How many counties in Wales? The short answer is there are 22 counties in Wales, but keep reading, to find out everything you need to know.

Wales, with its rolling hills and crumbling castles, is divided into 22 ‘Principal Areas’ which are more commonly known as counties. This division is more than just an administrative convenience, and represents the diversity of Welsh geography, culture and heritage.

These 22 principal areas were established in 1996 following the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 when Wales transitioned from a two-tier local government structure to a unitary authority system. The reorganisation in 1996 not only simplified administrative processes but also revived historical county names and boundaries, fostering a sense of local pride and identity. This change streamlined local governance, reflecting the unique identities and needs of communities across Wales.

In this article, I explore the 22 Welsh counties, exploring Welsh history, and showing how and why these principal areas were established. How many counties are in Wales? Read on, to find out everything you need to know.

How many counties are in Wales?

Wales, a nation rich in history and with a distinct cultural identity as one of the four home nations within the United Kingdom, is comprised of 22 principal areas, which are more commonly referred to as ‘counties’. These administrative divisions were established under the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994, which came into effect in 1996, altering the previous two-tier system of local government and creating the current system you see today.

The 22 Welsh counties vary in size and population, but each has its own local authority responsible for a range of services and governance. These counties include both county boroughs and cities, each with individual historical and geopolitical aspects. For instance, Cardiff, the capital city, is itself a county, and it’s known for its significant role in Welsh administration and culture. Similarly, Swansea and Newport hold city status and operate as county boroughs, underlining their large populations, and their urban importance within Wales.

The reorganisation in 1996 was significant in Welsh history, streamlining local governance and reflecting a broader shift towards devolution in Wales. It marked a departure from the structure established in 1974, which had merged traditional counties into larger administrative units. The current system revived some historical county names and boundaries, albeit with modern governance structures.

Wales, coloured red, within Europe. Map by Llywelyn2000.

Read more: What is the United Kingdom? Everything You Need to Know.

List of Welsh counties

Here is a list of the 22 principal areas in Wales, often referred to as counties:

  1. Blaenau Gwent
  2. Bridgend (Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr)
  3. Caerphilly (Caerffili)
  4. Cardiff (Caerdydd)
  5. Carmarthenshire (Sir Gaerfyrddin)
  6. Ceredigion
  7. Conwy
  8. Denbighshire (Sir Ddinbych)
  9. Flintshire (Sir y Fflint)
  10. Gwynedd
  11. Isle of Anglesey (Ynys Môn)
  12. Merthyr Tydfil (Merthyr Tudful)
  13. Monmouthshire (Sir Fynwy)
  14. Neath Port Talbot (Castell-nedd Port Talbot)
  15. Newport (Casnewydd)
  16. Pembrokeshire (Sir Benfro)
  17. Powys
  18. Rhondda Cynon Taf
  19. Swansea (Abertawe)
  20. Torfaen (Tor-faen)
  21. Vale of Glamorgan (Bro Morgannwg)
  22. Wrexham (Wrecsam)
Map of the 22 Welsh Counties.

Read more: How Many Cities in Wales? Everything You Need to Know.

What is the Welsh county system?

The county system in Wales was established under the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 and came into effect in 1996, restructuring the previous local government arrangement. This system is a key component of Wales’ administrative framework, and understanding its structure and functions is essential to grasp the nuances of local governance in Wales.

Structure and Organisation

  • Counties and County Boroughs: Wales is divided into 22 principal areas, which are termed as either counties or county boroughs. These areas range in size and population, and each has its own local council.
  • Local Councils: The councils in these counties are responsible for local governance. They provide a range of services, including education, social services, transport, waste management, and local planning.
  • Cities: Some of these areas also have city status, such as Cardiff, Swansea, and Newport, and are also considered county boroughs with their own councils.

Functions and Responsibilities

  • Local Services: Councils in these counties are responsible for providing local services. This includes education (schools and libraries), social services (care homes and child protection), environmental issues (waste disposal and recycling), and infrastructure (road maintenance and local transport).
  • Planning and Development: They also handle local planning applications and development, playing a crucial role in shaping the local environment and communities.
  • Financial Management: These councils manage local budgets, which include both funding from the Welsh Government and locally raised funds through council tax and business rates.


  • Council Elections: Council members are elected by residents in their areas, providing a democratic framework for local governance. These elections determine who will represent the community in local government.
  • Autonomy and Oversight: While these councils operate with a degree of autonomy, they are subject to oversight and regulations set by the Welsh Government.

The Welsh county system plays a crucial role in the day-to-day administration and governance at a local level. It reflects the administrative decentralisation and the importance of local self-governance within the framework of the United Kingdom. These counties, with their respective councils, are integral to managing local affairs, reflecting the unique needs and priorities of their communities.

The Welsh Dragon on the flag of Wales.

