contributed by Fiona Worboys [ASID Student Member / IIDA Student Member / aspiring design journalist / Rhodec student]
Croesawu! (Welcome!) For all those of you who have never visited Cardiff, now is the time! This capitol city of Wales is often ignored by the rest of the United Kingdom and by-passed by foreign visitors, who think that to "do" Great Britain is to visit London, the Cotswolds and Scotland, with an extended stay in Ireland ! If you’re guilty of this kind of behavior (and I must admit that I once was), then read on. You can join me now as I take a trip through this city I have grown to love…
(Note: Relevant links are listed at the end of the article.)
First stop – a history lesson
Ok, there’s a lot of history here in Cardiff , and what better place to get a feel for the past than to start at Cardiff Castle. There’s been a building on this site since Roman times, with the first Norman castle built here in 1091 (is that old enough for you”!). Many changes have occurred since then, resulting in the Norman castle and medieval fortifications visible today.
When the Bute family took over ownership in 1766, they employed the architect William Burges to create some striking interiors and the landscape designer Capability Brown to lay out the grounds. This is a wonderful spot to relax in the heart of the city (for a small entry fee), and watch the wandering peacocks. Alternatively, plan ahead and take in a concert; Tom Jones is particularly groovy in his homeland!
Moving along – the Millennium Stadium
Another great venue for a concert, or even better, a rugby match (this game is huge in Wales), is the Millennium Stadium. This spectacular concrete and steel construction is set right in the town center, and features a unique, fully retractable roof. The latter can be closed in 20 minutes to accommodate the mixed weather of the British Isles. When not in use, the stadium is open for tours. (Please note that tickets for events need to be purchased well in advance.)
Next – a spot of shopping
As the stadium is so conveniently situated, we are now well placed to take in the shops. (There’s nothing better than a bit of retail therapy on your travels.) The main street, Queen Street, and its immediate surroundings feature the regular British brands, so you have a good selection of clothes, music, home wares, etc. If you’re looking for something a little more off-beat or unusual, check out the quaint Victorian and Edwardian arcades, such as Castle Arcade or Duke Street Arcade, which feature one off shops. Also, whilst we’re here we should take advantage of the cute tearooms, such as the Celtic Cauldron (which also serves excellent vegetarian food), and enjoy a brew. (Remember, tea is a hot drink taken with milk in this country!)
Don’t forget to take in – the Welsh culture
The people of Cardiff are very friendly and have a culture which is uniquely theirs. To get a one-stop flavor, let’s drop by the Castle Welsh Crafts gift shop. Here you can pick up such trinkets as the Welsh lovespoon, a carved ornament traditionally given to your betrothed and now used to bestow good luck and other sentiments. Alternatively, a red dragon might be more your thing! – This is the emblem of Wales, and symbolizes bravery and victory.
Another way to take in some of this Welsh spirit is by visiting one of the local pubs. (This is not the sole domain of the Irish.) Here you can get local beers such as Brains, which used to run by the slogan “It’s brains you want”, but now has the more thoughtful “More positive thinking from Brains”, reflecting the increasing sophistication of the city. This institution is a perfect place to cozy up, and chill out with a pint of something wet. If there’s a game going on, then it can be immense fun to watch this en masse, even without knowing the rules. The atmosphere is amazing, and the Welsh are good sports. (Just don’t cheer on the English!)
Replenishing time – food
By now you’ve probably worked up a hunger, so let me introduce you to some of what’s on offer for you to sample. Because this is a university town, there are many areas with interesting, individual eateries. Places to try include the traditional British ‘greasy spoon’, Ramones, whose all-day breakfasts are infamous amongst locals. The interior of this small cafe is basic and functional, but moving through to the garden beyond reveals a surprising zen paradise: an Asian-inspired garden, which will definitely revive you.
If, however, you’re looking for something spicy, why not try a curry at The Balti Cuisine (for those on a budget) or Juboraj (if you’re feeling flush). This type of cuisine is the most popular in the UK . Here in Wales be sure to ask for it with “half and half”, a regional peculiarity meaning that you get rice and fries (which they call “chips” here). Definitely a must!
Other suggestions for eating include The Armless Dragon, where they serve authentic Welsh cooking, or one of the many options on Mill Lane. Here there are several bars and restaurants, such as Las Iguanas, which offers Brazilian, Chilean and Mexican fare in trendy surroundings and with outdoor dining in the summer. (Remember this spot for later, as this is one of the best places for nightlife in the city.)
Last stop – the Bay
The Cardiff Bay area also offers many glossy new eateries and bars. If you fancy dining in contemporary surroundings with a great view, then save your appetite for The Pearl of the Orient, with its spare, yet warm, décor, and outlook over the water. Food is a mix of Peking, Szechuan and Malaysian cooking styles.
Much money has been poured into the city in recent years, providing an affluent hub, particularly obvious in this waterfront enclave. This area has been significantly redeveloped over the past few years: transformed warehouses mixed in with new apartment buildings, converted Victorian brick structures, and even a reproduction of an old Norwegian church, now a cute café complete with village hall events. The juxtaposition of these diverse edifices serves to create a truly interesting setting that is visually appealing and provides a great place to promenade or just watch the world go by.
