Last weekend I participated in a travel blogging conference called Traverse and spent a couple of days in the lovely city that hosted it: Cardiff. The capital of Wales, Cardiff is located on the southern Welsh coast: it overlooks the synonymous bay and has a history that dates back to Roman times.
It was my first time in the city and to make the most of it, I took a self-guided tour of its castle and then joined some of the activities generously offered by the conference organisers: a walking tour of the old town and then a visit to one of Cardiff’s most peculiar museums, The Dr. Who Experience. The latter was incredibly enjoyable and also gave me the chance to see a part of town I would have otherwise missed: the waterfront.
One day in Cardiff: highlights
Cardiff has a compact city centre and the best way to experience it is to take a stroll along its street. Our host for the day were the lovely folks at Cardiff on Foot and they were the best guide we could ask for: enthusiastic and knowledgeable, they made the city come to life and gave us great insight on its history and architecture.
The main landmark in the city is its castle, that lies at the end of High street. T
It dates back to Roman times but while part of the original brickwork is still visible on the external wall, its imposing entrance is the result of later fortifications.
The main gate opens onto a wide lawn that offers an unexpected sight. Inside the main perimeter of the castle, a second fortification is built, on an artificial hill: it’s the Norman tower, originally a wooden construction then fortified in medieval times and now overlooking the wide grassy grounds
The tower is open to the public and the easy climb rewarded me with lovely views over the surrounding city. The tower is a great vantage point but the most interesting part of the castle is hosted in its external walls and chambers: these host the museum of military history with, among other things, haunting propaganda posters dating back to war times.
Reemerging from the belly of the castle, it’s worth following its perimeter and stop to admire the clock tower, built in the style known as ‘Gothic revival’
Passing it, you then reach Bute park: originally the grounds of the castle, the park is now a public space where festivals and events are held regularly. On a Sunday morning, when I visited, the park is heaven for dog owners and families with children, strolling under the blossoming magnolia trees.
Near the park and north of the castle is where Cardiff hosts its most impressive official buildings such as the university, the city council
and maybe the most elegant and evocative of all: the war memorial (photo below)
After visiting this monumental part of town, it is worth exploring the high street and smaller side streets. Here is where you can find one of the city’s most peculiar characteristics: its arcades. Almost ante-litteram shopping malls, the arcades are covered corridors hosting independent, quirky shops: cafes are aplenty but also design, knick knacks and beard accessory shops abound. Nothing is too small or too unusual to be sold here and there are strict guidelines for shop owners to ensure the atmosphere of the arcades is preserved. Chains and high street shops are banned and cannot trade inside this older part of town
Chain-brand shopping takes place on the street parallel to the high street, a busy pedestrian area with buskers and an upbeat vibe, worth a visit especially at meal times (Cardiff has a wide choice of restaurants and cafes)
The hight street makes for a pleasant stroll, but more interesting are the small side lanes around the Principality stadium, the proud home of Welsh rugby. Here is where you find some of Cardiff’s finest independent breweries, including one of Cardiff’s latest success stories, the Tiny Rebel Brewing company
as well as interesting street art
Cardiff walking tour itinerary and map
Our walking tour of Cardiff focussed on the old part of town and was a pleasant way to spend the morning. Cardiff city centre is not big and you can easily get a good sense it walking at a leisurely pace.
After visiting Cardiff’s medieval and post-industrial life, it is worth catching a bus to the Bay. This part of the city, as the name suggests, overlooks the sea and despite being only 10 minutes by bus from the city centre, feel like a different world. The waterfront has modern buildings, wide spaces and the sea and sky give a wonderful sense of openness and light.
Many interesting buildings dot these shores, including the Norwegian church (where Roald Dahl was baptised)
And the stunning Millenium centre
The area is famous for the many arts festivals it hosts but also for being the home of some very successful TV productions, including the iconic Dr. Who (BBC Wales studios are here). The Doctor is not just a guest in this part of town but has a whole exhibition, where you can discover costumes and props from the show and be part of your very own adventure.
While not a proper fan, I do love Dr. Who and ventured inside the turtle like building. Strict rules forbid me to share what happened during my time warp there but let me reveal this: Daleks are involved and you will not be disappointed!
After my long walk and my space adventure, the moment came for me to catch my bus and return to Dublin. I left Cardiff feeling an unexpected fondness for the city and a strong desire to return to Wales soon.
Thank you, Traverse and Cardiff on foot for the lovely time!
- Transport: Cardiff is served by a well-equipped airport about 30 minutes from the centre of town (Connection by bus, ticket 5£ return)
- Accommodation: I stayed at the Sandringham hotel, an inexpensive hotel right in the centre of town. The hotel was clean and with a nice breakfast but the size of the room and the location near many of Cardiff bars makes it unsuitable for families. It’s a good address for solo travellers looking for inexpensive and convenient location
- For kids: I visited Cardiff on my own but I took note of some attractions that would be suitable for kids. The castle and Bute park are perfect for a family day out while in the bay area my pick for families with children is Techniquest and Dr. Who experience.