Mini break of the month: Cool Cardiff

By | Category: Travel destinations

Why go
The Welsh capital has undergone a renaissance in recent years and modern developments like St David’s compliment Cardiff’s historical past.

Must see and do
Cardiff Castle
(www.cardiffcastle.com) with its fairytale towers and spires and opulent interiors should be your first port of call. It’s a truly remarkable site with a history that spans over 2000 years; Romans slept here, noble knights held court here, and the Bute family, with extraordinary wealth and vision, transformed the Castle into a romantic Victorian fantasy. In 1947, the 5th Marquess of Bute gave the Castle and its extensive parklands to the people of Cardiff.
Continue your cultural odyssey over at the Norwegian Church which offers an insight into the industrial heritage of the docks. Built in the 1860s as a ‘home away from home’ for Norwegian sailors, the Church was also the location where children’s author, Roald Dahl was christened. Furthermore, entry is free!
Another must is the Millennium Stadium which has hosted the Rugby World Cup, twice (1999 and 2007) and six FA Cup Finals (little wonder then that Cardiff has been designated a European City of Sport for 2009). In addition, the Stadium has staged concerts by Madonna, U2 and a raft of other big events – it’s a versatile all year round venue owing to its retractable roof and removable turf. You can get a look behind the scenes by taking a guided tour. See www.millenniumstadium.co.uk for details.
Meanwhile fans of the hit TV series Doctor Who can meet K9, encounter the famous Daleks and see costumes worn by the Doctor and his assistant at the Doctor Who Up Close exhibition in the Red Dragon Centre, Cardiff Bay.  Find out more at www.doctorwhoexhibitions.com.

Top shops
Cardiff has been crowned one of the UK’s top five shopping cities and for good reason; there are enough shops here to clothe you for life.
Right now, the buzz is all about the brand new St David’s Centre (www.stdavidscardiff.com) which opened on October 22. This mammoth shopping destination was built using 25,000 tonnes of steel and, at 1.4m sq ft in size, is equivalent to 30 football pitches of retail space! As you would expect given its size, there are umpteen options for all budgets and tastes but pick of the bunch is the John Lewis department store.
If, however, trawling around the avenues and aisles of this cathedral to consumerism holds little appeal venture to the Victorian and Edwardian arcades where you’ll find one off boutiques and cafes with character. Elsewhere every Sunday, stallholders set out their wares (think organic beef burgers and Fair-trade coffee) at the Riverside Farmers’ Market on the banks of the Taff.

Best bites
Foodies should make a beeline for Cardiff Bay (www.visitcardiffbayinfo) – catch the No 6 bus from the City Centre. The city’s revitalised dockland area is now one of Europe’s most exciting waterfront developments and is chock full of buzzing bars and restaurants. CD Traveller can vouch for BA Orient (www.baorient.com) – a stylish cocktail and dim sum bar in mermaid quay that’s popular with Cardiff’s movers and shakers. For something sweet, stop off at Fabulous Welshcakes; as well as Welshcakes, these guys specialise in heavenly handmade chocolates.

After dark
Award winning Wales Millennium Centre (www.wmc.org.uk), is Europe’s most exciting performing arts centre that also serves as a home to among others the Welsh National Opera and Diversions – the contemporary dance company of Wales. This swish cultural venue is Wales No 1 visitor attraction so try to catch a concert if you can. If you’re purse strings are suffering somewhat (we are in a recession after all), check out the lunch time concerts in the foyer for free!

Best kept secret
While very much a part of the UK, Wales has its own culture and language – as the bilingual sign posts all around the city show. Anyone wanting to learn the Welsh language – one of the oldest spoken languages in Europe – can sign up for an intensive language course at the National Language Centre in North Wales. But for an instant Welsh lesson, pop into the rehearsal of one of Cardiff’s Welsh Male Voice choirs.

Sleepover
Voted one of the 25 hippest hotels in the world by upmarket glossy Conde Nast Traveller, The Big Sleep is situated at the southern end of the city centre, opposite Cardiff International Arena and five minutes from Cardiff Central Station.  Accommodation consists of 81 rooms – many designed by actor John Malkovich – and all are airy, spacious, supremely comfortable (rooms have king sized beds, 15 channel satellite TV,  tea and coffee making facilities, fluffy towels and fantastic views of the city)and even better, won’t cost you a fortune. Rates start at £45 per room, per night including a continental breakfast which can be packed for you to take away or eaten in the communal dining room. To book a room, visit www.thebigsleephotel.com

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