How many cities are there in Wales? With Wrexham gaining city status in 2022, there are now seven cities in Wales. Here’s everything you need to know.
Too often I’m guilty of revering Wales only in terms of its natural landscapes, national parks, mountains and coastline. All of which are, without any doubt, spectacular. After all, this is the land that Victorian poet Gerald Manley Hopkins described as ‘Lovely the woods, waters, meadows, combes, vales/All the air things wear that build this world of Wales.’
But Hopkins was English, not Welsh, and like so many travellers before, and after, he totally ignored the pull of the big, and small, cities that so define the country. From the Bristol Channel in the south, and north to the Irish Sea, Welsh cities range in size from the urban metropolis that is Cardiff to the tiny, pint-sized ‘cities’ of St Davids and St Asaph, which are just villages, really!
Home to one of the largest and two of the smallest cities in the United Kingdom, Wales has an urban pull that’s just as fascinating as its countryside. In this article, I want to inspire you to visit Wales’ urban areas, and I’ll start by answering the most important question of all, ‘How many cities are in Wales?’
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How many cities are in Wales?
There are seven cities in Wales. Each has a unique character, shaped by its history and by the local communities who live there. Cardiff, the capital, is the most populous city in Wales, and serves as a cultural and economic hub, blending historic landmarks with contemporary developments.
Swansea and Newport follow in size, offering a mix of industrial heritage and modern living. Wrexham, a major centre in North Wales, is the newest city in Wales, having only been granted city status in 2022 to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
Bangor is Wales’ oldest cathedral city, and it contrasts greatly with St Davids, which is better known as the smallest city in the United Kingdom. Lastly, there’s St Asaph, which, though small, is rich in historical and cultural significance.
In alphabetical order, here are the seven cities in Wales:
- Bangor: Wales’ oldest cathedral city.
- Cardiff: The capital and most populous city of Wales.
- Newport: Known for its industrial history and modern development.
- St Asaph: Known for its small size and cultural significance.
- St Davids: The smallest city in the United Kingdom by population.
- Swansea: The second most populous city in Wales.
- Wrexham: A major centre in North Wales, now known for its football club.
How is a city defined in the United Kingdom?
In the United Kingdom, city status is a ceremonial designation and is not directly related to factors such as population size, economic activity, or local governance structures, which often characterise the definition of a ‘city’ in many other countries.
City status is granted by the monarch, often upon the advice of ministers, and traditionally it was conferred to towns with diocesan cathedrals. This link between having a cathedral and being granted city status led to the phrase ‘city and bishopric’. This is the reason why Wales has two ‘cities’ which are incredibly small in size; because they have historic cathedrals.
This cathedral link was broken in 1888, however, and subsequently, towns could be elevated to city status based on a variety of criteria, including local importance and regional significance. In more recent times, to celebrate special occasions such as millennium celebrations or royal jubilees, the UK government has held competitions whereby towns can apply for city status.
This is why Wrexham was granted city status in 2022 as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations (a total of eight towns in the UK were granted city status for the event). This event marked Queen Elizabeth II’s 70 years on the throne, and one of the ways the UK commemorated this historic milestone was by awarding city status to select towns through a competitive process.
The granting of city status is often seen as a recognition of a town’s achievements and potential, along with its historical, economic, and cultural significance. For Wrexham, becoming a city was an acknowledgement of its role and importance in the region and a step towards further growth and development.
A quick guide to the seven Welsh cities
To help you plan your travels in Wales, here’s a quick guide to each of the seven Welsh cities you might fancy visiting:
Bangor, a historic city in North Wales, holds the distinction of being one of the smallest cities in Wales. Despite its modest size (population: 16,000), Bangor is home to a cathedral founded in the 6th century AD, and one of the largest Welsh-speaking populations in the country. Located between the Snowdonia mountains and the Menai Strait, it offers stunning natural scenery, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts.
The city is primarily known for its university, Bangor University, which adds a youthful and dynamic atmosphere. The presence of students from around the world contributes to the city’s multicultural vibe. Bangor’s High Street is lined with shops, cafes and pubs, reflecting the city’s blend of traditional Welsh culture and contemporary lifestyle. The recently developed Pontio Arts and Innovation Centre is a hub for arts, culture, and creative learning, showcasing local and international talent.
If you’re in North Wales, then Bangor is a must-visit.
Cardiff, the capital of Wales, seamlessly blends its historical heritage with contemporary energy. The city is dominated by the imposing Cardiff Castle, a site with over 2,000 years of history, which encapsulates Roman and Norman influences alongside Victorian architecture. Adjacent to this historical marvel is Bute Park, a sprawling green oasis perfect for leisurely strolls.
The city’s cultural epicentre is Cardiff Bay, home to the striking Wales Millennium Centre, a venue showcasing a diverse array of performing arts. The Senedd, the Welsh Parliament building, also resides here, and is notable for its modern architecture.
As the Welsh capital, few visits to the country could be complete without visiting Cardiff.
