Wales: Insider tips for Cardiff

By Hywel Griffith

Cardiff Bay. Photo / 123RF
Cardiff Bay. Photo / 123RF

What is Cardiff's best-kept secret?
Its bakeries — whether you crave handmade pies, Portuguese custard tarts, Danish snegls or fresh french patisseries, there is plenty to choose from. Cardiff is having a baking boom and there are always new places to try. Just arrive hungry.

When is the best time to visit Cardiff?
Match day is always pretty lively — that normally means the rugby Six Nations in February/March or when the southern hemisphere teams visit in November. You don't necessarily need to fork out for a ticket to enjoy the experience — crowding around a TV screen in a Cardiff pub can be just as fun, provided Wales win of course!

Where should visitors base themselves?
Pontcanna is a suburb just to the west of the city centre, with lots of nice cafes and pubs, alongside lots of parkland. Pontcanna Fields are part of a huge green space that stretches to the city — you can stroll through to reach the centre in 15 minutes, stopping to pick up a coffee on the way.

What are the top things to do in Cardiff?
Take a walk into Bute Park behind Cardiff Castle and then catch one of the riverboats down to the bay.

It takes you towards the old docks, once the largest in the world. Much of the area has now been redeveloped, becoming home to the National Assembly of Wales and the Millennium Centre opera house — both architecturally significant and very visitor friendly.

What is your favourite pub in Cardiff?
Any of the craft brewery places on Westgate St, opposite the national stadium. So called "real ales" used to be the preserve of beer bores, now everyone wants to drink something local.

And your favourite restaurant?
There are a handful of fine-dining restaurants but don't come here searching for Michelin stars. But what the city does really well is good-value neighbourhood restaurants — go to Canton for Thai, Japanese and Indian restaurants or City Rd for Middle Eastern food. In summer there's also a really good pop-up street-food scene, when you can try a bit of everything.

A good venue for live music?
The one place you're certain to hear something different is Clwb Ifor Bach on Womanby St. Bands like the Super Furry Animals came out of the music scene here and plenty of young bands play Clwb before making it big. The SWN festival in October is a good way to find something you like — with dozens of bands playing across the city.

Are there any must-see museums or art galleries?
Whenever we have visitors we always take them to St Fagans Natural History Museum, which is a free open-air museum with beautiful gardens and historic buildings from across Wales that have been rebuilt on the site — so you can stroll through a few centuries of history. There's also a good bakery.

How about great markets?
I'm going to miss my regular Sunday morning shop at the Riverside Farmers Market, opposite the national stadium. Fresh fruit and veg, cheese and meat from local farms — what Cardiff may lack in fine dining is more than made up for by the quality of ingredients on offer here. A lot of the stall holders also sell at markets in the Rhiwbina and Roath areas on Fridays and Saturdays.

What's a traditional Welsh dish, and where's the best place to get it in Cardiff?
The best Welsh cakes are homemade, not shop-bought, and it's pretty hard to find a decent cawl (Welsh mutton stew). But for an authentic Cardiff culinary experience, going to Caroline St at the end of a big night out for curry sauce with chips and rice probably ticks the box.

What are some good day trips from Cardiff?
Head north to the Brecon Beacons, and walk up Pen y Fan, the highest peak in South Wales. On a clear day the views are spectacular, on a wet day the country pubs nearby offer a warm fire.

What are the locals like?
I need to be careful, I'm married to a Cardiffian . . . but I can honestly say that it is a friendly, relaxed city, where strangers will be happy to help. It doesn't have the busy, anonymous feel of places like London — you're quite likely to end up having a cwtsh (Welsh for a hug).

What's a good part of town for shopping?
The old shopping arcades are beautiful — and far more interesting than your usual mall. You'll find the oldest record shop in the world there, and a fantastic deli that's been run by the same family since the 1940s.

What's the best way to get around?
On foot — Cardiff is compact, so you can walk to most places in 10 minutes.

Where's the nearest good beach?
The sand dunes at Merthyr Mawr are unspoilt but you'll need a car to get there. For a different day out you can reach Barry Island by train — it's a traditional resort that's had a bit of a clean-up in recent years; they even offer champagne and chips these days.

Formerly based in Cardiff as BBC World News' Wales correspondent, Hywel Griffith is now moving to Sydney to become the network's Australia and New Zealand correspondent.

- Spy.co.nz

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