Someone once said that anyone who claims that money can’t buy happiness simply doesn’t know where to go shopping. If you’re interested in putting this theory to the test during your holiday in South Wales, here are some of your options – from the Swansea shopping experience to tips on where to shop in Cardiff plus some info on shopping in some of the towns local to our holiday cottages.
As Wales’ second largest city, after Cardiff, Swansea has a good selection of shops – from the familiar British high street stores to colourful independent traders and boutiques. To help you put Swansea into context, its population is roughly the same as a city like Norwich or Bournemouth. If you include its surrounds, the population is more similar to a city like Southampton.
Swansea is a sprawled-out city and has a few different shopping areas, a result of its colourful history and geographical location, sandwiched between a big beach and some mountains. Although many of its buildings were destroyed during the war to be replaced by 1950s concrete boxes, the city boasts what is arguably the finest natural setting of any major British city, situated within a sweeping, sandy bay. Most of the shops however, are situated a couple hundred metres inland of the beach, with many of the top fashion, department and entertainment stores along Oxford Street or in the nearby Quadrant Shopping Centre, home to the Swansea Devil, a controversial wooden statue of the devil who watches over the thousands of shoppers who pass under his gaze every day.
Next door, the hustle and bustle of Swansea Market shelters beneath a large arched roof, making it the largest covered market in Wales. Market stalls offer local produce, Welsh delicacies such as Welsh Cakes, cockles and laverbread (seaweed boiled into a tangy paste), plus gifts, crafts, clothing and general stalls. It was recently voted into the top 10 UK food markets and “possibly the friendliest indoor market in the country” by Visit Britain.
The large department stores, with the exception of the Quadrant-based Debenhams, are clustered around the east end of Oxford Street, near Castle Square. In contrast, the west end of Oxford Street is home to local based and bargain stores. St. David’s Shopping Centre, near the Quadrant, is a red-brick complex of smaller shops and is generally not as busy as the Quadrant.
Leading each way from Castle Square is High Street to the north and Wind Street to the south. Both these streets were within the old town walls of medieval Swansea. Today, High Street has become the sadly neglected part of the city, its smaller shops and indoor market struggling to brighten the drab environment. Wind Street, in contrast, is more a fashionable area with continental-style café bars, public houses and restaurants offering an after-dark alternative to the wild club scene surrounding The Kingsway.
Between the Castle and the River Tawe lies the Parc Tawe Shopping and Leisure Centre, accommodating a 10 screen Odeon Cinema, Ten Pin Bowling, Plantasia Tropical Hothouse and many big name household superstores. We recommend that you park here for short visits to the city (you get 3 hours for free and it is easy to get out of and back up the valley to Pontardawe). Should you wish to stay longer you could use one of the official car parks which you will see signs for as you head into the city centre. Swansea has two Park and Ride sites situated off main routes to the north and east of the City Centre. For more information, please see the Swansea Council Park and Ride Website.
Cardiff is the capital of Wales and has one of the best shopping centres in the UK, with almost every major store represented. Its city centre survived the worst of the bombs in the Second World War and it is famed for its network of well preserved Victorian and Edwardian arcades that even appeal to dedicated non-shoppers. These weird and wonderful arcades contain many small shops, boutiques, delicatessens, cafes and bookshops.
One of the first things that you will notice about the city centre is how compact it is, with many shops in covered arcades. There are two main shopping streets: Queen Street and St. Mary Street. Cardiff has four covered shopping malls which are well worth exploring: St. David’s Centre, Queens West, Capitol Centre, Queens Arcade. The city centre has two markets, one open-air and the other covered. Both markets are an excellent source of fruit and vegetables and the covered market is a great place to buy fresh fish, meat and dairy produce.
A good plan would be to head down to Neath, leave your car at Milland Road Car Park (cheap for the day) and catch the train into Cardiff. Trains depart from Neath at least once an hour and Cardiff Train Station is in the city centre. The journey takes about 45 minutes. Should you wish to drive, there are a number of well signposted multi storey car parks in Cardiff city centre.
Other shopping centres
Here are a few alternatives to the main shopping attractions of Swansea and Cardiff. Starting with the smallest first, Pontardawe shopping centre (two miles from our holiday cottages) has two streets, Herbert Street and High Street. There are one or two interesting shops but unfortunately, Pontardawe shopping centre has suffered at the hands of the large supermarkets that lie on the outskirts of the town. If you do decide to take a look, you can park for free in a small car park on Herbert Street, or use Somerfield’s car park and walk to the shops using the underpass.
Neath is large market town, (five miles from our holiday cottages) and has a very pleasant pedestrianised shopping centre which includes a historic covered market famed for its mini-cafes that serve the local speciality, faggots and peas. You can spend a good few hours exploring the streets of Neath. In addition to the small independent market traders, Neath also has all the usual high street suspects such as WHSmith, Boots, Marks and Spencer, B & Q etc. etc. There is a good car park on Milland Road. It is cheap to park for the whole day, is central (to get to the shops you’ll have to use the footbridge to cross the railway) and can be found easily. Simply drop off the A474 and you’ll see it in front of you.
An alternative shopping trip would be a jaunt down the M4 to Bridgend (about 25 miles away) where, just off junction 36 of the motorway, you will find McArthur Glen Designer Outlet Shopping Village, a purpose built collection of over 80 famous name designer stores offering discounts of up to 50 per cent. Set out in a friendly village street style, there’s a food court, family entertainment and a nine-screen cinema. There is plenty of parking.