Cardiff Travel Guide
A rich cultural and historical landscape surrounds Cardiff, not to mention its geographical landscape. Visitors come from all over the world to visit Wales’ capital city, and with good reason. It’s a friendly, easy-to-navigate, inexpensive place to travel to, complete with some of the oldest standing cathedrals and castles in the world.
Cardiff has housed settlers since before history was meticulously chronicled, but we do know that the name, Cardiff, came from the Roman general Aulus Didius, who invaded in AD43. He named the space Caer Didi, which means the Fort of Didus, and it stuck.
In 1091, Robert FitzHamon started constructing the now-famous Cardiff Castle which still stands to this day, amidst the Normands invading the area. But within less than 400 years (in 1404, to be exact) Owain Glyndwr completely decimated Cardiff. Today, you can view a statue of his likeness at City Hall – an odd reward for his destruction of the city many moons before.
By the early 1600’s, Cardiff was crawling with pirates, so King James I granted a Royal Charter to try and alleviate the lawlessness. Within two centuries, Cardiff had grown to a population of approximately 1500 people whose lives centered on the now falling apart castle.
Within several hundred years, the Industrial Revolution hit Cardiff, and both the Glamorganshire Canal and Cardiff dock were built. Building on these transportation enhancements, Cardiff became the largest coal-exporting port in the entire world around 1913, when it was exported more than 13 million tons of coal.
Cardiff was granted city status in 1905 by Edward the VII, and in 1955, it became the capital of Wales, making this year a double anniversary.
Just over 200 miles West of London, Cardiff sits facing the Bristol Channel as the capital of Wales, in the newly created (1974) administrative county of South Glamorgan, along with the Vale of Glamorgan. Cardiff stretches a total of 140 square kilometers, and can be found on a map at 51 29N, 31 11 W. The port is known as Tiger Bay, and has recently been revitalized by the rebuilding of the Cardiff Barrage.
The city center is found on the North bank of the river Taff, and most attractions are easily found within walking distance of the city center.
The Cardiff International Airport serves the area well, which lies just 19km outside of the city center. However, many still choose to fly into London Heathrow instead, and take the two hour train from Paddington, which runs every half hour.
Alternatively, travelers can rent a car and drive the M4, which links Cardiff to London and the rest of the UK.
Cardiff has a comprehensive bus system that allows for those not wanting to walk around town the luxury of getting there faster. There is also the Cardiff Bay Road Train, which leaves Stuart Street on the hour, and offers a guided journey through the city, and its history.
The Cardiff Waterbus also allows visitors to travel between Cardiff Bay, Barrage and along the rivers Taff and Ely. Also, visitors can rent, for free, pedal-powered taxis to tour the city at certain, select locations around town.
The Welsh University College of Medicine (formerly known as the Welsh National School of Medicine, which was founded in 1931) is easily found if you walk 10 minutes north of the city center, up Queen Street. The National Museum can also be found along the same path, on the way. Also along the North is Castell Coch (directly translated from the Welsh, it means Red Castle) a fairytale-like medieval space about 5 miles down the A470.
Splott Market is within about a half-hour’s walk from the city center, in the South East quadrant, and features fresh fruit and vegetable stands, along with all of the flea market an bazaar finds normally associated with a country fair.
The 1000 year old Cardiff Castle lies right in the heart of downtown Cardiff, and the Old Cardiff docklands, built at the time of the Industrial Revolution, aren’t too far away. Llandaff Cathedral, built in 560 by St. Telio, is the oldest English cathedral still standing today, and the Comeston Medieval Village in Penarth, built on a 14th century, 110 hectare space is a must see as well.
The Museum of Welsh Life is a very large, 100-acre parkland that houses a school, chapel, craftsmen workshops, galleries, and even a translator on the St. Fagans Castle grounds. On another science-learning, although more modern adventure, families can enjoy Techniquest, the local science center.
Cardiff City Hall is also a tourist attraction; not only can you admire the majestic Welsh dragons that top the clock tower and dome, you can review a series of statues related to the historical underpinnings of the area, such as King Hywel, St. David, and Harri Tenwdwr (also known as Henry VII).
The last of the castles, Caerphilly, is also the last of the must-see attractions. Situated 13km North of Cardiff, the castle was built in the 13th century to protect against a Welsh invasion. Visitors will get the full-meal deal when reviewing the layout, complete with moat, a leaning tower, fortified dam and a Great Hall.
If you are looking to get out on the town, there are many interesting places to visit. Since the ban on having pubs in Cardiff was lifted in 1961 after a local referendum (which changed the previous 80 years’ history of not allowing pubs in the area), many have popped up in select areas.
St. Mary Street and Charles Street hosts many of the chain pubs and live music, the New Theatre, a restored Edwardian playhouse, offers many a play throughout the year, whereas David’s Hall focuses more on the stand-up comedy and classical music aspect of the entertainment world in Cardiff.
The largest club in Cardiff, with a capacity of 5000 people, offers a party atmosphere for a younger crowd, while the Cardiff International arena hosts all of the big touring acts that pass through town.
Cardiff World port Festival displays the best jazz, roots and blues music for this summer event. The International Food and Drink Festival offers a cornucopia of dishes from chefs the world ’round, while Cardiff International Street Festival focuses more on the chaos-creating overtaking of both Queen and Working Street in downtown Cardiff.
Children aren’t left out of the festival circuit, either. In late June, you’ll find the TESCO Children’s Festival in Coopers Field, which lies just behind Cardiff Castle in the downtown core. Alternatively, film and theatre buffs can take in the STER Century Festival of Films in mid-July, or The New Theatre or Fringe Festival showings at the Cardiff Festival. Music lovers can delight in the Welsh Proms, a historical ‘feast of music’ that plays from the middle to late July every year.