Cardiff, Capital of Wales since 1955
Wales has undergone many changes in the last decade and nowhere is this more apparent than the transformation of the capital city, Cardiff. Very compact for a city, and far quieter than London, it attracts large numbers of visitors who come for the shopping, the nightlife, the peaceful parks and surrounding countryside and the modern delights of the city centre and Bay development.
City Centre An excellent starting point is Cardiff Central Station and the Cardiff Welcome Centre , opposite, which has details of current events, festivals and concerts.
Step out of the station and cross the road. The Welcome Centre is to your left. Now, turn right, towards St Mary Street, one of the oldest streets in the city. Some of its early architecture is still intact, as are the classic old shopping arcades and the grand Howells department store. Turning left up St Mary Street, cross the road and call in at the old indoor market , opened in 1891, which retains its original roof and decor, and has the stalls placed in the same positions as they were the first day of trading. Local delicacies, such as cheeses, meats and wines, are on sale here at a very reasonable price.
Coming out of the market, cross St John Square past the 15th century church of St John the Baptist. The magnificent bell tower has views of Castell Coch (Red Castle) and beyond. Follow the road around to the top of Queen Street, a pedestrianised shopping centre, complete with cafes, pubs, restaurants, indoor shopping, famous name brands and bargains galore. If you prefer history then turn back towards Cardiff Castle , a Norman fortification built in the 11th century. For a small entry fee take a tour of the castle gardens and keep, sit in the famous banqueting hall or walk along the battlements. To learn more about the historic growth of Cardiff from small town to major iron and coal exporting port, jump on one of the open air buses outside the castle entrance—an excellent way to see Alexandra Gardens, Cardiff Bay and the Millennium Stadium .
Alexandra Gardens To visit Alexandra Gardens on foot simply take the subway under the Boulevard de Nantes and you will surface directly in front of Cardiff Crown Court, Cardiff City Hall and the National Museum of Wales . These impressive white stone buildings date from 1904 and were built by Turners.
The gardens are behind the civic buildings and at their centre stands a beautiful war memorial. For a pleasant walk, cross North Road into Coopers Field and follow the footpath over the bridge, along the banks of the River Taff, past the Welsh Institute of Sport and Glamorgan County Cricket ground to Pontcanna Fields and Black Weir.
Llandaff Keen ramblers may decide to continue walking through Pontcanna Fields and across the A48 to reach the ancient cathedral city of Llandaff, a peaceful village complete with village green and tea rooms. Stop at Llandaff Cathedral, which dates from the 6th century, and marvel at the world famous Epstein statue, 'Christ in Majesty,' or take a rest in the Bishop's Palace. Cardiff Bay & Atlantic Wharf A fifteen minute walk from the city centre, Cardiff Bay has a regular train and bus service and is well served with car parks. The Bay area has become one of the most fashionable spots in Cardiff with a large number of bars, restaurants, clubs and entertainment venues. The oldest part is the Queen Alexandra Dock, opened in 1907 by King Edward VII, Queen Alexandra and Princess Victoria. More information on the redevelopment of the Cardiff Docklands is available at the Cardiff Bay Visitor Centre . Also worth seeing are the National Assembly for Wales buildings and the Norwegian Church Arts Centre .
Canton Bustling Cowbridge Road East runs through Canton and on towards Ely. It is always alive with new sights, sounds and cuisine, and is a popular choice with the locals for shopping. Just off the main road past the library, experience the Chapter Arts Centre , where all manner of artists, poets, dancers and independent theatre companies showcase their work.
Pontcanna Bordered by the Canton district on one side and Bute Park on the other, Pontcanna is a fashionably smart area of the city. Mainly residential, it also encompasses the Welsh Institute of Sport and a number of trendy little cafes and shops. Take a stroll along the tree-lined Cathedral Road with its numerous hotels, to the open parklands of Llandaff Fields at the top. If you're feeling particularly energetic, you can join the Taff Trail at Llandaff Fields for a 55 mile walk northwards to the town of Brecon. Roath Best accessed from the city centre by bus, go east along Newport Road, take a left turn into City Road, and turn right at 'Death Junction' at the top (so-called, not because of the number of road accidents there, but because it was once the site of the city gallows). You'll find yourself in Albany Road which has all the character of a busy high street. Further down the street check out Wellfield Road for fashionable hairdressers, cosy cafes, and boutiques selling top designer names. Indulge in some ice cream at Thayers and stroll on towards Roath Park Lake with its resident bird community and rowing boats for hire.
