Cardiff is one of the United Kingdom’s most underrated cities; a city established thousands of years ago, filled with stunning natural and man-made beauty. Few who visit this region of Western Europe know that this quiet city hides some fantastic secrets, including as a filming location for one of the UK’s most popular television programs Doctor Who, housing one of the world’s most breathtaking public parks, the world’s second-largest rugby stadium, and one of the most amusing and eccentric British castles in the world. No matter what corner of Cardiff you choose to explore, you will find something new and amazing to deepen your appreciation of this diamond in the rough.
The area in and around Cardiff has been settled since the Neolithic period, between 5,000 to 10,000 years before the Common Era (CE). This would put inhabitants here 1,500 years before the pyramids of Giza were constructed, or the formation of Stonehenge closer to home. When the Romans conquered the entirety of Britain, the local Celtic tribe in power, the Silures, who fought the Roman invasion viciously enough to make the empire feel threatened. After the fall of the Roman empire Wales came under the rule of the British and has remained part of the United Kingdom since its inception in 1707. Today Wales is often overlooked by its more glamorous neighbors, but has just as much culture and natural beauty as the tea gardens in England or the heather-filled moors of Scotland.
Like much of the United Kingdom, the weather in Wales tends to be on the wet and muggy side, typical for a maritime climate. Fall and winter tend to feel the same, but the cooler temperatures make for a more temperate spring and summer, with summer temperatures rarely peaking above 22°C (72°F). The city of Cardiff sits on a flat plain surrounding by sloping hills, many of which are filled with coal. Cardiff is a major coal port, the largest in the world, although it’s not as active as it used to be in the 19th century.
Said by many to be one of the most beautiful parks in the world, Cathays Park is a civic center in the heart of Cardiff. The park is comprised of multiple gardens and stunningly ornate capital buildings; a little-known secret among the locals. The Alexandra Gardens were named after Edward VII’s consort, Queen Alexandra. The gardens cover an area of over 6 acres, and in the center of all the fragrant foliage is the Welsh National War Memorial, dedicated to those soldiers who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars. Other gardens in the park include the Gorsedd and Friary gardens which also have skillfully sculpted topiaries on display. The park and gardens are open 24 hours a day, every day of the year for visitors to take a break from the big city hustle of Cardiff proper.
One of the most ancient religious sites in all of Europe, the Llandaff Cathedral is built on what used to be the entirely separate town of Llandaff, which was eventually incorporated into Cardiff. The cathedral began its life as a monastery built in the 6th century by St. Teilo, who is buried on the grounds with a Celtic cross as his grave marker. The cathedral suffered neglect and decay over the next ten centuries until it was rebuilt in the 19th century and parts restored after damage in the Second World War. The front of the cathedral is an impressive stone facade constructed in the Gothic architectural style, and the surrounding land is peaceful and still, despite its location in the middle of busy Cardiff.
Opened in 1999, Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium is a massive and modern facility with seating for over 74,000 sports fans. This £168 million stadium was constructed in 1997 and completed just in time to host the 1999 Rugby World Cup. As the second-largest stadium in the world, Millenium Stadium has a retractable roof so matches can be held rain or shine. Guided tours are available, or even better, grab a ticket to either a local or international match to truly absorb the energy the Welsh bring to their favorite sport.
Considered the city’s major attraction, Cardiff Castle is well over 800 years old and one of the former homes of the Marquess de Bute. The Butes were the family who helped shape Cardiff from a small town to a booming coal port in the 19th century. During the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries, the castle had Gothic-style additions installed onto the structure, including an ornate banquet hall and extravagant clock tower. During this same time the Butes discovered that the castle had been constructed directly on top of Cardiff’s first Roman fort, built almost 2,000 years ago. In 1947 the castle was donated to the city of Cardiff, and today audio or guided tours are offered that lead visitors throughout the eccentric interiors of the castle, including a time-themed smoking room and one of the Marquess’s bedrooms that is covered in mirrors.
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