If compact, culture, spirit and survival make your heart sing then you'll love Cardiff. Welcome to the capital of Wales and the youngest capital city in Europe. As a Cardiff local, let me share with you the best and the most fun things to do in Cardiff.
Let me let you in on a few secrets and tell you about some of my favourite things to do in Cardiff. But first, let's quickly run through the classics, before we move on to the inside info. And they are...
Cardiff is a cyclist's paradise, with pathways running through forested riverbanks, past rugby fields and into the stone reaches of castles themselves. Pick up a cycle map and head out from Bute Park all the way along to Castell Coch.
Chalk up a taste of the Welsh classics like cawl (a meat and vegetable broth,) cockles, laverbread (seaweed) and lamb and then look for something more unusual.
And for standard British staples? I can't fault The Empire and the Albany Fish Bar, both found on Albany Road. Park House is the splash out restaurant in town and the best sushi lives at Tenkaichi on City Road.
For a see-it-to-believe-it experience, head to Chip Alley late on a Friday or Saturday night and ask for chips with curry sauce. A gourmet experience this is not but it is definitely part of the "real" Cardiff. You have been warned.
One of the best things about Cardiff is the overall creative vibe. Fancy having a go at making ceramics? Sewing? Knitting? Singing? There's a club for you. Interested in design? Plenty of handmade events and boutiques.
Wales is keen on its rugby and keener on its arts. Sir Anthony Hopkins trained in Cardiff (in the castle, no less) and Christian Bale, Charlotte Church, Richard Burton, Tom Jones and even Shirley Bassey hail from this neck of the woods.
On a smaller scale, try Chapter and The Gate or photography exhibitions, cinema screenings and live performances. Author Roald Dahl of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was baptised at the Norwegian Church, which now lives on as an Arts Centre and Cafe. Catch the big guns at the Armadillo, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff Arena, New Theatre and the Sherman. Watch surprisingly good student productions at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.
The Brecon Beacons and Gower Peninsula dazzle as nearby outdoor playgrounds but even within the city, you'll find green spaces aplenty. Watch the daffodils flutter across Roath Park in spring and share rosebud scents in summer. Take a boat onto the lake, feed the swans by the Clocktower or terrapins in Cardiff's answer to the Eden Project. Just, ahem, be warned that it's somewhat smaller than the one down in Cornwall...
With the caveat, that you have to search for your beauty in Cardiff (it is a rugby rather than fashion nation, after all) I still find stillness in my heart when I gaze at these views.
The pier in Penarth as the sun sets over the water and birds swoop down from the cliffs.
The purple-grey slates near the Armadillo during the rain and the glistening words that proclaim "In These Stones, Horizons Sing."
Just as Ireland has St Patrick's Day, so Wales has St David's Day (although, did you know that St Patrick himself was Welsh?! It came as a shock discovery to me!)
Each year, school children dress up in traditional costume and the rest of us brandish the emblems of daffodils and leeks. Eistedfodds (cultural festivals) appear across the country with plenty of music, poetry and dance. Male voice choirs have become as much a cliche as lederhosen and sausages, onions and berets, but for me, they make one of the most hauntingly beautiful sounds in the world.
Head to Penylan Pantry near leafy Waterloo Gardens to stock up on local Welsh produce in a pretty, gentrified setting.
Buy a hamper full of sustainable, local and tasty produce for a picnic in the nearby park and gardens or pull up a chair and settle in for a strong coffee.
Note - not great for toddlers as it's a small space with plenty on the shelves!
That's it! Or at least for now. If you're coming to Cardiff this weekend then I do hope that the weather behaves and that you have a great time.
If you're not, isn't it about high time you were?
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