The newest addition to this setting is the splendid Wales Millennium Centre. This is a particularly striking monument with a carefully considered design that uses materials representing what were once key industries of the country. Reclaimed slate provides the exterior ornamentation, formed into layers resembling the cliffs of the South Wales coastline and interspersed with ‘veins’ of glass segments. The most dramatic element, however, is the matt, stainless steel shell, emblazoned with wording in both Welsh and English. This curved surface, with its multi-faceted inscriptions, is treated with a pale, bronze colored oxide, allowing a soft weathered look to prevail, as well as providing interest through differing shapes and hue variances. This looks particularly attractive set against the ever-changing colors of the sky beyond.
And then – to bed
After an intense tour of the city you’ll probably want a comfortable place to sleep. There are many options available to you…
If you’re looking to blow the budget, then how about the modern 5-star luxury of St. David’s Hotel & Spa in the Bay, which was voted amongst the “Top 20 Coolest Hotels of the World” by Condé Nast.
If it’s elegance in a historic setting you’re after, then there’s The Angel Hotel. However, if you’re watching the pennies, reliable chains such as the Holiday Inn have a presence here, or – better yet – go for the budget-conscious, but immensely trendy, retro-modern The Big Sleep Hotel, which is set in a converted 1960s office block. (“Super cheap but sexy-chic” said Elle Decoration!)
Whatever you choose, be sure to book early as there’s always a big demand for hotel rooms in the city, especially as there are often high profile events happening.
Before we head off – a museum
Like all major cities, Cardiff has some great museums to visit. Before we head off back home, let’s take a stroll to the National Museum and Gallery. This offers an impressive collection, covering the arts, history and science. It is particularly worth venturing this way to take in the fine, white, neo-classical facades of this building, the City Hall, and other civic buildings that dominate this part of town.
Time on your hands – what else to see
If you’re still here and want to know what else you can do, why not visit the pretty Roath Park to the north of the city. Here you can join the locals ambling through the formal gardens or take a boat out onto the ornamental lake.
If you want to go further afield, why not visit the Museum of Welsh Life at nearby St. Fagans. This is one of Europe ’s largest open-air museums, featuring more than 40 buildings, creating a living history of life in Wales from 2000 years ago to today.
Wales is a beautiful country, and whilst here you should certainly try and find the time to get out of the city and see the countryside. Don’t take the motorway, but instead drive through the winding lanes and little villages and see where the mood takes you. There are also some pretty beaches along the coast, which are lovely to walk along whatever the weather.
The end of the trip – Da boch chi!
We’ve now reached the end of our stay in Cardiff. I hope you’ve all enjoyed your time here – I have certainly enjoyed your company! Maybe I’ll see you next time I’m visiting…
A special thank you must go to my sister, Julie, who introduced me to this city when she moved there several years ago, and to Daisy, Charlie and Paul, who always help me enjoy my stays there.
If you’re looking for some guidance during your stay, then I recommend you give the Dorling and Kindersley travel guide to Europe a miss; Wales as a whole only gets a one-page entry!
Instead, check out the internet. I’ve listed a few sites to get you started…
BBC Weather – Cardiff average conditions
Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff
Tel: 0870 013 8600
Wales Millennium Center
Cardiff Bay, Cardiff
Castle Welsh Crafts
1 Castle Street, Cardiff
Tel: 029 2034 3038
St. Mary’s Street, Cardiff
Duke Street Arcade
Duke Street, Cardiff
Food and drink
47-49 Castle Arcade
Castle Street, Cardiff CF10 1BU
Tel: 029 2038 7185
Lake Road West
Cardiff CF23 5PG
Tel: 029 2048 2050
8 Mill Lane
Cardiff CF1 1FL
Tel: 029 2022 6373
Salisbury Road, Cardiff
The Armless Dragon
97-99 Wyeverne Road
Cardiff CF2 44BG
Tel: 029 2038 2357
The Balti Cuisine
103 Woodville Road
Cardiff CF24 4DY
Tel: 029 2022 8863
The Pearl of the Orient
First Floor, Mermaid Quay
Stuart Street, Cardiff Bay
Cardiff CF10 5BZ
Tel: 029 2049 8080
Cardiff Bay Hotel
Schooner Way, Atlantic Wharf
Cardiff CF10 4RT
Tel: 029 2046 5888
Holiday Inn – Cardiff City Centre
Cardiff CF10 1XD.
Tel: 0870 4008140
St. David’s Hotel & Spa
Cardiff CF10 5SD
Tel: 029 2045 4045
The Angel Hotel
Cardiff CF10 1SZ
Tel: 029 2064 9200
The Big Sleep Hotel
Cardiff CF10 2FE
Tel: 029 2063 6363
Photos (courtesy of Fiona Worboys):
1. Cardiff castle keep
2. Local bar
3. Norwegian church – café and arts center
4. Detail of Millennium Centre
5. Victorian Gothic architecture in the Bay