CARDIFF

Cardiff  Flickr piccadillywilsonCardiff [pop.341,000] or Caerdydd in Welsh, keeps getting better. The capital has gone from strength to strength over the past one hundred years. Cosmopolitan and modern, cultural and historic, energetic and dynamic, it has everything that a capital city ought to offer.

Cardiff's makeover in the last few years has been simply astounding and some of the biggest changes have taken place down on the waterfront at Cardiff Bay. Formerly Cardiff's busy, money-making dockyards, the area is now unrecognisable – a buzzing mix of restaurants, bars, cafes, shops, with a man-made lake that is perfect for watersports. Sports and entertainment are Cardiff's two main drawcards these days and there's always a full programme of rugby matches, concerts, plays, cricket matches, orchestal evenings, football (or soccer) matches, and traditional Welsh voice choirs to keep any visitor happy.

Despite the glitziness of its drive for modernity, Cardiff has still managed to retain a warm heart. People are friendly and helpful and the city at times has the down to earth feel of a country town. 

History
Cardiff modern building The confluence of the rivers Taff, Ely, and Rhymney has long been considered an attractive and strategically intelligent place to set up camp. The Romans came to the area in 53 AD under the command of the governor of Britannia, Aulus Didius, and a fort was built to control river trade soon after. The Romans left in the mid 4th century. From the middle of the 9th century, the Vikings began to use Cardiff as a trading post.

The Normans arrived with William the Conqueror in 1081 and began building chains of castles throughout the country. This heralded around 400 years of battles between the Welsh and the Norman and English invaders. Owain Glyndŵr captured Cardiff Castle in 1404 and destroyed it. Richard Beauchamp, the Earl of Gloucester, rebuilt the castle in 1423.

Cardiff's greatest period of transformation came in the 19th century when the Bute family had the Glamorganshire Canal built. This linked the port of Cardiff to Merthyr Tydfil, a big regional production centre for coal. Cardiff turned itself into the world's biggest coal exporting port, drawing in thousands of pounds and thousands of immigrants, keen to become part of the city's booming economy. 

Throughout the UK many traditional industries fell into decline over the course of the early and mid  20th century. Cardiff was no different. The docks fell silent. However, Cardiff has managed to pull itself out of the slump in recent years to become the region's sport and entertainment capital. Cardiff Docks have transformed into Cardiff Bay, a glitzy new development that is a symbol of the city's dynamism and drive. 

Layout
Cardiff at night BinaryApeCardiff is situated on the south coast of south Wales. On the Bristol Channel, it is a very flat city, with hills only beginning to rise outside the city to the north, east, and west of its suburban area. Furthermore, to the west is the Vale of Glamorgan, which is sometimes called the 'Garden of Cardiff'.

It's easy to get around the city: there are bus, train, and waterbus services. The city's main bus and train stations are located right next to each other at Central Square. Check out www.cardiff.gov.uk for more information about bus services. Two companies run the city's waterbus services – a picturesque way to get between the centre or Bute Park and Mermaid Quay at Cardiff Bay: for details check www.cardiffcats.com and http://cardiffaquabus.com.

 

 


Cardiff CastleThe spectacularly lavish appearance of Cardiff Castle and its grounds [Castle Street, +44 29 20878100, www.cardiffcastle.com, Adults essential ticket £11, premium ticket £14] is relatively recent and owes much to the Bute family who took possession of the castle in 1766 and would go on to transform Cardiff into a wealthy port. In the early 1800s, the architect Henry Holland and the renowned landscape gardener Capability Brown were commissioned to remodel the site. The castle was rebuilt in parts and the grounds were cleared to create Brown's characteristic rolling lawns of grass. In the 1860s, the family brought in architect William Bruges and he transformed the castle into the Neo Gothic fairytale palace that we can see today. Take a guided tour around the spectacular Victorian Castle Apartments, themed rooms that include the Red Room, the Nursery, and the gorgeous Arab Room, the Chaucer Room, and the Banqueting Hall.

Behind these radical facelifts, are the bones of medieval, Norman, and even Roman structures. The Romans had a fort here, that was itself rebuilt over a number of years, and some of the walls can still be seen – thanks in large part to the Bute family's extensive rebuilding of the house and grounds. Robert Fitzhamon, the Lord of Gloucestor, was the first Norman to build on the site, creating a large keep and inner and outer wards in 1091. The castle would change hands many times throughout the middle ages and see battle as the Welsh clashed with the English for independence.

Cardiff BayCardiff Docks have become Cardiff Bay [www.cardiffbay.co.uk]. The waterfront was once the world's largest coal exporting port but, a barrage later, the bay is now a freshwater lake and along its banks are new restaurants, bars, cafes, shops, and hotels. Get out on the water: kayak, canoe, windsurf, sail... There are a number of watersport activity operators in the area, for example Adventure Cardiff [Cardiff Bay Water Activity Centre, Channel View, +44 29 20353912, http://www.waleswatersports.co.uk/activity-search/adventure-cardiff].

