We parked in the large multi-storey car park and as we came out of the building it started to rain - heavily. We made a dash for the Millenium Centre where we found the Tourist Information Centre and a helpful introductory video of how the Cardiff Bay area has been re-developed into a major new re-vitalised district full of exciting buildings, leisure and retail facilities.; not to mention the National Assembly of Wales. Nestling amongst these are some historically important buildings such as the Pierhead and the Norwegian Church and some entertaining street sculptures.
Unfortunately the rain hadn't stopped so we continued to the right for a short distance to find all the regular and expected chain restaurants and coffee shops plus many other outlets that had a more home-grown Cardiff feel to them. We could see in the distance the TechniQuest building; a science discovery centre. Turning to the left we looked inside the Pierhead building where there was a more extended slide show, free of charge, clearly aimed at school children - indeed there was a very well behaved school group closely watching the story of Cardiff Bay from the 19th century to the present day. The film also showed how the Pierhead was the administrative centre for much of the dock activities and in this way it played a key role during the war. Unfortunately its distinctiveness as a landmark was used by the bombing raids during the second world war to act as a target for bombers. It's remarkable that the building wasn't destroyed even though much of the surrounding docks were heavily damaged.
It was still raining when we came out so we had a quick look at the National Assembly building. We'd just missed one of the guided tours. Further over we took cover in the Norwegian Church where we had some strong coffee before making our way back to our car and our homeward journey.
Clearly there is loads to do in the area. I'd love to see inside the Millenium Centre and go to a concert there. The foyer in itself is impressive so I'd imagine the concert hall is spectacular. Maybe that will be for my next visit to Cardiff?
The waterfront of Cardiff is found about 2 km from the city centre. We walked there along the river Taff, which took about 40 minutes. But of course you also can take the bus, and there are also boats that tour between the centre and the bay (www.cardiffwaterbus.com, www.cardiffboat.com).
At Cardiff Bay, you find several sights like the Techniquest, a science museum with hands-on exhibitions. Then there’s the Pierhead, a red brick building from 1897 that immediately catches your eyes. It used to be the headquarter of the dock company and now you here find an exhibition about the history of the building and Wales (free entry). Also, there’s the Norwegian Church Arts Centre, in a building that used to be a church for Norwegian sailors. And there’s much more, you can spent quite a lot of time there! And of course there are also lots of restaurants and bars, as well as shops.
Cardiff Bay, known as Tiger Bay, was the hub of the Cardiff docks activity and the export of coal during the 19th and 20th Centuries. Subsequently, in the 1970s, the docks activity declined and the bay became derelict. Today, following an intensive regeneration, it's now a bustling and diverse waterfront built around a 200 freshwater lake.
The bay offers an abundance of visitors attractions for one to visit including shops, entertainment venues, restaurants, bars and accommodation. During my visit to the bay I enjoyed visiting the Wales Millennium Centre, Pierhead, Norwegian Church Arts Centre and Lightship 2000. Please see my individual tips by clicking onto the links. It's worth spending some time at the bay to soak in the atmosphere.
Torchwood Hub Elevator: Aww, boo! ...Here's a tip for city council and the good people of Cardiff: When you have an iconic landmark which is being used dominantly in an internationally famous television program (e.g., "Torchwood"), what you don't do under any circumstance is cover that landmark with giant, multicoloured strawberry stickers. I know there must be a very strong inclination to want to adorn things with cartoon images of fruit, but you should resist this temptation because this will inevitably a) cause great confusion among the tourists looking for said landmark and b) when they do finally recognize it, they will be disappointed and won't even want their photo taken with it.
For 15 whole minutes, looking at the giant, reflective, freestanding wall in front of us, I argued with my female travel companion, "That must be the column from 'Torchwood'." "It can't be," she says, "the one on the show is black and has water flowing down it." "I think this is it--only they've decorated it for advertising and turned the fountain off." "No way!," she replies. Eventually she convinces me that this isn't the famous elevator entrance to the "Doctor Who" spinoff series, "Torchwood," and I repeat her objections aloud to convince myself of the same. I later found out my initial impression was correct--the Roald Dahl Plass Water Tower at Cardiff Bay was in fact the film shooting location that Captain Jack and his crew used to access their secret base. Well, why in God's name, did some bonehead decide to cover it in strawberries to advertise the "Cardiff Festival"? As a self-professed nerd, the thought of defacing such a hallowed science-fiction monument disgusts me completely. And to add insult to geek injury, not only are there rainbow strawberries plastered on the Water Tower, but they also allow parking in front of it and decide it's a good place to store a garbage dumpster?!
Torchwood Front Door Entrance: The main entrance to the Torchwood hub, which appears in the series as a small wooden storefront for the Cardiff Tourism office, is a dead end on the waterfront boardwalk at Mermaid Quay. During my visit the entire surface of the wall was completely covered, top to bottom, with memorial notes and commemoratives to a character on the show named "Ianto Jones". This was also a shame, because I would have liked to see what was underneath the notes--you know, the door and everything?
People of Cardiff, heed my words: Stop covering things with bits of paper! You're better than that.
