If you are looking for an exciting few days away in a city not yet overrun by tourists and still largely undiscovered, the cities of Wales are just perfect. Whether you are looking for an enchanting city by the sea with pretty architecture and quaint shops, or a cosmopolitan city full of magic and majestic castles, you will find it here.
The country is home to the two smallest cities in the UK, St. David’s and St. Asaph as well as the oldest city in Wales, Bangor. Here we bring you the three largest ones - the enticing city of Cardiff, the coastal city of Swansea with its sweeping bay and the smaller friendly city of Newport – we can guarantee that one of them will be perfect for a mini-break away.
As Europe’s youngest capital and now a vibrant modern city, Cardiff offers fascinating history combined with culture and some wonderful shopping. The highlight of the city is the imposing Cardiff Castle which towers over the city, beckoning you to come in. With two millenniums of history, and lavish interiors inspired by Gothic, Mediterranean and Arabian influences, you won’t fail to be captivated by its charm. From gargoyles hanging on to its ancient walls and secret tunnels used as wartime air raid shelters waiting to be discovered, you can easily while away a morning or afternoon here. Don’t miss the opportunity to take photos at the romantic towers where Rapunzel wouldn’t look out of place; also try to take one of the tours if you can. For culture, Cardiff can certainly sit with the best of them – from the National Museum Cardiff to Yr Hen Lyfrgell (The Old Library), City Hall, Llandaff Cathedral and St. David’s Hall, you will get a true snapshot into the history of this fascinating city.
Make sure that you also head down to Cardiff Bay which has a selection of great restaurants and cool bars overlooking the waterside, as well as some lovely buildings of its own. The Pierhead Building sits just back from the bay and behind that, The Senedd. Only a few moments away is the Wales Millenium Centre where you might catch a concert if you are lucky. Forget Ikea and visit the pretty Scandi-style Norwegian church which has a gallery and café and a terrace with views stretching across the bay. The boardwalk at Mermaid Quay is where those in the know head to - its modern bars and restaurants are always busy. The terraces with their twinkling lights are full of Cardiff’s bright young things at night and by day, it is the perfect stop for a post-shopping latté. Here you can also take a boat trip at high speed or a water taxi if you prefer a more laid-back water experience! If you’re looking for a taste of the traditional, take a ten-minute walk to the great Welsh pub, Y Mochyn Du (The Black Pig) – here you can sip on a local ale whilst being encouraged to practice your Welsh with the locals. Don't be worried though, this is South Wales - everybody is so friendly and will not hesitate to help you!
If you have time, a lazy afternoon spent in the pretty seaside town of Penarth, just out of Cardiff, is a must when you visit Wales. With its own Victorian pier and pavilion as well as atmospheric shops and streets, it is also home to the wonderful 18th-century Cardiff Market. Browse amongst stalls selling traditional fayre as well as scrumptious cakes and sweets under the huge glass-roofed Victorian structure. Make sure you also go to one of the six Victorian arcades which are packed with lots of interesting little vintage shops and coffee houses. For a breath of fresh air, the city also has lots of green space, in fact more so than any other major UK city. One of these spaces, Bute Park offers bike hire which is a great way to relax after a busy few hours walking around so make sure you look out for bikes whizzing by to see where you need to sign up!
Smaller than its Cardiff cousin, the coastal city of Swansea shouldn’t be undersold. The sparkling waterfront of Swansea Bay serves as the gateway to the spectacular Gower Peninsula which certainly warrants a visit during your stay. If you are there long enough, also head down to the Mumbles, a bustling seaside village with amazing seafood as well as countless ice-cream parlours with scrumptious gelatos. Though we are writing about city breaks, much of the local produce here is used in top restaurants throughout European cities so the city connection is apparent. It may seem that we are encouraging you to leave the city but Wales does this to you – it makes you want to experience everything it has to offer. With so many experiences in close proximity, you can.
But heading back to the city, the first thing to do is take a cultural tour starting with the industrial and maritime history of Wales at the National Waterfront Museum. Then pop over to the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, which is where all the up-and-coming art exhibitions take place. If you love your literature, the Dylan Thomas Centre is a must – here, there is a permanent exhibition of this renowned poet and author. If you can, try to go when the annual Dylan Thomas festival is running - people from all over the world get together here to celebrate his work. He was famed for calling Swansea, “an ugly, lovely town” but don’t be depressed by this – he loved his town and this was said with great affection and warmth. You can also find more Dylan Thomas related sites of interest in the village of Laugharne too, just 40 miles west of the city.
Try to fit in a visit to the Grand Theatre, a large venue offering an eclectic mix of performance, music and events. A more modern one is The Great Hall, designed by the renowned architect Demetri Porphyrios, which is a marvellous imposing structure. If you fancy a spot of shopping, you can browse the 100 stalls at Swansea Market, the largest in the country – and you must try the laverbread, made from seawood collected from the shores of North Gower.
When you need a breath of fresh air, visit one of the many beautiful parks in the area, such as Clyne Gardens – here you will find yourself amongst exotic rare blooms bursting with colour. The old walled garden of Singleton Park hosts the Botanical Gardens and Plantasia is a strange exotic place to visit with pineapple plants, giant bamboo, not what you would expect from a trip to Wales! For evenings, the City Centre has a multitude of restaurants, cinemas, cafes, bars and clubs as well as shops – finish your trip by marvelling at the views across the city from the restaurant in Swansea’s tallest building, The Grape and Olive.
This little city perched on the River Usk has not only hosted a NATO summit and the Ryder Cup, but it is also small enough to really make you feel that you are a part of things. You can walk from one end of the main street to the other in ten minutes but why not stay awhile and visit the cathedral, museum and art gallery? Art lovers will appreciate the artwork on display throughout the city where sculptures sit with other artwork for the public to enjoy at no cost.
Browse the produce at the traditional covered market, and for an evening performance, head to The Riverfront Theatre where you may find an opera waiting for you - it also has a lovely café with an outdoor terrace overlooking the river. Spend an afternoon at the National Trust property of Tredegar House which is a 17th-century house set in a beautiful 90 acre park. This property has some fascinating history - one of its famous sons was Sir Henry Morgan, inspiration for the famous Captain Morgan Rum. The Morgan family also built the Transporter Bridge which was designed to carry cargo across the river on a gondola. For £1 you can take your car across – not as romantic as a gondola but certainly a great way to get to the other side!
After a long day and night in the city, head back to a cosy cottage, where you can sleep soundly, ready for the next day's adventures.