The capital of Wales in the United Kingdom is actually one of the youngest cities in Europe. Rich with cultural ore from distinctly Welsh traditions and history, the city is also the seat of the Welsh government. It's also only two hours away from London by car, train or bus.
Cardiff lures with stunning views across Cardiff Bay, farm-to-table gastro pubs, bistros, restaurants and boutique hotels. A gust of fresh air seems to circulate in this sea-side city—an exhilerating feeling that comes from the proximity of so much coastal scenery a short drive away and from the nearness of mountains, great historic castles, gardens and beaches.
Start off by getting your bearings by the water’s edge where locals themselves go on their days and nights off. Cardiff Bay offers a mix of stunning views, striking architecture and savory foods at its many great restaurants, pubs and bistros, all with a beautiful view of the Bay. You’ll have a chance to see how young the city is if you look around you. Cardiff is one of Europe’s newest capitals!
Cardiff Bay is also the site of the awe-inspiring Wales Millennium Centre. Its copper-colored dome and lettered exterior reads, "In these stones, horizons sing," in celebration of the Welsh love of words. The centre hosts a huge range of concerts and performances in one main theatre and two smaller halls. It also has a wealth of cafes and restaurants, with regular free events, many themed around local authors or personalities.
Culture Clue: The Welsh love their writers and are especially proud of their poets. Dylan Thomas was born in Swansea but knew and loved Cardiff, too. The Welsh tradition of spoken and sung poems or epics goes all the way back to ancient times and their Mabinogion—a big book of myths and legends compiled from lore and song.
Cardiff Bay recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of native son and legendary children's author, Roald Dahl, who wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and many other beloved stories. Visit the Norwegian Church where Dahl was baptized, now an arts center and gallery.
Cardiff Castle’s foundations date back to 50 AD but the current 19th century gothic fantasy building feels like Game of Thrones meets Downton Abbey. The Castle hosted the 2014 NATO Summit dinner attended by world leaders and dignitaries and was built by the third Marquis of Bute, reputedly the richest man in the world at the time. You can wander through the castle’s ornate period rooms or stroll the grounds, rich with history.
Check out the Castle Arcade, a jewel of a Victorian shopping arcade across the street where you can get a tasty Welsh Rarebit at Madame Fromage’s cheese shop. Then put on your sneakers (they call them trainers in the UK) for some walking.
Culture Clue: Welsh cheese is world famous and for good reason, it’s one of the country’s finest food exports. You can find it in groceries around the US, or go for a tasting at the Madame Fromage cafe in Cardiff. Welsh Rarebit is equally famous (there’s even a Welsh Rarebit Day in the US!). It’s a tasty concoction of toasted cheese, mustards and crusty bread.
Cardiff has more green space than any other city in Europe, per head of population. The Taff Trail makes the most of former rail routes, towpaths and tramways, allowing you to walk or cycle from Cardiff Bay through 2000 acres of parkland, all the way to the moorland of the Brecon Beacons, if you’re extending your city tour to a countrywide visit. You can go as far as your feet or your bike will take you, meeting friendly locals and stopping for a bite and a pint.
Culture Clue: Welsh beer is loved all over the UK, with one of the most famous brews being Brains (yeah we know, it tastes better than it sounds). Wales is also known for its many microbreweries.
Iron Men (and Women)
Getting on the road also lets you explore some of the cultural history of Cardiff and Wales at one of the most unusual open air museums in the world. Just outside of Cardiff on the outskirts of the city is the St. Fagan’s National History Museum. Over 40 buildings, from an Iron Age Celtic village to a row of ironworkers’ houses have been painstakingly rebuilt in 60 acres of beautiful gardens, with many traditional crafts and activities taking place in front of your eyes. Don’t miss the opportunity to bag a loaf of bara brith, a delicious fruitcake from the Derwen Bake House and maybe exchange a few words of Welsh with the locals. iechyd da (yeh-chid-da) means cheers, by the way!
Culture Clue: The Welsh have a long and proud tradition of mining, along with ironworking and other industries—the mining industry is largely gone today but touched many Welsh families lives through the years.
Once you’ve had a chance to plug into Cardiff’s cultural currency, you’ll want to use it as a jumping off to explore more of Wales. Best time to go: the high season is May through September, but spring and fall are also beautiful. Wales is lovely all year round. 2016 is Wales' "Year of Adventure," and 2017 heralds "The Year of Legends."
Make your own cultural connection: Try a little Welsh to make the locals warm to you even more (Wales is a very warm country). Croeso (Croy-so) means hello/welcome. It’s not that hard when you practice the unique sounds of Welsh, one of oldest languages in the world. Male voice choirs practice all year round at churches all over Wales—a great way to hear this Welsh cultural asset in person.
Plan your cultural connection now at: www.visitwales.com