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
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
Coming out of the market, cross St John Square past the 15th century
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
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
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
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
Pontcanna Bordered by the Canton district on one side and
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.
Taking its name from the river Taff on which it stands (Caer Taff means fortress on the Taff,) Cardiff is Europe's youngest capital city, only being officially recognised as the capital of Wales in 1955. But the history of the city goes back several thousand years. According to John Davies' A History of Wales, people were living in Wales over 250,000 years ago. Evidence of habitation can certainly be traced back to 600 BC, with the arrival of Celts from Europe, but it was the Romans who put Cardiff itself on the map by building a fort here in 75 AD. Remains of a Roman wall are still visible beneath Cardiff Castle. The first written mention of Cardiff dates back to 465 AD in the Annates Cambriae (The Welsh Annals). The first Viking attack on the Welsh coast is recorded in 850 AD and then the Normans took over in the 12th century, building Cardiff Castle on the same site. William the Conqueror himself visited Cardiff during 1081.
During the following centuries, Cardiff remained quite a small entity relying, like much of the rest of South Wales, on the coal and iron industries. But small by no means signified peaceful. There were frequent clashes with the English rulers as well as raids at the hands of the Saxons, Irish and Norse. In 1542 Thomas Capper was burned at the stake in the city for heresy, becoming the first Christian Welsh martyr. In the same year, the second Act of Union came into force, reorganising the structure of Wales, introducing a coherent justice system, but at the same time making English the official language of Wales and barring Welsh speakers from holding public office. This sowed the seeds of a conflict that has lasted until the present day.
Cardiff came briefly to the fore again when Welsh involvement in the English Civil War came to a head with the Battle of St Fagans on May 8, 1648. Occasional re-enactments are still held at the Museum of Welsh Life that now stands on the site. The city really came into its own, however, in the 19th century, with the construction of a canal, and the opening of the Taff Vale Railway in 1841. This linked Cardiff with Merthyr Tydfil—the largest iron producing area in the world—such that goods could be transported in less than an hour. This revolutionised the export of Welsh coal and catapulted Cardiff to the forefront of the industry. The opening of the East Dock in 1859 by the Marquess of Bute reflected Cardiff's flourishing trade status and population expansion.
The Bute family were prominent at this time. Among the wealthiest landowners in Britain, they owned estates in Scotland and Wales, along with Cardiff Castle, Castell Coch (built for the third Marquess of Bute, John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, as a summer residence in 1875 and never occupied), large parts of the city centre and most of Cardiff docks. Under the influence of this new wealth, Cardiff continued to grow in size until it was officially made a city in 1905 by Edward VII. By then, it was the world's major exporter of coal, shipping up to ten million tons in a year. Indeed, the world's first 1,000,000 pounds deal was struck in the Coal Exchange, now a concert venue in Cardiff Bay.
With the decline of the coal industry, the city became an administrative centre. The Bute family gifted their Cardiff holdings to the city council—with certain height restrictions placed on future building developments, which explains why the civic centre area of the city retains much of its old character. The 20th century saw the building of the City Hall, the National Museum of Wales and the Welsh Office, and then in 1955, it was made the official capital of Wales.
Despite the collapse of many of the industries upon which it has traditionally relied, the end of the 20th century proved to be an exciting period for Wales. In 1999, Cardiff became the home of the independent Welsh Assembly—a body with many powers, made up of Welsh people to govern Welsh people. The Welsh language is seeing a rise in popularity as it is given equal status alongside English. And the city continues to grow.
For more information on Cardiff, visit the National Museum for an exhibition on the history of Wales from the beginning of time to the present day. The Cardiff Bay Visitor Centre has a scale model of the redevelopment of the docks as well as lots of information about the area.
From luxury five star hotels to homely bed and breakfast establishments and even a couple of youth hostels, Cardiff boasts a wealth of accommodation in all areas of the city and to suit all budgets. Business and leisure travellers are equally well-served. The major business hotels are to be found in the city centre and Cardiff Bay, while the outlying areas of Roath/Cathays and Canton/Riverside have an abundance of smaller hotels and guest houses, many within a easy walk of central Cardiff. Go a little further out of the city again and you'll find a selection of budget motels and more luxurious country house hotels that offer easy access to the M4 and, from there, all of south Wales; perfect if you're travelling by car.
