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Cardiff Bay & Mermaid Quay
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 Cardiff Bay area used to be a neglected slum, covered with smelly mudflats. Then, a tidal barrage was built, taking advantage of some of the highest tidal ranges in the world (up to 14 12 metres), and the mudflats were turned into a freshwater lake.
Over the last few years, the bay area has been redeveloped into a stunning commercial area, with a lovely water side development filled with restaurants, cafes and shops. It is a really nice place to take a walk or enjoy a leisurely meal.
Each Sunday, during the warmer months, there are street entertainers and shows around the bay. We visited on the August Bank Holiday weekend, and there was a small festival.
From the bay wharfs you can take a boat ride around the harbour and down the coast a bit, or just out to have a close up look at the tidal barrage.
- Family Travel
Boat trip on the "Daffodil"
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.
- Family Travel
Colourful Cardiff Bay (including green algae)
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'!
- Theme Park Trips
- Theater Travel
- Sailing and Boating
Wales Millenium Centre
The Wales Millenium Centre (Canolfan Mileniwm Cymru) is home to the famous Welsh National Opera.
Apart from that it is a performing arts venue for musicals, opera, ballet and dance. The architectural interesting building was finished in 2004 and consists of various theatre rooms. The biggest is the Donald Gordon Theatre with a capacity of 1900 people.
The Wales Millenium Centre is situated at the entrance to the waterfront of Cardiff Bay.
Address: Wales Millenium Centre, Bute Place, Cardiff CF10 5AL
- Budget Travel
The Cardiff Bay area
While the Atlantic Wharf can be seen as only interesting to those who are interested in architecture and urban planning, the Cardiff Bay area is definitely a place that noone visiting Cardiff should miss. New commercial, cultural and entertainment facilities all make a very dynamic mix in the former harbor area of Cardiff. Thanks to the construction of a barrage across the entrance to the bay the water is clean and its quality constantly improved by a different set of technical measures.
Along the new flashy architecture of the Millennium Centre and the Assembly building there is also a number of small shops, cafes and restaurants at the Mermaid Quay that make this area very interesting to visit. The area is served by new "Bay Bus" services, but it won't take more than 20 minutes to walk down there from the main railway station.
Wales Millennium Centre
The Millennium Centre houses a theatre, opera and a ballet and is the major landmark of the Cardiff Bay area. The volume of its metal envelope stands out from all other buildings in the area and greets you with some poetry verses as you enter the Roald Dahl Plass.
The building was designed by Jonathan Adams and opened in 2004. Its materials - wood inside, stainless steel and multi-colored Welsh slate outside are representing the landscapes and industrial heritage of Wales. Above the entrance, the impressive front facade has the inscriptions that say "In These Stones Horizons Sing" (in English) and "Creating Truth Like Glass from the Furnace of Inspiration" (in Welsh).
If you take a look at most other people's pages about Cardiff here on VT you will see that this building definitely became one of the most important symbols of Cardiff - with a reason, I would say.
Another architectural jewel of the Bay area is the recently completed National Assembly of Wales, designed by the Richard Rogers Partnership. Here, everything is about the concept of openness and transparency of the government, materialized in architecture of the Assembly building.
The most striking feature of the building is its transparent first level (open to the public) and an undulating roof. The base of the building is made of the stones that form a processional route to the first floor. Inside, the visitors can access the viewing gallery to take a look what happens in the debating chamber below. While the politicians have to concentrate on work underground, the visitors can enjoy some nice vistas of the Cardiff Bay area or have a coffee or tea in a small cafe.
Restaurant Quarter and Mermaid Quay
If you don't like the idea of having your coffee in an old church, or in an old boat run by the Church - there are plenty of places to choose from in the Restaurant Quarter and the Mermaid Quay. Here, the scale of the buildings is more humane and buildings make interesting structure over the water.
I was surprised to see that on a Saturday morning, as the rest of the city was sleeping, cafes were rather full. Of course, this cannot compare with the evening when a reservation is essential in any of the restaurants. And if you want your Brains to end up the evening you might have to wait for a free table.
The Old waterside of the docks area of Cardiff has undergone a dramatic change in recent years. Today this are is packed with smart cafe's, bars, shops, resturaunts and a host of activities for the visitor.
- Family Travel
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.
- Family Travel
- Historical Travel
Ships and a norwegian church!
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 :(
- Family Travel
- Historical Travel
"Torchwood" Shooting Locations
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.
Walk around Cardiff BAy
Once known as Tiger Bay, today Cardiff Place is a pleasant pedestrian friendly area. There are trips to be had [lasting 40 minutes] around the bay; there are cafes and restaurants, unusual architecture, old buildings and pleasant views of the bay and across to Penarth.
It is a pleasant place to spend a couple of hours, sit and have a meal or laze on the grass or benches.
- Arts and Culture
- Sailing and Boating
For those who perished on the sea
I love this monument, the 'Merchant Seafarer's War memorial.' It was designed by Brian Fell in 1966 and is shaped like the hull of a boat. It also has a mosaic around it, depicting inscriptions and portraits of local seafarers from wartime. It is quite haunting to look at and is a very apt and pretty monument to the men who have lost their lives at sea, during the wars, I think.
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
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