Recently I was staying in the South West of the country visiting James, and so it was the perfect opportunity to explore somewhere new, as well as returning to some sites I had seen and enjoyed before. Whilst I had briefly visited Cardiff once before (for dinner on the way back from a day trip), I hadn’t seen much of it and was keen to see more. Although Cardiff is a capital city, for some reason I had originally thought that it was quite small and rundown. I was wrong, and now hope that I can return in the future as there was far more to do than we could fit into a day trip from Bristol.
When I cross a border into a different country but remain within the UK, I don’t really expect to see much difference. I imagine that’s partly from growing up close to the Scottish border and making frequent trips across – nothing obvious changes immediately except the accent (and even with that there is a more noticeable difference travelling across to Newcastle!). I was therefore quite surprised when we left the train to hear the announcements over the station speakers being made in Welsh. I knew we were in Wales, but it was enough to make it feel like we had come to an entirely new place. I don’t know whether it is funny or slightly sad that I can make more sense of French rail announcements than Welsh ones…
Leaving the train station, we headed towards the city centre and after passing several trendy looking bars and restaurants, we arrived at the St David’s Shopping Centre. The purpose of the trip was not to shop, so we didn’t spend long here, but I can imagine if coming for a weekend away to shop, wine and dine, Cardiff (a little like Liverpool) would make an excellent location. Cardiff gave the impression that it was a young person’s city – cool and with plenty going on.
The main thing that I wanted to see when we visited Cardiff was the castle, and this is where we spent most of the day. You can purchase two adult tickets for less than £25 (excluding the house tour) which will give you access to the whole site, and a free audio guide. If they run out of audio guides (which they had when we visited), you can download an app which covers the same content. I would certainly recommend one or the other as whilst there are information boards scattered around, you can learn an awful lot more from the audio tour!
We started our visit with the video and weren’t particularly impressed. It didn’t provide much information and was initially difficult to follow, however this was our only negative from the visit. From here we found ourselves in the wartime shelters, and then walking around the walls whilst admiring the grounds and multitude of welsh flags. The Norman Keep was our next calling point and is certainly worth going up for the wonderful views, but the steps are very steep so will be inaccessible to some.
Whilst we opted not to do the house tour, we still had access to some of the rooms within the “Victorian Gothic fantasy palace” which was designed for the 3rd Marquess of Bute. It doesn’t feel much like a home (the family only spent a few weeks each year here) but the opulent decoration is incredible and worth going to see. Don’t just be drawn to the gold and marble – try and look for some of the amusing smaller details, such as a money sitting on top of a door frame for no apparent reason!
Following on from the castle, we had just enough time to squeeze in a quick trip to Cardiff Bay. It is walk-able from the centre, but if you are tight on time or don’t fancy the walk (it’s not particularly pretty) then I would recommend catching a bus or train. Cardiff Bay could easily be a day trip (or weekend) in its own right, with an abundance of shops, restaurants, bars, museums and more. You can catch a performance at the Millenium Centre, unleash your inner geek at the Doctor Who Experience, or enjoy one of the many events that takes place here.
We had just enough time for a walk around and an ice cream before catching our train home, but there was definitely plenty more that we could have done in both the city centre and the bay area. Whilst there are plenty more places I would love to visit in the UK, I would quite happily return to Cardiff.