15 Things You Didn’t Know About Wales – that Will Make You Want to Go …

15 Things You Didn't Know About Wales - that Will Make You Want to Go Immediately

The Black Mountains in the Wales countryside (Photo: Les Haines/Flickr)

It’s probably not an understatement to say that most Americans don’t know much about Wales — it may be the least-known country in Great Britain. So here are some fun facts that will make you want to go to one of the most beautiful countries in the world, one that’s steeped in history. Here’s what we’ve all been missing.

1. The country is supersmall by U.S. standards — only about 8,000 square miles, nearly the size of New Jersey — so you can see a lot in a short period of time.

2. Cardiff, the capital and biggest city (about 1.3 million people), was just voted the U.K.’s best city to live in (and one of the best in Europe), thanks to a reasonable cost of living, salaries, and a high life satisfaction, among other things.

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Carreg Cennen Castle in Wales (Photo: Leah Ginsberg)

3. There are 641 castles (or what’s left of them) in Wales, some dating back as far as the 11th century. Many offer beautiful views, dark histories, and cool secret passageways. Caerphilly Castle (the biggest in Wales, and it leans more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa), Conwy Castle (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and Caernarfon Castle (with beautiful views of Snowdonia) are must-sees. 

4. There are no chain hotels in the countryside, just loads of lovely BBs and boutique hotels. Three faves are the Gliffaes Country House Hotel in Powys (for the ultimate upper crust country getaway), the Harbourmaster in Aberaeron (the perfect waterfront hotel for a cozy fall stay), and the Black Lion Hotel in New Quay (poet Dylan Thomas’s favorite pub, which is now an inn).

Related: Get Lost! America’s Most Remote Hotels, Resorts, and Lodges

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A Welsh sheep is a happy sheep – look at all that grass to eat. (Photo: Peter Adams/Photographer’s Choice RF/Getty Images)

5. The population of the country is 3 million people, but there are 11 million sheep. That makes for a lot of delicious Welsh lamb to eat (it’s the national food). It also creates lovely views of adorable animals grazing on the green grass of the hillsides.

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The beauty of the Welsh coast (Photo: Joe Daniel Price/Moment/Getty Images)

6. There are 750 miles of coastline, and you can walk it all along the Wales Coast Path. If you’re game, you can walk the rest of the way around the country on the long distance Offa’s Dyke Path, which roughly follows the border between England and Wales along an 8th-century dyke. Most people just do sections, but if you’re in for the long haul, the Coast Path takes about 65 days, depending on fitness, and the Offa’s Dyke takes the average walker 12 days. You can even have your bags driven from point to point via companies like Cab-a-Bag and Edge of Wales Walk

7. It’s one of the only countries in the world in which the government (formed in 1999) has a legal duty to promote a sustainable development agenda (aka, they have to be green by law). Plus, about 30 percent of Wales is a protected landscape: either a national park, an area of outstanding natural beauty, or a heritage coast site. Go, Wales! 

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The downtown area in Hay-on-Wye is packed with tons of bookstores. The festival is held in a nearby field. ( Photo: Richard Keen/Flickr)

8. There’s a world-famous literally festival every year, the Hay Festival (named for Hay-on-Wye, the unimaginably quaint town where it’s held). Authors from Bill Clinton to Toni Morrison and Arianna Huffington have taken part, and there are lots of fun activities for kids. Plus, thanks to a shared love of the written word, the African town of Timbuktu in Mali voted Hay-on-Wye its U.K. twin town. Who knew?

9. Currently, Wales has five restaurants with a Michelin star. Ynyshir Hall in Machynlleth is a favorite (the lemon tart is to die for), plus there is The Walnut Tree in Abergavenny, The Checkers in Montgomery, Tyddyn Llan in Llandrillo, and The Crown in Whitebrook. The great thing about going to Wales restaurants in fall is that you don’t have the same months-long wait for reservations that you find in cities like Paris or New York. 

10. There’s surfing in Wales, and autumn is the best time to do it. Rhossili Bay on The Gower Peninsula was named the best beach in the U.K. and one of the top 10 beaches in the world, and it’s a great place to catch waves. Other hot hang-10 spots include Porthcawl, Glamorgan (mellow waves are suitable for beginners), Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire (parts of the Harry Potter flicks were filmed here, and it’s the location of the Welsh Surf Championship), and Rhosneigr Beach in Anglesey (a popular surf spot that Prince William is rumored to have enjoyed).

Related: I Hate Being Wet and Cold. So Why Did I Go Surfing in Ireland in October?

11. Michael Sheen, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Matthew Rhys, Tom Jones, George Everest (the guy the mountain is named after), and Dylan Thomas are all Welsh. 

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Henrhyd Waterfall is the tallest waterfall in Wales. (Photo: rich_p/Flickr)

12. Henrhyd Waterall in the western part of Brecon Beacons National Park (known as Wales’s waterfall country) served as the supercool entrance to the Batcave in The Dark Knight Rises. (Batman star Christian Bale was also born in Wales, though he insists he’s more English.)

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This one is over a walking path at Bodnant Gardens, Conwy, Wales (Photo: ukgardenphotos/Flickr)

13. Everywhere you drive in Wales there are these amazing tree tunnels, made even more beautiful in the fall by the changing colors of the leaves. According to the people at VisitBritain, many are natural phenomena, while others are manmade. 

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A genuine Welsh rainbow (Photo: Leah Ginsberg)

14. The weather in Wales in the fall is a bit of a roller coaster — it’s chilly and raining one minute, warmer and sunny the next. (They say you can experience all four seasons in one day, and it’s not too far from the truth.) But there is one cool thing that comes from the change: rainbows. They’re a pretty common site in Wales. 

15. Though the Sherlock Holmes book The Hound of the Baskervilles is set in England, the real Baskerville Hall that the story is based on actually sits among the moors of Wales. (The Baskerville family asked the author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, not to use the real location.) Now, the hall is a hotel where anyone can stay and look for the ghostly hounds of hell.

Related: Channel Lord Byron on Horseback Through the Rugged Wilderness of Albania

Video: Exploring the Islands of Wales

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