostly resolutely Welsh, was also based in London. Thomas E. Stephens and Andrew Vicari had very successful careers as portraitists based respectively in the United States and France.
Welsh painters gravitated towards the art capitals of Europe. Augustus John and his sister Gwen John lived mostly in London and Paris. However, the landscapists Sir Kyffin Williams and Peter Prendergast lived in Wales for most of their lives, while remaining in touch with the wider art world. Ceri Richards was very engaged in the Welsh art scene as a teacher in Cardiff and even after moving to London. He was a figurative painter in international styles including Surrealism. Various artists have moved to Wales, including Eric Gill, the London-Welshman David Jones and the sculptor Jonah Jones. The Kardomah Gang was an intellectual circle centred on the poet Dylan Thomas and poet and artist Vernon Watkins in Swansea, which also included the painter Alfred Janes.
South Wales had several notable potteries, one of the first important sites being the Ewenny Pottery in Bridgend, which began producing earthenware in the 17th century. In the 18th and 19th centuries, with more scientific methods becoming available more refined ceramics were produced led by the Cambrian Pottery (1764–1870, also known as "Swansea pottery") and later Nantgarw Pottery near Cardiff, which was in operation from 1813 to 1822 making fine porcelain and then utilitarian pottery until 1920. Portmeirion Pottery, founded in 1960 by Susan Williams-Ellis, daughter of Clough Williams-Ellis, creator of the Italianate village of Portmeirion, Gwynedd, is based in Stoke-on-Trent, England.
The Flag of Wales incorporates the red dragon (Y Ddraig Goch) of Prince Cadwalader along with the Tudor colours of green and white. It was used by Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, after which it was carried in state to St Paul's Cathedral. The red dragon was then included in the Tudor royal arms to signify their Welsh descent. It was officially recognised as the Welsh national flag in 1959. On its creation the Union Jack incorporated the flags of the kingdoms of Scotland, of Ireland and the Cross of St. George which then represented the Kingdom of England and Wales. "Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau" (English: Land of My Fathers) is the National Anthem of Wales, and is played at events such as football or rugby matches involving the Wales national team as well as the opening of the Senedd and other official occasions. "God Save the Queen", the national anthem of the United Kingdom, is sometimes played alongside Hen Wlad fy Nhadau during official events with a royal connection.
The daffodil and the leek are both symbols of Wales. The origins of the leek can be traced to the 16th century, while the daffodil became popular in the 19th century, encouraged by David Lloyd George. This is attributed to confusion (or association) between the Welsh for leek, cenhinen, and that for daffodil, cenhinen Bedr or St. Peter's leek. A report in 1916 gave preference to the leek, which has appeared on British pound coins. The Prince of Wales' heraldic badge is also sometimes used to symbolise Wales. The badge, known as the Prince of Wales's feathers, consists of three white feathers emerging from a gold coronet. A ribbon below the coronet bears the German motto Ich dien (I serve). Several Welsh representative teams, including the Welsh rugby union, and Welsh regiments in the British Army (the Royal Welsh, for example) use the badge or a stylised version of it. There have been attempts made to curtail the use of the emblem for commercial purposes and restrict its use to those authorised by the Prince of Wales.
More than 50 national governing bodies regulate and organise their sports in Wales. Most of those involved in competitive sports select, organise and manage individuals or teams to represent their country at international events or fixtures against other countries. Wales is represented at major world sporting events such as the FIFA World Cup, Rugby World Cup, Rugby League World Cup and the Commonwealth Games. At the Olympic Games, Welsh athletes compete alongside those of Scotland, England and Northern Ireland as part of a Great Britain team. Wales has hosted several international sporting events. These include the 1958 Commonwealth Games, the 1999 Rugby World Cup, the 2010 Ryder Cup and the 2017 UEFA Champions League Final.
Although football has traditionally been the more popular sport in north Wales, rugby union is seen as a symbol of Welsh identity and an expression of national consciousness. The Wales national rugby union team takes part in the annual Six Nations Championship and has also competed in every Rugby World Cup, hosting the tournament in 1999. The five professional sides that replaced the traditional club sides in major competitions in 2003 were replaced in 2004 by the four regions: Cardiff Blues, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets. The Welsh regional teams play in the Pro14, the Heineken Champions Cup if they qualify and the European Rugby Challenge Cup, again dependent on qualification. Rugby league in Wales dates back to 1907. A professional Welsh League existed from 1908 to 1910.
