A travel journal
to Cardiff by Gwilym Owen
Quote: Cardiff is Wales' vibrant and rapidly growing capital. With a rich industrial heritage and many exciting new developments, 2005 is a year for double celebrations as 100 years as a city and 50 years as Wales' capital! Come now and enjoy the party!
As the youngest capital city in Europe and recently gaining its own National Assembly, Cardiff is a vibrant city with plenty going on, seemingly growing at an exponential rate! Many of the attractions and buildings in Cardiff are only a few years old, including such landmarks as the Millennium stadium. Indeed, if you had left Cardiff, say, a decade ago and returned now, the city would be practically unrecognisable!
Another part of Cardiff's expanding culture is the fact that such popular festivals and sporting events as the Winter Wonderland, the Great Welsh Beer Festival, and the Welsh Rally are also only in their third years! Truly, this is city on the up and up.
Cardiff is also extremely rich in history, being one of the most important cities in the world during the Industrial Revolution supplying coal and iron across the globe.
Cardiff is a very compact city with two main areas to visit, the City Centre itself and Cardiff Bay, about a mile to the south - there is more than enough to keep you occupied in Cardiff for at least a couple of days, if not more.
Cardiff also has a beautiful Civic Centre made of Portland Stone, and it is here that you can find the National Museum and Gallery of Wales.
Cardiff Bay has a whole host of attractions, including Techniquest, an excellent hands-on science museum, and the lovely waterfront developments, including Mermaid Quay, with its many shops and restaurants.
Cardiff Bay is also the location of Cardiff's latest and most striking attraction, the Wales Millennium Centre, a massive new international arts centre looking rather akin to a massive golden armadillo!
Nearby attractions in and around Cardiff include Llandaff Cathedral, the Museum of Welsh Life at St Fagan's, and Castell Coch, spectacularly located on a wooded hillside a few miles to the north.
Further afield are the huge Caerphilly Castle, which is the third-largest in Europe and the Roman Legionary Museum at Caerleon.
Cardiff Bay, the other main tourist attraction is amply served by its own train station and several bus services including local bus, BayXpress, and City Sightseeing tour bus. None of these services take more than ten minutes to get to from the city centre.
Buses and trains can also get you to most of the other attractions nearby - or further afield. Although trains are relatively expensive, Cardiff is only 2-3 hours away by rail or bus.
Cardiff has its own international airport with a lot of handy frequent domestic and foreign flights available. So without much effort, you could get a connecting flight from most major cities in the world via Heathrow! This summer, a new railway will link the airport to the city making the journey even easier!
Opened in 1948, to walk around this huge 100-acre open-air museum is to walk around Wales, from Celtic times to the present day!
It is Wales' most popular heritage attraction, and unlike the many theme parks in the world geared to a particular time or period, it covers the lives, work, and leisure of Welsh people over the last 500 years.
The museum stands on the grounds of St Fagans Castle, a late 16th-century manor house donated to the people of Wales by the Earl of Plymouth (he of Plymouth Arms fame!) and is made up of almost 50 different buildings and attractions that have been transported and rebuilt brick by brick from all across Wales.
The site is simply massive, and although I had over 3 hours, I felt I was rushing to see just over half of what was on show!!!
Favourite parts of the visit included the castle itself, the house of the future, making friends with the mill cat, and watching the school kids taking turns to throw their own pots at the pottery for £2.95 a time!
Check out the website for more info on the best museum of its type that I have even been to!
Fun Fact! At 100 acres, the Museum of Welsh Life is almost a quarter of the size of the entire principality of Monaco!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 20, 2005
Museum of Welsh Life
Cardiff, Wales CF5 6XB
+44 (0)29 2057 3500
Attraction | "National Museum and Gallery of Wales"
For me, the two most interesting parts of the museum are the impressive Evolution of Wales gallery that tells a global tale of creation and change from the perspective of Wales since the beginning of the Earth, and the spectacular gallery of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings by some of the most famous painters of the time...
The Evolution of Wales gallery starts by setting the scene of how our planet works, the gallery shows the processes that have driven our planet throughout its 4,600 million years of history. The gallery charts the movement of the landmass that makes up Wales, starting in the Cambrian era over 500 million years ago, when Wales was situated just six degrees from the South Pole, working right through the geological periods plotting Wales' progress across the Earth to where it is now.
