What’s it about?
If Wales’s capital Cardiff has the atmosphere of a giant open-air pub, its second city is the pub toilet; damp, dark, pissy and full of cocks. Situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty, the city soils the coastline in a manner any water company would be proud of.
Swansea is as deep into South Wales as you can get on a direct train from London. It represents Wales’ last vague stab at civilisation before the feral wastelands of the Welsh-speaking west, where none have ventured and returned.
A popular holiday destination, Swansea is a great base from which to explore the surrounding area; the fate of all shitholes with a Premier Inn.
Any good points?
It is a city. They’re rare in Wales. And being on the coast it’s good for seafood, with cockles and laverbread being the regional delicacies. Go to Swansea’s large indoor market to sample some of this fresh, foul-tasting seaweed.
Joe’s ice cream parlour is famous in the Swansea area and its product is freshly churned on site every day. You can’t really go wrong with ice cream, but the truth no resident admits is that it’s not a patch on Haagen-Dazs.
Swansea City are pretty decent these days, playing in the Championship and occasionally teasing promotion back to the Premiership. It’s nice for the local residents to have something to feel other than overwhelming disappointment and shame.
The Luftwaffe bombed Swansea to rubble and it’s been all downhill since. A skilled estate agent with zero regard for the truth would probably describe the city centre as ‘very shabby’.
Kilvey Hill offers a view of Swansea as it’s meant to be seen: from a distance. On a sunny day, looking out across the bay, there’s no place you’d rather be. Theoretically. There has never been a sunny day in Swansea and sunset is at half-past two.
To the east of the centre, the giant cube of the DVLA headquarters dominates the horizon, a structure as alien to the surrounding housing estates as the concept of government efficiency is to the people who work there.
If you’ve ever had to wait six months for your driver’s licence to arrive, it’s because someone in Swansea rocked up to work with an appalling hangover. For six consecutive months.
Turn your back to the city itself and you’ll be faced with striking landscapes in all directions: to the south, the Gower peninsula with its golden beaches and stunning rock formations; to the north, the Swansea valley with its lush, green hills; to the east, the sulphurous haze of Port Talbot steelworks.
Hang out at…
Once an ill-frequented row of shops, Wind Street has been transformed into the beating heart of Swansea’s nighttime economy, which means a massive Wetherspoons, Coyote Ugly and side streets running with vomit. Forget singing and rugby, Wind Street proves that the core of the Welsh character is binge-drinking.
If tropical plants are more your speed, be sure to check out Plantasia; imagine the Eden Project if it was just a large greenhouse in a cinema car park. Weirdly, because it’s one of the few interesting things to do in the city, everyone you meet will have a basic knowledge of the phytomorphology of philodendron erubescens.
For a more traditional seaside experience, head along the coast to Mumbles where you’ll find fish and chips, arcades, and a general vibe of decay and despair. Mumbles is famous for its Big Apple, an ice cream kiosk in the shape of a large apple. Undoubtedly Swansea’s most significant contribution to 20th century culture.
Where to buy?
The picturesque Maritime Quarter is genuinely lovely, although you wouldn’t be able to leave without remembering you lived in Swansea. Sketty is where all the doctors and lawyers live and where some of the properties are actually detached.
If you’re on a budget, why not consider the slums of East Swansea? In the 19th century, villages like Birchgrove and Morriston were situated downwind from the city’s copper industry, and they still retain an air of wilful neglect. There is a big ASDA though.
From the streets:
Martin Bishop, aged 42: “Dylan Thomas liked Swansea so much he described it as the ‘graveyard of ambition’, and I completely agree. Why would I ever consider moving away for a lucrative career when the Gower is on my doorstep? Yes, I failed all my GCSEs.”
Helen Archer, aged 30: “People say we only speak Welsh to intimidate the English, but that’s not true at all. When we want to do that we hit them.”