Techniquest Science Discovery Centre [Stuart Street, +44 29 20475475, www.techniquest.org, Adults £7] has more than 160 interactive exhibits  to help kids (and adults) understand aspects of science, maths, engineering, and technology. There's also a planetarium with explaining what can be seen in the night sky.

If you are a fan of TV's travelling timelord, Cardiff is the perfect place for a holiday. The new series of Doctor Who has been filmed on location in and around Cardiff as have the spinoff series Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. For more information, try visiting http://www.visitcardiff.com/site/things-to-do/on-location/doctor-who-and... or one of the internet's many fan sites dedicated to the show.

Twmpath Castle at Rhiwbina was a motte and bailey castle but all that remains now is the high mound. It was one of many such castles to the north of Cardiff that formed a long protective wall of defence around the city.

Llandaff Cathedral Flickr hha124lIn the 6th century, St Dyfrig built a church on the site that was to one day hold Llandaff Cathedral [Cathedral Close, +44 29 20564554, www.llandaffcathedral.org.uk, free entry]. St Dyfrig and his successors St Teilo and St Euddogwy became the community's patron saints. The present cathedral dates partly from the Norman period and from later centuries, resulting in a disparate range of styles that nevertheless succeed in coming together into an inspiring whole. There are some stunning features in the cathedral and Sir Joseph Epstein's 'Christ in Majesty', a modern aluminium sculpture of strange beauty, is just one of these.

St Fagans National History Museum [Off Michaelston Road, +44 29 20573500, www.museumwales.ac.uk, free entry] occupies a beautiful Elizabethan manor house from 1580, which includes many pieces of original period furniture. The museum aims to recreate the lives of ordinary Welsh people over the past few centuries. Traditional skills such as blacksmithing and saddlemaking are demonstrated and there is also a recreated farm, school, chapel, and a few houses.

Welsh National Assembly The Senedd [Cardiff Bay, +44 845 0105500, www.assemblywales.org, free guided tours available for groups] is the seat of the National Assembly of Wales, the country's law-making body. It is an impressive building in its own right, a dramatic mix of wood, glass and steel that somehow resembles a mushroom inside the Neuadd and Oriel areas.

St David's Hall [www.stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk] was an impressieve architectural feat of the 80s that brought culture and elegance to the corner of a shopping mall. Today, it is still a marvellous venue for orchestral concerts, Welsh voice choirs, and more contemporary music events too.

Now a smart events venue, the Coal Exchange [Mount Stuart Square, +44 29 20494917, www.coalexchange.co.uk, free entry], built between 1883 and 1886, was the meeting place for the city's coal businessmen to strike deals. Cardiff's wealth grew here. It was here that the world's first cheque for one million pounds was signed in 1901 in return to 2500 tonnes of coal for France.  

Cardiff Story [The Old Library, +44 29 20788334, www.cardiffstory.com, free entry] is a new museum dedicated to the life and history of the city. There are art exhibitions and other galleries with a great deal of searchable archive material donated by the local community.

Millenium Centre Flickr NufkinLocals may call it The Armadillo but the Wales Millennium Centre [Bute Place, +44 29 20636464, www.wmc.org.uk, Guided tours are available for £4.50, check the website for ticketing information] is a stunning architectural work. The building was designed to reflect Wales and this can cetainly be seen in the choice of materials: varicoloured slate tiles the exterior; steel plates cover the dome; the interior glows with warm woods from the middle of Wales; thick glass veins traverse the walls while glass windows panes illuminate the building's undoubted highlight – the Classical Roman-style inscription above the front entrance which proclaims 'Creu Gwir fel gwydr o ffwrnais awen' ('Creating truth like glass from the furnace of inspiration') and 'In these stones horizons sing'. Inside, there are a wide variety of shows to enjoy – from dinner theatre to opera to musicals and ballet.

Millennium Stadium [Westgate Street, +44 8700138600, www.millenniumstadium.com, check website for ticketing information, Tours – Adults £7.50] is Wales' national stadium and it is home base for the national rugby union team as well as a venue for concerts and car rallies. With a seating capacity of 74,500 and a fully retractable roof, the stadium opened in 1999 after two years of construction.

Lucian Freud 'Sir Cedric Morris' National Museum and Gallery of Wales [Cathays Park, +44 29 20397951, www.museumwales.ac.uk, free entry] is an excellent place to learn about Wales' archaeology and natural history as well as art from Wales and abroad. There is a big range – from old Masters, Lucian Freud, and Paul Cezanne to David Hockney, Francis Bacon, and Welsh artists including Graham Sutherland and Augustus John.

Visit Cardiff on the 5th of November and experience one of the largest celebrations of Guy Fawke's Night in the UK, Sparks in the Park [Cooper's Field, Bute Park, www.cardiffroundtable.org]. Every year, around 20,000 people converge on Bute Park for a spectacular fireworks display and a traditional bonfire and the proceeds of the event go to charity.