Read more: How Many Counties in Scotland? Everything You Need to Know.

A history of Wales and its 22 counties

The history of Wales and its county system stretches back centuries. Here’s a brief overview:

Early History and Medieval Period

  • Ancient Wales: Wales has a history dating back thousands of years. The region was inhabited by Celtic tribes, and the Welsh identity began to form as distinct from other groups in Britain during the Roman occupation.
  • Medieval Wales: Following the collapse of Roman authority, Wales became a patchwork of kingdoms. By the 12th century, the concept of Wales as a united entity began to emerge, although it remained divided among various Welsh princes.
  • English Conquest: The 13th century saw the conquest of Wales by Edward I of England. The Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284 integrated Wales into the English legal system, although Welsh customs and laws continued in many areas.

Historic Counties and Union with England

  • Formation of Counties: The Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542 under Henry VIII further integrated Wales into England, establishing a system of shire counties in Wales, similar to English counties.
  • Historic Counties: These counties included Anglesey, Brecknockshire, Caernarfonshire, Carmarthenshire, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Glamorgan, Merioneth, Monmouthshire, Montgomeryshire, Pembrokeshire, Radnorshire and Cardiganshire.

Read more: Is England a Country? Everything You Need to Know.

Industrial Revolution and Modern Era

  • Industrial Growth: The 18th and 19th centuries saw rapid industrialisation, particularly in South Wales. Coal and iron industries transformed the landscape and society, leading to significant urbanisation.
  • Cultural Renaissance: The 19th and 20th centuries also saw a resurgence in Welsh culture and identity, marked by the Eisteddfod tradition and the revival of the Welsh language.

County System Reorganisation

  • 20th Century Changes: In 1974, the local government system was reorganised, replacing the historic counties with new counties like Clwyd, Gwent, and Mid Glamorgan.
  • Further Reorganisation: In 1996, another reorganisation replaced the 1974 system with 22 unitary authority areas, commonly referred to as counties.


  • Move Towards Devolution: The late 20th century saw growing calls for devolution and greater self-governance.
  • Establishment of the Senedd: Following a referendum in 1997, the Government of Wales Act 1998 established the National Assembly for Wales (now the Senedd Cymru or Welsh Parliament), marking the start of devolution.
  • Expanding Powers: Initially limited in power, the Senedd has gained increasing authority over the years, particularly following further referendums and the Government of Wales Acts in 2006 and 2011.

The history of Wales, its county system, and the process of devolution reflect the region’s journey from a collection of Celtic tribes to a modern nation within the UK. This journey is marked by a rich cultural heritage, significant socio-economic transformations, and an evolving political landscape that has seen Wales gain a substantial degree of self-governance in recent decades.

A Welsh castle looks over the border towards England.

Read more: How Many Counties in Northern Ireland? Everything You Need to Know.

What were the historic counties of Wales?

The historic counties of Wales, established over centuries and existing until the mid-20th century, played a significant role in the country’s administrative and cultural history. These counties were:

  1. Anglesey (Ynys Môn)
  2. Brecknockshire (Sir Frycheiniog)
  3. Caernarfonshire (Sir Gaernarfon)
  4. Cardiganshire (Sir Aberteifi)
  5. Carmarthenshire (Sir Gaerfyrddin)
  6. Denbighshire (Sir Ddinbych)
  7. Flintshire (Sir y Fflint)
  8. Glamorgan (Morgannwg)
  9. Merioneth (Meirionnydd)
  10. Monmouthshire (Sir Fynwy)
  11. Montgomeryshire (Sir Drefaldwyn)
  12. Pembrokeshire (Sir Benfro)
  13. Radnorshire (Sir Faesyfed)

These historic counties were used for various administrative purposes, including local government, judicial administration, and land registration, until the administrative reorganisation in 1974. Their names and boundaries are often still used in cultural and historical contexts, and they hold a significant place in Welsh heritage.

The rolling hills of Wales.

Read more: Is Cornwall a Country? Everything You Need to Know.

Is Wales a sovereign country?

Wales is not a sovereign country; it is one of the four constituent countries that make up the United Kingdom, along with England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Sovereignty in the UK resides at the level of the United Kingdom as a whole, rather than in its constituent parts.

Wales has a distinct cultural and historical identity and a degree of legislative autonomy, particularly since the establishment of the Senedd Cymru (Welsh Parliament, formerly known as the National Assembly for Wales) in 1999. This devolution of power allows Wales to make decisions and pass laws in certain areas, such as health, education, and local government. However, key areas like defence, foreign affairs, and the majority of taxation powers remain under the control of the UK Parliament in London.

While Wales exercises a level of self-governance and has distinct national institutions, it is not an independent, sovereign state. Its relationship with the UK is defined by a blend of shared sovereignty and devolved powers within the framework of a larger nation-state.

Read more: Is Wales a Country? Everything You Need to Know.

