I first visited Cardiff with my mother. We used to take mini- breaks together when I lived at home as my dad really didn’t like going away. It was back in the day when an actual living, breathing travel agent booked your trip or you filled out a form in the local newspaper. Last weekend my eldest and I spent 23 and a half hours in Cardiff so he could visit the Metropolitan University open day.
I’ve been back to Cardiff many times since that first visit with my mother, largely thanks to my job in school. (School trips – definitely a plus of being a teaching assistant.) Chris and I took the boys there a few years ago and my eldest liked it so much he is now thinking he may like to study there. So, it was with a touch of nostalgia that I booked overnight accommodation in the Angel Hotel – the same hotel I had stayed in with my mother 30 years ago.
The Angel Hotel, Cardiff
The Angel Hotel (part of the Cairn Collection of hotels) is very conveniently situated right by Cardiff Castle and within spitting distance of the Principality Stadium. I would imagine that you run the risk of singeing your eyebrows when they light the flares in the Stadium – it’s THAT close. It’s a lovely looking hotel and it’s sweeping dual staircase is very impressive. The hotel has had a refurb in recent years but the Victorian elegance remains both in the public rooms and guest suites.
Incidentally, tours of the Stadium are a brilliant way to spend a few hours. The Principality has the ‘Wow’ factor that’s for sure. It’s just a shame they don’t let off the flares! Experience the insider’s view of the dressing rooms and the hospitality suites and imagine what it must be like on match days. If you’re Welsh, it gives you goosebumps of pride.
Turning right out of the hotel leads you to the busy city centre with all the usual shops in a pedestrianised area. I was excited to see lots of arcades with many small independent shops- so rare these days- selling everything from fashion to food. As we made our way through these delights, we came across another shopping experience. The St David’s Shopping Centre spreads out over a large part of the centre. All you could want shopping-wise is here.
During a previous visit I remember there was a quaint Christmas market; lots of little wooden huts selling handicrafts and scrummy things to eat. The Christmas lights were beautiful. The city has a mixture of old and modern buildings which gives Cardiff a certain charm, especially when it’s decorated for Christmas.
Anyway, we ended up in Wagamama, that traditional Welsh restaurant(!). There are plenty of restaurants and pubs to choose from here and resisting the temptation to indulge in the latter, we made it back to the hotel with some Wispa bars and Haribos. Living the high life!
On Saturday we packed up (I wish we’d had another night here, the hotel was so good), and headed off to Cardiff Met for the open day. Now I realise that you would perhaps not be visiting this particular establishment, so I’ll tell you about a few other attractions Cardiff has to offer for a short break.
You may also enjoy my post about Dublin short breaks here.
Cardiff Bay is a pleasant walk or a short bus journey away from the centre. There’s plenty to do whiling away some time. Take a boat trip around the bay perhaps. Walk through Roald Dahl Plass with it’s impressive water feature/sculpture and you will see plenty of boat companies just waiting to take you out on the water ahead of you.
The Norwegian Church in the Bay
The Bay also has a large Techniquest which, over 2 floors, houses innumerable interactive scientific exhibitions. It’s great fun and provides ‘Wow!’ moments aplenty. It’s not just for children! They have a decent cafe and a well stocked shop.
The Senedd (the National Assembly for Wales) is here too. If you plan a visit, bookings for the public gallery can be made up to 3 weeks in advance. If that’s not your thing, the building is beautiful and well worth a visit anyway. You will be scanned ‘airport style’ on the way in and have your bag checked. They have a cafe and more information about a visit can be found here.
Venturing out of Cardiff
My next two recommendations aren’t in the centre itself. I could quite easily while away a whole day in both but recommend at least a half day for each. I like to take my time visiting historical sites and fully immerse myself in the stories of the past.
The Big Pit
I’ve been lucky enough to ‘go down ‘pit’. I’ve taken the Underground Tour at The Big Pit at Blaenafon, Torfaen in South Wales three times! It’s about 30 miles north of Cardiff and would probably take 50 minutes to get there by car. The Big Pit is the National Coal Museum of Wales. Descend 300 feet to the place where miners worked at the coal face!
It’s a fascinating place and extremely atmospheric. It’s dark, chilly, echoing and a bit eerie. It doesn’t take much to imagine what working in a place like that would have been like. The tour takes you through the mine, feeling the cool air from the ventilation shafts on your face, feeling the weight of your gas mask strapped round your waist and hearing the echoing sounds of miners past singing and laughing in that sunless world. The tour guides are ex-miners – who better to give you an insight into life 300 feet below the earth’s surface.
The Underground Tour isn’t the only thing to do here. There’s a coal face reconstruction exhibition which houses some ferocious looking machinery. Videos tell you about the miners who worked here and what their typical shift would have been like. Venture into the showers (where things are a bit ‘cheeky’) and walk up to the highest point of the colliery for a breathtaking view.
All this and a cafe too. And a shop (which you have to walk through to get out-a Disney classic). Oh and entry is free by the way. More info on their site here.
St Fagans National Museum of History
I can’t believe that we are lucky enough to have such a brilliant museum here in Wales. Approximately 15 minutes away from Cardiff, this place is unique. And it’s free entry! Recently expanded with spacious and airy galleries, I would recommend a walk round St Fagans.
The buildings of the past look like they’ve always been here. Painstakingly re-erected the houses, school and churches now form a small village. There’s even a bakery selling freshly baked loaves. Lambs skip about the fields and I’m only grateful that they don’t put on a cock-fight to really immerse you in the experience!
Watch your ‘p’s and ‘q’s!
My favourite building in St Fagans is the mill. The miller who has been ‘working’ there on my last two visits was such a personable chap. He was a good speaker and engaged our little group of school children with his tales and demonstrations. It smelled nice in there too!
The museum has knowledgeable staff who need to be approached for information. They weren’t pushy and neither did they keep you talking longer than was necessary. The story of St Teilo’s Church is amazing. It’s hard to believe that churches were like this before Henry VIII got his hands on them. St Teilo’s looks Scandinavian, not Welsh – quite bizarre.
Not St Teilo’s Church
Plan a visit here and find out more information at their site here.
So there you have it. Cardiff is a super short break destination and my eldest and I thoroughly recommend it. We are slightly biased being Welsh I suppose! It’s such an easy city to get around as it’s compact. Lots of shopping, culture and sport.
Until next time… Hwyl Fawr!