One of the beauties of Cardiff is its compact size. The city centre can be crossed on foot in a matter of minutes and contains, alongside the famous shopping streets and arcades, the main concert hall, theatre, the Millennium Stadium and Cardiff International Arena. There are also a large number of pubs and clubs, making for a busy and noisy nightlife, especially on weekends. Central hotels are generally of a good standard and are within walking distance of the major attractions of the city. The top luxury hotels include the Thistle, a stone's throw from Cardiff's New Theatre, the Paramount Angel Hotel with its marble floors and crystal chandeliers, and the modern elegance of the Cardiff Hilton—a five star hotel with a purpose built health suite, with views of Cardiff Castle and the Wales National Museum & Gallery.
Of course, the combination of luxury rooms and central location doesn't come cheap, but those who are on a tighter budget will also find something close to the centre to suit them. The Sandringham Hotel features live jazz in its downstairs bar several nights a week and is moderately priced. Another option is the Cardiff Marriott, a modern, tower block hotel set close to the cafe quarter of Cardiff - so called because of the preponderance of trendy little restaurants and bars. Or, for the true trendsetters, the Big Sleep Hotel contains some rooms that were designed by the actor John Malkovich.
If you're not a fan of big hotels, there are still plenty of very nice places to stay close to the centre of Cardiff. Walking out of the centre past the castle and stadium will take you to the broad, tree-lined Cathedral Road where you'll find an abundance of family-run hotels converted from the enormous, Victorian town houses that once stood here. The Hayes Court Hotel has its own licensed restaurant. Or, closer to the Millennium Stadium, sports fans may enjoy the Riverbank, which backs onto the stadium, or the Clare Court, run by a former Wales International footballer. All of these are within 5-10 minutes walk of the city centre.
Also within a short walk of the centre is Cardiff Bay, which is an essential place to visit for modern culture vultures. It is home to the National Assembly for Wales and boasts parks, restaurants, galleries, concert venues and a large leisure complex, all with a distinctively modern flavour. For the ultimate in luxury in this area, spend a night or two at St David's Hotel & Spa set on the waterfront. All rooms have balconies overlooking the Bay. Budget travellers may opt for the Holiday Inn Express.
Moving away from the city centre, the student areas of Roath and Cathays offer plenty of cheap bed and breakfast accommodation in small guest houses that are conversions of private homes. A popular area, public transport into the city centre is good and there are plenty of local shops, restaurants, pubs and takeaways. Roath Park with its lake and clock tower rivals the city centre parks for the number of visitors it attracts. Hotels include Beeches, overlooking the park, the family run Albany and The Lynx, which are both on a main bus route into town.
Some people choose to stay on the outskirts of the city and travel in by bus or train. For a quiet, coastal holiday, wend your way to Penarth—a Victorian town that offers cliff-top walks, a pebble and sand beach and spectacular views over the channel. The atmosphere is quiet and elegant, and Cardiff city centre is only ten minutes away by train. The Raisdale House Hotel has a four-poster suite while the Glendale Hotel is a pleasant, five minute walk through gardens to the sea.
Alternatively, you could choose to stay in the Vale of Glamorgan and enjoy the beautiful countryside. The Old Post Office is located in the village of St Fagans, close to the Museum of Welsh Life. A little further away, towards Barry in the south, is the Egerton Grey Country House Hotel, once a 17th century rectory. Or, if you're a golf fanatic, try the modern Vale of Glamorgan Hotel, Golf & Country Club with 9 and 18-hole courses, a driving range, practice area and full leisure facilities. All are within easy reach of Cardiff by car.
Wherever you choose to stay, be it city or country, you can expect a warm welcome, cooked breakfasts and a wealth of interesting places to visit right out the doorstep. Cardiff has been attracting an increasing number of visitors in recent years so, whether you're travelling for business or pleasure, you'll find yourself in good company.