Grey skies and the rhythmic rumble of the train had us lulled into a calm, dreamy state – understandable coming into our third hour since boarding in London.
I enjoy the countryside in the UK and I’m a total advocate of train travel here because you have the chance to enjoy it to the fullest. I love how it’s possible to identify where a town begins and ends, interspersed between vast rolling green spaces, broken down ruins of centuries-old structures, and historical steeples standing proudly.
Onward, and I spied the pretty-looking outskirts of a city with homes neatly displayed upon the hillsides. As we crossed a romantic river with arched bridges stretching across the water and on into the distance, it occurred to me that it might be nice to stop here for a while and explore. I began to wonder where we might be and squealed a little with excitement as I pointed out to Cooper that we must have crossed over the border from England into Wales, because all of a sudden street, shop, train station and advertising signs all appeared in not just one language but two – the customary English and Welsh options evident across this country.
Next, to our surprise the conductor announced we had arrived in Swansea and it was time to alight. As it turned out, I would have the chance to explore this lovely little city more. Aptly too, Swansea was home to the world’s very first passenger railway service.
We were in Wales for our very first visit!
Wales’ second largest city and the twenty-fifth largest in the UK, Swansea lies within the historic county boundaries of Glamorgan. Once a prosperous market village with medieval roots, later gaining prominence as a spa town, and evolving successfully into the industrial revolution, Swansea enjoyed positive growth for many years. While remnants of this history remains, sadly much of the city centre was destroyed during WWII when Swansea suffered numerous devastating bombing attacks due to its perfect positioning as a military port. Perhaps this is why much of the city felt to me like it was quite new. However, it has undergone heavy redevelopment recently and rundown port-side precincts are now being turned into housing, university campus sites plus film and television studios (an emerging industry in Wales right now).
The best value option here is definitely the bus. For £4.20 a day (as at April 2016) you can hop on and off the local bus which offers a multitude of routes around the entire area.
Our best tip is to get yourself on a number 2 express (easy to find at the city’s central bus station) and head over to a gorgeous coastal precinct called ‘the Mumbles’. Imagine pretty houses, extraordinary views across Swansea Bay, boutique shopping, fish and chips, and a grand old castle called Oystermouth. The Mumbles is just 25 minutes bus ride from the city centre, and you can wander along the promenade up to the lighthouse, or discover where the clifftop walks begin and take yourself off on a windswept adventure.
Stroll in Swansea
There’s much to see and do in Swansea and most of it is accessible on foot. The main mall presents shopping, pubs and eateries of all types. This is a university city, so as you’d expect there’s plenty of great deals on food and beer to be had. We don’t mind the odd meal at Pizza Express or a stop-over at Aussie-themed Walkabout (both particularly good value if you’re taking advantage of UK-wide TasteCard or Gourmet Society 2-4-1 deals as we do), and it’s not hard to discover something to fit a tight budget and your unique taste.
Across Swansea there’s lovely open areas, parks, waterways, interesting historical architecture and even an old castle (although it’s not hard to find castles in Wales – apparently there’s 641 of them).
The city is well signed with regards to directing visitors to its most important attractions and facilities, so see where your feet and imagination take you.
Sleep in Swansea
We chose to stay at the Premier Inn on the waterfront. It’s positioned in a quiet, recently-redeveloped part of town overlooking the marina, and set below the hills decorated with locals’ homes that I originally noticed on the train. Book well in advance for a neat deal that includes a contemporary, well-appointed room plus breakfast. Conveniently there’s a Tesco Express with an ATM and a bus stop outside; the hotel is just a ten to fifteen minute walk from the city centre, a large Sainsburys supermarket and the enchanting museum dedicated to writer and poet, Dylan Thomas.
Located in central Paris, St Christopher’s Inn Paris – Gare du Nord is situated just 400m from Gare du Nord Train Station and a 2 minute walk from the Metro station, meaning no expensive cab fares from the airport are required. Bustling Montmartre and the Sacré Coeur are also just a 15-minute walk away, allowing travellers to save on transport costs when heading off to see the sights of this magical city.
Complete with three bars, a chill-out room with a foosball table and free Wi-Fi throughout, guests will love the relaxed vibe of this hostel, with plenty to do. All rooms and dormitories enjoy heating, with a choice of either shared or private bathroom facilities. A continental or buffet breakfast is included in the room rate and provided each morning, saving even more money for Paris shopping. A range of fantastic restaurants can also be found within walking distance of the Inn.