Located in South Wales, Newport is a city rich in industrial heritage, yet a city that’s evolving in its modernity. Sitting on the banks of the River Usk, Newport has played a pivotal role in Britain’s industrial past, particularly in the steel industry. This history is palpable in landmarks like the iconic Transporter Bridge, one of the few operational in the world and a symbol of the city’s engineering legacy.
In recent years, Newport has undergone significant regeneration, particularly evident in the revitalisation of the waterfront area. The city centre melds historical structures with contemporary shopping and dining facilities, offering a diverse urban experience.
Culturally, Newport is home to the Newport Museum and Art Gallery, which showcases local history and art. The city is also known for hosting events like the Newport Marathon and the annual Newport Food Festival, reflecting its vibrant community spirit.
4. St Asaph
St Asaph is a super small city in North Wales, but a city that boasts an incredible history, despite its modest size. The city’s heart and soul is St Asaph Cathedral, a magnificent structure dating back to the 13th century, though the site has been a place of Christian worship since the 6th century.
Renowned for being the second smallest city in Britain, St Asaph was officially granted city status in 2012 as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, a recognition of its historical and cultural importance as a traditional ‘Cathedral City’. The city sits on the banks of the River Elwy, offering picturesque landscapes that blend seamlessly with the ancient cathedral.
5. St Davids
Hidden away in the heart of Pembrokeshire, St Davids holds the unique title of being the smallest city in the United Kingdom; both in terms of its size, and its population of just 1,600 people. This tiny city, with its rich historical legacy, centres around the magnificent St Davids Cathedral, a stunning example of medieval architecture that dates back to the 12th century.
This cathedral, dedicated to the patron saint of Wales, Saint David, has been a site of pilgrimage and worship for centuries, underlining the city’s spiritual significance as the birthplace of Welsh Christianity. The history of St Davids is deeply intertwined with its religious heritage, with the cathedral and the adjacent Bishop’s Palace reflecting its ecclesiastical importance.
Despite its city status, granted due to the cathedral, St Davids has the feel of a tranquil village, with its small streets lined with cafes, galleries, and shops. Surrounded by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, St Davids offers not just historical and spiritual enrichment but also access to some of the most beautiful coastal scenery in Wales.
Located on the scenic southwest coast of Wales, Swansea is a city balancing its industrial heritage with a modern, cultural legacy. Historically a key centre during the Industrial Revolution, particularly in copper smelting, Swansea has transformed into a lively city with a strong sense of community and culture.
The city’s Maritime Quarter, with the National Waterfront Museum at its heart, offers insights into Wales’s industrial and seafaring past. Swansea’s maritime heritage is also celebrated along its rejuvenated marina and promenade, leading to the sandy expanse of Swansea Bay, a favourite for beachgoers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Culturally, Swansea is enriched by its association with the famous Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas. The Dylan Thomas Centre in the Maritime Quarter is dedicated to his life and work, adding a literary depth to the city’s cultural landscape. Swansea is also surrounded by natural beauty, including the Gower Peninsula, which was the UK’s first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Wrexham is the seventh addition to the list of Welsh cities. Gaining city status in 2022 as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, Wrexham is the largest town in North Wales, and has recently become Hollywood famous for its football team, Wrexham AFC, which was taken over by Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.
Historically, Wrexham played a pivotal role in the Industrial Revolution, particularly in coal mining and brewing, which shaped much of its early economic landscape. Today, the city is a hub for shopping and culture, with a variety of retail parks and a bustling town centre showcasing a mix of traditional and contemporary Welsh life.
Notable landmarks include St. Giles’ Church, famous for its medieval tower, and the nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Wrexham is also home to Glyndŵr University, adding a unique educational dimension to the city.
How many cities are in the United Kingdom?
The United Kingdom, comprising England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is home to 76 cities in total, including the seven Welsh cities we’ve discussed in this article. This count reflects the ceremonial status granted by the monarch, a practice distinct from the criteria used in many other countries, where city status is often determined by population or economic factors.
These cities range from global metropolises like London to the historic and culturally rich Edinburgh in Scotland. Smaller yet equally significant cities like St. Davids in Wales, the UK’s smallest city, add to the diversity. This number could vary with new designations, as city status in the UK is an evolving feature reflective of historical and cultural significance.
FAQ: How many cities in Wales?
Here’s an FAQ on the topic. ”How many cities in Wales?’:
Q1: How many cities are there in Wales?
A: Wales has seven cities. These are Cardiff, Swansea, Newport, Bangor, St Davids, St Asaph, and Wrexham.
Q2: Which city is the capital of Wales?
A: Cardiff is the capital city of Wales.
Q3: What is unique about St Davids?
A: St Davids is renowned for being the smallest city in the United Kingdom by population.
Q4: When did Wrexham become a city?
A: Wrexham was granted city status in 2022 during the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
Q5: Is city status in Wales based on population size?
A: No, city status in the UK, including Wales, is a ceremonial designation and not necessarily based on population size.
Q6: Can the number of cities in Wales change?
A: Yes, the number can change if more towns are granted city status by the monarch in the future.
Q7: Which is the oldest city in Wales?
A: Bangor is considered the oldest city in Wales, with its cathedral dating back to the 6th century.