The region includes the West Country and much of the ancient kingdom of Wessex. The largest city is Bristol. Other major urban centres include Plymouth, Swindon, Gloucester, Cheltenham, Exeter, Bath, Torbay, and the South East Dorset conurbation which includes Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch. There are eight cities: Salisbury, Bath, Wells, Bristol, Gloucester, Exeter, Plymouth and Truro. It includes two entire national parks, Dartmoor and Exmoor (a small part of the New Forest is also within the region); and four World Heritage Sites, including Stonehenge and the Jurassic Coast. The northern part of Gloucestershire, near Chipping Campden, is as close to the Scottish border as it is to the tip of Cornwall. The region has by far the longest coastline in England and many seaside fishing towns.
The region is at the first-level of NUTS for Eurostat purposes. Key data and facts about the region are produced by the South West Observatory. Following the abolition of the South West Regional Assembly and Government Office, local government co-ordination across the region is now undertaken by South West Councils.
The region is known for its rich folklore, including the legend of King Arthur and Glastonbury Tor, as well as its traditions and customs. Cornwall has its own language, Cornish, and some regard it as a Celtic nation. The South West is known for Cheddar cheese, which originated in the Somerset village of Cheddar; Devon cream teas, crabs, Cornish pasties, and cider. It is home to the Eden Project, Aardman Animations, the Glastonbury Festival, the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, trip hop music and Cornwall's surfing beaches. The region has also been home to some of Britain's most renowned writers, including Daphne du Maurier and Agatha Christie, both of whom set many of their works here, and the South West is also the location of Thomas Hardy's Wessex, the setting for many of his best-known novels.
Most of the region is located on the South West Peninsula, between the English Channel and Bristol Channel. It has the longest coastline of all the English regions, totalling over 700 miles (1,130 km). Much of the coast is now protected from further substantial development because of its environmental importance, which contributes to the region's attractiveness to tourists and residents.
Geologically the region is divided into the largely igneous and metamorphic west and sedimentary east, the dividing line slightly to the west of the River Exe. Cornwall and West Devon's landscape is of rocky coastline and high moorland, notably at Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor. These are due to the granite and slate that underlie the area. The highest point of the region is High Willhays, at 2,038 feet (621 m), on Dartmoor. In North Devon the slates of the west and limestones of the east meet at Exmoor National Park. The variety of rocks of similar ages seen here have led to the county's name being lent to that of the Devonian period.