Many works of art by some of the world's preeminent painters hang in this gallery. These include works of art such as 'A Calm' by Van Chappelle, 'La Parisienne' by Renoir, and 'Rain: Auvers' by Van Gogh. There are no less than six (!) paintings by Monet, as well as paintings by Cezanne, Pisarro, Manet, Sisley, Rubens, Bacon, and Lowry, to name a fraction. The gallery is also well-appointed with sculptures, most notably several by Rodin (including 'The Kiss') and one by Epstein.
Other important exhibits include galleries on ceramics, minerals, Welsh natural history, man and the environment, archaeology and numismatics.
There is plenty to see here, and best of all - all of Wales's national museums are FREE!
Cardiff, Wales CF10 3NP
+44 (29) 2039 7951
Also, to the right of the entrance, there is a flight of stairs leading down to a passage that follows the south wall, clearly showing the wall excavated in 1889, and on the other side of the passageway is an amazing mural created in 1983 that depicts Celtic life before, during, and after the arrival of the Romans. The gate in the north wall is an accurate reconstruction of a typical Roman gate in a fort.
After the Romans, the site was used by the Norman, who built a Motte and Bailey style Keep in the middle of the castle grounds.
Successive noble families made their mark by adding and destroying features of the castle, and at one point, Capability Brown was employed to landscape the grounds.
In 1766, the castle came into possession of the future Marquess of Bute, and it was the second Marquess (see general tips) who was responsible for the monumental building programme in conjunction with William Burgess to create the Victorian Gothic masterpiece that we see today.
You can either pay for access to the grounds or for a guided tour giving you access to the main building, which you would be foolish to miss, as it delves into the history of the building and the fine artwork on display!
Living in Cardiff, I was able to take advantage of the Cardiff Castle Pass scheme, which, for £5, gives you access to the grounds for 5 years and half-off tours and special events.
Once you’ve conquered Cardiff Castle, why not check out Castell Coch next – you can see it from the Keep!
Cardiff, Wales CF10 3RB
44 (29) 2087 8100
All the older arcades are situated on St Mary's Street, with many linking across to the Hayes, running parallel to St Mary's.
Perhaps it is a homage to Cardiff's notoriously wet weather that there are so many arcades, as they are a great place for shelter from the rain and you can get across a lot of the central part of the town under cover if you are clever about it.
Starting from the top of St Mary's Street, there are:
Built in 1887, this arcade actually has two levels, although the top level is mostly empty. It is L-shaped, coming out onto Castle Street opposite the castle, which is no surprise considering its name.
It looks a bit dog-eared, but with one of Cardiff's best clothes stores (Barkers), an interesting bookshop, and a couple of nice cafés.
High Street Arcade
Built in 1886 and opposite the Castle Arcade, this comes out at St John's Square, also linking to Duke Street arcade in a T-shape.
At the entrance is the excellent Atlantic Coffee Co café, and inside is the tasty New York Deli, as well as some excellent clothes shops and the place where I get my hair cut.
This large Victorian indoor market on two levels was built in 1886, with entrances on St Mary Street and St John's Square. It has a bizarre range of goods on offer, including fresh fruit and veggies, cheese, fish, coffee and tea, pets, electronics, second-hand records, and the like.
Morgan & Royal Arcades
Perhaps the two nicest arcades, these back out under the Morgan's Department Store and are joined by a connecting corridor. The Morgan Arcade has been recently renovated. There are a number of speciality shops inside these arcades, including the fantastic Wally's Delicatessen and the Neal's Yard Remedies shop.
Situated next to the newly established Cafe Quarter, this Edwardian arcade, dating from 1847, features a number of speciality shops, including a cigar seller.
Two other arcades of note are the modern-style arcades on the main shopping street of Queen Street:
Queen St Arcade
It is Cardiff's largest arcade, with over 40 shops, including Mark's & Spencer, Debenhams, and the largest Boots I have ever seen, on two levels, but lacks the character of the older arcades.
This is a more upmarket arcade and the newest in the city on two levels. Shops include Virgin Megastore, Oasis, Austin Reed, Jaeger, and Kookai.
What To Pay: Generally, prices are less than those in London
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 25, 2005
Victorian and Edwardian Shopping Arcades
Along St Mary's Street and Queen Street
Wales, United Kingdom 02649