- The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. Marcel Proust
Cardiff (or Caerdydd in Welsh) became the official capital of Wales (Cymru) in 1956. Located on the wide estuary of the Severn and traversed by the smaller rivers Taff and Rhymmey, the city has long been an important port. And thanks to its role as the cultural and economic center of the country, it makes an excellent base from which to explore South Wales.
Cardiff offers a wide range of entertainment opportunities, numerous well-attended festivals and a variety of sports facilities, including award winning golf courses. Its well-preserved Victorian arcades and streetscapes are fun to explore, and are home to excellent shopping and dining opportunities.
Located in the center of the city, Cardiff Castle stands on a site once occupied by a Roman fort, parts of which (the walls, 4th century polygon bastions and the north gate) have been preserved and partially restored. The castle is in fact three fortresses in one. A new castle was built in 1090 on an artificial moat, and a range of richly decorated buildings added later (the whole complex was rebuilt at vast expense between 1865 and 1920). Highlights include the State Apartments, the Clock Tower, the Chapel and a spectacular Banqueting Hall with murals telling the tales of Robert the Consul and a huge ornate fireplace. Time your visit right, and you'll be rewarded with a chance to witness jousting tournaments, medieval markets and other fun events.
Widely regarded as the most successful in Britain, the superb Cardiff Bay redevelopment covers nearly 2,700 acres of former dockland and is home to high-end housing, offices, hotels, restaurants, theaters, sports grounds and numerous parks. Highlights of a visit include the redbrick Pierhead Building, built in 1897 and now home to displays relating to the history of Wales, and Mermaid Quay with its trendy restaurants, cafés and boutiques.
It's also where you'll find the Senedd, the architecturally pleasing new home of the National Assembly for Wales, as well as the wonderful Norwegian Church, an arts center and concert venue in a former church often visited by Roald Dahl. (The writer's importance to the city is widely recognized, and includes Roald Dahl Plass, a large public plaza notable for its summer concerts.) Cardiff Bay is also where you'll find Techniquest, a fun hands-on science center featuring a planetarium and theatre.
St Fagans National History Museum
Set in exceptionally beautiful parkland 4 mi west of Cardiff, this superb open-air museum is one of Wales' most popular attractions and has an intriguing collection of buildings that includes cottages, farmhouses, workshops and mills. Also on display are its lovely traditional gardens, along with costumes, tools and machinery. All of it adds up to a fun experience that brings the living and working conditions of the past vividly to life. Special events take place during the May Fair, Mid-Summer Festival, Harvest Festival and Christmas Festival.
Situated just 7 mi north of Cardiff, Caerphilly Castle was built in 1628 to consolidate England's grip on the area. The castle, the largest in wales, boasts the most elaborate defensive system of any British castle. Enlarged several times, it has two impressive drawbridges, massive walls, round towers and a moat. Also on display are four full-size replicas of medieval artillery pieces. Exhibits inside include details of its involvement in the wars between the Welsh and the English. And for a truly inspiring view of the fortress, tourists can take a boat trip across its lake.
National Museum of Cardiff
Located in Cardiff's spectacular Civic Centre, the National Museum of Cardiff (part of the National Museums of Wales group) houses the country's archaeology, geology, art and natural history collections. The Evolution of Wales exhibit takes visitors on a 4.5 million-year voyage that includes the many dinosaurs that once roamed the country. The museum's displays of fossils and Bronze Age weapons are also noteworthy. Another highlight of your visit should be the museum's superb Art Gallery, including fine collections of paintings, sculpture and ceramics spanning five centuries. Of particular note is its collection of Impressionist art, including work by Picasso, Rodin and Monet.
Doctor Who Experience
One of Cardiff Bay's newest attractions (and rapidly becoming one of its most popular) is the Doctor Who Experience. Focusing on the 40-plus-year-old BBC television show that's now popular in North America, this fun interactive exhibit begins with a short film followed by an invitation to join the Doctor in his Tardis: his famously larger-on-the-inside-than-it-is-on-the-outside time travel machine. The adventure includes his most dastardly archenemy, the villainous Daleks. Guests can also wander two floors brimming with Doctor Who paraphernalia including costumes and film props. Afterwards, pay a visit to the neighboring World of Boats with its unique collection of vessels from around the globe.
Millennium Stadium at Cardiff Arms Park is one the country's most advanced sports venues, and is a particular favorite amongst rugby fans. The facility boasts a retractable roof and a broad range of other events such as music concerts and motorsports. Fun sightseeing tour options are available that take in the Press Conference Suite and VIP lounges and boxes, the Welsh national rugby team's dressing rooms, and a chance to walk the players' tunnel onto the turf.