Must see attractions in Swansea, The Gower & Carmarthenshire

  • Top ChoiceSights in Carmarthenshire (Sir Gaerfyrddin)

    National Botanic Garden of Wales

    Concealed in the rolling Tywi valley countryside, this lavish complex opened in 2000 and is still maturing. Formerly an aristocratic estate, the garden has a broad range of plant habitats, from lakes and bogs to woodland and heath, with lots of decorative areas and educational exhibits. The centrepiece is the Norman Foster–designed Great Glasshouse, a spectacular glass dome sunken into the earth. The garden is 2 miles southwest of Llanarthne village, signposted from the main roads. Themed spaces include a historic double-walled garden, a Japanese garden and an apothecaries' garden, and there are fascinating displays on plant medicine in a recreated chemist shop. The 110m-wide Great Glasshouse shelters endangered plants from Mediterranean climes sourced from all over the world. A new addition is the Birds of Prey Centre, home to more than 20 British raptor species and the site of falconry demonstrations (£3.50), and tours and kids' events are regularly offered. This estate once belonged to Sir William Paxton, the man responsible for the transformation of Tenby into a tourist resort. His grand manor house, built in the 1790s, burnt down in 1931, but you can still see the outline of the foundations, and the old servants' quarters, which are pretty impressive in themselves. The original Regency-era landscaping, comprising a chain of decorative lakes, is undergoing restoration expected to reach completion in 2020. On the hill in the distance, look out for Paxton's Tower, a castle-like structure once used for entertaining.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Carmarthenshire (Sir Gaerfyrddin)

    Dinefwr

    This idyllic, 324-hectare, beautifully landscaped estate, immediately west of Llandeilo, incorporates a deer park, pasture, woods, an Iron Age fort, the hidden remains of a Roman fort, a 12th-century castle and Newton House, a wonderful 17th-century manor with a Victorian Gothic facade. The house is presented as it was in Edwardian times, focusing particularly on the experience of servants in their downstairs domain. Other rooms recall Newton's WWII incarnation as a hospital, and the former Billiard Room is now a tearoom. Dinefwr Castle is set on a hilltop in the southern corner of the estate and offers fantastic views from its walls and towers across the Tywi to the foothills of Black Mountain. Once the seat of the lords of Deheubarth, in the 17th century it suffered the indignity of being converted into a picturesque garden feature. There are several marked walking routes around the grounds, some of which are accessible to visitors with disabilities. Keep an eye out for fallow deer and the largest of only four remaining herds of White Park cattle, an ancient breed once common in Britain but now rarer than pandas.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Carmarthenshire (Sir Gaerfyrddin)

    Aberglasney Gardens

    Wandering through these formal walled gardens feels a bit like walking into a Jane Austen novel. They date originally from Elizabethan times, have evolved continually, and contain a unique cloister built solely as a garden decoration. There's also a pool garden, a 250-year-old yew tunnel, a 'wild' garden in the bluebell woods to the west and various other horticultural havens. In the summer exhibitions and musical events bring further life and gaiety. At its heart stands a semi-restored manor house (Georgian, over an Elizabethan core), where you can watch a video on the estate's history and view temporary art exhibitions. The derelict kitchens have been converted into a glass-roofed atrium garden full of subtropical plants such as orchids, palms and cycads. Out on the terrace, a whitewashed and flagstoned tearoom sells cakes and snacks. Aberglasney is in the village of Llangathen, just off the A40, 4 miles west of Llandeilo.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Carmarthenshire (Sir Gaerfyrddin)

    Dylan Thomas Boathouse

    Dylan Thomas, his wife Caitlin and their three children lived in this cliff-clinging house from 1949 to 1953. It's a beautiful setting, looking out over the estuary that Thomas, in his Poem in October, described as the 'heron-priested shore'. The parlour has been restored to its 1950s appearance, with a desk that once belonged to Thomas' schoolmaster father. Upstairs are photographs, letters, a video about his life, and his death mask, which once belonged to Richard Burton. Along the lane from the Boathouse is the old shed where Thomas did most of his writing. It looks as if he has just popped out, with screwed-up pieces of paper littered around the sea-facing table where he wrote Under Milk Wood and poems such as Over Sir John's Hill (which describes the view).

  • Sights in Gower Peninsula (Y Gŵyr)

    Three Cliffs Bay

    Three Cliffs Bay is named for the pyramid-like, triple-pointed crag pierced by a natural arch that juts out into the water at its eastern point. It's regularly voted one of the most beautiful beaches in Britain, and it's particularly impressive when viewed from the impossibly picturesque ruins of 13th-century Pennard Castle. Glinting below, the Pennard Pill stream empties into the bay, creating dangerous currents for swimmers at high tide. The craggy headland is a popular rock-climbing site. The only way to reach the beach is on foot. For the castle view, look for the path across the road and down a bit from Shepherd's Coffee Shop in Parkmill (parking £3). Once you cross the bridge, turn right and then take the next left-hand fork heading up the hill. You'll skirt some houses and Pennard Golf Course before reaching the castle. For a flatter, quicker path, take the right-hand fork instead and follow the stream. Another approach is via the mile-long track along Pennard Cliffs from the National Trust car park in Southgate.

