No longer the dreary coal-exporting port it was so often depicted as in the 20th century, Cardiff, the capital of Wales, is hot and happening -- one of the most attractive cities of Britain to visit. Cardiff (Caerdydd in Welsh) is a large seaport built on the tidal estuary of the Taff River.
Enriched by the Industrial Revolution, Cardiff declined after World War II with the closing of coal mines, railroads, and factories. The old industrial city is now a progressive, inviting modern port, as exemplified by the waterfront along Cardiff Bay. Here you'll find renewal at its best, with restaurants, hotels, and a hands-on exhibit, Techniquest. Cardiff can be your launching pad for the treasures of South Wales, which has turned a bright, new face to the world and is no longer known for its depressing stories of slag heaps, dreary cottages, and denuded hillsides that were once proudly forested. In fact, South Wales is imbued with some of the great beauty spots of Britain: Brecon Beacons National Park, 835 sq. km (519 sq. miles) of beauty and pleasure grounds with nature reserves; Gower Peninsula, an area of outstanding natural beauty stretching for 23km (14 miles) from the Mumbles to Worms Head in the West; and, finally, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, one of the smallest national parks of Britain (only 362 sq. km/225 sq. miles) but an area acclaimed for its coastal scenery.
On the western side of Cardiff, the city of Swansea on Swansea Bay of the Bristol Channel, seems a natural starting place for a visit to southwest Wales. After a sojourn in the vicinity of the port city, the beautiful Gower Peninsula, Swansea's neighbor, draws you westward. You can explore where Dylan Thomas, the country's outstanding 20th-century poet, was born, and then move on to the west to Laugharne, where the poet lived, wrote, and is buried.
Swansea is on the western edge of West Glamorgan County. When the counties of Wales were realigned and consolidated in 1973, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire, familiar names in Welsh history, became part of Dyfed County, an even older designation for the area they occupy. In this southwestern corner of the country, you'll be introduced to the land of St. David and Celtic crosses, of craggy coastlines and the cromlechs marking the burial places of prehistoric humans. In addition to Swansea, you'll find two more excellent bases outside Cardiff -- Tenby, one of the most famous coastal resorts of Wales, its charm and character dating from the Middle Ages, plus St. Davids, a tiny cathedral city, birthplace of the patron saint of Wales. Two major attractions that you may want to seek out even on a rushed visit are Pembroke Castle, oldest castle in west Wales and seat of the earls of Pembroke; and Tintern Abbey, in the Wye Valley, founded in 1131, once one of the richest and most important monastic houses of Wales.