Discover Cardiff’s gaudy castles, wild countryside and sizzling nightlife WORDS PHILLIP TANG
ardiff doesn’t know who it is yet, which is part of the charm of a pre-boom city. The Welsh capital is dominated by Cardiff castle, which sprawls out into the city centre. At the entrance of the 2000-year-old estate, the masonry joins clearly show where Roman
and Norman styles butted heads. We laugh out loud at the interior when we step inside, as it is dripping in Victorian bling. The rooms are heavily decorated with marble, polished wood, chandeliers and the astrological whirl of black and gold. The many rooms eventually lead out to the castle grounds,
where peacocks wander around, and we feel like we are in Alice’s Wonderland.
A DESIGN FOR LIFE The gaudiness is ‘so bad it’s good’, but it makes my head spin, so we head to the city centre. Cardiff is undergoing a facelift to look younger and more party-ready, yet
SHORT BREAK JURASSIC ART FOSSIL COLLECTING IN PENARTH
James O Davies, Getty Images, visitcardiff.com, TNT Images
the streets remain spacious and empty. There is a buzz, though it feels elusive. Spillers Records – the oldest record store in the world, established in 1894 by Henry Spiller – calls us in. In Cardiff Castle, a harp would have provided the perfect soundtrack; now the record player is spinning out Manic Street Preachers – who started out busking in Cardiff.
TIME AND SPACE According to those in the know, Cardiff Bay is at the centre of the action, so we stroll along to the sparkling waters. Wales Millennium Centre, squatting like a giant beetle, is a slate, iron and glass building that signals a monumental future for the city. No wonder it’s a regular backdrop for TV series Doctor Who. If there is a time vortex in Cardiff Bay, the Norwegian Church has definitely slipped through it. The ghostly white and black church ponders the new builds across the bay, but for the moment, it’s an arts centre. Our guide insists it’s a perfect place to try a pint of the über-Welsh SA Gold (Skull Attack to locals), and he is right. INTO THE WILD Cardiff is surrounded by wild Welsh countryside, so we rent
Buzzing : city revellers
bikes and ride along the flat Taff Trail; I’m surprised by how quickly we’re alongside a bubbling brook. We find Castell Coch, a fairytale building from the 1870s that was built for love, and even has a drawbridge.
MASH UP At night in Cardiff, that buzz is back. We pass over the tacky city centre, go through gay Charles Street and head back to the bay. Here the pubs and bars feel Welsh and the cocktails are coloured with local charm. Clwb ifor bach (Welsh Club) is strongly Welsh, feels like a cave and is superbly cool, with something for everyone on different nights, from electro to goth. Cardiff’s identity is as mixed as the music – city among the trees, castle among the city. As we dance, we feel like we could be in a London club, but with drinks this cheap, the mish-mash of haircuts around us, plus the sing-song of Welsh, we can only be in Cardiff.
Perfect sustenance: head to the pier for fish and chips
TNT online For a full travel guide on visiting Wales go to tntmagazine.com
NEED TO KNOW
Still spinning: the world’s oldest record store
WHEN TO GO The best time to visit is GETTING AROUND Cardiff is well served May and September when it’s warm, by buses, local rail and taxis. but you avoid the school crowd. GOING OUT A beer costs October to January is wet. from £2-3. Clwb ifor bach GETTING THERE National offers bottles of beer Express runs a frequent for £1. coach service to Cardiff ACCOMMODATION from London (three WALES ENGLAND A bed in a dorm costs hours), which costs from from £19, a double £14 return. Hire a car at room in a hotel costs Cardiff easycar.com/tntmagazine from £50. for a 5 per cent discount. SEE visitwales.co.uk
Magnificent: Wales Millennium Centre
The best souvenir to take home is a piece of ancient Wales itself. Wander the foreshore in Penarth, a seaside resort 8km from Cardiff, searching for fossils that have been shed from the immense curtain of eroding cliff face. You don’t need tools to pick up gastropods, brachiopods, stone shells and red boulders from the Triassic period, or Jurassic rocks, and you are free to take home whatever you find. Overturn a stone and you might discover the imprint of a worm that wriggled across its surface millions of years ago. If you’re feeling active, bring a hammer and chisel to hack into boulders and reveal a world frozen in time, then compare your prizes over fi sh and chips on the pier. The Penarth Esplanade is also worth checking out, as is the nearby Penarth village, which is old-fashioned and charming with its Victorian terraces and peaceful parks, giving it the name ‘garden by the sea’.