  • Sights in Carmarthenshire (Sir Gaerfyrddin)

    Llanelli Wetland Centre

    Covering 97 hectares on the northern shore of the Burry Inlet, across from the Gower Peninsula, this is one of Wales' most important habitats for waders and waterfowl. Winter is the most spectacular season, when up to 60,000 birds converge on the salt marsh and mudflats. There are plenty of hides and observation points, and you can hire binoculars (£5) if you don't have your own. Species include oystercatchers, greylag geese, gadwalls, widgeons, teals and black-tailed godwits. The big attraction for birdwatchers is the resident population of little egret, whose numbers have increased from a solitary pair in 1995 to around 400. Flashiest of all are the resident flock of nearly fluorescent pink Caribbean flamingos. There's always plenty on for kids during the school holidays. Late spring's Duckling Days are filled with downy cuteness, while during the summer holidays there are canoes and bikes to borrow. Approaching from the southeast, take the A484 and turn left onto the B4304. The centre's a 2.5-mile walk from Llanelli train station.

  • Sights in Gower Peninsula (Y Gŵyr)

    Arthur's Stone

    On a fittingly desolate ridge near Reynoldston stands this mysterious neolithic burial chamber capped by a 25-tonne quartz boulder. The view from here is fantastic: you can see out to the edges of the Gower in every direction, and on a clear day you can see south to Lundy Island and the Devon and Somerset coast. It's a great spot to watch the sunset. In legend the capstone is a pebble that Arthur removed from his boot; the deep cut in the rock was either made by Excalibur or by St David; and the muddy spring beneath the stone grants wishes. Local lore also says that a woman who crawls around the stone at midnight during the full moon will be joined by her lover – if he is faithful. To find it, turn right on the road leaving the King Arthur Hotel in Reynoldston and look out for a rough parking area on your left. Looking north, you can see the stone on the horizon. The walk to the stone can be very muddy, so wear sensible shoes.

  • Sights in Carmarthenshire (Sir Gaerfyrddin)

    Laugharne Castle

    Built in the 13th century, picturesque Laugharne Castle was converted into a mansion in the 16th century for John Perrot, thought to be the illegitimate son of Henry VIII. It was landscaped with its current lawns and gardens in Victorian times. The adjoining Castle House was leased in 1934 by Richard Hughes, author of A High Wind in Jamaica. It was Hughes who first invited Dylan Thomas to Laugharne. Thomas stayed with Hughes at Castle House and wrote some of his short-story collection, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, in the little gazebo looking out over the estuary.

  • Sights in Carmarthenshire (Sir Gaerfyrddin)

    National Wool Museum

    The Cambrian Mills factory, world famous for its high-quality woollen products, closed in 1984 and this surprisingly interesting museum has taken its place. Former mill workers are often on hand to get the machines clickety-clacking, but there's also a working commercial mill next door where you can watch the operations from a viewing platform. There's a cafe on site, along with a gift shop selling snugly woollen blankets. The museum is positioned in verdant countryside at Drefach Felindre, 3.5 miles east of Newcastle Emlyn, signposted from the A484.

  • Sights in Swansea (Abertawe)

    Dylan Thomas Centre

    Housed in the former guildhall, this unassuming museum contains absorbing displays on the Swansea-born poet's life and work. It pulls no punches in examining the propensity of Dylan Thomas for puffing up his own myth; he was eventually trapped in the legend of his excessive drinking. Aside from the collection of memorabilia, what really brings his writing to life are recordings of of his work performed, part of the centre's permanent, interactive 'Love the Words' exhibition. There's also a high-powered calendar of talks, drama and workshops.

  • Sights in Carmarthenshire (Sir Gaerfyrddin)

    Caws Cenarth

    One of Wales' most acclaimed organic cheesemakers, Caws Cenarth produces all the well-known Welsh cheeses (Caerphilly, Perl Wen, Perl Las) as well as the washed-rind Golden Cenarth, which won the supreme prize at the British Cheese Awards in 2010. On weekdays you can watch the cheese being made from a mezzanine overlooking the factory. There are interesting displays to peruse, plus a short video explaining the process. It's located in the countryside, 4 miles southwest of Newcastle Emlyn.

