Dylan Thomas called SWANSEA (Abertawe) – his birthplace – an “ugly, lovely town”, which fellow poet Paul Durcan updated to “pretty, shitty city”. Both ring true. Sprawling and boisterous, with around 200,000 people, Swansea may be only the second city of Wales, but it’s the undoubted Welsh capital of attitude, coated in a layer of chunky bling. The city centre was massively rebuilt after devastating bomb attacks in World War II, and a jumble of tower blocks now dot the horizon. But closer inspection reveals Swansea’s multifarious charms: some intact old corners of the city centre, the spacious and graceful suburb of Uplands, a wide seafront overlooking Swansea Bay and a bold marina development around the old docks. Spread throughout are some of the best-funded museums in the country, including the stunning National Waterfront Museum.
Swansea’s Welsh name, Abertawe, refers to the mouth of the River Tawe, a grimy ditch that is slowly recovering after centuries of abuse by heavy industry. The city itself dates back to 1099 when William the Conqueror’s troops built a castle here. A settlement grew around this, later exploiting its location between the coalfields and the sea to become a shipbuilding centre, and then, by 1700, the largest coal port in Wales. Copper smelting took over as the area’s dominant industry in the eighteenth century, and this attracted other metal trades, developing the region into one of the world’s most prolific metal-bashing centres.