Nestled around beautiful Modernist architecture, Casa Gràcia is a modern hostel at the top of Barcelona’s Passeig de Gràcia – an area known for it’s exclusive shops, restaurants and bars. It features spacious, air-conditioned rooms, free individual lockers to keep belongings safe, free Wi-Fi in all areas, as well as a fully-equipped kitchen meaning you can save money by preparing their own meals whenever you like.
Complete with a communal terrace, expansive lounge, game hall and dining area, buffet breakfast is also served daily and is included in the room rate. Free tea and coffee are also available 24 hours a day!
For those looking to join in on some cheap and easy activities, the hostel arranges group events every evening, as well as daily walking tours of the city.
Santa Tere Hostel offers guests brightly styled and spacious rooms with bed lined included, free WiFi access, it’s own sparkling outdoor pool and a relaxed bar and lounge space complete with a pool table. Complimentary breakfast is also provided daily by the hostel and a shared kitchen gives you the option to save some coin by preparing your own meals and snacks each day.
Gloria Underground Train Station is just 800m away from the hostel, with Rio’s buzzing city centre and Praia de Copacabana beach both short drives away, easy access to all the wondrous sights of Rio!
Close to shops and restaurants, Santa Tere Hostel is just a few kilometres away from stunning Guanabara Bay and there are several parks along the water’s edge where guests can relax and enjoy the warm South American sunshine.
Saphaipae Hostel offers stylish accommodations in Bangkok’s Silom area, close to downtown Bangkok and just a five minute walk from Surasak BTS Skytrain Station. Both dormitory rooms and private rooms come with free Wi-Fi and are fully air-conditioned, with a free buffet breakfast included in the room rate.
Providing easy access to downtown Bangkok, the hostel is just four stops away via Skytrain to MBK Shopping Centre and using the Airport Train service, just a 45 minute train ride to Suvarnabhumi International Airport – no expensive cab fares!
The hostel offers pool tables and internet stations, as well as coin-operated washing machines to keep your washing pile at a minimum while roaming the globe.
In the heart of Melbourne’s restaurant and theatre district on Little Bourke Street, Ovolo Laneways features original artwork, luxurious bathrooms, quality furnishings and free high-speed wireless internet. While the rates may not be considered ‘shoestring’, Ovolo Laneways Melbourne are experts in providing the best bang for your buck.
All rooms not only have a work desk, Apple TV, cable TV channels and black-out curtains, they also include free local calls plus a complimentary minibar! That’s right – everything you can find in the minibar is included in your room rate. As if that wasn’t enough, the hotel also provides a free ‘grab n go’ breakfast which includes breakfast juice, pastries and coffee/tea, perfect for powering you up for a day of sightseeing.
As the hotel is situated just a quick walk from both Parliament and Treasury Gardens, guests are able to immerse themselves in everything Melbourne has to offer with theatre, shopping, sports arenas, art galleries, restaurants and bars all within easy walking distance – no taxi fares!
Close to public transport, Xi’an Green Forest Hotel is situated just under half a mile from Anyuanmen subway station (Line 2), 1 mile away from Xi’an Train Station and 3.5 miles away from Xi’an North Train Station, saving visitors plenty on unnecessary travel costs.
Sightseers will enjoy visiting The Bell and Drum Tower which is just 2 subway stops from the Hotel and the Tangdaminggong Hanyuandian Relic Site is only a 20 minute stroll away.
Complete with a tour desk and accommodations with free Wi-Fi, guests will also have access to heating and cosy slippers – perfect after a long day of sightseeing!
Boasting a central location in Dresden’s historic quarter, free Wi-Fi internet access and a complimentary, hearty breakfast buffet each morning, this hostel is an excellent choice for travelers of any age.
In the Cityherberge’s guest kitchen, you will find all you need to store your food and prepare meals, including an oven, fridge, microwave, silverware, herbs, dishwasher and towels.
The 24 hour service doesn’t only apply to the reception, but also to the cozy bar, where you can always find a friendly member of staff with tips and recommendations.
The Cityherberge is a great base from which you can explore Dresden and all of its famous sights as well as popular night-life spots.
This property is just 150 metres from Gävle’s main square, Stortorget and boasts free Wi-Fi, free sauna access and beautifully modern rooms.
Organic, locally produced items are served on Pensionat City’s daily breakfast buffet and guests can also enjoy traditional Swedish cuisine for lunch and dinner at the on-site HC Bar & Restaurant – no need to splurge on cabs for a hearty meal.
Gävle Central Station is a 10-minute walk away, the Swedish Railway Museum just 4 km away, while Furuvik Zoo and Amusement Park is less than 20 minutes’ drive from the hostel.
