IF YOU’RE thinking of a weekend break in Wales, Cardiff is likely to be the first destination that springs to mind. But although it may lie in the shadows of the bustling capital city, Swansea does what other cities fail to achieve by catering for all interests and ages.

Not only does it boast a thriving city centre to rival that of Cardiff, but it is fringed by five miles of golden sands, all the way from Mumbles Lighthouse in the west, along the prom to the marina and its stylish sister, the SAI Waterfront. Quaint little streets, fishermen’s cottages and yachts bobbing in the bay are less than a 10-minute drive from the centre of Swansea in Mumbles – also known as the ‘gateway to the Gower peninsula’.

Despite visiting on a freezing cold weekend in October, we opted to enjoy one of the most popular eateries in Wales – Joe’s Ice Cream Parlour.

According to their menu of tempting flavours, including ‘Welsh cake’, the parlour is renowned and well-loved throughout Swansea and West Wales, thanks to Joe Cascarini who sought to add some Italian flair to the Swansea cafes with his own Italian ice cream in the late 19th century.

Their slogan – “ask anyone in Swansea and they will tell you: there’s ice cream... and then there’s Joe’s” – was well and truly understood once we had finished off our generous helpings.

A stroll along the waterfront leads to Verdi’s, an Italian cafe which seemed particularly popular with locals judging by the numbers that passed through the doors as we enjoyed a light dinner while overlooking the bay. The wide variety of restaurants along the waterfront make it impossible for anyone to go hungry, with all tastes well catered for.

Our city centre hotel – The Dragon – was an ideal base to explore the many tourist attractions and was conveniently in the heart of Swansea, just a three minute walk away from the High Street and a five-minute walk to Wind Street, a modern cafe quarter by day, and, by night, the liveliest street in the city.

Unbeknown to us, Swansea is famed for its vibrant nightlife, with a wide range of clubs, bars and restaurants, predominantly located along this one stretch of road. Another must is a visit to the Swansea Market, the biggest indoor market in Wales, where you can taste local delicacies like cockles, laverbread and traditional Welsh cakes, which we felt obliged to buy.

Recently named the cleanest city in Wales and the second cleanest in the UK (the winner was Truro), Swansea feels more like a large town than a city, with more than 50 parks and gardens.

However, it does boast Wales’ tallest building. The Meridian Tower is a 29-floor building with views over Swansea, the Gower and the Bristol Channel.

The Grape and Olive restaurant is at the very top, and we dined there on a Saturday night, enjoying the mix of contemporary style with Mediterranean cuisine, washed down nicely with one of the restaurant’s Bellinis.

It must be said that if you’re scared of heights, the impressive views across the bright lights of Swansea could leave you feeling a little queasy.

If walking is your ideal way to spend a Sunday afternoon, there’s an abundance of scenic opportunities surrounding Swansea, with the Gower Peninsula just a short drive away.

Britain’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, an accolade it won in 1956, the Gower is 19 miles long with a coastline of around 35 miles, around three-quarters of which is in the care of the National Trust.

With the temperatures outside seemingly dropping by the hour, we decided to sample the scenery from the warmth of our car and, instead, enjoyed a leisurely drive around the area.

The views are breathtaking, even on a dull and dreary day, and I am told there are several places in the area that will stop you in your tracks, including Caswell Bay, Three Cliffs Bay, the dunes and reedbeds at Oxwich and Llanrhidian, where sheep graze on low-lying saltings.

On a weekend in Swansea it is almost impossible to miss the connections with poet Dylan Thomas, with clues tucked away in every nook and cranny.

The Dylan Thomas Centre is a Thomas treasure trove, with a unique exhibition celebrating the poet’s life.

Each autumn, it also holds the Dylan Thomas Festival. So if it’s sightseeing, shopping and city life you are after, Swansea has got it covered.

And if sandcastles, stunning scenery and sea views also float your boat, Swansea should definitely be top of your getaway wish-list.

For more information log on to www.visitswanseabay.com



  • Katie Bond stayed for two nights at The Dragon Hotel in Swansea city centre. The hotel has a number of special offers over the festive season including the Ho Ho Ho! Package for those visiting friends or relatives over Christmas. Rooms start at £59. For more information call the hotel on 01792 657100.