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Cardiff marries modernity with Welsh heritage

The Welsh capital is a burgeoning center with a contemporary art scene amidst ancient architecture
Cardiff Castle offers amazing views of the Welsh capital, where Mardi Gras 2012 will be held in the surrounding grounds.

Cardiff is the perfect mix of past and present, a walkable city with new adventures set in an age-old landscape.

The architecture alone, a mix of Victorian homes styled after castles and fashionable new landmarks like the Millenium Centre, shows how beautifully Welsh heritage and modernity combine.

The city itself is built around the Cardiff Castle, a refurbished 11th century fortress whose center tower offers a proper view of the Cardiff skyline.

The capital of Wales has undergone significant development in the past decade, with the construction of Cardiff Bay and the Millenium Building turning the area into an even busier city center.

For those looking to continue London's 2012 summer festivities, Cardiff Mardi Gras is the gay pride celebration to attend on 1 September. Held in the green fields adjacent to Cardiff Castle, this year's Mardi Gras after-party has confirmed the Super SuperMartXé World Tour presenting The Freemasons. Heather Small, Marcus Collins and Ruth Lorenzo will also perform at the festival. An event for all ages, the Mardi Gras festival combines cabaret performances, food courts and dance arenas in celebration for gay pride.

Cardiff is a short train ride from London's Paddington Station, but feels like a new world, in part because of the mix of city and nature, in part because the natives speak Welsh as well as English.

Don't know Welsh? Don't be scared. All signs are written in both languages, giving visitors a glimpse into the unique Welsh language and heritage.

Here are GSN's top picks for what to do when you go to Cardiff:

Cardiff Castle 

Rising in the middle of the Welsh capital is Cardiff Castle. Originally a Roman fort, this 2,000 year-old castle is one of the most prominent symbols of Cardiff's heritage. The castle's red, green and gold refurbished interior celebrates the colors of the Welsh flag, and demonstrate one of the decorator's eccentricities. Architect William Burges partook in smoking opium, which could be one of the reasons for the fantastical gothic-Victorian decoration.

St Fagans Natural History Museum 

This open-air museum is set in the grounds of St Fagans Castle and gardens. Located about 20 minutes away from central Cardiff, the museum's exhibits include costume, daily life and farming artifacts to show visitors how people in Wales worked and played.

Wales Millenium Centre 

Cardiff's modern landmarks include the Millenium Centre. Dubbed Cardiff's arts village, the multi-purpose complex houses seven major arts organizations, including Welsh National Opera and Diversions Dance Company. Visitors can usually catch free performances taking place in the courtyard, and the Parliament building right next door is a perfect example of Cardiff's architectual harmony between the old and the new.

The Arcades

Central Cardiff's shopping arcades are every shopper's fantasy. Cardiff, the sixth-largest shopping center in the UK, has the full range of high street retailers, and then some. Stores and shops in the arcades are compacted into winding and narrow alleys that are worthy of exploring even if the most you can afford is to window shop.

Chapter Arts Centre

This former primary school was redesigned as an art center in the 1970s. It's been revamped and refurbished into a chic multi-purpose performance space that hosts cinema viewings, theatre productions, dance recitals and art shows. Chapter also teaches film and digital photography and old clasrooms have been converted into new darkrooms.

Momentum Cardiff

This three-story home design store is a must-see. The showroom carries cutting-edge and modern furniture designers from around the world. The tables, lamps and lighting fixtures demonstrate the shop-owners penchant for handsome design.

Fusion Cafe

Head over to Fusion Cafe for the seasonal menu, selection of sweets and hand-mixed cocktails. The laid-back atmosphere and friendly staff make it easy to lose track of time. Sample the delicious Espresso Martini, the perfect mix of inebriation and stimulation in a martini glass.

Taff River 

A tree-lined babbling river is the perfect cure for whatever ails you. The peace and quiet in the trees and fields surrounding the river make it difficult to remember the metropolitan center just meters away. The river winds for several miles, and brings a beautiful taste of the country to the city's center. Follow the Taff trail that runs alongside the river until you find a shady spot on the bank where you can lay down, close your eyes and decide what to do next.

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