Every September Cardiff Castle plays host to some rather smelly visitors: The Great British Cheese Festival [Cardiff Castle, +44 029 20230130, www.greatbritishcheesefestival.com, Adults £8.75] has been held at the castle since 2008. There's cheese rolling, cheese tasting, live music and demonstrations.

cardiff Roath Park Flickr Andy CardiffBeside the River Taff and Cardiff Castle is Bute Park, which originally was landscaped as part of the castle's private grounds. An aboretum was added in the late 1940s and today the park acts as one of the city's 'green lungs'. Don't miss the 19th century Animal Wall, the remains of the 13th century Blackfriars Priory, and the Gorsedd Stones inside which ceremonies of the Eisteddfod are held – these are a 1970s copy of those that were built at the turn of the 20th century and circles of the same design cane be found all over the country, wherever an Eisteddfod has been held.

cardiff Roath Park Scott Memorial Lighthouse StockXhange narsus1A stroll in Roath Park [+44 29 20684000, www.cardiff.gov.uk/parks] is like a stroll back in time. The park was donated to the city by the Marquis of Bute and it was officially opened to visitors in 1894. A lake was created as the park's centrepiece and a model of the 'Terra Nova', the ship that took Captain Scott to the Antarctic from Cardiff in 1910, was placed in the lake as well as an elegant lighthouse. Rowboats can be rented for use on the lake. In keeping with the park's fin de siècle feel there is a conservatory with exotics like banana plants and orchids. There are also ornamental and wildflower gardens.

 

 


Castell Coch
UK Wales Castle CochC
astell Coch
[Tongwynlais, +44 29 2081 0101], or the Red Castle is a 19th century Gothic revival, a frothy fairytale fantasy with picture-book conical roofs atop its towers. Built on top of a 13th century fortification, it was meticulously designed by William Bruges and the 3rd Marquess of Bute who together transformed Cardiff Castle into its present luxurious state. Lady Bute's bedroom is the highlight of the castle, exemplifying Bruges' style perfectly, though it was completed after his death. The castle tells us more about Victorian aesthetics than Medieval reality.


Caerleon's Roman Fortress

Isca Augusta, Caerleon's Roman Fortress, was built in around 75 AD and served as the base for the Legio II Augusta until 300 AD. Parts of the fortress wall still stand but the most incredible reminder of the past is the amphitheatre which appears now as a donut sunken into the ground and covered with a thick carpet of brilliantly green grass. It is the most complete amphitheatre remaining from Roman Britain and in the past was often thought to have been King Arthur's Round Table. You can also find the only remains of legionary barracks on display in Europe. 

Supplementing the area's Roman ruins are two museums: The National Roman Legion Museum [High Street, Opposite Broadway, +44 1633 423134, Free entry] where visitors can learn about the lives of the soldiers and the commmunity around them. There's a fragrant Roman Garden, plenty of artefacts, and on weekends and school holidays, kids can try on Roman armour; and the Roman Baths Museum [High Street, +44 1633 422518, free entry] where you can find out how those soldiers relaxed after a hard day's training.

Caerphilly Castle
UK Wales Caerphilly Castle Rear ViewCaerphilly Castle [Castle Street, Adults £4] is the largest castle in Wales, covering 120,000 metres square. It was built between 1268 and 1271 by Gilbert 'The Red' de Clare after disputes broke out between him and the Welsh prince of Gwynedd, Llywelyn the Last. It is an impressive feat of construction, situated on three artificial islands within a wide protective moat the castle itself is a series of concentric circuits. The castle was attacked many times, even by the Welsh patriot Owain Glyndwr in 1403 and 1405, and it eventually fell into disrepair. In the late 18th century, the wealthy Bute family, new owners of the castle, carried out renovations of the time ravaged stones. 


Penarth
Penarth [pop.24,000] is a seaside resort town in the Vale of Glamorgan. Then a popular holiday spot, it was known as the 'Garden by the Sea' during the Victorian era. It grew rapidly alongside Cardiff in the 19th century through coal exports and became known as an elegant holiday destination. Penarth was often targeted during bombing raids during the Second World War because of its proximity to the Cardiff Docks and its own busy water traffic. Nevertheless, a great deadl of the town's stunning Victorian and Edwardian architecture remains, including Penarth Pier at the Esplanade, a fantastic ice cream cake of a building.

 

Rhondda Heritage Park
If you've ever wondered what it's like to work deep in a mine shaft, a visit to the Rhondda Heritage Park [Trehafod, Rhondda, +44 1443 682036, Adult £5.60] is for you. The attraction gives visitors a glimpse into the lives of miners at the Lewis Merthyr Colliery. There are guided tours down into one of the 'working' mine shafts. At the entrance to the park is a 6 foot replica of a miner's lamp, dedicated to all those who have lost their lives in caryying out this most dangerous of occupations.