Swansea Travel Information

Mother Earth Travel > United Kingdom > Swansea > History

Wales' second largest city is renowned for the good humour of its people and for its nightlife, the best in the principality. Its most famous son, the poet Dylan Thomas, called it the "lovely-ugly' town. Swansea's long history of heavy industry coupled with the post-war rebuilding of the bombed out centre did not bequeath a beautiful city. But new developments have provided a face lift, most notably the marina and surrounding Maritime Quarter on the derelict western docks. Swansea is also blessed with beautiful parks and gardens, a six mile long sandy beach and, on its doorstep, one of the most stunning coastal areas in Britain, the Gower Peninsula.

The Centre
The city centre lies to the west of the River Tawe (Abertawe, meaning the Tawe estuary, is Swansea's Welsh name). On one side, the shopping and entertainment complex, Parc Tawe, occupies the former strand and includes Plantasia, a giant glasshouse full of tropical plants and wildlife. To the south, abutting the sea, is the Maritime Quarter where handsome 19th century buildings house the Dylan Thomas Centre, the Swansea Museum and the Maritime and Industrial Museum. New galleries, bars and restaurants are bringing the quaysides to life making this a very pleasant area to take a stroll. As for kids, they will be delighted with the superb Leisure Centre that lies between the South Dock and Oystermouth Road.

Running parallel to the strand, from the train station just north of the centre down to the Maritime Quarter, is the High Street, becoming Castle Street then Wind Street (pronounced "Wined"). The Castle Street stretch is overlooked by the ruins of Swansea's 14th century castle. Opposite, the newly built Castle Square with its fountains and waterfall provides a focal point for the city, hosting live music and entertainment on summer days. Castle Street and Wind Street contain several attractive older buildings, now mostly lively pubs, cafes and bars.

Castle Square leads to Princess Way and the main shopping area, bounded by The Kingsway to the north, with its high density of nightclubs, and Oystermouth Road, the main coastal route, to the south. Small independent shops abound in the streets and arcades off Singleton Street and Oxford Street. High street chains line Oxford Street and fill the glassy covered shopping precinct, the Quadrant Centre. Just north of the Quadrant is Swansea market, the largest covered market in Wales with stalls selling laverbread (a local delicacy made from seaweed), locally caught seafood and fish, Welsh cakes and Welsh cheeses. The bus station is just east of the Quadrant.

On Singleton Street the impressively refurbished Grand Theatre offers a dynamic and popular repetoire. A short way west, shopping gives way to spectator sport with the home of Swansea City Football Club. Viewed from the sea, the Vetch Field floodlights vie for prominence with the white tower of the 1930s Guildhall located near the seafront at the end of St Helen's Road. Its fabulous Brangwyn Hall is used for conferences and musical performances.

Uplands, Sketty and Blackpill
West of the city centre is the pleasant residential district of Uplands with its own concentration of restaurants and shops. Dylan Thomas fans, who will find many celebrations of their hero throughout the city, can pass his birthplace on Cwmdonkin Drive and head up to Cwmdonkin Park where a memorial stone is inscribed with a verse.

Further west is Sketty, home to the university and to the glorious botanical gardens in Singleton Park. Within the university campus is the Taliesin Arts Centre, a venue for dance, theatre and film which also houses the Ceri Richards Art Gallery and Egypt Centre.

At Blackpill, south of Sketty, there are the Clyne Gardens and Clyne Castle to explore along with their surrounding expanse of park and woodland.

The promentory of Mumbles Head brings the great sweep of Swansea Bay to a gracious full stop, six miles west of the Tawe estuary. Mumbles village is a highly desirable location, its neighbours Langland and Newton even more so. It's a very pretty area with numerous shops, cafes and reasonably-priced hotels plus the "Mumbles Mile" of pubs along the main road. A seaside pier offers ice creams and traditional entertainment. Beside the picture postcard Oystermouth Castle, Newton Road, the main shopping street and home to some first rate restaurants, leads across the headland to the attractive and often crowded bays of Langland and Caswell.

The Gower
Officially designated an area of outstanding natural beauty, the Gower offers wild and windswept beaches from the popular, crescent-shaped Three Cliffs Bay at Pennard to the dramatic shores of Oxwich and Rhossili. Other areas of unspoilt coast are to be found in the North Gower and there's good walking to be had inland. But it's the tiny bays, accessible only by foot, like Brandy Cove, just across the cliffs from Caswell, and Pwll-Du, near Bishopston, which are the real joys of this gorgeous peninsula.

Further afield
North of the city, beautiful valleys lead up to the sparsely populated hill walking country of the Brecon Beacons; the town of Brecon with its famous jazz festival is only an hour's drive away. To the west, the county of Carmarthenshire with its castles, salmon rivers, attractive market towns and quiet villages, plus the newly opened National Botanic Gardens, is equally accessible.