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Whether to visit Cardiff or Swansea is a dilemma most people travelling to Wales tend to face. As the two biggest cities in the country, both offer different attractions to visitors. But which is better?
Okay, as someone who currently lives in Cardiff, I might be a bit biased, but I love Swansea just as much, especially the nightlife. So, here are my thoughts for a first-time visitor to Wales looking to choose between the two:
Cardiff is the better city to visit if you’re looking for lots of tourist attractions and activities, it has castles, museums, arcades, and more. However, if you love getting into the great outdoors, Swansea is a great place to base yourself with plenty of country parks and the Gower coastline nearby which is home to some of Wales’ best beaches.
In the rest of this article, I’m going to take a deeper dive at the question and explain exactly what each city has to offer.
Which Is Better To Visit, Cardiff Or Swansea?
So, why did I put Cardiff above Swansea? Not only is it the capital city of Wales, but Cardiff also offers a lot more tourist attractions than Swansea, including museums, historic castles (yes, two of them!), stadiums, victorian shopping arcades, and more.
In Cardiff Bay alone, there are a lot of fun activities to keep you occupied all day and well into the night. You’ll find The Coal Exchange Building, The Pierhead, and many other historical buildings here. There are also boat trips allowing you to explore the bay from the water.
However, being the capital city also means that Cardiff is busier than Swansea and usually more expensive for accommodation, especially at weekends when there are big games or performances on at the stadium1 (source: Kayak).
On the other hand, Swansea is perfectly placed for those that love the outdoors. Nearby, you’ll find Clyne Gardens and the Gower Peninsular where you can take walks among beautiful landscapes, visit top-rated beaches, and even try your hand at coasteering along the cliffs.
But don’t be fooled, Swansea still has a lively side too and it might even be wilder than Cardiff on the weekend. This is mostly centred around Wind Street which is one of the best nights out in Wales where you’ll find restaurants, cocktail bars, sports bars, nightclubs, and more.
Reasons to Visit Swansea
Let’s look at some of the highlights you’ll experience on a visit to Swansea:
1. The Gower Peninsula
The Gower Peninsula is one of the significant attractions Swansea has to offer. Arguably one of the most beautiful places in the world, Gower is so stunning it became the first place in Britain to be named an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The Gower Peninsula houses cliffs and woodlands surrounded by glittering beaches. Here, you’ll find The Rhossili Bay Beach, regularly named among some of the world’s best beaches. There’s also the Three Cliffs Bay, often awarded the most dramatic place in Britain, and other small beaches like Caswell and Llangennith.
Mumbles is a bubbling seaside village on the west side of Swansea Bay. It houses over 120 shops, restaurants, and pubs, making it a favourite place for visitors and locals alike. It is also filled with great seafood, which the locals mainly produce.
A visit to Mumbles lighthouse is a must. At low tide, you can walk across to get a close-up view of the structure, but it’s not an easy route and you must be careful that you don’t get stuck when the tide comes back in.
3. Swansea Market
Swansea Market is one of the city’s most historic places. Unfortunately, initially established in 1987, the market got destroyed during World War II. However, it has since been rebuilt, and now, much of the market holds Indoors.
Nonetheless, it remains the largest of its kind in Wales, housing over 100 stalls where you can get anything from clothing to multiple local delicacies.
4. National Waterfront Museum and Glynn Vivian Gallery
Located just 10 minutes away from the Vivian Art Gallery is The National Waterfront Museum, an impressive architectural milestone. Here, you’ll find industrial and maritime innovations in Wales dating back to the 1800s.
Founded in 1911, The Glynn Vivian Art Gallery is famously known as Swansea city’s leading venue for art exhibitions and is also worthwhile visiting. It was initially set up to display artworks donated by Richard Glynn Vivian, a famous art collector. The gallery now belongs to the City and County of Swansea.
5. Walking The Clyne Gardens
Although there are a lot of beautiful parks in Swansea, Clyne Gardens stands out as one of the city’s most recognized. It was established in 1921 by Admiral Algernon Walker-Henage-Vivian, who spearheaded collecting plants from different places worldwide.
One of the main attractions of Clyne Gardens is the dramatic arrangement of plants. You’ll find over 2000 plants here, including rhododendrons, American Skunk Cabbage, and more.
