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Being declared a city and the Capital of Wales only in 1955 Cardiff likes to style itself as Europe’s newest and smallest capital. It can claim to be the neophyte amongst European capitals, and it is certainly a city that is compact and easy to get around. The city has a mainly pedestrianised centre that makes browsing and shopping easy, safe and pleasurable.
Cardiff has its share of contemporary shopping malls, the St. David’s, and Capital Centres, and Queen’s Arcade, all boasting the usual high street names. But it has more than that, if you prefer the traditional style of in-town shopping of family owned shops with an individual look and feel, then Cardiff has these in plenty; most of them tucked away in the City's arcades.
The centre is laced with a large network of fine Victorian and Edwardian arcades; it can rightly claim the title ‘City of Arcades’. In these charming covered streets are many exclusive shops: bespoke tailors, select jewellers selling jewellery made of exclusive Welsh gold. You will find old tomes in antiquarian bookshops, and the exhilaration of odours from the many fragrance shops.
A particular favourite is Waldo’s Delicatessen, inside the store hang large German and Italian sausages, cured hams, and a cornucopia of continental cheeses all ready savoured give off an aroma reminiscent of and Italian market. Waldo’s has a confusing array of and fresh olives, and unusual but interesting wines.If your taste buds are jaded by the identical offerings of globalised coffee shops then Cardiff’s arcades offer a treat of alternative tastes. The traditional coffee shop is alive and thriving in these covered streets. Not only can you relish Jamaican Blue Mountain, Java, single Arabica or Colombian you will get the chance to sample hot-off-the-griddle local delicacies like Welsh cakes, freshly baked Ty Sian Lap, and Bara Brith. Just as Oliver Twist did, it is guaranteed you will be asking for more.
At the end of a hard shopping day what can be better than letting your hair down and bopping the night away? Cardiff has much to offer the serious fun seeker ranging from traditional pubs that serve the local beer Brains to modern, trendy bars offering every kind of entertainment from hip-hop to Jazz to garage and house music.
Traditional Welsh music and song is not neglected either, just wander along to the preserved Victorian, Womanby Street and look for Club Ivor Bach. Celtic voice and music is all the rage with a very lively atmosphere. It is one of the few places in Cardiff where the Welsh language is mandatory, but don’t let that put you off as everyone speaks English too. Minski’s Show Bar has recreated the feel of a Victorian pub with entertainment provided by female impersonators and semi-professional singers and comedians. Besides these the Bay has a comedy club and a good sprinkling of pubs and up-market, trendy bars.
You can eat yourself around the world in this young capital. French, Italian, Greek and Spanish cuisine of course, but also Thai, Indian, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Turkish, German and even Singaporean restaurants are easy to find. For an bona fide British food – fish and chips – there is only one place to go Caroline Street, in the city centre occupies a prominent place in the gentrified ‘Brewery Quarter’. Dorothy’s Fish Shop in particular offers good servings of delicious fish and chips authentically served in the local newspaper The South Wales Echo.
At the head of both main shopping areas and forming the heart of the city is its castle. Its beginnings can be traced to an original Celtic settlement, parts of the Roman stone structure can be seen on the outer walls, and a Norman mot and bailey presents an impressive sight on entering the castle grounds.
The castle belonged to the Bute family who developed who at the beginning of the 19th century started the transformation of sleepy Caerdydd into the world’s biggest coal exporting port.
The 3rd Earl, John, who in collaboration with the eminent Victorian architect, and enthusiastic medievalist William Burgess, completed the castle’s makeover from modest family seat into a luxurious Victorian medieval themed bachelor pad.
Walking through Cardiff Castle's gateway the imposing Norman keep is immediately visible on a moated mound. After the English Civil War the castle fell into ruin, but in the late 1700s the first Marques of Bute rescued it. Although, it was his grandson the third Marques and Burgess who shaped the modern castle: depending upon taste it has been variously described as outrageous and bogus to brilliant and opulent.
