Swansea and its surrounds offer some of the best tourist experiences in Wales. With miles of deserted sandy beaches, formidable castles, museums and galleries, a visit to this vibrant stretch of coast is certain to make memories. From its famous residents to rich historical links – not to mention its recently developed waterfront – Swansea will both astound and impress.
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National Waterfront Museum
Part of the National Museum of Wales, the National Waterfront Museum offers an immersive look into the maritime history of Wales. Discover how Wales’s famous docks played a role in trade, learn about the network of canals essential to the area’s industry, or simply enjoy the boats. A perfect family day out and entrance is free.
This huge public hot-house, moments from the city centre, opened in 1990 and comprises two temperature zones: tropical and arid. Visitors can learn all about the flora and fauna and meet some rather special residents, including tarantulas, parrots, chameleons and geckos. There are hours of fun to be had at Plantasia, which has also been used as a location for the BBC cult show Doctor Who.
One of the Gower’s flagship castles, Oystermouth sternly surveys the coast. The first castle on this site was built in 1106, it was held by the notorious Norman De Broase family in the middle-ages, and it fell into ruin by 1650.
Glynn Vivian Art Gallery
This internationally renowned art gallery opened in 1911 and was built in the Edwardian baroque style. It houses the collection of donor Richard Glynn Vivian as well as several old masters, and an extensive collection of the famous Swansea porcelain. Recently re-opened after extensive refurbishment, the Gallery is well worth a visit.
The Mumbles is a small headland on Swansea Bay, 15 minutes’ drive from the centre of the city. The lighthouse was completed in 1794 to protect tall ships from the perilous rocks. Originally powered by coal, the lights are now, more eco friendly and solar powered.
Dylan Thomas Centre
An arts centre located in Swansea Marina, the building was originally the city’s Guildhall. Opened by former US President Jimmy Carter in 1995, it offers a permanent exhibition about the life and work of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, as well as hosting many other events.
A wander along Swansea Beach is a must. Buy an ice-cream and head over the little wall, which follows the main road, to escape for a few minutes. While the sea laps at your feet, look out over the waves and the vast bay vista.
Wales saw its fair share of Norwegian sailors during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. Swansea’s Grade II listed Norwegian Church, was originally built in Newport Docks someway down the coast, however in 1910 it was rebuilt at the heart of Swansea’s dock area. It was to be moved, a second time in 2004 – to its present location – and is now a jewellery shop.
Three Cliffs Bay
Wales’ most beautiful campsite lies at the head of Three Cliffs Bay. The views are breathtaking and out of season you can walk for hours without being disturbed. In the summer it is an extremely busy beach, yet it always manages to retain that feel of relative isolation. A night under the stars with the sea lapping at the base of the cliffs won’t be easily forgotten.
This was once extremely important in the Industrial Revolution, since Swansea’s location proved ideal for the processing of copper and tin mined in Cornwall. This was brought in great boats up the Bristol Channel before being sent to various smelting works in the Swansea area. Hafod Copperworks offers a glimpse of a forgotten industry and allows visitors to immerse themselves in the industrial history of the area.
In the centre of the city, Swansea Castle is well worth a visit. Although only a small part of the original castle survives, it has a fascinating story to tell – from its capture by the Prince of Deheubarth to its final incarnation as the town’s workhouse. Parts of the castle were demolished in the early 20th century to build a newspaper office, in which Dylan Thomas, Swansea’s most famous son, worked.
Swansea Museum Tramway Centre
At The Tramway, visitors will find memorabilia, not only relating to the the street trams of Swansea but also the world-famous Mumbles Train, which travelled around Swansea Bay, taking passengers from the city centre to the Mumbles Pier. With several examples of trams on display, this little museum of transport is great for a quick stop – and it’s free to enter.
Swansea Grand Theatre
This beautiful, late Victorian theatre was built in 1897 and opened by legendary opera diva Adelina Patti who lived in the area. Saved from closure in the 1960s, it now stages musicals, plays and ballets and is home to its own theatre company. With a 1,014-seater auditorium that’s brimming with period character, an evening at the theatre is a perfect addition to the Swansea ‘must-do’ list.
Dylan Thomas Birthplace
Think of Swansea and think of Dylan Thomas. Although he spent much of his life a little further into West Wales, he was born in Swansea and lived there until he was 20 – and his poetry-writing career started in Swansea whilst attending the local grammar school. This splendid arts and crafts house, which Mr Thomas called home, is a place of literary pilgrimage.
You cannot visit Swansea and not pop into the market to pick up a packet of salt and vinegar-dressed cockles or Welsh cakes. Still vibrant and extremely buzzy with lots of artisanal stalls, Swansea Market is a definite ‘must-see’ on the holiday agenda.
Gower Heritage Centre
Swansea and the Gower, a small peninsula renowned for its beaches, have a rich heritage. Whether it’s learning about the Welsh-costumed cockle pickers, who supplied markets across the country, or just understanding the place Gower has in history, the Gower Heritage Centre is well worth a visit.
1940s Swansea Bay
Swansea suffered terribly in World War II, with parts of it flattened by bombs. This little museum offers visitors a glimpse of those troubled years including rationing and air-raid shelters.
St Helen’s Rugby Football Club
In 1882, St Helen’s was the venue for the first ever home match of the Welsh Rugby Union national team. Since 1921, Glamorgan has played cricket at this ground, and some very famous cricketing moments have been witnessed here. Catch a game on a summer’s day.
Penllergare Valley Woods
These beautiful woods are perfect for a long walk or picnic. Beautiful in all seasons with charming lakes and waterways, this picturesque valley lies to the north of the city, providing a little haven on tranquility for visitors.
With its vibrant nightlife, striking footbridge and hundreds of little boats, Swansea Marina is a pleasure to visit at any time of day. At night it is especially atmospheric when the buildings reflect their lights into the still harbour.
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