I am Welsh (ish). I avoid telling people that I was born in Surrey, I have a fierce rivalry with my dad when it comes to supporting the England football team, and I dread the last remains of my accent being lost as I spend more and more time around English people in Durham. I am Welsh and I have lived in Wales for all but two years of my life, and I am so proud of it. As well as our lyrical (and difficult to learn) language and our delicious Welsh cakes (look them up!), my love for my home is partly due to our vibrant capital, Cardiff, and all that surrounds it – contrary to popular belief, there is more to Wales than sheep and fields (although I do love a good sheep-filled field). Here is my guide to Cardiff, and why I think it is worth the £5.60 trip across the Severn Bridge.
The Barrage and Bay Area
Heading towards the city centre from the quaint town of Penarth, you may be lucky enough to stumble upon one of the most direct ways of seeing the whole of the city – via one of the most spectacular views in Cardiff. On Paget Road, Penarth, you can look out onto the whole city, spotting the clear blue water of the Bay, the winding bridge of the Barrage, connecting the suburban to the urban, and – if it’s a clear day – the Principality (formerly Millennium) Stadium, right in the city centre.
This road also offers access to the Cardiff Bay Barrage, a once-controversial project due to fears of environmental stress, now blossomed into a place of enjoyment and outside activity for all. With a protected area for the sea life and birds within the confines of the barrage, this bridge to Cardiff Bay and beyond is free to offer yet more stunning views over Cardiff and the Bristol channel, is home to art installations and parks aplenty and offers a perfect chance for visitors to explore the stunning outdoors via bike, land-train or on foot. This walk is one I have done and will do every time I have the chance; the barrage is the place I come to first whenever I return home from Durham. For me, the Barrage and Bay area is the perfect representation of Cardiff’s identity: a place where nature meets the bustling life of the ‘Diff; a bridge to life and activity for all; and a stunning place to take a beat from everyday life – to just enjoy the simplicity of being outside. If you need any more convincing, the Barrage is free to cross and enjoy.
What does Cardiff Bay have to offer?
As the Barrage paves the path into Cardiff Bay itself, it makes sense that I should now talk about what this buzzing area has to offer. As you walk past the impressive Norwegian Church, a great place to visit in its own right, you can start to see the wealth of activity (and, more importantly, food) that the Bay has to offer.
If it’s not too cold – or even if it is –, grab an ice-cream at Cadwaladers, or if the wind from the Channel really is biting, venture across Roald Dahl Plass to the copper-clad masterpiece that is the Wales Millennium Centre. This armadillo-shaped building is impossible to miss, and within its brassy walls you can find coffee, cake and perhaps – if you’re lucky – a free performance on the Glanfa Stage in the foyer of the Centre. As the night moves on, wander down towards Techniquest to find a wealth of restaurants and bars, perfect for rounding off the night. I highly recommend The Dock Bar and Kitchen: their drinks menu is extensive and its water-side location offers fantastic views of the Bay. If all else fails, head to The Mount Stuart – my favourite ‘Spoons with a view!
Cardiff Arcades and their hidden treasures
Cardiff City Centre is home to St David’s 2 shopping centre, which truly caters for all of your high-street shopping needs. If you’ve had enough of John Lewis for one day, or if you just can’t carry any more shopping bags, take a break from the 21st Century and head to one of Cardiff’s many Victorian and Edwardian Arcades. These narrow, maze-like passages will remove you from the bustle of the modern city and take you to a realm of small, local cafés, independent shops and beautiful architecture. There are seven arcades in total, and getting hopelessly lost is all part of the fun! I enjoy wandering around each of them, not taking too much notice of which one I’m walking through, and simply seeing what places I can uncover. My family and I do, however,
have a favourite café. The Plan, nestled in a Grade II listed building in the heart of the Morgan Arcade, serves the most sophisticated sandwich you’ll eat in Cardiff – I recommend the ‘home-poached salmon with cucumber and lemon mayonnaise’ on a white bread baguette. The coffee is to die for: The Plan uses single-origin, in-season coffee beans which, I find, have a much milder, flavourful taste than the coffee you may find in bigger, chain coffee shops. The atmosphere of the café itself is worth the extra effort to stay away from these chains, which line the streets on every corner: as you enter the shop, small wooden tables and a wide window give you a great view of the rest of the arcade, not to mention an excellent opportunity for people-watching. If downstairs is too busy (the café’s only downfall – it’s too popular!), climb the narrow but beautiful wooden stairs to the balcony area. Tables are placed around the balcony, a circular space in the second floor where you can look down at the bar and food that others have chosen – yet more people-watching!
This is my favourite part of Cardiff: the beautiful arcades and their homely cafés offer an escape from the busy streets and their crazy and colourful street-performers: they allow you to simply take a breath and replenish yourself before round two of your shopping or sightseeing.