Reasons to Visit Cardiff
On the other hand, here are some of the top attractions that Cardiff has to offer:
1. Two Epic Castles
Cardiff has not one, but two great castles to visit. The first is Cardiff Castle in the city centre which is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Wales2 (source: Welsh Government). Sitting atop an almost 2,000 years old Roman fortification, it houses some of the country’s most historic castles. Many of these castles were built as far back as the 10th century.
Secondly, you have Castell Coch, just outside the city. This is a 19th-century Gothic Revival castle that looks like it has been plucked straight out of a storybook. As well s admiring the picturesque exterior with turrets and bridges, you can also explore the inside of the castle, which includes a great hall, a dining room, a library, and a museum about the history of the castle.
2. The National Museum
If you want to learn about the history of Wales, then there’s no better place to do so than at the National Museum Cardiff. It is located in the civic centre famously known as the Washington DC of Europe due to its white stone buildings.
The museum is home to 15 galleries and houses some of the best impressionist paintings, including Monet and Picasso.
3. Cardiff Bay
Cardiff Bay is one of the most attractive places for visitors and locals because of its many exciting attributes. The bay, occupying about 2,700 acres of waterfront land, offers many activities to keep you entertained from morning deep into the night.
Some of the things you can do include exploring the Cardiff coastline by taking a boat ride. You can also visit the Cardiff Bay Wetlands Reserve, the perfect bird-watching place.
4. Cardiff’s Victorian Arcades
Cardiff’s Victorian Arcades are located precisely in the city centre. They were constructed to allow people to enjoy shopping indoors without worrying about the weather or the roads and sidewalks.
Some of these arcades dating back to 1858 remained unchanged in design, although the type of wares on display has evolved over the years. This photo is from the last time I visited and enjoyed an afternoon tea at Barker’s tea Room.
5. Roath Park
Although Cardiff has many parks, Roath Park is the most popular by a stretch. The park, established in 1894, is one of Cardiff’s first public parks. It also sits on 130 acres of land and houses a 30-acre lake called Nant Fawr stream.
Roath Park features multiple potential picnic spots and a Botanic Garden and playground for kids.
Cardiff Vs. Swansea For A Night Out
So, now to the most important part, is Cardiff or Swansea better for a night out?
The main difference between Swansea and Cardiff for a night out is that Swansea’s nightlife is all centred around Wind Street, whereas Cardiff’s nightlife is spread out across the city. If you are looking to party hard, then Swansea is better with lots of nightclubs and lively bars, but if you want a more diverse night with local beers, live music, and fun activities, then head to Cardiff.
Some of my favourite bars in Swansea are Elixir and Flickering Light. There’s also a late-night beach bar called Bambu where you’ll find private karaoke booths and a heated outdoor shisha terrace. Popworld is a perfect place for music lovers. However, if you prefer live music, there are places like Sin City and Hangar 18.
Meanwhile, Cardiff is the place to go if you love craft beer and ale with a range of traditional and modern pubs to visit, as well as several craft breweries such as Zerodegrees and Pipes. Also, the nightclubs are a real treat where you’ll enjoy live music and dance.
Most restaurants in Cardiff open late, so you can still get excellent meals at night (plus, there’s chippy lane, an entire street lined with late-night chip shops). Night-time activities in Cardiff include mini-golf, cinemas, bowling alleys, casinos, or a comedy club like Glee.
Both Swansea and Cardiff are safe cities at night. Swansea was the first city in Wales to be awarded The Purple Flag, a national award recognizing the city’s vibrant and safe night-time economy, and this was soon followed by Cardiff3 (source: ATCM).
Is Swansea Or Cardiff Cheaper?
Overall, Swansea is cheaper than Cardiff as a tourist destination. This is because accommodation is more expensive in Cardiff, ranging between £75 and £125, whereas in Swansea accommodation tends to fall between £74 and £964 (source: Kayak). As Cardiff has more paid attractions, expect to fork out more for these during your visit too.
Kieren is the founder and editor-in-chief of Wales Guidebook. Originally from rural Mid-Wales, he has lived all over the country from Cardiff to Wrexham. A true Welshman, Kieren created this site to share his passion for Wales and help others discover this beautiful country.