World Facts Index > United Kingdom > Cardiff

Wales has undergone many changes in the last decade and nowhere is this more apparent than the transformation of the capital city, Cardiff. There are plenty of places to visit and enjoy, from the cosmopolitan city centre to the scenic Vale of Glamorgan and surrounding countryside.

City Centre
An excellent starting point is Cardiff Central Station, newly renovated in sandblasted brick, and the Tourist Information Office which has details of current events, festivals and concerts.

Step out of the station and turn right, towards St Mary Street, one of the oldest streets in the city. Some of its early architecture is still intact, as are the classic old shopping arcades and the grand House of Fraser department store. Next call in at the old indoor market opened in 1891 which retains its original roof and d├ęcor, and has the stalls placed in the same positions as they were the first day of trading. Local delicacies, such as cheeses, meats and wines, are on sale here at a very reasonable price.

Coming out of the market cross St John Square past the 15th century church of St John the Baptist. The magnificent bell tower has views of Castell Coch (Red Castle) and beyond. You may prefer to sample the delightful selection of restaurants here which offer Italian, Chinese and American food enjoyed inside or en terrasse. Continue south to the top of Queen Street, a pedestrianised shopping centre, complete with cafes, pubs, restaurants, indoor shopping, famous name brands and bargains galore. If you prefer history then turn back towards Cardiff Castle, a Norman fortification built in the 11th century. For a small entry fee take a tour of the castle gardens and keep, sit in the famous banqueting hall or walk along the battlements. To learn more about the historic growth of Cardiff from small town to major iron and coal exporting port, jump on one of the open air City Tour buses outside the castle entrance - an excellent way to see Alexandra Gardens, Cardiff Bay and the Millennium Stadium.

Alexandra Gardens
To visit Alexandra Gardens on foot simply take the subway under the Boulevard de Nantes and you will surface directly in front of Cardiff Crown Court, Cardiff City Hall and the National Museum of Wales. These impressive white stone buildings date from 1904 and were built by Turners.

The gardens are behind the civic buildings and at their centre stands a beautiful war memorial. For a pleasant walk, cross North Road into Coopers Field and follow the footpath over the bridge, along the banks of the River Taff, past the National Institute of Sport and Glamorgan County Cricket ground to Pontcanna Fields and Black Weir.

Keen ramblers may decide to continue walking through Pontcanna Fields and across the A48 to reach the ancient cathedral city of Llandaff, a peaceful village complete with village green and tea rooms. Stop at Llandaff Cathedral, which dates from the sixth century, and marvel at the world famous Epstein statue, 'Christ in Majesty', or take a rest in the Bishop's Palace. You may even bump into singer Charlotte Church, a pupil at nearby Howells Girls School!

Cardiff Bay and Atlantic Wharf
The bay is not easily accessible by foot but does have a regular bus service, train service and car parks. The oldest part is the Queen Alexandra Dock - opened in 1907 by King Edward the Seventh, Queen Alexandra and Princess Victoria. More information on the redevelopment of the Cardiff Docklands is available at the Cardiff Bay Visitor Centre. Also worth seeing are the National Assembly for Wales, the Norwegian Church Arts Centre, and the Welsh Industrial and Maritime Museum. For an authentic experience of the old docks have a drink at the Red House Pub which looks out across the Penarth flats and is popular with the local fishermen. Or try one of the many new restaurants or pubs.

Bustling Cowbridge Road East runs through Canton and up towards Ely. It is always alive with new sights, sounds and cuisine, and is a popular choice with the locals for shopping. Just off the main road past the library, experience Chapter Arts Centre, where all manner of artists, poets, dancers and independent theatre companies showcase their work.

Outside the city centre go east along Newport Road, take a left turn into Albany Road which has all the character of a busy high street. Further down the street check out Wellfield Road for fashionable hairdressers, cosy cafes, and boutiques selling top designer names. Indulge in an ice-cream at Thayers and stroll on towards Roath Park Lake with its resident bird community and rowing boats for hire.

History of Cardiff

Habitation of Wales can be traced back to 600 BC with the arrival of the Celts from Europe. But it was the Romans who put Cardiff itself on the map by building a fort here in AD 75.

The Normans took over in the 12th century, building Cardiff Castle on the same site.

Cardiff remained quite a small entity for the next few centuries - like much of the rest of Wales it relied on the coal and iron industries.

The opening of the Taff Vale Railway in 1841 linked Cardiff with Merthyr Tydfil - the largest iron producing area in the world - such that goods could be transported in less than an hour. This revolutionised the exportation of Welsh coal and catapulted Cardiff to the forefront of the industry.

The opening of the East Dock in 1859 reflected Cardiff's flourishing trade status and resulting population expansion to 33,000.

The 20th century saw the building of the City Hall, the National Museum of Wales and the Welsh Office, and then in 1955, it was made the official capital of Wales.

Despite the collapse of many of the industries upon which it has traditionally relied, the end of the 20th century has proved to be an exciting period for Wales. In 1999, Cardiff became the home of the independent Welsh Assembly - a body with many powers, made up of Welsh people to govern Welsh people.


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