Lodged in the spine of a half-moon bay, the maritime city of Swansea nestles in the shadow of seven hills, between roaming parklands and the lapping tides of an inspirational shoreline.
The county of Swansea embraces the timeless peninsula of Gower, the U.K.’s first designated “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”; follow the bay at Swansea and you’ll discover a dozen more golden seascapes, a land of legends, historic woodlands, mysterious castles and prehistoric secrets swept over by ancient sands. Some villages are buried beneath these sands, and in caves some of the oldest human remains have been discovered – a testimony to the civilisations which existed long before time froze over Gower. At just nineteen miles wide, the peninsular represents the epitome of ancient Welsh beauty and a microcosm of old-world enchantment.
Swansea’s magnificent bayside Maritime Quarter has been celebrated by international awards, cited as one of the “top three waterfront developments in Europe”. Yachting marinas, museums, a theatre, Wales’ National Literature Centre, an interstellar observatory, bronze statues and art galleries straddle the spellbinding Swansea foreshore, the boats enter via the U.K.’s first river barrage; the restaurants patronised by Swansea’s own Catherine Zeta Jones.
Cycle the five-mile perimeter of the bay from the Maritime Quarter to Swansea’s Victorian seaside resort of Mumbles and you will retrace the route of the world’s first railway service. On March 21, 1807 the first timetabled horse-drawn passenger train commenced, destined for Mumbles from the Dunnes, near present day Swansea Museum. This railway service left for Mumbles pier for a further 153 years, and was advanced with many forms of traction: horse, sail, coke-fired, steam, battery accumulator, and settled in 1929 for a fleet of Britain’s largest electric trams.
The city & county of Swansea has no fewer than 54 public parks, the largest of which roll down to the shores of Swansea Bay. The most celebrated, Clyne Gardens & Country Park, is 1600 acres worth of pure romance – enjoying panoramic bayside views, bluebell woodlands, architectural follies, a castle, bubbling streams and ornate bridges from Italianesque to Japanese. Its collection of large leaf rhododendrons, azaleas and elephant rhubarb are of international significance.
Singleton Park, also nestling up to Swansea Bay, includes the city’s botanical collection, a historic herb garden, boating lake, picturesque Swiss cottage and plays host to Swansea’s largest outdoor festivals, galas and music concerts. Another Swansea park with sea views is Cwmdonkin, which was an inspiration of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Born a mere two minute stroll away at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, Dylan composed the works, “The Hunchback In The Park” and “Return Journey” on a bench here. Today Cwmdonkin Park incorporates an ornate Italian water garden, bowling green and tennis courts.
Nearby Brynmill Park embraces a large swan lake. Back in the city centre, “Plantasia” is an indoor park consisting of exotic species encased in a climactically controlled glass pyramid. Plantasia sustains some 5000 fauna specimens throughout its computer regulated zones, such as arid, desert and rainforest; some species are extinct in their native countries. The collection also includes a butterfly house, tropical fish, insect and reptile displays.
The name “Swansea” (“Abertawe” in Welsh) is believed to derive from “Swein’s Eye”, a reference to a 10th Century Viking ruler who is said to have been first to exploit the seafaring potential of the broad sandy bay at Swansea. Ship building was established here in the 13th Century and in the next four hundred years the port flourished to be one of the most powerful in the world, exporting eighty per cent of the world’s requirement of copper and other minerals. During this prolific era, local city kilns produced fine porcelain which is highly valued by collectors today. Excellence in stained glass is one artistic tradition which continues to earn Swansea a worldwide reputation.
Swansea is the county where everything is reconciled – the hills to the coast, the city and the countryside, timeless landscapes contrasts poetically with contemporary life.
Swansea Places of Interest
The award winning waterfront village is bubbling with bars, restaurants and boats aside the Swansea Bay coastal promenade. There are two museums within the Maritime Quarter: Swansea Maritime and the Swansea Museum. The Maritime Museum includes Wales’ largest display of floating exhibits (available for hands-on exploration), a working woollen mill, transport displays and a tramshed containing an exhibition devoted to “Mumbles Train” – the world’s first fare paying passenger railway. This museum has been designated the future National Waterfront Museum of Wales.
Swansea Museum includes a priceless collection of rare Swansea and Nantgarw porcelain, a cabinet of curiosities, ichthyosaur skeleton and the 4000 year old mummy of Egyptian priest, Hor.
