See and do
Remember the adventures of Fantastic Mr Fox? James and the Giant Peach? Danny, the Champion of the World? Although Roald Dahl may have left as a teen, Cardiff is still proud that the Welsh-born writer of these books once called the city home. Over 16 and 17 September, Cardiff will be the hub of his centenary celebrations, with City of the Unexpected, a city-wide performance including parades and theatre spectacles celebrating all things Dahl, produced by the National Theatre Wales and the Millennium Centre.
From one favourite to another, The Doctor Who Experience is a chance to join your very own mini-episode of Dr Who right there in Cardiff. The adventure will see you assisting the Doctor as he tries to destroy a terrifying new foe, while getting to take in the doctor’s best props (many dating back to 1963) in a free-flow exhibition that’ll appeal to adults as much as children.
If art exhibitions, theatre and films are more your thing, try Chapter, a multi-artform cultural space that also serves great food and drink. Along the same lines, Sherman Cymru is a great theatre with some excellent comedy going on – keep an eye on its website. Be sure to swing by the West Wharf Gallery – a contemporary arts space that allows young, emerging Welsh artists to showcase their work.
Cardiff Bay has been heavily developed over recent years – much of its history is based around the waterfront, which transformed from a village to an Industrial Revolution-era boom town, then to a city in 1905. Nowadays it’s a good place to appreciate what a vibrant, modern capital Cardiff has become. Wander along the water – you can follow it for five miles if you’re really keen on food-based sightseeing. Those who are tight on time might prefer to explore by bike – handy, then, that a pre-planned six-mile cycling route will take you from Roald Dahl Plass to Cardiff Bay, speeding you through wetlands, past old buildings such as the Norwegian Church (where Norwegian ships once brought Scandinavian timber to Wales) and via far more modern examples of architecture like the Cardiff Millenium Centre – an impressive arts space for theatre, opera, ballet and tons of other cultural stuff.
Shop Cardiff is the proud home of eight Edwardian and Victorian arcades. Try the Castle Arcade for hundreds of varieties of cheese from Madame Fromage – 40 of which are Welsh. In the Morgan Arcade, Spillers (established 1894) is recognised by Guinness World Records as the oldest record shop in the world, with tons of LPs lined up for your perusal, while passionate staff are sure to have you diversifying your music taste in no time. If reading’s more your thing, Troutmark Books in Castle Arcade is a second-hand bookshop where walls are lined with rare novels.
Jacobs Antique Market by West Canal Wharf is the place to find stalls spilling with antiques and furniture looking for a loving new home – expect to find anything from vintage sequin jackets to tea cups painted with a young Queen Liz. Meanwhile, the Castle Emporium, located opposite the clock tower of Cardiff Castle, is a converted art deco cinema with stalls selling vintage and retro fashion. Need a sugar fix after all that? Try Fabulous Welshcakes, a shop specialising in the traditional fruity cake/scone.
For caffeine, be sure to try Lufkin Coffee Roasters, a small-batch roaster that also serves coffee via a pour-over filter (a favourite of locals in California, the US state the owners decided to up sticks from). The Little Man Coffee Company is one of the newest coffee shops in the city, serving brews from local roasters.
Beer fans (we’re talking craft, not Fosters) try Westgate Street, the city’s craft-beer hub, home to familiar faces such as BrewDog, and more local options including the Urban Tap House, a two-floor, late-night hangout with loads of blinding beer choices. Porter’s combines jazz and comedy nights with some excellent choices including seaweed ale (try it, trust us) and more classic Belgian and US craft bottles. Pipes Brewery, established in 2008 in Pontcana, is an eco-conscious drink-in artisan brewery that offers two monthly specials on top of an already staggeringly large range of IPAs, wheat beers and more. Buffalo Bar is a late-night den with a beer garden, live music space and bar playing a selection of funk, soul and Motown until 4am.
Cardiff’s been no stranger to the recent burger boom, and US-founded Shake Shack has chosen the city as its first UK location outside of London. For something with more of a local flavour, try the Grazing Shed for “super tidy” burgers, or try Got Beef, once a mobile food truck, now a permanent restaurant space on Whitchurch Road. And that’s not all – make room for the New York Deli, with subs stuffed with meat, cheese and pickles, NATA & Co for all your Portuguese pastel de nata pastry needs, Kimchi for bargain Korean BBQ dishes and Calabrisella for an Italian restaurant that could be mistaken for a greasy spoon (hey, it’s no looker but the food’s on point). For something typically local, Canna Deli is a cosy, pretty, Welsh-speaking deli with lush coffee and damn tasty rarebit. If all those craft breweries get too much for you, head to the iconic Chippy Lane, which does exactly what you’ll want it to.
For compact, modern rooms (or roomz, apparently) Sleeperz fits the bill – there are 74 roomz in total, many of which come with flat-screen TVs (although we can’t see you staying in much). The location, one minute from the train station, is handy for city exploring. The Safehouse’s “accommodation for the weary and the wise” is a hostel with Victorian features, functional wooden bunks made by local craftsmen from the Dutchwood Joinery in the city. Opt for a private room on the fourth floor if you want castle views.
For a five star-hostel experience (yes, that exists), try the YHA, winner of the Best Accommodation award in the British Youth Travel Awards – like the Grammys but for fresh-faced travellers. It’s not all hostels (although Cardiff’s certainly blessed in that department) – for a plusher experience, book into the contemporary water-view rooms at the five-star St David’s Hotel and Spa in smart Cardiff Bay.
Need to know
First Great Western offers return off-peak fares to Cardiff from £74, book via the trainline.co.uk; National Express offers coach travel from £10 one way, book in at nationalexpress.com; head to visitwales.com and visitcardiff.com for more information about visiting the city and beyond.