When walking around Cardiff Bay, you cannot fail to notice various art works. The main one is the poignant bronze of the man, African woman and dog.
Another metal structure looks like part of a wrecked ship embedded in the concrete.
Also in the area is a huge bronze open-ended circle with etchings into the bronze It marks the beginning of a walk .
When visiting Cardiff Bay today, it is hard to believe that only twenty-five years ago it was a run down, ugly and miserable area. But it was. After the coal-mining industry had broken down, this part of Cardiff (then called Tiger Bay) became neglected, the docks were empty and fell into disrepair. The nice waterfront you see today consisted of mudflats. Once, this had been the largest coal-exporting harbour in the world, attracting thousands of workers from many countries, but after that industry had collapsed in Cardiff and had moved to other places, there was nothing here.
I have a good German guidebook from 1997 (DuMont Kunst-Reiseführer Wales by Peter Sager), and this is what it says about Tiger Bay (translation by me):
Walking along endless Bute Street from the city centre to the harbour, you get to know the downside of Bute Park: no man's land, a dilapidated area, dreary new housing instead of former slums. Tiger Bay, the notorious dock area, is dead, new Bute Town is not yet born, its revitalization has begun, though: A giant project involving a controversial barrage through the bay of Cardiff. Yet, the melancholy of lost labour is living here.
These were the experiences of one of my favorite travel writers, Peter Sager. When I visited fifteen years later, it had all changed! Now the place is so nice, clean and sparkling that it is hard to believe how it once was. By building the Cardiff Bay Barrage, the bay has been transformed into a freshwater area without any tide. There are modern buildings all over the place, including the important Senedd (the National Assembly Building) and the Millennium Centre. BBC Cymru's new production facility is located here, as well as a new Doctor Who exhibition (Doctor Who Experience) that will open this year (2012).
Mermaid Quay is located directly at the waterfront and is a bustling area of cafés, restaurants and shops. Boat tours leave from the quay as well, you can stroll along the waterfront, and see interesting public art. If you feel like it, you can even walk along the Barrage all the way to the seaside town of Penarth.
It is only when you walk further inland and come to Bute Town, that the sparkling atmosphere vanishes, and some of the buildings look a little run down - just a taster of what it was like here before.
To get to Cardiff Bay, you can either take bus 6 from Kingsway or Wyndham Arcade (leaving every ten minutes, £1,70 single, £3,20 return) or the Aquabus.
The "Daffodil" is a very small boat and does short trips around Cardiff Bay. The trips leave from the main quay and are announced via microphone, and in March 2012 a twenty minute trip was only £3 - I don't know if the price is higher during high season, but if it is, I guess it still won't be much.
The owner of the boat is a local from Penarth who previously used to work for a boat company, but now conducts his own tours on the "Daffodil". He was very friendly and knowledgeable, and during the trip he told us a lot of things about the history of the Bay and the wildlife, and pointed out many things that otherwise I would have missed, especially remainders of the old coal harbour that are still visible today, like the wooden things in Picture 5 which are called dolphins, but I forgot why :-(
He also told us about the statue of Robert Falcon Scott and the BBC studios, which you find in my Off Path tips.
It was really nice to see the Bay from the water, and there were good photo opportunities of the foreshore and the birds living at the water (especially cormorants).
It is an open boat, so you don't see the surroundings through glass windows, but are directly outside (although there is a roof). There are blankets provided on the boat in case it gets chilly.
There is no fixed schedule of departure, just look for the big clock on the quay where the tours are advertised - it will tell you when the next tour is about to leave. I think that on a good day (weather wise) they run about every thirty minutes, with a short break at noon.
The Millennium Centre is Cardiff's arts centre and opera house, but it is an iconic building in its own right. It was designed to be 'unmistakeably Welsh' and was a major part of the redevelopment of Cardiff Bay. It really is a fascinating building, and if you don't go to an event, it is worth taking a guided tour just to see the auditorium.
The Centre has also appeared in a number of episodes of 'Doctor Who' - appearing as itself in the background of 'Boom Town', as well as being used for filming the New New York Hospital in 'New Earth', and the quarantine facility in 'The Girl Who Waited'.
Cardiff Bay, formally Tiger Bay is the former docks area that has been transformed into Europe's largest waterfront development with a freshwater lake, a barrage that separates the lake from the sea and plethora of bars and restaurants around the quay. The area was Wale’s oldest multi-ethnic community with a community that consisted from over 50 countries settling and mixing. The original Bay was also notorious and included a red-light district and gambling dens as well as producing singer Dame Shirley Bassey.
Cardiff bay has developed over the years, and it's just growing and growing.
What was once the old docklands has been transformed into a whole new world.
Not only does it have cafes, restaurants, ice cream parlors and a few shops,it also has the Nation Assembly for Wales, of which you can visit and view as the assembly debate their issues. There are boat rides around the bay and trips to the Cardiff Bay barrier.
The Opera house also hosts the Cardiff information centre, well worth a visit.
Cardiff Bay, located at Butetown in Cardiff, offers a selection of bars and restaurants as well as other attractions to visit.
