Like many towns and cities across the United Kingdom, Cardiff is an interesting blend of the history of yesterday and modernity of tomorrow.
From afar, you can be forgiven for forgetting that Wales has a long and proud heritage and culture as an independent country, people and language. While its fortunes have always been closely tied to those of its Anglo Saxon and Celtic neighbors, recent years have seen a resurgence in Welsh nationalism, political and legislative devolution, and promotion of the Welsh language.
The city centre of Cardiff is dominated by two key constructions. Cardiff Castle has been restored and maintained to become a focus point for visitors keen to learn about the medieval history of Wales - construction dates back to the 11th century when the occupying Norman army used the walls of an old Roman fort as the foundations for a castle keep.
The Millennium Stadium was built in 2000 and is primarily used as the home of international rugby in Wales. On match day the streams of excited fans seem to overwhelm the city, creating a carnival atmosphere befitting this passionate sport.
Predominantly driven by the transport of the coal mined in the Welsh valleys, Cardiff grew to become an important shipping hub, the port and bay areas devoted to industrial development. As the era of coal-mining ended, the docks of Cardiff lost their importance and became something of an eyesore. One of the most successful modern developments has been the creation of this area into the revitalized Cardiff Bay precinct - restaurants, cafes and shops enable visitors to enjoy an outdoor lifestyle strangely at odds with the traditional perception of this city. The centerpiece of Cardiff Bay is the Wales Millennium Centre, a spectacular modern theatre complex that regularly hosts major concerts and shows.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Welsh national history museum St Fagans provides a unique understanding of what everyday life was like for the people of Wales through the ages.
The restaurant and bar scene in Cardiff is particularly vibrant:
- Le Monde in the city centre has long been one of Cardiff's best restaurants;
- Spanish restaurant El Puerto overlooks Cardiff Bay;
- The Potted Pig is a relaxed option and specializes in char-grilled steaks;
- For Sunday lunch head out of town to the Caesars Arms in Creigiau; or
- Newbridge on Usk offers a modern twist on the traditional country inn.
Cardiff is also blessed with some surprisingly good accommodation options:
The Radisson Blu is ideally located in the centre of town;
St David's in Cardiff Bay provides a bit of luxury and is well-known for its spa treatments;
Celtic Manor on the outskirts of Cardiff is the perfect destination for a golfing weekend; or
Miskin Manor is beautiful country hotel that is popular for weddings.
A two hour train journey from London and an easy weekend mini-break, Cardiff is well worth exploring.