As the capital city of Wales, Cardiff is always a hive of diversity, culture and activity. Come autumn and winter, the city's castles, cosy coffee shops, arcades and heritage sites become places to huddle together, soak up the distinctively Welsh way of life and see striking architecture lit up at night. If you’re thinking about taking a trip to the friendly, compact city, here's just a taste of what to expect.
Even if it’s cold out, you’ll have no qualms about indulging in ice cream when you step into Science Cream in Castle Arcade. In fact, some people believe ice cream can warm you up when it’s cold outside. As Wales’ 1st liquid nitrogen ice cream parlour, Science Cream is paving the way for theatrical frozen dessert creations.
Fluffy clouds in the skies, rain-dimpled rivers and blooming fields – with scenes like these on the walls, it's easy to be transported to another time and place by the extensive galleries of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works in the National Museum Cardiff. With the biggest collection of Impressionist art outside Paris, you’ll find works by Monet, Van Gough, Pissarro, Renoir and their contemporaries in the collection, plus examples of the movements that came before and after them.
Make sure you also check out the Natural History section, where a 4-tonne basking shark is suspended from the ceiling and a nine metre skeleton of a humpback whale sprawls across the room.
Leave the car keys in your room when you visit The Dead Canary, a secret speakeasy that shakes up knock-out cocktails. To find it, look for a doorbell next to a fire door on Barrack Lane (hint: seek out the gold feather). Once inside, the menu will teach you about famous Welsh heroes of the past and present through celebrity-inspired cocktails.
The Dylan Thomas cocktail combines Glenmorangie Original whiskey, Ardbeg whiskey, Ramazzotti liqueur, coffee liqueur, chicory, lemon, egg white and – of course – poetry, while the Goldfinger cocktail (based on Cardiff’s Dame Shirley Bassey, singer of the James Bond film’s theme song) mixes Ocho tequila, raspberry leaf and peach blossom tea, hibiscus, perry and lime.
Whether you’re an opera fan or not, you are sure to be moved by a performance from the Welsh National Opera (WNO). Based at Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay but often found on tour across the UK, the 230-member group practice and perform up to 10 different shows a year.
Unlike anything you have seen before, the WNO bring out the power, theatre and emotion behind traditional and modern operas in a way that is accessible to all. The hairs on your arms will stand on end when the singers hit the big notes. If you've ever fantasised about being on stage, you can even try your hand with one of their taster workshops where you can learn about a specific show and its songs before going to seeing it live.
This breathtaking green space in the heart of the city centre was given to the people of Cardiff by 5th Marquess of Bute over 70 years ago, and to this day it's as vibrant and thriving as ever. A walk around the 56-hectare park will give you the chance to see Cardiff Castle and you'll quickly realise how important nature is in this part of Wales, regardless of the time of year.
Along the River Taff, there's a good probability of you seeing squirrels, butterflies, jays, tree-creepers, coots, cormorants, herons and kingfishers – maybe even an otter too. There are over 3,000 species of trees, so it's no wonder the animals love it as much as the locals. When the leaves change colour and the nights draw in, the rich oranges, reds and browns beg to be photographed.
Cardiff is the UK city with the highest concentration of Victorian, Edwardian and contemporary indoor shopping arcades. Spanning St Mary Street, Castle Street, Duke Street and The Hayes, you’ll weave in and out of the ornate covered lanes that’ll provide a few hours of retail therapy, not to mention delicious local food along the way. At Christmas, fairy lights are strung throughout, giving a warm wintery vibe.
You'll have to visit some of the highlights, which include: Spillers Records, the oldest record shop in the world; Rules of Play, a little board game shop with over 1,000 titles lining the walls; Madame Fromage, a deli that sells a wonderful selection of Welsh cheese, meat and produce; Waterloo Tea, a teahouse with over 30 types of tea to choose from and exquisite cakes; and Hobo’s, a vintage and retro shop with bags of character.
Europe’s largest waterfront development, Cardiff Bay Barrage off Mermaid Quay, came from the regeneration of the city’s docklands. What were once the busiest docks in the world and the point of sale in Wales’ coal industry is now a modern, metropolitan suburb with eateries, entertainment venues and office spaces. In the summer, the annual food festival brings thousands to Roald Dahl Plass, while in the winter crowds come for craft fairs and community yuletide events.
As well as taking in cultural landmarks such as the Norwegian Church where Cardiff-born Roald Dahl was christened, and visiting The Senedd (parliament), the political centre of Wales, you’ll want to get yourself to International Drive. There, you’ll try white water rafting or kayaking over rapids at Cardiff International White Water Centre or go skating at the Ice Arena Wales, home to Cardiff Devils ice hockey team.