I wanted a mini break and I wanted to catch up with the awesome Helen Howells of wedding blog, The Wedding Bazaar, so I thought why not kill two birds with one stone and head over to Cardiff. Helen and I had so many exciting plans to discuss, including projects we are working on separately and together, but there was also time to sightsee. On the first day I was blessed with a gorgeous sunny day, and the second was... well, not so much. But at least I got to see Cardiff in two very different lights. I stayed at the Novotel, and you can see my pictures and review here.
I can see why Cardiff is hen-night/stag-night central. The city centre is rammed with restaurants and bars, and every single high street shop you can think of. They seem to have a lot of malls, but maybe I was just going in and out of the same ones. If you like shopping, this is the place to come to.
The Bay area is a fabulous place to have a walk and look at boats. There were so many people walking dogs, and just strolling and chilling out. There's a marina area with, yet again, many bars and eateries. One of the oddest sights is the Norwegian Church, a cute white wooden building that looks so out of place. Inside it has the Dahl Gallery upstairs, showing exhibitions of art and photography. It's named after Roald Dahl, the first president of the church's restoration group. His Norwegian parents moved to Cardiff and this was the church they joined; Roald himself was Christened there.
I totally felt like I was on holiday with all this sun and sea-air, but what I was really heading for in the Bay was the BBC Drama Village....
....so that I could visit the Dr Who Experience! Yes, I know. Very mature. This is a permanent exhibition as they film the show here, and if you like Dr Who it's worth a visit. When you first enter you have to go on a guided tour through the Tardis, down spaceship corridors, get confronted by Daleks, and navigate a terrifying graveyard with the Blink angel-statue things coming for you.
There's also a 3D film to watch, and a bit where you go through the crack in the wall (what the hell is that crack in the wall thing in the show?!), before coming out into the exhibition section where you're free to wander around at your own pace. It's mostly costumes and bits of set, though you can have a green-screen photo, and your photo taken next to all the main baddies.
The exhibition never really lives up to the giggly excitement of the first part, but at least that first section is there, and it's not just a depressing museum of BBC costumes past. The experience also mainly focuses on the Matt Smith era of Dr Who, which will be annoying for all future Whos.
Helen and I had an immense dinner at The Grazing Shed, which I loved for having such a Welsh tagline. This is a really laid back place, with interesting decor (the walls are covered in wooden doors). The food was out of this world delicious. Helen loved her lamb burger, and for once I had a vegetarian burger in a restaurant that wasn't just some defrosted, microwaved generic nonsense; the bean burger was totally homemade and absolutely yummy with melted goats cheese and mashed avocado on top. There are free refills of organic, refreshing soft drinks, including traditional lemonade and elderflower & rose. Also, the service is SO fast! We had barely ordered when the food was brought over.
The next day I flung open my hotel curtains to see grey skies and pouring rain. Nooooo! I trudged off to Cardiff Castle, which is very helpfully slap bang in the city centre.
This took up the whole morning as there is so much to see there, including Medieval ruins, a military museum, the spookiest ever underground walkway where you can experience what an air-raid was like in WWII (the city folk fled to this very tunnel during actual raids), and then there is the magnificent Gothic palace. Built in the 1700's, and done up all nice by the the 3rd Marquess of Bute in the 1860's (he was the richest man in the world at the time, and most of Cardiff appears to be named after him and his family. He also liked gold decor. A lot). Despite the chilly downpour, this was a really interesting place to visit, with some spectacular sights. And yes, they've been here a few times to film Dr Who.
Finally, I went to the City Hall and the National Museum. Shame that these beautiful historic buildings were surrounded by so much murky gloom. The city centre still managed to look proud and Welsh though, even in the rain!
I really recommend Cardiff for a short break, especially if, like me, you are a castle & museum nerd. But as mentioned, it's also great for shopping, eating out, and meandering walks. If the weather had been better I would have explored the parks, Llandaff Cathedral, and Castle Coch. So now I have an excuse to go back!