  • Sights in Swansea (Abertawe)

    Egypt Centre

    Swansea University's collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities, some 5000 artefacts donated by various British institutions and collectors, includes a fascinating array of everyday and rarefied artefacts ranging from a 4000-year-old razor to a mummified crocodile. Check the website for seasonal activities for kids.

  • Sights in Gower Peninsula (Y Gŵyr)

    Parc-le-Breos

    Nestled in a tiny valley between wooded hills, this verdant park contains the Long Cairn, a 5500-year-old burial chamber consisting of a stone entryway, a passageway and four chambers. It once contained the skeletons of 40 people, but these were removed, along with its protective earth mound, after it was dug out in 1869. Nearly opposite is a lime kiln, used until a century ago for the production of quicklime fertiliser. Further into the park, a natural limestone fissure houses Cathole Rock Cave, home to hunter gatherers up to 20,000 years ago. Flint tools were found in the cave, alongside the bones of bears, hyenas and mammoths. The turn-off for Parc-le-Breos is right beside the Gower Heritage Centre in Parkmill; the park is less than half a mile further on.

  • Sights in Carmarthenshire (Sir Gaerfyrddin)

    Llandovery Castle

    The shattered ruin of motte-and-bailey Llandovery Castle looms ineffectually over the town centre. Built in 1100 and then rebuilt in stone in the 1160s, it changed hands many times between the Normans and the Welsh, and between one Welsh prince and another, taking a severe beating in the process. Owain Glyndŵr had a good go at it in 1403, and it was finally left to decay in 1490. The castle is fronted by an eerie disembodied stainless-steel statue commemorating Llywelyn ap Gruffydd Fychan, who was gruesomely hung, drawn and quartered by Henry IV for refusing to lead him to Owain Glyndŵr's base.

  • Sights in Carmarthenshire (Sir Gaerfyrddin)

    Castell Newydd Emlyn

    Perched above a languid loop in the River Teifi, this ruined fortress holds the distinction of being the first stone castle to be built by a Welshman. Dating from around 1240, it was captured by Owain Glyndŵr in 1403 and then thoroughly trashed in 1648 during the Civil War. Now only the remains of the gatehouse are still standing. Local legend has it that an English soldier killed the last-ever dragon here. This story is commemorated in the 'Spirit of the Dragon', a large throne-like wooden seat set within a mosaic behind the castle, and in plaques in the pretty riverside park below.

  • Sights in Swansea (Abertawe)

    National Waterfront Museum

    Housed in a 1901 dockside warehouse with a striking glass and slate extension, this museum's 15 hands-on galleries explore Wales' commercial maritime history and the impact of industrialisation on its people, making much use of interactive computer screens and audiovisual presentations. The effect can be a bit overwhelming, but there's a lot of interesting stuff here, including displays on the Welsh music industry (artefacts include Bonnie Tyler's gold and Duffy's platinum discs) and a section on 'women's work'. Check the website for special events, especially in school holidays.

  • Sights in Gower Peninsula (Y Gŵyr)

    Weobley Castle

    A fascinating view over the salt marshes awaits at this partly ruined late medieval castle, built in the 13th and 14th centuries. Grouped around a courtyard, it functioned more as a fortified manor house than a serious military installation. An exhibition room inside one of the towers has interesting displays on Gower history. It sits on a farm famous for its Gower salt-marsh lamb, much beloved by top chefs and sold at the little farm shop. The castle is located just past Llanrhidian, on the road to Llanmadoc.

  • Sights in Carmarthenshire (Sir Gaerfyrddin)

    Castle House

    A couple of solid walls and a few crumbling towers are all that remain of Carmarthen's 12th-century castle, which was largely destroyed in the Civil War. Inside the walls there are audio stations relating the castle's history and a viewpoint looking over the river. Castle House now contains the tourist office and displays relating to the site's lengthy stint as a prison (from 1789 until the 1930s). Some of the original cells can also be visited.

  • Sights in Gower Peninsula (Y Gŵyr)

    Gower Heritage Centre

    Housed in a restored mill with a working waterwheel, this complex has plenty to keep the kids entertained when the weather drives you off the beaches. There's a puppet theatre, craft workshop, petting zoo, fish pond, bouncy castle, medieval armour display, gold panning and 'Wales' smallest cinema', housed in a converted railway carriage. Adults might be more interested in the mill itself, which served as both a corn- and a sawmill, and the non-operational heritage-listed toilet.

  • Sights in Carmarthenshire (Sir Gaerfyrddin)

    National Coracle Centre

    Once a common sight on Welsh rivers, coracles are small, lightweight, round fishing boats. Housed in a 17th-century flour mill, this museum showcases a collection of coracles and similar vessels from around the world, and includes exhibits and demonstrations showing how these fragile craft were made and used. If you're wondering what one looks like but don't fancy paying the admission, there's one attached to the wall of the 16th-century White Hart Tavern across the road.