Birthplace of Roald Dahl, home of the Dr. Who experience, owner of the world’s oldest Lovespoon… Cardiff has many claims to fame. However, as Nikki Vivian reveals, a better reason to visit is for the great nightlife, culture and people.
Cardiff, or Caerdydd if you’re Welsh, is the capital of Wales and the 10th largest city in the UK. The patriotic Welsh are very proud of their national capital and, whilst English may have long become the lingua franca, the city is still firmly in touch with its Welsh roots. There are still plenty of Welsh speakers and Welsh schools, public signs are in both languages, and souvenir shops still tout the country’s traditional trinkets, such as “Lovespoons” – whilst local shops still stock specialties like Glamorgan sausages, lava bread and Caerphilly cheese.
Rugby is a huge part of life in Cardiff and match day is a great way to experience Welsh national pride via the atmosphere and dedication to the sport. The city becomes awash with green and white flags, and red shirts and dragons are painted onto any visible body part. The Millennium Stadium itself is a prominent feature of the city and has put Cardiff on the map for sport and music events.
Cardiff is a popular place to study with three university campuses and a student population of 25,000. With such a large student population comes a nightlife scene to match. The City Centre is also popular with stag and hen do’s and is lively every day of the week. On weekends Cardiff is a popular destination for folk who live in the Welsh Valleys so there is never a dull night.
Broken down into several regions, each area has its own personality and highlights with the City Centre being the main hub and home to some fantastic Victorian architecture, as well as some notable modern buildings. Vast park lands stretch across the City and you don’t have to venture far out of the main centre to find walks, mountains and beautiful countryside. Cardiff is still developing with a new shopping area added in 2012 and the continual regeneration of Cardiff Bay which is Europe’s largest waterfront development and home to the Welsh Government.
Best of the Beaten Track
If history is your thing, start your day in the city centre with a visit to the National Museum Cardiff. For a more light-hearted introduction to the city, from here it’s a 10 minute walk to the Cardiff Story Museum, home to interactive galleries telling the history of the city through the eyes of the locals.
As you’re in the town centre, partake in a spot of shopping in Cardiff’s newest shopping centre before heading to the Millennium Stadium, where even if you don’t have tickets for the rugby, you can still take a tour.
When you’re done, head to the Castle Quarter, where you can’t fail to see Cardiff Castle. This Victorian Gothic landmark is well worthy of a visit. If you don’t fancy going in, you can take a walk in Bute Park and admire the view. While you’re there, make sure you stop for tea in Pettigrew Tearooms for a vintage experience.
From Bute Park you can catch a Water Taxi down the River Taff and across to Cardiff Bay. Take in the sights of Cardiff’s newest development, home to a wealth of cafes and restaurants including Cardiff’s famous arts centre, Wales Millennium Centre, affectionately known to locals as the Armadillo due to its shape. This is the best place to catch a show or you could stop for something to eat at in-house Ffresh restaurant.
Finish your visit to the Bay with a visit to landmark building, The Norwegian Church Arts Centre and visit the ‘Dahl Gallery’, dedicated to children’s author Roald Dahl who was born in Cardiff and Christened in the church.
If you have time, St Fagan’s Open Air Museum of Welsh Life makes for an interesting day out boasting original buildings from historic periods, galleries, exhibition centres and 100 acres of parkland.
Being a relatively small city, you can work your way around some of the less touristy sites in several areas quite comfortably. Start your day in the Canton/Pontcanna area with a stop in quirky Chapter Arts Centre, home to alternative theatre, art exhibitions, international films and workshops. A favourite with Cardiff’s arty community, it has a great café and bar and is often the venue for craft and food markets.
From here you can make your way to the town centre, stopping for breakfast in Café Brava or a drink in The Cricketers Pub. If it’s a Sunday, walk along the Fitzhamon Embankment opposite the Millennium Stadium and experience Riverside Farmers Market before heading to Cardiff Fashion Quarter. Housed in an old converted cinema, this is the place to come for vintage and alternative fashion. When you’re done, work your way through Cardiff’s Arcades to Spiller Records, the oldest record shop in the world.
Alternatively, if you find yourself at the other end of the city, start your day in the Roath/Penylan area. Tea lovers must visit the popular Waterloo Gardens Teahouse before taking a relaxing stroll around Roath Park Lake.
From the lake, you’re in easy walking distance to the Milkwood Gallery. Located in a converted dairy, Milkwood Gallery is home to contempory and vintage designs, reclaimed furniture, home ware and toys. It regularly plays host to workshops, exhibitions and markets.