Cardiff Bay was once part of Cardiff Docks which was the world's largest coal exporting port and is now Europe's largest waterfront development - not far away you will also find the new Doctor Who studios!
With the introduction of its barrage, Cardiff Bay has been turned into a freshwater lake and also offers some water-based activities, including bay tours.
Cardiff's docks once exported millions of tons of coal to the British Empire. "Tiger Bay" was the name for the famous area of housing here in the docks, for sailors of all nationalities. Nowadays the dock area has become re-branded "Cardiff Bay" - a lively new area for drinking, eating and boating. There are a very large number of decent restaurants, pubs and cafes.
The Wales Millennium Centre and Wales' Parliament Building are located nearby.
Cardiff's old wooden Norwegian Church (which is where the author Roald Dahl was baptised) was rebuilt at Cardiff Bay in 1992. It is now an Arts Centre and cafe, recently refurbished and extended (2011). A old stone dock gatehouse was also moved nearby, redesigned and extended by a local architect, to become a very pleasant modern pub - The Waterguard.
You can now walk around the entire perimeter of the Bay. There is a nice sculptural paved walkway, in front of the Norwegian Church. From here you can walk or cycle to the Cardiff Bay Barrage along a newly opened route with various attractions for children (also cycle hire). The alternative would be to catch a Waterbus from the Pierhead.
Also new in 2011 are the BBC's new studios, for all you modern architecture fans, which have been designed by the imaginative architects collective FAT.
THE BAD POINTS
Cardiff Bay was developed on a 'Special Site of Scientific Interest' (SSSI), a feeding ground for sea birds. The water is now stagnant and needs oxygen artificially pumped into it to keep it healthy-ish. Stay in the boats - strictly NO swimming!!! That's one of the consequences of 'progress'!
Next to Pierhead Building you can see the Senedd which is the National Assembly for Wales, the local parliament. It’s a modern structure that faces the waterfront. You can enter inside for free and even listen to a debate.
We decided to walk further and check the Light Ship 2000 (pic 1). It’s a lovely red lightship that was built in 1950s and today (fully restored) can be visited for free (if places like the engine room is of any interest for you). It is used for charity reasons, it houses some exhibitions and also included an area for worship, even a small chapel! Nothing really special about it but you can enjoy a coffee at the onboard cafe. Maybe I should have put this under restaurant tips after all :)
In front of the Lightship you can see some weird structures (pic 2), you can walk along the paths (pic 3) and explore the bay, you can take a water taxi to the city center or to Penarth. By the way you can walk across to Penarth by the barrage coast path. If we ever return to Cardiff we will rent a bicycle.
At Cardiff Bay we found another interesting “boat”, it’s actually a sculpture of a small boat that has the shape of a face in one side! (pic 4)
Finally, we visited the Norwegian church (pic 5), a nice structure that was built in 1868 for the Norwegian sailors although first it was built 1,5km away from its current location (it was transferred here in 1987). It houses a small gallery but it was under renovation and we couldn’t get inside :(
I had more expectations about Cardiff Bay, although it was nice to walk around we didn’t really feel that we had to stay more than a few hours there, especially at the main part where all the chain restaurants are. Definitely it’s not like Barcelona’s port but still worth a visit.
Of course in our days its more interesting that a typical port that it was some years before (before WWII was one of the largest ones in the world but the coal industry declined after that). The large development of the area that started in 1999 brings now a lot of visitors during the warm months.
First we visited the huge impressive building (pic 1) that houses the Millennium Center. We went there because we wanted to take some maps from the Information Center but it also houses a venue for concerts, west end shows, opera, cinema and many stores and restaurants. It was built in 2004 with a strange design (different layers) and houses different theatre rooms for every possible show and event. There are 60’ tours of the building but we didn’t try it.
Then we moved towards the bay, and we took some pictures (pics 2-3) before we start to explore the area. There is a large basin just behind the barrage to protect the area from tides’ effects.
We also had breakfast at one of the numerous cafés that you can find at Mermaid Quay(pic 4), an area full of restaurants, cafes and bars right in front of the bay where you suppose to go for relax.
The most interesting building at Cardiff Bay is the Pierhead Building (pic 5). It was built at the end of 19th century (1897) in french gothic style with an attractive terracota exterior. It housed the offices of the Bute Dock company and unofficially is called Big Ben of Wales! Inside you can visit a small free museum about welsh history.
Captain Ben drove the Cardiff Bay Water Buses for many years and, in April 2011, bought his own boat, called it "Daffodil" and started independent tours of the Bay. If you want the breeze in your hair, the smell of the salt water and an intelligent witty commentary then this is the boat tour for you. being an open sided boat it is great for taking photographs. He is the only gentle open boat tour on the Bay and is also popular with local TV journalists, weddings ...and funerals!
Even though I've known the area since I was a teenager I learnt many new things on the tour. You get a description ofthe buildings, the history, the celebrities - we even found out where BBC character Dr Who lives when they are filming the TV series!
Blankets are provided when the weather is cool. It is a small boat, so when the weather is very rough the tour may be shortened (and the price reduced).
Normal charge is £5 for adults.