The Come on, Cardiff! signs that flutter all around the city speak to the vigor with which Cardiff (pop. 325,000) is trying to reinvent itself. Formerly the main port of call for Welsh coal, Cardiff is now the port of arrival for a colorful international population. Calling itself Europe’s Youngest Capital, Cardiff offers its rich history alongside a spruced-up set of modem sensibilities.
TRANSPORTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION Trains ((08457) 484 950) arrive at Central Station, Central Sq. from: Bath (1-1 Vahr. 1-3 per hr. £12); Birmingham (24hr. 1-3 per hr. £22); Edinburgh (7hr. 7 per hr. £96); London Paddington (2hr. every hr. £47). Ticket office open M-Sa 5:45am-9:30pm, Su 6:45am-9:30pm. National Express buses ( (08705) 808 080) leaves from Wood St. for: Birmingham (214hr. 1-3 per hr. £22); London (3Vfchr. 6 per day, £17); and Manchester (5V4hr. 4 per day, £25). Pick up a free Wales Bus, Rail, and Tourist Map and Guide at the TIC. Cardiff Bus (Bws Caerdydd), St. David’s House, Wood St. ( 2066 6444), runs green city buses. (Service ends M-Sa at 11:20pm, Su 11pm. 60p-£1.50, week-long pass £16.) The tourist office, 16 Wood St. (2022 7281; www.visitcardiff.info), opposite the bus station, provides a free accommodations list and a map. It also books rooms for a £1 fee and a 10% deposit. (Open July-Aug. M-Sa 9am-6pm, Su 10am-4pm; Sept.-June
Surf the Internet at the Internet Exchange, 8 Church St. ( 2074 6048). £4 per hr. £1 minimum. Open M-Th 9am-9pm, F-Sa 9am-8pm, Su llam-7pm.) Postal Code: CF10 2SJ.
ACCOMMODATIONS AND FOOD. Budget accommodations in Cardiff is an oxymoron, but the TIC lists reasonable B&Bs (£18-20) on the outskirts of the city. Many of the B&Bs on lovely Cathedral Road, a short ride on bus #32, are expensive; better bargains await on side streets. ISCardiff International Backpacker , 98 Neville St. (2034 5577), has a Happy Hour (Su-Th 7-9pm) and a rooftop patio, complete with hammocks and lanterns, that set the scene for this backpackers’ heaven. Only international students in summer. (Dorms £15; doubles £36; triples £44.) For a change of pace, try Annedd Lon , 157-159 Cathedral
Cardiff Castle, a pair of Victorian houses that provide a peaceful respite from the city. (Singles £20; doubles £40); rooms in 157, the upscale half, include private bath and British breakfast (singles £30; doubles £45). Acorn Camping and Caravanning O, Rosedew Farm, Ham Ln. South, Llantwit Major ( 01446 794 024), is lhr. by bus X91 from Central Station, and a 15min. walk from the Ham Ln. stop. (Electricity £2. Mar.-Nov. £6 per night, Dec.-Feb. £5.50.)
Cardiff’s downtown is full of coffee shops and pubs. BEuropa Cafe , 25 Castle St. (‘£ 2066 7776), across from Cardiff Castle, has a funky yet comfortable interior. It also sponsors writers’ group meetings and occasional live music performances. (Drinks £1-3. Open Su-Tu llam-6pm, W-Sa llam-llpm.) HCeltic Cauldron Wholefoods , 47-49 Castle Arcade ( 2038 7185), delivers a bold synthesis of traditionally hearty Welsh cuisine (£2-5) and assorted ethnic traditions. Staples like Laverbread and Welsh Rarebit are offered alongside novelties like samosas and lentil stew. (Open in summer M-Sa 8:30am-9pm; winter M-Sa 8:30am-6pm, Su llam-4pm.) Budget travelers looking for food on the go should scavenge the stalls of Central Market, between St. Mary St. and Trinity St. (Open daily 10am-4pm.)
SEA SIGHTS AND ENTERTAINMENT. The interior of Cardiff Castle is no less flamboyant than the strutting peacocks within its gates. Visit the museums of the Welsh Regiment and The 1st Queen’s Dragoon Guards, enjoy a medieval supper, and watch falconry demonstrations featuring owls Billy and Floyd during winter and spring. The keep also offers sweeping views of the city. (Castle St. s2087 8100. Open Mar.-Oct. daily 9:30am-6pm; Nov.-Feb. 9:30am-3:30pm. £5.50, students £4.20. Free tours Mar.-Oct. every 20min.; Nov.-Feb. 5 tours per day. Last tour 5pm.) The National Museum and Gallery houses an eclectic mix of exhibits, from an audiovisual narrative of Welsh geologic evolution to a skylit display of Celtic stone monuments. (Located at Cathay’s Park, next to the Civic Centre. s2039 7951. Open Su and Tu-Sa 10am-5pm. Free. Illustrated guidebook £1.) The stately Cardiff Civic Centre is set against the lawns of Cathays Park. Find the Functions Office, upstairs in City Hall, to pick up a brochure. In the Hall of Welsh Heroes, St. David, patron saint of Wales, is flanked by Owain Glyndwr, the rebel leader who razed Cardiff in 1404. (North Rd. across from the castle. 20871727. Open M-F9am-6pm. Free.)
After 1 lpm the majority of Cardiffs popular downtown pubs stop serving alcohol, and the action migrates to an array of nearby clubs, most located on or around St. Mary Street. Have a drink at The Owain Glyndwr, St. John’s Sq. and sample one of their 5 cask beers (£2.20 a pint) in an oak and brown leather interior. (Open M-Th llam-llpm, F-Sa noon-lam.) Clwb Ifor Bach (The Welsh Club), 11 Womanby St. (2023 2199), is a manic club offering everything from Motown tunes to games. (Cover £2.50-10. Open M-Th until 2am, F-Sa until 3am; occasionally closed M.)
DAYTRIPS FROM CARDIFF: CAERPHILLY CASTLE AND THE MUSEUM OF WELSH LIFE Thirteen kilometers north of Cardiff, Caerphilly Castle will enchant romantics and history buffs alike. Begun in 1268 by Norman warlord Gilbert de Clare, its stone walls, catapults, and pivoting drawbridges made it the most technologically advanced fortification of its time. Take the train (30min. M-Sa 2 per hr. £2.60) or hourly bus #24 or 25 from Central Station stand Cl. ( 2088 3143. Open June-Sept. daily 9:30am-6pm; Apr.-May and Oct. daily 9:30am-5pm; Nov.-Mar. M-Sa 9:30am-4pm, Su llam4pm. £2.50, students £2.) Lying 6.5km west of Cardiff, the open-air Museum of Welsh Life is home to more than 40 authentic buildings from all comers of Wales, reassembled into an interactive display of Welsh history. (2057 3500. Open June-Sept. daily 10am-5pm. Free.) Bus #320 runs to the museum (20min. every hr. £1.20) from Central Station.
Crossing and recrossing the oft-troubled Welsh-English border, the Wye River (Afon Gwy) cuts through a tranquil valley, its banks riddled with trails, abbeys, and castles rich in legend. The past is palpable in the towns and clusters of homes and farms, from Tintem Abbey to the George Inn Pub.