Cool Cardiff

Discover a whole new side to the Welsh capital, courtesy of our local expert


Familiarity breeds contempt, or so the saying goes. And that goes double when you’re planning a holiday. I always thought of Cardiff as the place I grew up as an infant and a handy base to explore countryside and coast, but not as a destination in its own right.

But over the years, during periodic returns to see family, I’ve been reminded of just how much the Welsh capital has to offer.And with a series of new events and exhibitions lined up, it’s the perfect time to plan a trip to discover this for yourself.

For starters, the UK’s leading biennial exhibition and international contemporary art prize Artes Mundi is returning to National Museum Cardiff this month (as well as four other sites across Wales).

With seven artists shortlisted, the winner is due to be announced during the four-month run. There’s also a series of events and activities alongside the exhibition itself.

Elsewhere, a free display celebrates Cardiff’s old docklands at the Pierhead building on Cardiff Bay — the Tiger Bay and the Docks exhibition is running to March 2025. The historic building itself is a lovely place to get a taste of the city’s past too.

There’s plenty for foodies in Cardiff as well. DEPOT Cardiff, which has moved to larger premises in Curran Road, has its street-food kitchens open all year round, while for more street food, the rainbow-coloured shipping containers of Tiger Yard have taken over the site previously used for the Doctor Who Museum on Cardiff Bay.

There’s a new tour from Loving Welsh Food too — the City of Arcades Tasting Tour explores the city’s string of attractive arcades, while offering a variety of different foods (dietary requirements are catered for).

The Cardiff Food and Drink Festival also returned to Cardiff Bay in early July. This year’s event, which was free, featured 100 different stalls, plus live music alongside everything from artisanal ice cream to local produce and drinks.

While the city has already been named one of Europe’s greenest capitals, a project to uncover the old canal network and transform it into a new green open space is aiming to revitalise another corner of the city centre, creating a new Canal Quarter.

Due to be completed this autumn, the plans include rain gardens and natural plants to provide new relaxing spaces.

There’s also a new hotel in the city, which is the perfect base to discover Cardiff’s attractions. The Parkgate is part of the Celtic Collection, which runs Celtic Manor, the great golfing resort a half-hour drive away in the Usk Valley.

The new hotel’s majority stakeholder is the Welsh Rugby Union, which is not a surprise as you can roll out of bed and straight into the Principality Stadium, the grand palace of Welsh rugby, where Beyoncé kicked off the UK leg of her world tour earlier this year.

Combining two restored buildings — the former Post Office, which dates back to Queen’s Victoria Diamond Jubilee in 1897, and the adjoining courthouse, erected a few years later — its elegant façade of white Portland stone is a statement of civic prosperity, chiming with the nearby City Hall, National Museum of Wales and Cardiff University.

On a gabled rooftop, the statue of a miner harks back to the city’s bygone industrial age. Inside, in the lobby, however, it’s a modern scene with laptop-equipped business people meeting over coffee in the leather chairs beneath the chandelier.

The 170-room hotel’s stylish interior is well-designed and there’s a couple of bars, a gym and an outdoor terrace.

A sleek minimalism prevails, right up to the sixth-floor spa, where you can book relaxing sessions in the small hydrotherapy pool, which offers an unexpected view stretching over the rooftops to the green hills in the hinterland. Black and white photos of local sites and scenes line the corridors.

Within easy walking distance is Cardiff Castle, where one of Wales’s most famous sons, Sir Tom Jones — a former Shabbat goy for Pontypridd Synagogue — performed this summer.

And a ten-minute drive (or half-hour walk, if you feel so inclined) will bring you to the restaurants and cafes of Cardiff Bay, regenerated from a derelict dockland some 30 years ago.

Architecturally, it is a bit of a hodge-podge but there’s plenty to discover, including the Millennium Centre, a mighty whale of a building with its arching copper-coloured dome that’s home of the Welsh National Opera, the Welsh Senedd and, in neighbouring Mermaid Bay, the Techniquest interactive science centre.

Expanded three years ago, you can now experience an earthquake simulator, try your hand at being a surgeon in a virtual operation and learn how to make a firework.

And sci-fi buffs can pay their respects at the shrine to Ianto Jones, a character from the Doctor Who spin-off series Torchwood, which was filmed locally. While you’re in Mermaid Bay, be sure to stop off at the Fabulous Welshcakes store, where the eponymous treats can be bought hot off the griddle in a variety of flavours.

Across the bay on a promontory, El Puerto is a fish restaurant that has long been a family favourite of ours. Steaks of hake and tuna wait appetisingly on ice in the counter for you to choose.

What better way to spend a leisurely lunch than cracking into the crusty armour of a sea bream baked in salt and watching the sun glint off the Millennium Centre over the water as you eat?

And if you want to walk off your meal, you can take a stroll over the barrage with the bay to the left and the Severn Estuary to the right. But after a day on foot, the comfort of our room at the Parkgate, styled in what my wife described as “masculine colours” of blue and brown and furnished cleverly to make the most of the narrow space, was especially welcome.

So was dinner in the hotel’s wood-panelled Sorting Room restaurant, featuring local produce such as whisky-smoked salmon or a mushroom, leek and cheddar pie in a gravy of Welsh ale.

Vegetarians and vegans are generally well catered for; my broad bean and asparagus risotto was appealingly flavoured with vegan cheese and mint, while on the Cwrts Terrace, you can order snacks such as tempura vegetables or sesame cauliflower wings with a Thai dipping sauce. The vegetarian cheese board in the bar also includes a splendid blue from Perl Las in Carmarthenshire.

While you can still buy some kosher food in the city, sadly there are no longer any kosher stores any more. Cardiff’s Jewish population is a fraction of what it was in my childhood, although it still has both an Orthodox and a Reform synagogue.

One of my fondest memories is collecting the eggs for the chicken soup — worth more than any bag of gold — in my cousin’s sawdust-lined butcher’s shop.

But while that Cardiff may be long gone, that’s all the more reason to return and discover the newest attractions. For once, familiarity breeds a desire to see more.

Getting There

Rooms at Parkgate Hotel cost from £94 per night.

Artes Mundi runs from October 20 to February 25, 2024.

Loving Welsh Food City of Arcades tour costs £67.50.

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