Cardiff gets a bad rap sometimes – especially in light of the tourist behemoth that is London (only two hours away by train).
But during my three-night stay in the Welsh capital, I discovered one of the most livable British cities I’ve ever visited.
With its beautiful gardens, historic sights, stunning bay and newer attractions, this 330,000 person-strong mini metropolis is definitely worth a city break.
Here, we share the five highlights of our recent trip to the charismatic ‘Caerdydd’…
1. National Museum Cardiff
This is definitely one of the finest museums in the United Kingdom. Apart from archaeology and natural history, you should definitely visit this free attraction for its paintings.
Here I had trouble remembering whether I was in France or Wales, so impressive is the collection of great works by artists such as Cézanne, Rodin, Renoir, Manet, Monet, and many more.
2. Cardiff Castle
This unmissable mansion [above] and castle [top] hybrid is the beating heart of Cardiff and parts of it date as far back as the 50s AD. In the 19th century, John the 3rd Marquess of Bute, supposedly one of the richest men on the globe, transformed the castle lodgings into a gothic extravaganza with the help of iconic architect William Burges.
Guided tours are available and strongly recommended: look out for the many tiny animal statues (it seems the Marquess was a big wildlife fan!).
3. Millennium Stadium Tour
Welcome to the temple of rugby and the national stadium of Wales! Can you imagine up to 75,000 people waiting for their favourite teams? Or as many turning out to see the likes of Madonna, Rihanna, One Direction or U2 perform?
Take a guided tour of this architectural marvel, built in 1999 for £121m, and fingers crossed you’ll spot some handsome, stocky rugby players.
4. Cardiff Market
Come in the morning and you will be enchanted by the freshness of the food and the colours of the displays. This is a good spot to find the laver (the traditional seaweed which is used to make the laver bread, a green oatcake enriched with sea produce) and welsh cakes, loaded with butter and raisins – like a flat, soft scone.
On a tangent, our favourite shop for this simple but rich sweet is Fabulous Welshcakes in the Cardiff Bay area. Here the kind staff will show you how to make alternative versions, such as with orange and chocolate. And yes, they give tasters!
5. Cardiff Bay
Please don’t leave the Welsh capital without having a stroll in the bay area, which has undergone a massive redevelopment in recent years. The Wales Millennium Centre, home to several cultural institutions like the Welsh National Opera, and the Senedd, the parliament building, are two striking examples of contemporary architecture.
Best of all come to Cardiff Bay for the Doctor Who Experience. Unfortunately, taking pictures is not allowed, but your spectacular adventure through time and space will never be forgotten.
Where to stay
For a short trip I’d recommend the Park Plaza Cardiff, which boasts a slick and sophisticated decor. This hotel is right in the city centre, not far from the National Museum Cardiff and Cardiff Castle.
The hotel provides an indoor swimming pool and a spa; go early early to avoid queues. In addition, the junior suites are very comfortable and the beds are very big.
I loved the dark stone in the bathrooms and the rich selection of complimentary tea, coffee and biscuits.