Visitors to Sydney should make a beeline to the Bounce Sydney Hostel, situated in Sydney’s artistic quarter, Surry Hills. Several chic bars and restaurants are on its doorstep and Chinatown and the popular Crown Street and Oxford Street are both within a 10-minute walk of the hostel.
Buses to Bondi Beach and several other beaches are available just outside the hotel.
Positioned across from Central Train Station, the Bounce Sydney provides budget accommodations just 6 miles from Sydney Airport. It features a restaurant, a bar and a rooftop terrace and BBQ area showcasing terrific views of Sydney.
Guests also have access to a fully-equipped shared kitchen which includes eight refrigerators – don’t worry about spending cash on three meals per day when you can easily prepare your own!
It’s just so important to get your city break packing list right! There’s nothing worse than arriving at your destination with a suitcase full of clothes and nothing to wear. Getting your city break packing list right is essential for those of us who book cheaper airfares and carry-on-only luggage too. Even more important if you’re travelling solo!
Have you ever been caught at the airport having to pay an obscene amount of money on excess luggage weight? It’s awful, and stressful.
With it being so easy to get to some places now, you don’t want your city break experience ruined by carting around unnecessary baggage. London to Amsterdam or London to Paris, even Brisbane to Sydney if you’re in the southern hemisphere – enjoy your trip by conquering your city break packing list.
City break packing list: the must-have item
As someone who has travelled extensively for my job, I was once asked what one item of clothing was an absolute travel essential for my suitcase.
Think about it, it’s handy for the beach as a swim suit cover-up, as a scarf, a head covering if needed, a wrap on a chilly flight, it’s completely versatile.
After packing and unpacking a million suitcases, there are certainly many things I’ve learned, sadly by trial and error, in terms of what not to do when packing your suitcase.
City break packing list – the five big mistakes
Not making a ‘what to wear’ list
It might seem excessive, but sitting down and actually planning out what outfits you’re going to need will save you a lot of room in the suitcase. Much in the same way that menu planning saves you money at the grocery store.
If it’s a work trip, remember that if you are seeing different clients on different days, parts of your outfit can easily be re-worn. If you’re on a city break for leisure, you can be much more relaxed about your attire. Let go of preciousness. Be comfortable, be happy.
Taking ‘out there’ items
Sure that wild print dress looks great on, but take items that are easier to mix and match.
Clothes that can be both dressed up or dressed down will get you more mileage and take up far less room.
Taking your shoe collection with you
Every pair of shoes you packwill add at least a kilo to the weight of your bag. Let’s face it, shoes are awkward items in suitcases, making it tricky to pack around them.
Think about exactly what you really need and what you can wear twice.
Most of the time you need a pair of versatile walking shoes or trainers, and a pair of flats or sandals or flip flops. That’s it.
Taking too much gym gear
Yes making time for fitness, especially while travelling on business trips, is important. Too much room service and social drinks can certainly add up quickly, but so can the weight of gym shoes and the extra clothing.
Think about it, will you really use the hotel gym on more than one occasion?
If so, take the gym clothes. If not, think about maybe taking a swim suit instead. Less room in the suitcase and most hotels have usable pools year round.
Taking your bathroom with you
Yes, we all love our little comforts from home.The shampoo we’re used to, the moisturiser we love the scent of. But really we know we could go a day or two without it. Don’t waste space on shampoo, conditioners and lotions which could accidentally break open in your bag and cause a whole other headache when you know the hotels will always have them available. Worst case, you can buy inexpensive version on the road and discard before returning home.
If you’re a frequent traveller and fussy about your brands, packing a travel bag of small sized toiletries and keeping it packed will make it easy for you to re-pack every time you go away as well.
What’s your input on how to compose the perfect city break packing list – what do you class as ‘essential’ to take with you? Drop us a line in the comments below.
About the author Gwen O’Toole is an accomplished writer focusing on travel, events management and food and wine. She also published a fiction novel while spending the past eight years as a magazine editor and travelling the globe before launching The Ideas Library, a creative services and event management company. She is regularly featured in a variety of travel and leisure publications and blogs.
Welcome to Travel Live learn, where we are passionate about living a life full of great adventures. We are Sarah + Cooper: we know life's short, and we're here to encourage you to make the most of it! We have worked in media, communication and creative roles for many years, and have spent over 10 years living and working abroad. Our hottest content topics here are pet friendly travel, house + pet sitting, and designing a life as expats or digital nomads wherever in the world you want to be. Join our community of over 11,000 like-minded adventurers - find out more by signing up for the mailing list and our Facebook Group. Find us on YouTube too. NEW podcast now live: search 'Freedom and Four Paws' on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts or your fave podcast service provider.