This gorgeous harbor city always buzzes with activity, so when it hosts the first event of the 2012 SUMMER OLYMPICS on July 25, get ready for a good time.Gone are the days when coal was king and the seaport of Cardiff, Wales, swarmed with ships carrying the lucrative “black gold” to ports all over the world. Now the Welsh capital boasts a chic, redeveloped waterfront, great restaurants, a top-tier museum and what may well be the world’s funkiest castle. What’s more, the city’s sleek, modern Millennium Stadium was chosen as the host of the first competition of the 2012 Summer Olympics, a women’s football — soccer, to Americans — match, to be held two days before the official opening ceremony in London. What’s so inviting about this city of around 350,000 people that it was selected for such an honor? Go and see for yourself.
Get your bearings with a ride on a Cardiff City Hop-on Hop-off Tour bus. The complete route takes 50 minutes, with a live guide providing narration, but should a particular stop pique your interest, passengers may get off at any point to explore and board a later bus to continue on. Visit the sublimely eccentric Cardiff Castle, where the third Marquess of Bute, a man of great imagination (and great money), turned an existing 12th-century Norman castle into a whimsical home. National Museum Cardiff, the city’s star attraction, houses — among many other things — a remarkable collection of more than 260 Impressionist paintings bequeathed to the museum by the Davies sisters, Gwendoline and Margaret, in 1951 and 1963. The exquisite Lord Richard Rogers–designed Senedd, home of the National Assembly for Wales, overlooks Cardiff Bay and is extremely photogenic.
Woods Brasserie offers lovely seafood and grilled fare in the lively waterfront area. The service is go-the-extra-mile friendly, and the three-course menu is a great value at just around $32. The Potted Pig, a short walk from Millennium Stadium, serves modern British cuisine and more than 30 types of gin in a former underground bank vault. Laguna Kitchen & Bar in the Park Plaza Hotel Cardiff does great business, especially at Sunday lunch, when families come for traditional roast beef with Yorkshire pudding or Welsh pork sausages with caramelized onion mash.
If you only have time to visit one shop, make it Craft in the Bay , a gallery run by the Makers Guild in Wales that features a dizzying — and ever-changing — assortment of handcrafted goods, including pottery, jewelry, handbags and clothes. Be sure to save time to wander through a few of Cardiff’s old Victorian and Edwardian shopping arcades, located in the Castle Quarter, that are now filled with ultramodern shops selling everything from pungent local cheeses to Welsh love spoons, always a favorite souvenir. Stop by Morgan Quarter arcades (the most well-preserved of the bunch) to visit Spillers Records, the world’s oldest record store, open since 1894. Nearby, St. David’s Dewi Sant mall is also packed with notable shops, including the Cardiff branch of London’s renowned department store, John Lewis; Lakeland, a stop for colorful kitchenware; and Cath Kidston, which sells popular vintage-print tote bags, bed linens and more.
Park Plaza Cardiff offers the best location in town, just steps from Cardiff Castle and the National Museum on Greyfriars Road and near Millennium Stadium. Its 129 contemporary rooms feature top-of-the-line bedding for extra-comfortable sleep. The St. David’s Hotel & Spa, at the edge of Cardiff Bay, offers spectacular waterfront views. Its excellent Marine Spa is famous for its enriching mud baths and other indulgent treatments, while its Tempus at Tides Restaurant & Bar serves dinner al fresco on pleasant Friday and Saturday nights.
If You Go …
Cardiff City Hop-on Hop-off Tour
Craft in the Bay
Laguna Kitchen & Bar
Visit website for individual shop numbers
National Museum Cardiff
Park Plaza Cardiff
The Potted Pig
The St. David’s Hotel & Spa
St. David’s Dewi Sant