Eating out in Cardiff is an experience in itself. The city offers an eclectic mix of cultural traditions and different types of cuisine from Welsh and Thai to Japanese and Portuguese. Add to that the myriad of Chinese and Indian restaurants and takeaways and you'll find yourself spoilt for choice.
City centre pubs are noisy and fun. This atmosphere is carried over into the restaurants and new style cafe bars which combine the best elements of a pub and restaurant with quirky surroundings, background music and an upbeat atmosphere. Bar Med has a party atmosphere and is very popular as a pre-club venue, while the Ha! Ha! Bar & Canteen serves up a a scrumptious mustard mash with onion chutney.
For a lighter lunch, you may want to try one of the many sandwich bars and cafes in the city centre. Servini's serves decent-sized portions of British and Italian food. The young and trendy favour the massive cups of coffee and hot chocolate in the Bar Europa . Many of the department stores also have self-service restaurants, which are reasonably priced and family-friendly.
Moving on into the evening, pre and post-concert dinners are offered in the elegant surroundings of St David's Hall's restaurant, the Celebrity . Just along the road from there is the cafe quarter with a host of trendy restaurants, bars and clubs that often have early evening special offers for concert-goers. Giovanni's has three restaurants in the area, catering for different tastes. You could also try Jumpin' Jacks for a Mexican feast or the Juboraj for high-class Indian food.
A firm Cardiff tradition is a red hot curry after a night at a club. City Road, just out of the city centre, is the place to go if you want something cheap and quick. The Kismet is a good one to try, but most of the restaurants here are open until the early hours of the morning and are very similar in terms of menu and price. There's never any need to book in advance. City Road also has a number of kebab houses, pizza and burger takeaways, Chinese, Mexican and Hawaiian restaurants and traditional fish and chip shops, so you're bound to find something that takes your fancy while you're walking along.
Other restaurants combine Welsh influences with modern European cooking. The Armless Dragon and Le Gallois appeal to the upper end of the market and are both very popular.
The trendiest place to eat at the moment is Cardiff Bay. Be warned that buses are infrequent late at night and stop at around 11p, so you may need to get a taxi back. It's worth making the trip, however, to stroll along the harbour front before dinner and maybe take in a film or visit a club afterwards. For the ultimate in luxury dining, book into the Tides Grill at the five-star St David's Hotel, on the edge of the Bay, and prepare to spend several hours enjoying a leisurely dinner. For something more upbeat, drop into one of the many bars and restaurants which offer live music, cabaret and theme nights. Harry Ramsden's fish and chip restaurant often features singers from the Welsh National Opera, while Buff's combines a wine bar and restaurant and the Sports Cafe has large screen TVs. If you happen to be in the Bay earlier in the day, make sure you visit the Norwegian Church (pictured above). Originally a place of worship for Norwegian seamen it is now a classy arts centre and coffee shop. Alternatively, indulge your taste for the exotic with a plate of sashimi at the Japanese Izakaya .
Families need not miss out, either. Besides the obvious burger bars, there are plenty of restaurants and pubs with restaurants that welcome children. As a general rule, the further you go from the city centre, the quieter the pubs become. The Allensbank is easily reachable from the city centre and has a separate children's play room and Three Elms offers traditional British food and welcomes children.
As far as pubs go, most in the city centre are owned by breweries. Some of the smaller pubs, such as the Irish bar Mulligans , and The Yard retain a more traditional feel and attract an older clientele. Pubs are particularly busy during weekends when crowds of youngsters come in from the South Wales valleys for a night of drinking and clubbing. It's standing room only in most pubs then, so the city centre is best avoided if you prefer a peaceful atmosphere. However, there's so much choice that it's well worth looking around and trying a number of different places during your visit. You'll likely be pleasantly surprised at what you find.
For a capital city, Cardiff is surprisingly easy to get around. The city centre is small enough that you can walk across it in twenty minutes, and many of the major attractions, such as Cardiff Castle , the National Museum & Gallery , St David's Hall and Cardiff International Arena are situated there. The city's newest development, Cardiff Bay, is a ten minute walk from the centre and, again, it is possible to walk around all the main attractions in a very short space of time.
The following tours are recommended as a way of getting an overview of the main areas of the city in a short time. Both can be comfortably completed in an afternoon, although you may wish to allow more time to explore the museums and galleries along the way.