If you’re feeling peckish, head off to nearby Emma Jane’s Cupcake Kitchen for a drink and an ever varying choice of cake. The window displays alone are worth a visit. Before heading into town, stop for a milkshake or cocktail in quirky Milgi Lounge. Spend some time admiring the alternative art, shopping in the Northcote Lane market, or sampling some of the popular vegetarian food.
Experience & Events
Cult UK TV series Dr Who is filmed in and around Cardiff so if you’re lucky you can see glimpses of the cast in action. The Dr Who experience is situated next to the TV studios in Cardiff Bay and is popular with visitors who can experience an interactive journey through space, witness exclusive filming and special effects.
If that sounds too tame, when evening sets in, make your way to Llandaff for one of the top ten ghost walks in the country. Llandaff is an ancient city within the city of Cardiff. Its turbulent history, ancient setting and winding streets make it the perfect setting for the scary tales that await.
Every September, Cardiff plays host to the International Cheese Festival. Producers from all over the UK flaunt their wares at the event in the grounds of Cardiff Castle. Cheese tasting is accompanied by music from local bands, beer and cider tents, market stalls and cheese and wine pairing, giving it a real festival atmosphere.
On a more local level, autumn sees the start of the city’s Made in Roath festival. For 10 days, local artists organise a host of exhibitions, workshops and performances to take art out of the galleries and into the streets of Roath for a series of interactive and engaging community events.
If you’re on a budget, you can’t go wrong with Sleeperz Hotel. Located next to Cardiff Central Station, you couldn’t me more in the middle of the action. Just across the road is the 4 star Radisson Blu. With a great restaurant and spotless modern rooms, this is an excellent choice if you have a little more cash to splash. For something a little more unique, but in the same budget, Jolyons Boutique Hotel in Cardiff Bay and Jolyons at no.10 just outside the main town centre offer individually-styled rooms. For top end beds, Cardiff Bay’s famous 5 star St David’s Hotel and Spar has excellent views over the water, and plenty of pampering opportunities.
Cardiff’s city centre dining scene is chain heavy but get off the main drag and there are some fantastic eateries. For the best Indian food in the city head to Canton and try the Purple Poppadom. Serving Indian nouvelle cuisine, expect beautifully-presented, Indian-inspired masterpieces. If you’re penny pinching, City Road has plenty of budget restaurants, the best being .CN. With their modern take on authentic Chinese food, it is a favourite amongst Chinese locals. If you insist on staying central the Laguna Kitchen and Bar in The Park Plaza and the Potted Pig are your best options. For something really special, treat yourself to a fine dining experience at grade II listed building, The Park House.
The Cardiff nightlife scene is varied. Those new to Cardiff will most likely start in St Mary’s Street but locals know the best places in the city centre are on the surrounding side streets. Just off the main shopping precinct, you’ll find Buffalo Bar. A trendy relaxed bar, that’s great for food and cocktails with live DJs and bands playing upstairs as the night progresses. For something more relaxed former prayer house, and another listed building, Chapel 1877 is a welcome addition to the scene. On a nice day, I suggest heading to Mill Lane, a trendy street lined with bars and outside seating. Mocka Lounge is always lively. Finish your night in Clwb Ifor Bach, affectionately nicknamed “the Welsh Club”, for a variety of Motown, Indie and chart music.
There is an airport in Cardiff used by airlines such as KLM, Flybe and Fly Thomas Cook, whilst Vueling are soon to fly to Barcelona, but overall there is more choice if you fly into nearby Bristol. Budget airlines EasyJet and Ryan Air operate from there and it’s very easy to get a bus or a train from Bristol to Cardiff. Cardiff is also well connected with London via the Mega Bus and regular trains.
Community websites such as Roathcardiff.net are useful for finding out about specific areas of the city and, being the capital of Wales, Cardiff is featured highly in Wales-based blogs. Check out Your Last Mouthful for information on where to eat. Buzz magazine is a favourite for keeping up with what’s new and can be picked up from distributors across the city or accessed online. There is also an official Visit Cardiff website featuring useful information on events, restaurants and museums.
Aside from Buzz magazine, the Rough Guide to Wales has useful information on getting here and around. For a more comprehensive look at the city in general, Footprint Pocket Guides – Cardiff is more detailed.
Aside from Doctor Who, cult film Human Traffic was set and filmed in Cardiff making use of some of the local nightclubs as filming locations. Most recently, Cardiff was the scene for the controversial MTV reality TV show ‘The Valleys’.
Soundtrack to the City