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Wales' pretty, maritime city


Maritime Quarter
Wind Street
Swansea was a market town, then a spa resort, then a busy centre of industry. Still, the character of Wales' second city has only ever been defined by one thing: the five sweeping miles of Swansea Bay, that curve round to the south and frame the sea views perfectly.
The beaches that make up this stretch of golden sand win awards every year. There are big, open spaces, secluded coves and beautiful cliffs. If you want to bob around on a dinghy, or rush across the bay on a wakeboard, you can, via one of the various watersports clubs. For surfers, this is about as good as the UK gets.
Swansea is built around the mouth of the River Tawe. Here, a series of docks and marinas house rows of colourful yachts, sailboats and paddle steamers. You can rent one yourself, or join a slow cruise up and down the bay.
The waterfront area is known as the Maritime Quarter, and it's a jam of stylish cafés and shops. Also here are a few different galleries and exhibitions, each describing a different element of Swansea's history. The frontrunner is the National Waterfront Museum. It focuses on industrial innovation and, appropriately enough, it's housed within a wonderfully innovative building, constructed artfully from slate and glass. Inside, historical artefacts are combined with contemporary contraptions like touch screens and video.
Swansea Museum, meanwhile, is a decidedly more traditional place. Perhaps it deserves to be on display itself, as it's the oldest museum in the country. Its collection goes from Egyptian mummies to antique boats. Other nearby exhibitions include the Dylan Thomas Centre, which focuses on the eponymous poet, and Mission Gallery, which has a reputation for forward-thinking shows.
Plantasia, just north of the Maritime Quarter, has relatively little to do with Swansea's history. The tropical plants growing in its three hothouses aren't usually found nearby! There are bananas and coconuts here, alongside plenty of insect and animal life. On a couple of occasions it has represented a far-away alien planet, as a film set for Doctor Who.
The Doctor's high-octane adventures are a bit of an anomaly for Swansea. The pace of life isn't very fast here - in fact it's sometimes referred to as the most relaxed city in the UK. There are casual cafés, and friendly markets selling fresh fish. This might just be a disguise though, as the nightlife couldn't ever be described as relaxing. It's notoriously busy and energetic, much to the enjoyment of the local students. Wind Street is the best place to start; funnily enough it's pronounced "wine" street. This is also one of the best places to go for food.
There are plenty of interesting, modern buildings in the city centre. The whole place had to be built anew after the Second World War. One of the few remaining listed buildings is Swansea Castle. In truth it's little more than a few ruined walls and towers, but they have an undeniable atmosphere. If you find a good spot to shoot, you can photograph the crumbling walls against the contrasting backdrop of Swansea's newer skyline.

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