Historic South Wales is strewn with castles and Cardiff has its fair share; most notably the elaborate Cardiff Castle located in the centre of the city. The 2,000-year-old fortress and habitation dates from Roman times through the Norman Conquest and the Waterloo campaign. The Norman Keep and the Arab Room, with their elaborate tablets and wall paintings, boast magnificent examples of mural art.
On the northern edge of Cardiff, set in the wooded hillside, is the fairytale turreted Castell Coch (Red Castle), once a ruined 13th century fortress. Like Cardiff Castle, it was rebuilt and transformed in the late 1870s by William Burges for the third Marquess of Bute. It features a working portcullis and drawbridge and lavish decor.
Cardiff Bay has transformed beyond recognition, from its past as the world's largest coal exporting port to a modern waterfront with a wealth of attractions and leisure facilities. The bay has been turned into a vast freshwater lake with the introduction of a barrage. No visit to Cardiff is complete without a cruise on the Bay’s waterfront, the rivers Taff and Ely and along the barrage embankment.
Cardiff’s art facilities are exceptional. The National Museum and Gallery tells the story of Wales and reflects the nation's place in the wider, international sphere. There is a wonderful sculpture collection, including works by Rodin and the prolific Welsh artist Goscombe John. The National Museum's pride is a dazzling collection of Impressionist paintings (the largest collection outside France) including works by Cézanne, Monet and Degas.
The Civic Centre features an impressive, tree-lined area of gleaming white Portland stone buildings reflecting the wealth that the coal and steel industries brought to the city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The dragon-topped, domed City Hall is the centrepiece of the complex. It includes a series of statues of male Welsh heroes, including Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, St David, Giraldus Cambrensis and Owain Glyndwr. Cathays Park, a large rectangle of lawns and flowerbeds, forms the centrepiece for the buildings of the civic centre.
The magnificent Millennium Stadium has become an iconic symbol not only of Cardiff but of Wales as a whole. Built to a tight deadline in order to be ready for the Rugby World Cup of 1999, the stadium has hosted sporting matches of every description as well as an array of huge rock gigs and other musical events. A tour includes walking the players' tunnel, visiting the dressing rooms, VIP areas and a rugby museum.
The Museum of Welsh Life at St Fagans is one of Europe's leading open-air museums, a living village representing Wales through the ages. Its 100 acres of parkland feature a unique collection of re-erected buildings include an elegant mansion house, humble quarryman's cottage, farmhouse, a terrace of six cottages, a chapel and a toll-house. Within the buildings working craftsmen provide displays of traditional skills. The museum gives a good insight into the life in Wales.
The Welsh capital has long held the reputation of being a shopping paradise. The Edwardian and Victorian arcades that lead off St Mary Street house a unique array of designer boutiques and specialist stores. High Street shops and department stores are also well represented.
Outside of Cardiff, there is plenty to see on a day-trip. Castles are everywhere, from small stone keeps of the early Welsh princes and the mighty Carreg Cennen to Edward I’s fortresses such as Beaumaris, Caernarfon and Harlech. Passage graves and stone circles (such as on Holy Island) offer a link to the pre-Roman era when the priestly order of Druids ruled over early Celtic peoples. Great medieval monastic houses, like ruined Tintern Abbey, are easily accessible. If you don´t have your own transport, the tourist office will advise on available day tours.
All these attractions are enhanced by the beauty of the wild Welsh countryside. The backbone of the Cambrian Mountains terminates in the soaring peaks of Snowdonia National Park and the ridges of the Brecon Beacons. Both are superb areas for walking, as is the Pembrokeshire Coast in the southwest. Much of the rest of the coast remains unspoiled, though long sweeps of sand are often backed by traditional British seaside resorts, such as Llandudno in the north or Tenby in the south.