Cardiff might not seem like the obvious choice for a weekend city break but in recent years its star has risen. Easily accessible from most of the UK, it has all the shopping, entertainment and culture that you would expect to find in a capital city.
The redevelopment of Cardiff Bay and the building of the Millennium Stadium have led to a revitalised city, attracting over 10 million visitors each year. It has been named in the top ten European cities to visit – no mean feat for the capital city of a nation of only three million people. Mixing modern architecture with historical monuments such as Cardiff Castle, there is plenty to do both outdoors and under cover – even though, despite the popular myth about it always raining in Wales, Cardiff actually gets more sunlight than Milan. The city centre is compact and easily navigated by foot and most of the attractions are within an easy travelling distance, so it is perfect for a short city break.
The Millennium Stadium, the national stadium, should be on every visitor’s list of must-sees. Everyone knows it hosts major football matches and is the home of the national rugby union team, but major cultural events are also held there on a regular basis. Big names such as Bruce Springsteen, the Stereophonics and Rhianna have all played the stadium and it is well worth catching a gig as the atmosphere there is known for being electric.
The BBC has studios based in the city and some of its biggest shows, such as Torchwood and Doctor Who, have been filmed in Cardiff and have featured it prominently. The Doctor Who Experience is an interactive journey through the world of Doctor Who and is essential for any fan of the series.
Cardiff Castle has a history of over 2000 years and so is a fascinating place to visit. A medieval castle, it is remarkably well preserved. You can wander its walls and battlements or join one of the free guided tours to find out more about its history. For something a little different, the castle holds a traditional Welsh banquet featuring authentic food, wine and music, so you can imagine what life in the castle was like in the 15th century.
The jewel in Cardiff’s crown, Cardiff Bay, is Europe’s largest waterfront development and is linked to the city centre by water taxis, which is a novel and fun way to get around. It has numerous family-friendly attractions such as the Millennium Centre, where you can catch a movie or watch opera, ballet or a stand-up comedian. Techniquest holds scientific exhibitions and has a planetarium which children will find entrancing.
Cardiff has been voted the sixth best city to shop in the UK and so is something of a Mecca for shoppers. Queen Street is the main shopping high street but there are also plenty of malls to choose from. St Davids, known in Welsh as Dewi Sant, has 1.4 million square feet of shopping and has all the major designer and high street shops such as John Lewis and Hobbs. A short distance away, upmarket Mermaid Quay overlooks the bay and has many boutique shops, delis and restaurants. The more traditional Craft in the Bay mall has some more unusual shops and so is the perfect place for souvenir hunters.
Where to stay
With 125 hotels in the area, there are hotels in Cardiff to suit all budgets and tastes. All the major chains have a presence in the city centre but there are also plenty of cosy guesthouses to choose from, in case you want to benefit from traditional Welsh hospitality.
How to get there
Cardiff is easily reached by road, train or air. Cardiff International Airport is only about 13 miles from the city and has good transport links to the centre. The main train station terminates in the city centre and there is also a station serving Cardiff Bay. The M4 links the city with the main motorway network.