The architecture in Cardiff is a glorious mish-mash of everything from Roman to brutal modernist, so Cardiff doesn’t really have an adopted architectural ‘style’. Instead, the city piles different influences on top of each other, throwing up cream and glass luxury apartments next to listed, stone buildings.


Although the architectural vision might feel a bit muddled, it’s a reflection of the city’s wide reaching embrace: for new cultures, new cuisines, new people, who can come in from everywhere, and before long, feel at least part Cardiffian.


And in between many of the new builds, you can still find traces of Cardiff’s long and glorious history, mostly in its revelling or drinking spaces.

St Mary Street is the renowned centre for drinking, with almost 300 licensed premises packed into the one-mile square radius (the highest concentration in the UK). But if you look beyond (and above) the chain bars, you’ll see a wide boulevard, with many grand buildings erected in the 1880s.


Near the station, the old Philharmonic Hall lies empty, next to the Square, and the Prince of Wales Wetherspoons. This gets packed on weekends, but is well worth a peek inside as it’s been decorated in memory of the New Theatre Royal site on which it was built. A little up the street Café Jazz is a leading blues and jazz venue.


Heading north, the Cardiff Indoor Market is another listed building in the centre selling everything from fish to Welsh cakes and fabrics to mobile phone cases. And then there’s Cardiff Castle itself: a Roman garrison, a Norman stronghold – a gothic fantasy, surrounded by its wall teaming with stone animals for its protection.


By the castle, Womanby Street is the capital’s home to alternative music and events, hosting venues like Clwb Ifor Bach (or ‘Welsh Club’), The Full Moon and The Moon Club, Urban Tap House and Dempseys. These venues invite the best of growing music talent and are yearly homes for the annual Sŵn festival, Cardiff’s multi-venue music celebration. Recently, the Womanby Street ‘Castle Emporium’ was opened – a converted cinema that hosts a marketplace of vintage and modern fashion sellers from across the city.

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Outside of Womanby St, the city centre also has venues such as Gwdihw, named after the Welsh word for the noise owls makes, and home to a variety of music and a monthly music quiz that’s fast becoming a city institution. There’s also Porter’s, a venue inspired by theatre design in its layout and also home to Cardiff’s only pub theatre, The Other Room. The Abacus, a grassroots community led arts space, is housed in the old Cardiff Bus ticket office and now hosts a variety of exhibitions and performances.


In terms of theatre, St David’s Hall, the New Theatre, play host to touring theatre shows and performances, with St David’s Hall being home to the famous BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition. There is also the Sherman Cymru theatre hosting more local, innovative productions.

Cardiff is a city known for its under-cover Edwardian and Victorian shopping arcades, perhaps because it rains so much here!  A number of the arcades are Grade II listed, and most were built in the mid-1800s: all are worth getting lost in. Within the arcades, you can find quirky vintage fashion shops such as Blue Honey, Spillers (arguably the oldest record shop in the world), as well as amazing local cuisine, bakeries and patisseries.


Heading west from the city centre is new venture The Tramshed, as well as Canton’s arts centres: Chapter Arts Centre, Llanover Hall, The Printhaus, and Pipes Brewery for their pop-up/monthly events. The Tramshed is one of the newest venues in the city with the old tram store being renovated into a venue, gallery and work space. Arts hub Chapter is home to Wales’ childrens’ theatre company, Theatr Iolo, and a range of other creative businesses and organisations alongside a cinema and gallery spaces. The council run community venue, Llanover Hall, offers creative adult learning courses in fine arts and photography. Printhaus is one of the city’s leading visual arts hubs combining work-spaces with classes in techniques such as screen printing.


In Cardiff Bay, explore the southern end of Bute Street to see some magnificent structures like Portland House (recently converted into an events space), and the old National Westminster Bank building. The Bank ceased operations in 1999, but in 2009 its old gold vaults were renovated and opened to serve as – literally – an underground raving space for Cardiff’s clubbers (The Vaults).


Other buildings of note in the bay include arts icon the Wales Millennium Centre, home to many national arts institutions including the Arts Council of Wales, the old charm of the Norwegian Church (visited regularly by Roald Dahl and family) combining a gallery and performance space with a café whose walls are covered in photos of Norwegian landscapes, the ultra-modern parliament building of the Senedd, the redbrick Pierhead, and the BBC’s new drama village, Porth Teigr.


Cardiff Bay Barrage is another relatively recent engineering feat – walk across it and enjoy the ‘Barrage Circles’ optical illusion. Across the barrage lies the charming seaside town of Penarth, where you can enjoy the cafe, exhibition space and cinema on the newly renovated Penarth Pier.



Pictures from Flickr by Alex,Wojtek Gurak, Jon Candy & Quite Adept.