Wales has had its own football league, the Welsh Premier League, since 1992. For historical reasons, five Welsh clubs play in the English football league system; Cardiff City, Swansea City, Newport County, Wrexham, and Merthyr Town. Famous Welsh players over the years include John Charles, John Toshack, Gary Speed, Ian Rush, Ryan Giggs, Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, and Daniel James. At UEFA Euro 2016, the Wales national team achieved their best ever finish, reaching the semi-finals where they were beaten by eventual champions Portugal.
In international cricket, Wales and England field a single representative team, administered by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), called the England cricket team, or simply 'England'. Occasionally, a separate Wales team play limited-overs competitions. Glamorgan County Cricket Club is the only Welsh participant in the England and Wales County Championship. Wales has produced several world-class participants of individual and team sports including snooker players Ray Reardon, Terry Griffiths, Mark Williams and Matthew Stevens. Track athletes who have made a mark on the world stage include hurdler Colin Jackson and Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson. Champion cyclists include Nicole Cooke and Geraint Thomas. Wales has a tradition of producing world-class boxers. Joe Calzaghe was WBO world super-middleweight champion and then won the WBA, WBC and Ring Magazine super middleweight and Ring Magazine light-heavyweight titles. Other former boxing world champions include Enzo Maccarinelli, Freddie Welsh, Howard Winstone, Percy Jones, Jimmy Wilde, Steve Robinson and Robbie Regan. Tommy Farr, the "Tonypandy Terror", came close to defeating world heavyweight champion Joe Louis at the height of his fame in 1937.
Wales became the UK's first digital television nation. BBC Cymru Wales is the national broadcaster, producing both television and radio programmes in Welsh and English from its base in Central Square, Cardiff. The broadcaster also produces programmes such as Life on Mars, Doctor Who and Torchwood for BBC's network audience across the United Kingdom. ITV, the UK's main commercial broadcaster, has a Welsh-oriented service branded as ITV Cymru Wales, whose studios are in Cardiff Bay. S4C, based in Carmarthen, first broadcast on 1 November 1982. Its output was mostly Welsh-language at peak hours but shared English-language content with Channel 4 at other times. Since the digital switchover in April 2010, the channel has broadcast exclusively in Welsh. BBC Radio Cymru is the BBC's Welsh-language radio service, broadcasting throughout Wales. A number of independent radio stations broadcast to the Welsh regions, predominantly in English. In 2006 several regional radio stations were broadcasting in Welsh: output ranged from two, two-minute news bulletins each weekday (Radio Maldwyn), through to over 14 hours of Welsh-language programmes weekly (Swansea Sound), to essentially bilingual stations such as Heart Cymru and Radio Ceredigion.
Most of the newspapers sold and read in Wales are national newspapers available throughout Britain. The Western Mail is Wales' only national daily newspaper. Wales-based regional daily newspapers include: Daily Post (which covers north Wales); South Wales Evening Post (Swansea); South Wales Echo (Cardiff); and South Wales Argus (Newport). Y Cymro is a Welsh-language newspaper, published weekly. Wales on Sunday is the only Welsh Sunday newspaper to cover the whole of Wales. The Books Council of Wales (BCW) is the Welsh Government funded body tasked with promoting Welsh literature. The BCW provides publishing grants for qualifying English- and Welsh-language publications. Around 600–650 books are published each year, by some of the dozens of Welsh publishers. Wales' main publishing houses include Gomer Press, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Honno, the University of Wales Press and Y Lolfa. Cambria, a Welsh affairs magazine published bi-monthly in English, has subscribers internationally. Titles published quarterly in English include Planet and Poetry Wales. Welsh-language magazines include the current affairs titles Golwg (View) (published weekly) and Barn (Opinion) (monthly). Among the specialist magazines, Y Wawr (The Dawn) is published quarterly by Merched y Wawr, the national organisation for women. Y Traethodydd (The Essayist), a quarterly publication by The Presbyterian Church of Wales, first appeared in 1845; the oldest Welsh publication still in print.