By the mid nineteenth century, the third Marquis was one of the world’s wealthiest men, with an annual income of ₤300,000, much of which he used to re-construct and decorate the castle. The rooms are a riot of styles ranging from medieval England to Arabia, from the Old Testament to the fairytales of Hans Christian Anderson. All of the décor pays intricate attention to even the smallest detail. The Marquis’ bathroom is lined with sixty different types of marble.
Climb to the top of the Norman keep look north and search for the second of Bute’s and Burgess’ collaborations - Castell Coch or the Red Castle. Built on the remains of a 13th century fortification this is the second of Cardiff’s castles. It stands on a hillside above the village of Taffs Well, to get there take a bus and in 15 minutes you will be climbing the short hill to the castle. It is worth the effort as the interior is a medievalist dream. In the living room children enjoy identifying characters from Aesop’s Fables.
Castell Coch was built to resemble a mid-European castle; it has round towers, conical roofs, a working drawbridge and portcullis that leads to a circular courtyard. The Castell Coch has been used as the setting of many films and TV programmes with a Ruratanian theme.
The view from the ramparts takes in the now clean and salmon filled River Taff as it snakes its way from the mining valleys of the Rhondda to the Bristol Channel. From this vantage point much of Cardiff is laid like a 3D living map.
The delightful Llandaff village and its ancient cathedral, with the famous Epstein sculpture - Christ in Majesty, dominating its aisle. Cardiff Castle is visible, and just outside its walls the bustle of the city and the Bay area leading your eye to the Channel and on to the rugged Somerset coast. The Millennium Stadium, Britain’s newest and most advanced sports and entertainment complex is easy to pick out in this compact city.
This is in addition a fine collection of impressionist art on view in the National Museum, and a beautiful civic centre that has been favourably compared to New Delhi . Not forgetting the World-renowned Welsh National Opera. Cardiff certainly has something to offer most people.
Make a beeline for the regenerating Cardiff Bay, or Tiger Bay as it is still locally known. This is not the Tiger Bay made famous by Haley Mills in the 1959 film, but a commercial and entertainment centre: an area of modern buildings, fashionable and expensive housing, of trendy restaurants and watering holes. Cardiff Bay should be on the list of anyone visiting this city.
Looking over the breeze rippled water with the restored remnants of railway headings emerging from the waters of the Bay it is difficult to imagine that only 60 years ago Cardiff was the worlds’ greatest coal exporting seaport. Only one hundred years ago tall ships were tightly moored at the docksides it was possible for a stevedore to walk from one part of the dock to another, without stepping on dry land.
Cardiff Bay is home to the Coal Exchange, at the turn of the 19th century and until the end of the Second World War the Exchange set the global price for coal. Indeed it was here at the start of World War One that the very first ₤1,000,000 deal was done.
Children and adults alike will enjoy a visit to ‘Techniquest’ a hands-on science discovery centre. All of its exhibits 160 interactive exhibits combine fun with learning. Visit the captivating white clapperboard Norwegian Church , now an arts centre. Founded in 1867 it was here that Roald Dahl was baptised. Dahl’s Norwegian businessmen father made his fortune in the thriving Docks.
For such a small city Cardiff has an impressive amount of green spaces. In the centre of the city are Bute Park, the Castle Grounds, the charmingly small and beautiful Cathays Park. Behind the National Museum and City Hall is the much larger Alexandra Garden; at its centre is the Welsh National War Memorial.
If culture you crave then this city has enough to offer an avid culture-vulture. The Sherman theatre is the venue for avant-garde and fringe theatre, both its halls offer theatre in the round and offer a home to many small and touring repertory companies. In the city centre is the New Theatre a traditional 750 seat Edwardian theatre, the Cardiff International Arena holds 2000 and is host to international conferences, pop concerts and spectacular opera productions like Verdi’s Aida. And of course the newly opened Wales Millennium Centre is the show-piece of Welsh theatre, and the home of both the National Orchestra of Wales and the world renowned Welsh National Opera. Both of these companies offer a visual and aural treat for the classical music and opera lover.
For a small city Cardiff is packed with cultural things to do for both adults and children and many of them are free.