Main Cities in Wales
One of four countries that make up the United Kingdom (the others being England, Scotland and Northern Ireland), Wales was once an independent state before annexation by England and became subject to English law in the mid-1500s. Once dependent on agriculture as the main source of income and employment, Wales switched its economic attention to mining during the Industrial Revolution and rapidly became an industry-based economy largely dependent on coal production.
With the continued expansion and success of its coal mining industry, Wales saw a significant upturn in population which today stands at around 3.3 million. Much of the country is sparsely populated. Approximately two-thirds of the populace resides in the South Wales region in cities and towns such as Swansea, Newport and the capital city, Cardiff.
The country’s capital, and largest city with an estimated population of almost half a million, Cardiff is located in the southeastern part of Wales. Only a small-sized town until the early part of the 19th century, Cardiff then grew in prominence due to its important role in coal exportation. The city is now the country’s commercial centre and a major location for film and television production and is also home to the main Welsh broadcasting networks.
Tourism is a huge source of income for the city, with over 20 million visitors every year and numerous rugby fans who come to enjoy international and league rugby games in the impressive Principality Stadium. Rugby is, however, not the only attraction Cardiff has to offer:
- Cardiff Castle
- National Museum
- St. David’s Shopping Centre
- Norwegian Church
- Caerphilly Castle
- Principality Stadium (formerly Millennium Stadium)
- Llandaff Cathedral
- Roald Dahl Plass
Once a tidal bay and an estuary, Cardiff Bay is now a freshwater lake and an interesting place to visit. Located between the city centre and the seaside resort town of Penarth, the Cardiff Bay area is where many worthwhile attractions are to be found, as well as being a pleasant place to while away the day in the many restaurants and bars.
North of Cardiff is the city of Newport which was once the largest exporter of coal in Wales. Today, Newport is a bustling university town with many interesting and sometimes surprising attractions:
- Friar’s Walk Shopping Centre.
- Newport Transporter Bridge – One of only seven transporter bridges worldwide still in operation.
- Newport Castle – Historic 14th-century castle ruins.
- Steel Wave – 14-meter-high steel sculpture commemorating Newport’s steel and shipping past.
- Newport Market – Indoor Victorian market.
- St. Woolos Cathedral – Dating back to the 6th century.
- Newport Museum and Art Gallery.
- Caerleon Roman Fortress and Baths
On the banks of the River Usk is The Riverfront, a noted theatre and arts complex. Hosting opera, dance, live music and comedy events, the Riverfront also supports local artists with regular painting, sculpture and photography exhibitions offered free of charge to visitors.
Located on the Welsh south coast, Swansea is the second biggest city in Wales. The area surrounding the city is an archaeological goldmine with discoveries on the Gower Peninsula and at Long Hole Cave considered by many experts to be evidence of the first modern human settlements in Great Britain. Swansea is also the birthplace of poet Dylan Thomas, and many of the city’s attractions revolve around these two facts.
- National Waterfront Museum.
- Swansea Museum.
- Egypt Centre – The most extensive collection of Egyptian antiquities in the country.
- Dylan Thomas Centre.
- Gower Peninsula.
Gower has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is a haven for hikers, birdwatchers, nature lovers and surfers. A walk on the promontory into Rhossili Bay leads to Worm’s Head which can only be accessed for two hours immediately before or after low tide.
Relatively small, with a population of less than 20,000, Bangor only achieved city status in 1974. This is even though the city’s cathedral dates as far back as the 6th century. Located near the Menai Strait and between the Welsh coast and the island of Anglesey, Bangor has the aura of a seaside town, complete with an attractive pier.
Places of interest include:
- Cadeirlan Bangor Cathedral
- Penrhyn Castle
- Bangor Garth Pier
- Storiel Art Gallery
- Britannia Bridge
- The Bible Garden
- Bangor Market
- Bangor Clock Tower
Visitors to Bangor wishing to spend a pleasant day out are well-advised to take the Snowdonia and Three Castles Tour. This day tour takes in Snowdonia National Park and the castles of Caernarfon, Conwy and Dolbadam, with a full commentary covering the area’s history and interesting facts provided.
Wrexham only achieved city status in 2022 and is home to less than 70,000 inhabitants. Located in the northeastern part of Wales, Wrexham is close to the English border and due south of Liverpool. The unearthing of Bronze Age burial sites and ancient flint tools close to the city leads experts to believe there has been a settlement on what is present-day Wrexham since the Mesolithic period, which goes back to 8,000 BC.
No longer dependent on the heavy industry of bygone years, Wrexham today is known for its high-tech manufacturing and being a hub for many professional and financial services.
Although lacking a coastline and beach, Wrexham has its attraction for nature lovers as it sits on a plateau between the Dee Valley and the mountains in northeast Wales. Some of the attractions Wrexham has to offer are:
- Bellevue Park
- Tower of St. Giles’ Church
- All Saints Church and Gresford Bells
- Overton Village
- Wrexham County Borough Museum
- Chirk Castle
Wrexham Fun Facts
- The city’s football club, Wrexham AFC, is recognised as being the world’s third oldest club.
- The first “Miss World” on official record was a native of Wrexham.
- Ruabon Red Brick tiles, originating in Wrexham, were used in restoring India’s Taj Mahal.
- It is also reputed that Wrexham Lager, brewed in the city since 1881, was on the drinks menu of the ill-fated Titanic passenger liner.
Achieving city status in 1995, St. David’s is the smallest city in Wales and Britain. With a population of around 2,000, the city is named after St. David, who lived there in the 5th century. Although small in size, St. David’s is a popular tourist destination, with visitors travelling to see the small city and cathedral but also to explore the surrounding countryside or the nearby islands of Skomer, Skokholm, Grassholm and Ramsey.
Among the many things to do and see are:
- St. David’s Cathedral
- St. David’s Bishop’s Palace
- Whitesands Bay
- Ramsey Island Nature Reserve
- Goat Street Gallery
- Oriel y Parc Landscape Gallery and Visitor Centre
An unusual but interesting way to spend a few hours is visiting Dr Beynon’s Bug Farm. This is both a working farm and a scientific research centre and houses such appetising attractions as the Bug Museum, the British Bug House, Bug Barn and the Insect Farming Exhibition. If that isn’t enough to entice visitors, there is always the edible insect restaurant to whet the appetite!