Cardiff Bay, also known as Tiger Bay, was once the site of the Butes’ enormous coal empire...Cardiff Bay
Capital of Wales, one of the UK’s liveliest new tourist destinations and a rapidly expanding metropolis – Cardiff is all of these things and much more: a town whose history is as dearly beloved to its inhabitants as the shiny modern face it’s been given since the turn of the century.
The iconic Millennium Centre, whose extraordinary architecture overlooks the curve of Cardiff Bay like the hull of a battle-scarred copper spaceship, represents everything that Cardiff has to offer. It’s exciting – surprisingly so, perhaps, to the visitor more aware of the city’s industrial past than its cosmopolitan present. It’s original. Yet it still fits with the character of the city, originally a mining town and one of the most fortified in the whole of the UK. Cardiff still proudly boasts five castles in various states of repair, reminders of the ancient history that formed the landscape. “Caer Taf”, one of the city’s original names, even means “Fort on the Taff”.Read more
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Cardiff’s beautiful architecture overlooks the River Taff, which flows through the city to the west thanks to a diversion built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and the mouth of the Bristol Channel at Cardiff Bay.
The Cardiff Bay regeneration project, which is widely regarded as being one of the best in the United Kingdom, includes The Senedd (the Welsh Assembly building); the amazing Millennium Centre; and the beautifully restored Pierhead building.
Pedestrianisation has been a key feature of Cardiff’s revamped city centre: the upshot of which is that the multiple festivals hosted by the city during the summer months are wider spread and better attended every year. Add to this the profusion of public parks and green spaces that make Cardiff the greenest place to live in Britain, and it’s easy to see why the city’s importance to the tourism industry has been growing steadily since the turn of the century.
The Millennium Stadium
Cardiff has strong sporting links thanks to the major national and international events held at the Millennium Stadium – which hosted the FA Cup final during Wembley Stadium’s extended absence, and which is home to the Welsh rugby team and plays host to many of the Welsh football team’s games. The Millennium Stadium also hosts massive pop concerts and cultural events, and has played a huge role in the recent regeneration of the area.
Cardiff’s unique combination of established history and extraordinary innovation is as evident in its shopping centres as its public buildings and parks. There are no fewer than 8 impeccably preserved Victorian shopping arcades here, including the glass-and-iron Morgan Arcade and the beautiful Castle Arcade. Morgan Arcade is the location of the world’s oldest record shop (Spillers) – if you’re looking for tickets to one of the city’s many alternative or underground shows, Spillers is where it’s at. At the other end of the spectrum is the epic St David’s, a huge central shopping mall boasting the distinction of being ninth largest in Britain.
The city has successfully transformed herself from dour Welsh industrial port to a thriving city of culture with an energetic, youthful population. Visit Cardiff and find out what 18.3 million tourists a year already know.
International flights arrive at Cardiff International Airport, which is situated just over 10 miles away from the city centre.
National rail services come into Cardiff Central rail station, which serves all points in Wales and has good links to Birmingham and Manchester, from whence connections can be made onto other major locations in Britain.
National bus services terminate at Cardiff Central bus station (in the same place as the rail station).
Some areas of Cardiff have their own local train stations. It’s cheap and easy to hop on a suburban train between the centre and Penarth Pier, for instance.
The M4 links central Cardiff with central London and Swansea. The M5 also enters Wales, where it links up with the M4.
Inside the city, foot travel is the way to go. Make the most of the pedestrianised parts of the centre, and the helpful tourist signs pointing out all the major sights and attractions, and explore at your leisure. Cycling is also good thanks to the flat elevation of the city – there are cycle paths extending out beyond the centre into its surrounding boroughs, which make for excellent jogging and walking as well.
There are plenty of buses serving the city centre, run by Cardiff Bus. While tickets are cheap, you’ll either have to pay using the exact amount required or accept no change. For an intense day of sightseeing, get a Network Dayrider ticket, which will allow you unlimited use of any bus you want in Southeast Wales.
Taxis are plentiful, and follow the same rules as other major UK cities. There are council licensed cabs, which in Cardiff are black and white (the bonnet is white); or private hire cabs. You should only flag a council licensed cab down on the street: private hire vehicles are supposed to take pre-bookings but not stop for street passengers.
Cardiff’s history is multi-layered and still very visible: the most obvious monument to the past being Cardiff Castle, which sits proudly in the middle of the city. Its current form is the result of massive Victorian redevelopment.
During the Industrial Age, when Cardiff family the Butes were pulling money from the ground in the form of coal, they substantially altered the appearance of the city. John Crichton-Smith, 2nd Marquis of Bute, was responsible for building the Cardiff Docks: and his son John Crichton-Smith, 3rd Marquis of Bute, redeveloped the Castle.
The 2nd Marquis’ docks were one half of an equation that made the city rich: the other was the railway, which reached the docks in the 1830s, firstly via the Taff Vale Railway. Thanks to the Docks, Welsh coal was shipped to destinations all over the world, and Cardiff remained Wales’ premier exporter of mineral fuels until the 1900s.
Modern Cardiff owes much to the legacy of the Docks and the Bute family: the regenerated Docks area is one of the most impressive parts of the city, and one of the best examples of urban regenerative planning in the country. Its original Pierhead Building sits proudly next to the super-modern Senned, which houses the Welsh parliament and was built in 2006.
Cardiff’s five castles include the fairytale beauty of Castell Coch (literally The Red Castle); the Caerau Castle Ringwork (a Norman ring castle); and Penmark Castle, whose ruins are still visible inside a cloak of vegetation.
Public buildings in Cardiff bear witness to the political history of Wales and the UK: the ornate City Hall, the beautiful modernist Crown Buildings (in Cathays Park), are emblematic of Welsh pride and the march towards devolution.
Cardiff University has also played a key role in the regeneration of the city, bringing in thousands of students to the Cathays and Pontcanna areas of town. These areas are also popular with young professionals.
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