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Facts at a Glance
 Area: 20,764 sq km (8017 sq mi)

Population: 2.9 million

Capital city: Cardiff (pop 265,000)

People: Celts, Anglo-Saxons

Language: Welsh, English

Religion: Nonconformist Protestants, Anglicans, Catholics

Government: Parliamentary Democracy

Head of State: Queen Elizabeth II

Prime Minister: Tony Blair


Surrounded by sea on three sides, Wales' border with England (to the east) still runs roughly along Offa's Dyke, the giant earthwork constructed in the 8th century. Wales has two major mountain systems: the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons in the south, and the mountains of Snowdonia in the northwest. These glaciated mountain areas are deeply cut by narrow river valleys. Rolling moorlands stretch from Denbigh in the north to the Glamorgan valleys in the south, ending on the west coast in spectacular cliffs. The population is concentrated in the southeast, along the coast between Cardiff and Swansea and in the valleys that run north into the Beacons.

Much of Wales was once covered by forest, mainly sessile oak, but very little remains. Most has been cleared for agriculture or chopped down for shipbuilding, charcoal building and mine construction. Overgrazing and the introduction of wild rhododendron bushes has made it hard for any native forest to reseed. Native ash are much more common than oaks, growing along rivers, and in their shade you'll find primoses, violets and orchids. Wild cherry trees and field maples are also common. Fragile Arctic plants like the unique Snowdon lily grow among the country's mountains.

Seabirds love Wales' lengthy coastline - the country has 30% of the world's manx shearwaters and Grassholm has one of the world's largest gannet colonies. Inland you'll find the only red kites left in Britain, as well as the greater horseshoe bat, confined to Wales and fragments of England. Red squirrels are holding out in parts of the country and there's a colony of grey seals breeding on the west coast.

It's probably fair to say that Wales suffers from an excess of rainfall, with water falling from the sky all year round. Westerly and south-westerly winds can also make life pretty miserable. That said, the closeness of the mountains to the coast means that you can encounter very different climatic conditions withing short distances. Temperatures in Cardiff get up to 20°C (68°F) at the height of summer (August), but rarely drop below freezing even in the depths of winter (January).

Economic Profile
 GDP: US$154 billion

GDP per head: US$18,000

Annual growth: 3%

Inflation: 1.8%

Major industries: Agriculture and forestry, manufacturing, tourism

Major trading partners: EU & USA

Member of the EU: yes

Euro zone participant: no

Facts for the Traveler
 Visas: EU citizens may live and work free of any immigration controls. Citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand are generally allowed to stay six months without a visa.

Health risks: None


Electricity: 240V, 50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric (except beer, which is measured in pints)

Money & Costs
 Currency:Pound sterling (£)
Relative Costs:

  • Budget: US$5-10
  • Mid-range: US$10-25
  • Top-end: US$25+

  • Lodging

  • Budget: US$15-30
  • Mid-range: US$30-100
  • Top-end hotel: US$100+
  • Wales is expensive, but nowhere near as expensive as England. Cardiff's prices are generally 5-10% lower than those in England. Wales' cities are generally more expensive than the countryside, but even outside the cities you'll still need at least US$25 a day, and if you stay in B&Bs, eat one sit-down meal a day and don't stint on entry fees, you'll need about US$60 a day.

    Traveler's checks are widely accepted in banks and you might as well buy them in pounds sterling to avoid changing currencies twice. Cashpoints (ATMs) are very common in Britain: most are linked to major credit cards as well as the Cirrus, Maestro and Plus cash networks, but if a machine swallows your card it can be a nightmare. Most banks insist on chopping it in half and sending it back to your home branch - very helpful.

    If you eat in a restaurant you should leave a tip of at least 10% unless the service was unsatisfactory. Waiting staff are often paid derisory wages on the assumption that the money will be supplemented by tips. Some restaurants include a service charge on the bill, in which case a gratuity is unnecessary. Taxi drivers expect to be tipped about 10%.

    When to Go

    Spring and autumn are probably the best times to visit Wales if you want to avoid the July and August crowds. It's even less busy in winter, but many attractions close in mid-October and don't reopen until Easter. Some mountain passes can be snowbound in winter.

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