Why you should be visiting the UK’s other capitals – Cardiff
London sits comfortably atop the table of most visited cities in the world; and with its countless sights it’s really not hard to know why. Like really, is there a more famous clocktower than Big Ben? Or a better-known Royal family than the Royal Family? In fact, London’s iconic landmarks, including its modes of transport – double-deckers, anyone? – have become synonymous with Britain and Britishness.
Yet, London is but one of the UK’s many and varied cities, actually, it is but one of four capitals in the land. The ‘home countries’ of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland each proudly host their own capital cities. And each of these are as much a beacon of their nation’s culture, as an intrinsic component of Britishness. Whether it’s the swaying of kilts in Edinburgh, a love of choirs in Cardiff, or a proud shipping heritage in Belfast, there’s plenty to explore in these Great British capitals. So, if you’re planning on making a trip to the UK, think outside the (London) box and consider visiting Edinburgh, Cardiff, and/or Belfast instead.
Latched on to the western coast of Great Britain is the ancient land of Wales; world record holder for the town with the longest name, ‘Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch’, and famous for its sheep-to-human ratio (now around 3:1). But Wales is much, much more, and Cardiff is testament to this. In this vibrant coastal capital, you can immerse yourself in everything Welsh. Whether that be the listening to the rhythmic waves of the consonant-heavy language, watching a game of Rugby at the pub, or indulging in some Glamorgan sausage or Cawl at a typical eatery.
Whereas Cardiff’s sister Edinburgh (see article here) has been recognised as Scottish capital for well over 600 years, the Welsh city has held the title for little more than half a century. Fun fact, at the time of choosing a capital city for Wales in the 1950s, Cardiff itself was reluctant to pick up the mantel, having to be convinced by the rest of the country after initially rejecting the proposal. This isn’t too surprising; go back two hundred years and where Cardiff stands today, you’d find a small coastal town of a few thousand plying their trade. The industrial revolution and the demand for coal transformed the town beyond recognition into one of the globe’s most important commercial ports. In any case, the city has now fully embraced its role as capital of Wales, which is what makes visiting Cardiff an absolute must.
The City Centre
The city centre revolves around the perpendicular St Mary Street/High Street and Queen Street, both of which are interwoven by smaller lanes and alleys. Keep your eyes peeled for bilingual (English/Welsh) street signs. These streets are awash with an impressively wide selection of Highstreet shops and restaurants – visit R.P Culley’s for an authentic taste of Wales – and in being perfectly manageable on foot, allow shopping and dining to flow effortlessly from your daily adventures. Speaking of adventure, Cardiff’s crowning jewel is the imposing Cardiff Castle, conveniently located where the High Street and Queen Street meet.
The site of the Castle has hosted a fort/castle since the Roman period, traces of which still remain within the grounds. The later Norman keep still stands in the heart of the grounds, but it is the Gothic Revival renovations carried out by the 3rd Marquess of Bute in the 19th century, that form the bulk of the Castle we see today. The lavish interiors have all been maintained exquisitely by the National Trust, and offer a truly magical experience – the fusion Gothic-Arabic craft work of the Arab Room’s ceiling alone makes visiting a must. You also cannot miss the curious ‘Animal Wall’ further west on Castle Street, where you will be met by stone animals perched along the wall.
Apart from the Castle and walls, Cardiff hosts a few museums and cultural centres which come together to reveal the fascinating history of both the city (especially at the Museum of Cardiff – free entry) and Wales itself (St Fagans National Museum of History – Wales’s most visited heritage attraction).
Waterfront and Choirs
Moving from the old to the new, the superbly redeveloped Cardiff Bay waterfront is ideal for strolling on a somnolent summer’s day. Amongst other things, the bay hosts the Wales Assembly building, BBC Studios Wales, the Millennium Centre, a selection of restaurants. In fact, its coastal location makes Cardiff an ideal summer destination.
Oh, and you cannot be visiting Cardiff without hearing one of Wale’s famed male choirs. Wales has long been associated with male choirs, who frequently grace theatres, halls and other venues across Cardiff. So be sure to get your hands on some tickets, because you are guaranteed an experience that will last a lifetime.
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