Wales might not be the first place that springs to mind when you think of going on holiday, and Cardiff might not strike you as the place to go for a city break, but the delights that await those who take a short hop across the Irish Sea are many and varied.
I am a regular visitor to the capital of Wales. My boyfriend recently moved to Cardiff, and every visit together feels like a mini-holiday. Highlights of the city include an elaborate and historical castle, beautiful gardens, and a two-storey carousel.
Flights to Cardiff start somewhere in the region of €100. When I visit, I fly to Bristol (off-peak flights with Ryanair can be as little as €15) and get a bus from the airport to Cardiff for €15. The journey from Bristol to Cardiff is filled with spectacular views. A quick loop around the Bristol area offers a view of the Clifton suspension bridge which spans the Avon Gorge. Driving below, within the Gorge, you are enclosed on either side by steep cliff faces, with a view of the River Avon beside you.
Entering Wales from England, the bus drives along the Severn Bridge (“Pont Hafren” in Welsh). This bridge is almost two kilometres in length and spans the River Severn and the River Aust. The views of the rivers are striking, especially when you see the sunlight sparkling on the river-waters. Total travel time from the airport to Cardiff is roughly one hour.
Hopping off the bus, you walk across the Millennium bridge, a quaint red and white footbridge over a little river, and enter the magnificent Bute Park gardens. During Spring and Summer, the garden is full of vibrant colour as flowers bloom everywhere around you. Trees loom above you, their branches stretching high into the sky, and in Autumn result in piles of fiery orange and crisp red, crunchy leaves, which are wonderful for jumping into.
Scampering constantly here and there are grey squirrels. At first you don’t notice their presence, and once you catch a glimpse of one, suddenly you realise that they’re everywhere around you. Hiding behind tree trunks, searching in the grass, even running out in front of you.
As you walk through the park, the trees will become sparser, and castle walls will loom before you.
The four walls of Cardiff Castle are perhaps one of its most interesting features. They have been built, re-built, and built upon so that stories of the history of the city are hidden beneath them. The Animal wall is topped with stone sculptures of 15 animals including a wolf, lynx, pelican, and ant-eater. The animals appear as though they are climbing over the wall, ready to pounce on passers-by, or anyone attempting to attack the castle.
“The exhibit features fossilised remains and castes of baby dinosaurs and discusses how palaeontologists can learn about dinosaur development from these fossils.”
Entry to the castle is a whopping £23, but is worth the price if you make time to spend a few hours inside.
Once inside the walls, the first object that captures your attention is a motte and bailey. The castle keep was built in the 11th century and is preserved to this day. It is possible to climb the steps all the way to the top of the keep and you are awarded for your efforts with a 360° view of Cardiff City.
It is possible to walk most of the way along the tops of the four castle walls, and even climb down into the wall interiors. The upper walls were built on top of the remains of Roman walls, which were adapted for use as air-raid shelters during World War II. The castle that stands today, is incorporated into the castle walls, and can be visited by guided tour for an extra £5.
Cardiff is full of beautiful old buildings, and in the University quarter of the city, these buildings house the Welsh Parliament, Cardiff University, and the National Museum of Cardiff.
A recent visit to Cardiff took me to the National Museum where I visited their current “Baby Dinosaurs” exhibit. This exhibit features fossilised remains and casts of baby dinosaurs and discusses how palaeontologists can learn about dinosaur development from these fossils. Continuing on within the museum, more dinosaur remains were to be found, along with fossils and models.
The museum takes you through the geological history of the Earth’s evolution. Special viewing areas were designed to resemble volcanoes, or the night sky, with projected videos on the walls giving an immersive learning experience.
Walking around Cardiff city, there’s plenty to see. The shopping areas are all close together and make for pleasant walks through large pedestrianized areas. The presence of a giant two-storey carousel near the main shopping centre gives a Victorian vibe to a modern area and adds a splash of incredible beauty.
“The presence of a giant two-storey carousel near the main shopping centre gives a Victorian vibe to a modern area and adds a splash of incredible beauty.”
Along with two large shopping centres in the heart of the city, Cardiff has smaller arcades, the most beautiful of which is the Castle Arcade with it’s balconies, high ceilings, a secretive-looking violin shop, and a bakery with a live-in dog.
Everywhere in Cardiff is steeped with Welsh culture, Welsh is written in shops and signs more than Irish features in Ireland. The history is evident along every street, and the city has a cosy, welcoming atmosphere.