Three colourful marinas are encompassed by the Maritime Quarter, each bearing a distinct character. The River Tawe marina is kept permanently afloat by an innovative river lock system. Nearby is the colonnaded old town hall, Britain’s first dedicated Literature Centre, opened by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in 1995. Today the National Literature Centre of Wales includes a shrine to Swansea’s most famous literary son, Dylan Thomas, regarded by many scholars as the 20th Century’s finest lyrical poet. Just round the corner is a splendid mural which identifies the Dylan Thomas Theatre. The writer’s bronze statue keeps a discreet distance as he surveys the main south marina from a seated position.
Museum of Egyptian Antiquities
The second largest collection of Egyptian artefacts in the U.K. outside London has been painstakingly presented at the Taliesyn Arts Centre within Swansea University campus, Singleton Park. Over one thousand objects are on display, dating from pre-3500B.C. to A.D.500.
Adorned with gloriously ornate, lifesize baroque wall panels commissioned at the turn of the 20th Century by the British House of Lords, the Brangwyn is the most stately concert hall in Wales. The venue is an elegant backdrop for Swansea’s annual Festival of Music & Arts, the second largest (and one of the most applauded) in the U.K.
Gower Heritage Centre
Gower peninsula’s country life museum contains exhibits, such as its integral water mill, which date back to the 12th Century. Displays include a restored cornmill, farming museum and waterwheel. The attraction has won a plethora of British awards, including “Heritage Centre of the Year”.
One of the largest indoor market centres in southern U.K., the present trading centre follows in a Swansea tradition which dates back to the 12th Century. Teeming with colour, vibrancy and aroma, Swansea Market’s shops and stalls are an excellent source for local produce from fresh seafood and flowers to jewellery, arts and Welsh souvenirs.
Opened 104 years ago, Swansea’s Victorian period pleasuredome is one of the largest provincial theatres in the U.K. With three bars, a restaurant, rooftop cafe-bar, arts wing and “the Depot” – a second performance stage specialising in comedy – it’s one of the city’s most prestigious theatres. Just watch out for Dame Adeleina Patti’s ghost, though!
Constructed in 1898 as a destination for the Mumbles Train (Swansea’s bayside railway). The 835 foot historic pier branches off at one point to the old red-roofed Mumbles lifeboat station, now a shrine to the men who were lost at sea selflessly saving other’s lives. At the sea end of the pier is a jetty, a popular location for fishing, whilst the land side houses an entertainments pavilion, restaurant, nightclub, bowling alley and bar. The pier runs parallel with the rocks of “the Mumbles”, which support Swansea Bay’s 18th Century lighthouse.
Originally named Ystumllwynarth by the Welsh, Oystermouth stands to its original height and as such is one of the best preserved castles in Wales. The present structure is a large 12th Century Norman stronghold restructured in 1215 following destructive Welsh attacks. Patronised by Edward I in 1284, Oystermouth commands magnificent views overlooking Swansea Bay and Mumbles from the west. Celebrated for its exquisite 14th Century chapel windows, Oystermouth provides an imposing and atmospheric backdrop for opera and Shakespearean performances in the summer months.
Swansea Environment Centre
An innovative showpiece centre focussing on a futuristic, environmentally sympathetic lifestyle. Includes hands-on displays, exhibitions and research resources.
National Showcaves Centre of Wales
“Wales’s best kept secret for 315 million years” is the largest showcave complex in northern Europe. Located in the Upper Swansea Valley, ten miles north of the city hub, the centre consists of three enormous caves, a dinosaur park, Shire horse centre, Millennium stone circle, Iron Age and Victorian farms. Discovered by accident in 1912, the intrepid Morgan brothers used a traditional Welsh coracle (a round floating craft) to negotiate an underground lake. Shortly afterwards “Bone Cave” was discovered, named after 42 Bronze Age skeletons which were later uncovered. Cathedral Cave, opened in 1956, is renowned for its majestic waterfalls and lakes.
190 miles west of London. Swansea is only three miles from junction 42 of the M4 motorway – 38 miles west of Cardiff, Wales’ capital city. The M4 has connections to the M5, M32, M48, M49, and M50.
There are frequent direct InterCity services from London Paddington. Regular connections from Manchester, the Midlands, West Country and South Coast are also available.
Cardiff International Airport is a 40-minute drive from Swansea city centre.
For more information and photos, visit Welsh Wales.