Let’s get the bias out of the way at the start: I love the city of Cardiff and am proud to call it home.
For some reason, Cardiff’s reputation doesn’t blaze on the world stage in the same way that other fine cities do. And in the UK, in particular, you’ll often hear nasty things said about it (my record-keeping on such anecdotes has a one to one match between slurs made and people who have actually never been here.)
Bah, humbug. Yes of course, the capital of Wales doesn’t gleam with glass and growth like the global giants of New York, Tokyo, Singapore.
And yes, compared to pretty-gritty London, Paris, Barcelona and Rome, there’s not the weight of history and cutting edge design.
But how about Dublin? Everyone loves her, even though she’s small and has weather that fits with the rest of the British Isles (occasional splashes of sunshine lashed together with moody, gloomy grey.) She has culture, music, spirit, survival, sport and an outdoors that’s wild and waiting to be reckoned with.
So, too, does Cardiff.
I’ve been promising to write about this city for ages now, but you know how it is. Yet, this weekend, a host of colleagues are heading in to town. Their diaries will be full, I’m sure, with the usual highlights: the Bay, the Gower, the Castle, Millennium Stadium (sadly rebranded in crushing corporate form) and the covered markets calling out for cockles and laverbread.
But how about the hidden Cardiff, the unusual things to do?
Let me let you in on a few secrets and some of my favourite things to do in Cardiff.
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 29 Park Place is a newish bar on the block. 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.
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?
All other photos my own…Mostly from my phone while I’ve been snapping away on “off work” mode out and about.