In addition to these two tours, many people come to Cardiff for the shopping. It's recommended that you start at the Capitol Shopping Centre with its modern array of shops and cafes, come out by the front entrance and continue left along Queen Street, where you'll find all the famous name department stores. You'll pass St David's Centre and Queens Arcade on your left - both of them well worth a look. Cross High Street at the pedestrian crossing and you'll come to a large Welsh gifts shop, and Castle Arcade which has several more Welsh shops and cafes. When you're finished here, double back and go down High Street and then St Mary Street towards the bus station. You'll find several more interesting arcades on the left hand side, along with the enormous Howells department store and a traditional indoor market . These link to an area known as the Hayes, which boasts some large bookstores and plenty of little takeaway shops for food.
TOUR 1: A Historical Walk in Cardiff
Wales' capital is steeped in history but much of its earlier history of druids and Celtic warriors has left little trace.
Start: Castle Street, Cardiff Castle .
Cardiff Castle dates back approximately 2,000 years. The Romans camped here, then the Norman conquerors built a fortress and the Marquises of Bute lived amid its spectacular gilt ceilings, murals, gothic carvings and stained-glass windows during the 18th and 19th centuries. Wales' past is depicted colourfully on the walls of the Banqueting Hall. See the ornate Clock Tower and the peacocks on the Castle Green. You can view the River Taff in Bute Park .
St John's Church is in St John Street (pedestrian area). Built in 1473, the church is an integral part of Cardiff's history. Carry on down Working Street and stop off for lunch at one of the great little restaurants in the city's cafe quarter. Then turn around and take a right down Bridge Street. Turn left up Charles Street and you will pass St David's Roman Catholic Cathedral on your left, which dates back to 1887.
Cross Duke Street, then walk up Park Place and cut through Gorsedd Gardens—City Hall will be on your left and the National Museum and Gallery on your right. The path joins onto Museum Avenue, which surrounds a square. Cathays Park is in the middle, surrounded by Cardiff University, the Law Courts, Welsh Office and the War Memorial bang in the centre.
City Hall magnificently houses the council. Step inside to see the sculptures of past Princes and Welsh heroes. It is next to the National Museum and Gallery. The Gallery has the largest Impressionist art collection outside of France. Inside, watch how Wales evolved geographically on film and with the aid of 3-D models and take a look at the science exhibits—the museum has everything from archeology to zoology.
Spend the evening at the Sherman Theatre - an arts theatre which hosts national and international premieres.
TOUR 2: Arts Around the Bay
The art scene has flourished around the redeveloped docklands. The Bay is a vibrant strip with an interesting history to boot.
Start: Coal Exchange — Mount Stuart Square, Cardiff Bay.
Coal Exchange - built in 1886 to trade coal, in what was once the largest exporter of coal in the world. Times have changed, and it is now an arts and entertainment venue. Mount Stuart Square has some of Cardiff's most beautiful listed buildings. Walk around The Point (formerly St Stephen's Church) on the Square's corner, which is now a performing arts centre and stroll down West Bute Street. Turn left along James Street and on your left you will come across...
Craft in the Bay - on the corner of Bute Street and Bute Place. Here you will find first-rate Welsh craftsmen, members of the Makers Guild, showing their work. Delicate jewellery, creative crafts, interesting wooden pieces and rustic woven baskets are in the gallery. Artwork is for sale here, so bring cash. Refuel with a coffee in the main gallery shop.
Then walk around the Inner Harbour for lunch - Harry Ramsden's is a fish and chip restaurant that comes complete with chandelier and hosts opera and jazz evenings. Otherwise have a bite along the waterfront, or sit in a deck chair with your takeaway.
Proceed around the Millennium Waterfront to the beautiful red brick edifice, Pierhead Building , which dominates the waterfront. Built in 1896, it remains a favourite Cardiff landmark.
Walk down Harbour Drive and try to catch the sun setting. During the summer, there is plenty of outdoor entertainment for all the family to enjoy free of charge—concerts, comedy, mime and street theatre all take place regularly.
Cardiff Bay Visitor Centre is at the end of Harbour Drive. This futuristic award-winning Tube building tells the history of the Bay with photos and audio-visual material. View the plans to regenerate the 2,700 acres of waterfront.
To your left you will see the red Lightship 2000 —the Helwick Light Vessel LV14. It used to guide ships off the rocks in South Wales and is now being run as a coffee shop and exhibition centre by a group of Christian churches. You can step on board and enjoy a drink on the deck.
Enjoy a performance at the Norwegian Church Arts Centre , where you can also eat. This timber construction was built as a place of worship for Norwegian sailors in 1867. It was rebuilt in 1987 and opened by Princess Martha Louise of Norway in 1992. Alternatively, head back into town on the bus to St David's Hall for dinner and a concert.