Traditional Welsh dishes include laverbread (made from Porphyra umbilicalis, an edible seaweed); bara brith (fruit bread); cawl (a lamb stew); cawl cennin (leek soup); and Welsh cakes. Cockles are sometimes served as a traditional breakfast with bacon and laverbread. Although Wales has its own traditional food and has absorbed much of the cuisine of England, Welsh diets now owe more to the countries of India, China and the United States. Chicken tikka masala is the country's favourite dish while hamburgers and Chinese food outsell fish and chips as a takeaway.
Wales is often referred to as "the land of song", notable for its harpists, male choirs, and solo artists. The main festival of music and poetry is the annual National Eisteddfod. The Llangollen International Eisteddfod provides an opportunity for the singers and musicians of the world to perform. The Welsh Folk Song Society has published a number of collections of songs and tunes. Traditional instruments of Wales include telyn deires (triple harp), fiddle, crwth (bowed lyre), pibgorn (hornpipe) and other instruments. Male voice choirs emerged in the 19th century, formed as the tenor and bass sections of chapel choirs, and embraced the popular secular hymns of the day. Many of the historic choirs survive in modern Wales, singing a mixture of traditional and popular songs.
The BBC National Orchestra of Wales performs in Wales and internationally. The Welsh National Opera is based at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay, while the National Youth Orchestra of Wales was the first of its type in the world. Wales has a tradition of producing notable singers, including Geraint Evans, Gwyneth Jones, Anne Evans, Margaret Price, Tom Jones, Bonnie Tyler, Bryn Terfel, Mary Hopkin, Charlotte Church, Donna Lewis, Katherine Jenkins, and Shirley Bassey. Popular bands that emerged from Wales include Badfinger, the Manic Street Preachers, the Stereophonics and Feeder, the Super Furry Animals and Catatonia. The Welsh traditional and folk music scene is in resurgence with performers such as Siân James
The earliest surviving Welsh plays are two medieval miracle plays, Y Tri Brenin o Gwlen ("The three Kings from Cologne") and Y Dioddefaint a'r Atgyfodiad ("The Passion and the Resurrection"). A recognised Welsh tradition of theatre emerged during the 18th century, in the form of an interlude, a metrical play performed at fairs and markets. Drama in the early 20th century thrived, but the country established neither a Welsh National Theatre nor a national ballet company. After the Second World War the substantial number of amateur companies that had existed before the outbreak of hostilities reduced by two-thirds. Competition from television in the mid-20th century led to greater professionalism in the theatre. Plays by Emlyn Williams and Alun Owen and others were staged, while Welsh actors, including Richard Burton and Stanley Baker, were establishing themselves as artistic talents. Anthony Hopkins is an alumnus of the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, and other notable Welsh actors include Michael Sheen and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Wales has also produced well known comedians including Rob Brydon, Tommy Cooper, Terry Jones, and Harry Secombe.
Traditional dances include folk dancing and clog dancing. The first mention of dancing in Wales is in a 12th-century account by Giraldus Cambrensis, but by the 19th century traditional dance had all but died out due to religious opposition. In the 20th century a revival was led by Lois Blake (1890–1974). Clog dancing was preserved and developed by Howel Wood (1882–1967) and others who perpetuated the art on local and national stages. The Welsh Folk Dance Society was founded in 1949; it supports a network of national amateur dance teams and publishes support material. Contemporary dance grew out of Cardiff in the 1970s; one of the earliest companies, Moving Being, came from London to Cardiff in 1973. Diversions was formed in 1983, eventually becoming the National Dance Company Wales, now the resident company at the Wales Millennium Centre.
Wales has some unique celebratory days. An early festivity was Mabsant when local parishes would celebrate the patron saint of their local church. Wales's national day is Saint David's Day, marked on 1 March, believed to be the date of David's death in the year 589. Dydd Santes Dwynwen's day commemorates the local patron saint of friendship and love. It is celebrated on 25 January in a similar way to St Valentine's Day. Calan Gaeaf, associated with the supernatural and the dead, is observed on 1 November (All Saints Day). It has largely been replaced by Hallowe'en. Other festivities include Calan Mai (May Day), celebrating the beginning of summer; Calan Awst (Lammas Day); and Gŵyl Fair y Canhwyllau (Candlemas Day).