Cardiff and Southern Wales

Wales has dramatic natural wonders, from its coastline to its mountains, and enables a great deal of outdoorsy pursuits. For those more interested in man-made wonders, such as yours truly, Welsh offerings are somewhat less spectacular. Which is not to say that you can’t find interesting things to do in Wales if you are primarily interested in history and architecture, but you will enjoy it more if you mix in at least some hiking or trekking or climbing or cycling or rafting or what-have-you into your itinerary.

This entry includes Cardiff and the Brecon Beacons. Northern Wales and Aberystwyth have separate entries.



Cardiff is not very remarkable aside from a couple of major points of interest. The first of them, Cardiff Castle ♥♥♥ makes coming to Cardiff worthwhile all by itself. Situated smack in the town center, the castle grounds house a 12th-century elevated keep, which opens fine but unexceptional views over the city rooftops, and the romantic neo-Gothic palace.

Guided tours of the mansion start every twenty minutes, and proceed through a dozen of exuberantly over-the-top decorated rooms, for which then-owner of the castle, the local fabulously wealthy coal baron, an Earl, spared no expenses in the second half of the 19th century (there are 60 different varieties of marble in the bathroom, for instance). Each room is designed with a “theme” in mind: The men’s salon is themed around passing of time and seasons, the women’s salon is patterned after a harem (the Earl’s wife, apparently, did not mind), the children’s room is all about fairy tales, and so on. The library, the big banqueting hall and the roof garden are among the striking highlights.

The National Museum and Gallery, according to tourbooks, boasts the biggest collection of impressionist paintings outside of Paris. Unfortunately, during our visit, large parts of the gallery were closed for refurbishment that should last through 2009. Only a small portion of the collection was on display.

Cardiff Bay ♥ area is worth a look. The old docklands area has been transformed into a nice and happening waterfront, with many good restaurants, bars and fine boutiques. The 19th-century Pier Head Building and the modern Wales Millennium Centre provide striking architectural contrasts.

Places to eat

Bosphorus ♥♥ is a Turkish restaurant that sits on a pier in Mermaid Quay. Great location: Its full-height windows allow for unobstructed views of the waterfront, including the Pier Head Building. The food did not bowl us over as Mediterranean places often do, but there wasn’t anything to be unhappy about either. Our damage: £95 for an assortment of starters, three entrées, desserts, and a bottle of Turkish wine, including tips. Last visit: Spring 2008.

Brecon Beacons National Park

The enormous national reserve is a primary spot for outdoor pursuits, with four mountain ranges and many lakes and rivers. It is also famous for its caves. We stopped at Dan-yr-Ogof ♥, which allows access to three different caves, of which we especially recommend the vast and magnificent Cathedral Cave. There are also dozens of dinosaur sculptures, which never fail to fascinate children, a model Iron Age village, and a nearby animal farm.

Another popular activity in the area is pony trekking – or riding lessons, if you prefer. You will undoubtedly be driving past stables here and there, no matter which road you are driving on in Brecon Beacons. We picked one at random, and while there is little to support recommending that particular stable – down the road from Dan-yr-Ogof – it was entirely adequate for the purpose of letting kids ride for half an hour.

Places to eat

Brecon is a market town with some handsome Georgian buildings, and it is a natural base option is you are staying in the area. Its main street, known as Bullwark, has a number of cafés and restaurants. We had lunch at the unassuming Salad Bowl, with simple but reasonable offerings. Our damage: £27 for four people. Last visit: Spring 2008.

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