Five people, one capital city, eight hours.
We recently took a trip to Cardiff. It turned out to be a whistle stop, flying by the seat of our pants day. It wasn’t supposed to be, we had best laid plans but they went astray. I won’t bore with the details, let me just say this; it was our first overnight family trip since lockdown and I think we were a bit rusty. Some things just didn’t come together. But that’s OK. These things happen. We rescued it.
Anyway… Cardiff. By the time we arrived we worked out we had about eight hours to get the city under our belts, and in that we needed to get an evening meal. Not easy- especially not on a Saturday, and the first weekend the pubs were open at that- but not impossible. Oh, and throw in some changing weather to keep it interesting. See below, how it started to how it went.
So, exploring the Welsh capital meant carving it up a bit like this…
The History Bit
Arcades. Not the flashing, bleeping video game type ( although there is a place in my heart for a bit of retro gaming) but the gorgeous Victorian or Edwardian architectural type. I love them. Partly because I’m an old soul and I love the feeling of a bygone era that these places conjure up. And partly because , where ever you find them, historic arcades create a haven for independent stores and eateries.
For the shoppers, wanderers and daydreamers they are beautiful places to browse, full of period features and pretty details. The shopfronts, the hanging lamps, the glass ceilings…be still my beating heart. They also make a good place to get out of the rain. When it rains in Cardiff, it really does come down.
Out of the arcades and down a shopping street we came across another historical gem. A vintage carousel. Gorgeous, isn’t it? When we settle down somewhere, I’d love a vintage carousel horse as a home decor statement piece. For now, I’ll just be found gazing adoringly at them where ever I find them on my travels.
Arcades wandered and carousel gazed at, our wanderings brought us out at the edge of the Castle Quarter. Cardiff Castle looks beautiful inside and out but was covid closed. Next time. We did stop here for coffee and donuts though. Pit stop with a view.
The Outdoorsy Bit
I love a city break, but I’m an outdoorsy girl at heart. I can only take so much of the pavements and people. Hence every city break involves a diversion to a park or green space. Cardiff is no exception in that and it delivered a beautiful park.
Bute Park earned its title from the family of the same name who, upon inheriting the castle, set about turning the grounds into parkland that would eventually be gifted to the people of the city. The 130 acre park is now home to wildlife, a sculpture trail, ruins, cafes, a river… I could go on and on. Being tight on time, we only saw a fraction of it. We could definitely re-visit and find new paths, new views.
Bute Park is beautiful and I’d highly recommend it to any Cardiff visitor, but its most unique feature is actually one of its boundaries. The Animal Wall was originally part of the castle gardens and designed with nine animals to sit guard upon it. The wall was moved in the 1930s and now features fifteen animals. Including a wolf with a passing resemblance to my own Little Wolf. Nice touch.
The Where It All Began Bit
Couldn’t visit Cardiff without visiting Cardiff Bay. This is where it all began. The Industrial Revolution was a catalyst for the building of the docks and trade through the port propelled Cardiff from a small Welsh town into a maritime giant and capital city in waiting.
After a few rises and falls in its fortunes, the Bay area is now a place to be. It’s home to Mermaid Quays, a vibrant area with plenty of places to eat, drink and people watch. There’s a bit of an old-new blend here, with the gothic Pierhead building standing beside modern and colourful venues. One of those venues happened to be Nandos, meaning I got my first
ovepriced chicken peri peri fix in over a year. It was delicious.
With limited seating available, we were looking at an hour long wait for a table. It’s hard getting used to the idea you need to book everything. Didn’t fancy that so we ordered takeaway and used the wait time to wander down the bay and see the Norwegian Church. After the buzz of the bars and cafes at one end of the bay, the pretty little church stuns you with simplicity.
Now an arts centre and cafe, the church was built to serve Norwegian sailors who laid down roots in Cardiff in the 1900s. In WW2 it opened the doors to Norwegians who couldn’t return home due to Nazi occupation. Sadly, as the docks declined the church fell out of use and it entered the 1980’s de-consecrated, vandalised and at threat of being swept away by redevelopment.
Amazingly, the church was saved. A joint effort between the local community and supporters in Norway saw the whole thing dismantled and stored. When the dockland area was redeveloped, the port donated a plot of land to enable the church to be rebuilt. Strange but true: when the church was first built, that was on a plot of land donated by the Marquess of Bute. It has come full circle and I’m glad it did.
Happy ending for the church, happy ending for us. We finished our day where the city began, with a take out Nandos eaten by the bay before heading off to our Airbnb. Perfect end to an imperfect day.
I’d recommend Cardiff if you’re looking for staycation inspiration this Summer. I’d love to know which UK destinations you recommend, particularly in Wales and South West England. Lets chat in the comments.