Is Wales part of England?

Wales is not a part of England; it is a distinct country within the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom (UK) is made up of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Each of these countries has its own unique history, culture, and identity.

While Wales and England share a border and are both part of the UK, they are separate entities. Wales has its own legal system (which is closely aligned with England’s), its own education and health systems, and since 1999, its own devolved government – the Senedd Cymru or Welsh Parliament. This devolution of powers allows Wales to make decisions and legislate in certain areas independently of England.

Historically, Wales was annexed by the Kingdom of England under the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542, which integrated Wales legally into the Kingdom of England. However, with the formation of the United Kingdom and the process of devolution in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Wales reaffirmed its status as a distinct country within the UK.

The author standing directly on the border between England and Wales.

Read more: How Many Counties in the UK (United Kingdom)?

What’s the capital of Wales?

Cardiff, the capital of Wales, holds a prominent position both historically and in contemporary times. Officially designated as the capital in 1955, Cardiff’s ascension to this status is relatively recent compared to other UK capitals.

Cardiff’s development is closely linked to the coal industry, particularly during the 19th century when it became one of the world’s most important coal ports. This economic boom significantly shaped the city’s architecture and cultural composition, drawing people from various regions and backgrounds.

Today, Cardiff is the political, economic, and cultural heart of Wales. It hosts the Senedd Cymru (Welsh Parliament), pivotal in Wales’ devolution journey, and landmarks like the historic Cardiff Castle and the Principality Stadium.

Read more: What are the British Isles? Everything You Need to Know.

How many counties are in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

The number of counties in England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland can vary, reflecting different administrative and historical arrangements in each country. Let’s take a look at each in more detail:


  • Ceremonial Counties: England is traditionally divided into 48 ceremonial counties. These are defined areas, each with a Lord Lieutenant, a representative of the monarch.
  • Metropolitan and Non-Metropolitan Counties: For administrative purposes, England is divided into several types of counties. There are 6 metropolitan counties, which are large urban areas, and 27 non-metropolitan counties. Additionally, there are unitary authorities, which are areas that are administered independently of a county council. Currently, there are 56 unitary authorities.

Read more: How Many Counties in England? Everything You Need to Know.


  • Council Areas: Since 1996, Scotland has been divided into 32 council areas for local government purposes. These replaced the regions and districts that existed previously.
  • Traditional Counties: Historically, Scotland was divided into 33 counties (or shires), which were used for local government until the mid-20th century. These are sometimes still referred to for cultural and geographical reasons.

Read more: How Many Cities in Scotland? Everything You Need to Know.

Northern Ireland

  • Local Government Districts: Northern Ireland is divided into 11 local government districts, which were established in 2015, replacing the 26 districts created in 1973.
  • Historical Counties: Traditionally, Northern Ireland is divided into 6 counties. These historic counties are no longer used for administrative purposes but are often used in cultural and sporting contexts.
Stonehenge is a symbol of the United Kingdom.

So, how many counties are in Wales?

The 22 counties of Wales, with their distinct landscapes, histories, and cultures, offer a microcosm of what Wales stands for: a deep respect for the past, a dynamic engagement with the present, and a hopeful look towards the future.

Whether you’re a resident, visitor, or someone yet to discover Wales, these 22 counties hold endless opportunities for exploration.

FAQ: How many counties in Wales?

Here’s an FAQ on the topic, ‘How many counties are in Wales?’:

Q1. How many counties are there in Wales?

There are 22 principal areas in Wales, commonly referred to as counties.

Q2. When were the current Welsh counties established?

The current structure of 22 counties was established in 1996 under the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994.

Q3. Are there any cities that are considered counties in Wales?

Yes, cities like Cardiff, Swansea, and Newport are also considered county boroughs and have the same administrative status as counties.

Q4. What is the difference between a county and a county borough in Wales?

The distinction is mainly administrative. County boroughs typically represent larger urban areas with their own local government, similar to counties.

Q5. Can you name a few counties in Wales?

Some examples include Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Gwynedd, and Monmouthshire.

Q6. Do the Welsh counties have their own local governments?

Yes, each county has its own local council responsible for various local services and governance.

Q7. Were there different counties in Wales before 1996?

Yes, before 1996, Wales had a different local government structure with larger counties created in 1974, which were replaced by the current 22 counties.

Q8. Are the historical boundaries of Welsh counties still recognised?

While the historical boundaries aren’t used for administrative purposes, they are often acknowledged for cultural and historical reasons.

Q9. What led to the reorganisation of Welsh counties in 1996?

The reorganisation aimed to simplify local government structures, making them more efficient and better reflective of local identities.

Q10. Are the Welsh counties involved in national governance?

While counties handle local governance, national matters are dealt with by the Senedd Cymru (Welsh Parliament), the Welsh Government and the UK government in London.