City Guide



Introduction to Cardiff

Cardiff, or Caerdydd if you’re feeling brave enough to try a little Welsh, is the vibrant and exciting capital of Wales, situated on the coast of the Bristol Channel. To understand Cardiff and Wales in general, one should keep in mind a few basic facts of history:

From the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284, Wales has been politically integrated to England. Nevertheless, nationalist aspirations started to emerge in the 19th century and the Principality of Wales gradually regained some degree of autonomy. In 1955, Cardiff was officially recognised as its capital, and in 1999, devolution laws were passed under the Blair Government, thus giving Wales even more autonomy.

Wales was long dominated by the mining industry that developed in the late 18th century. But since the collapse of this industry in the 1980s, the country has undergone a huge transformation. Today, Cardiff is still a city very much in transition. You may be surprised at first when you arrive to see how much building and development work is taking place.

All of these elements are crucial to grasp how much culture and heritage mean to the Welsh. Although only a fifth of the population speaks Welsh, you will find everything translated from English to Welsh in public spaces. Who knows, perhaps by the end of your stay, you might even venture to pronounce a few words in Welsh…  

The city centre

With its 320,000 inhabitants, Cardiff feels in many ways like a scale version of London: the large community of students makes it very dynamic and cosmopolitan. There is always something going on somewhere in Cardiff, whether it is a comedy show, a play, an exhibition, a musical or of course, a rugby match at the Millennium Stadium (one of the largest in Europe with its 74,500 seats). On match days, the atmosphere in town is absolutely terrific and always promises to be good fun. With a little luck, you may even have the chance to meet some of the players of the world’s most famous football or rugby teams.

Queen Street

This is 'THE' street of Cardiff. For pedestrians only, Queen Street is the dream place for the shopaholics of all kinds. Famous brands such as Benetton, Zara, Gap, Topshop and H&M can all be found here. 

St David’s Centre

St David’s Centre is another shopping paradise (over 60 stores), but this time indoors for those rainy days.

St David’s Hall

Not to be confused with the shopping centre, St David’s Hall is the major concert hall in Cardiff. It has a capacity of 2,000 seats and has welcomed the most famous artists from all around the world (Vladimir Askenazy, Cecilia Bartoli, Evgeny Kissin…) and is regularly the host of the BBC Wales Orchestra.

St Mary's Street

Another must for shoppers with lots of fashionable boutiques and Cardiff’s big department store (Howells). You’ll be able to refresh yourself in St Mary’s Street’s numerous bars and restaurants.

Bute Park

Named after the third Marquis of Bute, Cardiff Castle’s owner. First open to the public from 1783 to 1863, then re-opened in 1947, the Park covers nearly 130 acres, right behind Cardiff Castle. It is a very agreeable place to come and sit with friends on the ever-green grass or simply to wander around and enjoy this island of peace in the middle of a busy city.

The Arcades

Queen’s Arcade, the Royal Arcade, Morgan Arcade, High Street Arcade… Cardiff is famous for its Arcades. These are sorts of little passageways covered by a roof and filled with great little shops. They link St Mary Street to the Hayes, a small place near St David’s Hall and St John’s Church, a beautiful Roman Catholic church built in the 12th century. There is something special about the Arcades; they are very pleasant, cosy and old-fashioned.

On the cultural side, there are a few must-sees you cannot omit from your sight-seeing agenda:

National Museum Cardiff

Like with all national museums in Britain, the entry is free so you won’t have to feel guilty if you do not spend four hours inside. The Museum offers a good collection of Impressionist paintings (most notably by Monet and Van Gogh) and the very famous statue by Auguste Rodin, The Kiss.

Cardiff Castle

Cardiff Castle is a jewel of eccentricity and faerie at the same time. Less glitzy than Buckingham Palace for sure, but definitely worth a visit!

Llandaff Cathedral

Llandaff Cathedral is situated in a delightful place in the North of Cardiff called Llandaff (from the welsh ‘llan’ – ‘church’ and ‘Taff’, name of the river that runs through Cardiff). It is less accessible because it is not in the centre of town, but you can easily get there by bus (services 25, 33 or 62 from Central Station). Most of the cathedral dates from the 13th century but the building had to be restored after being severely damaged during the Second World War; the result is an interesting mixture of architecture and style.

The Bay

Historically, the Bay had nothing to do with the leisure and entertainment site that it has recently become. The docks of Cardiff Bay were the converging point from which the coal production extracted in the surrounding mines was exported all around the world.  At the end of the 1980s, a large programme of renovation was adopted to transform the Bay. Today, it offers a brand new visage, with dozens of restaurants and pubs, a cinema, a science and technology education centre – Techniquest. The equivalent of the Millennium Stadium for music and art, the Welsh Millennium Centre, is also located in the Bay. Open in 2004, the WMC is an impressive building, whose architecture vaguely recalls the style of the Sydney Opera House.

Cardiff Bay is also the seat of the most symbolic building as far as politics and Welsh sovereignty are concerned: the National Assembly of Wales. Following the devolution laws of 1999, Wales has gained a certain degree of autonomy vis-à-vis Westminster and the Welsh Assembly, although it cannot pass its own laws, is responsible for implementing what was decided in London and for running Wales’ affairs.

Finally, when the weather is nice – and believe it or not, that happens far more that you would have thought! Cardiff Bay is a wonderful place to enjoy a nice ice cream, listening to the seagulls and the waves, and why not sunbathe on the ‘Waterbus’, a shuttle boat that takes you to the little town of Penarth, a few miles down the coast, for a pound or two.