The Lightship was served at a number of coastal water stations around the UK since it was built in 1953. It was last stationed on the Gower Peninsula, South Wales, in 1989 and was used to warn boatmen of potential dangers when docking.
It eventually made its permanent dock at Cardiff Bay and following restoration it became a religious centre with its chapel and conference facilities. Today visitors can able to visit the ship and look around as well as visiting the cafe in the galley for something to eat. On my visit I had a look round the engine room and spoke to a volunteer about the ship. It is free of charge although donations are encouraged.
Please look at the website for further information about visiting the lightship.
Y Senedd is the home of the Welsh National Assembly (Government) where it holds regular debates and committees. It opened in 2006 and is opened to visitors who can able to participate in a guided tour of the building. Please check out the website for further information about the Welsh Government and the building itself.
Pierhead, known as Welsh 'Big Ben' was built in 1897 for the original Bute Dock Company Offices then becoming headquarters of the Cardiff Railway Company which transport coal for exporting.
Pierhead was used an an office hub to serve the Cardiff Docklands during the 20th Century. The Pierhead became a famous Welsh landmark and today serves as a visitor and events/conference venue.
I thoroughly enjoyed looking round the Grade I listed building which was designed with influences of Gothic Revivalism. 3rd Marquee of Bute (1847-1900) was passionate about the Gothic revival during the 19th Century. We had an opportunity to look visual/audio displays about life in Cardiff Bay over the past century since 1897. There is an exhibition about Welsh history from the 950 AD to 1997 and also a Futures Gallery where there was a contemporary photography exhibition - 'Before the Deluge' (Cardiff Docklands in the 1970s).
An object of interest in one of the exhibition rooms is of the Binnacle from SS Terra Nova, the boat of ill fated Scott's Antarctic expedition in 1912, and was presented to the Royal Navy in 1913.
The Pierhead is owned by the Welsh Assembly and the State sponsors a lot of events at there.
As already explained, it is very easy to venture out of Cardiff and see some more places in Wales while staying in the capital. If you have any chance to do this, I really recommend it!
Besides going to the typical places like Llandaff, Penarth, St Fagans and Caerphilly, it is even possible to go further and to some places not visited by that many day trippers.
One possibility is to do guided tours. I did two with a company called See Wales Tours - one tour to the Gower Peninsula and another one to Caerleon, Tintern Abbey and Raglan Castle. The tours were very good and I am happy I did them, although I also had some difficulties with the tour company because one day I was the only passenger and they just cancelled my tour without telling me so that I waited at the pick-up point without them turning up. There are other tour companies, though, so it might be best if you do your own research and decide which company is best for you. Regarding See Wales Tours: the tours themselves were excellent, but they management does not seem to be very good. On the other hand, it seems to be a common problem during low season that tours are cancelled because of low passenger numbers - so if you are a solo traveller, this might not be the best option during the winter months.
If you are not a person for guided tours, there are also many places that you can reach by bus or train. One day I took a bus to Brecon Beacons National Park, where I visited the country town of Brecon and also did some hiking in the mountains. The bus service I used does not operate anymore (it stopped operating on the 31st of March 2012), but stagecoach X43 still goes there. The journey takes about 75 minutes. I cannot tell you the exact cost but I think it should not be more than £5.
I also went to the pleasant town of Abergavenny by train - well worth a visit, frequent trains from Cardiff and not even an hour journey. A prepaid ticket costs about £10.
I think that if you invest a little time for research, or go to the tourist information and let them help you (they have so many good leaflets about public transport to make it easier for visitors), it is possible to visit many, many places by public transport, so there is no real need for tours if you don't like that kind of travel.
To sum up - public transport is not nearly as bad and scary as people predicted to me when I was planning my trip, and even if you don't want to put up with busses and trains, there are guided tours on offer (at least in high season).
There is no need to only hang around in Cardiff just because you don't travel by car :-)
Picture 1: Rhossili, Gower Peninsula
Picture 2: Cliff walking, Gower Peninsula
Picture 3: Tintern Abbey
Picture 4: Raglan Castle
Picture 5: Brecon Beacons National Park
Pages on the places I visited are to come soon and will be linked here
Beside Mermaid Quay is a huge red 'gothic' building reminiscent of King's Cross/ St Pancras stations in London. It was home to the Welsh Assembly.The Pierhead is the location of 'The Assembly at the Pierhead', the Visitor and Education Centre for the National Assembly for Wales. Originally it was used to house the Bute Dock Company, completed in 1897.
To book a visit call 029 2089 8477
Locally referred to as “The Armadillo” the Wales Millennium Centre is an international arts centre presenting musicals, opera, ballet, contemporary dance, hip hop and stand up comedy. The centre is also home to exhibitions, workshops, training days, free daily foyer performances, guided tours, bars and restaurants. The cost of the building came from the Welsh Assembly Government providing a £37m contribution towards the total of £106.2m. The Centre is one of the most unique and lively performing arts centres in Europe, opened by Her Majesty The Queen in 2004.
Ticket and Information Desk
Sunday to Saturday: 10:00 am to 30 minutes after the start of the last performance
St John the Baptist Church is the oldest church in the city centre and after Cardiff Castle is the oldest medieval building dating back to the twelfth century replacing an eleventh century building that was destroyed by the troops of Owain Glyndwr. The chapel is from the late sixteenth century that was expanded and enhanced through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The ‘Father' Willis organ, recently restored is one of the finest in Wales, and used for concerts as well as accompanying worship.
The church also has a Tea Room operating in the church Vestry every weekday that is run by volunteers.
Monday to Saturday: 10:00 am to 2:30 pm, and during hours of worship on Sundays
Cardiff University's very beautiful main building is also located in the Civic Centre. This is Cathays Park Campus, which Alexandra Gardens, the Glamorgan Building and many other buildings around here are also part of.
The university was originally founded in 1883 and was located in Newport Road, east of the city centre. Yet, its founders wished for a location closer to the city centre. When the Civic Centre was developed in the beginning of the 20th century, it was an ideal location and so the main building was constructed here.
Construction began in 1909, although it was not really finished until the 1960s.
The building looks more like a castle or stately home than a university building! When I think of the ugly 1970s buildings where I used to study in Cologne, I can do nothing but envy the people who study in such a splendid one :-) If you visit this part of Cardiff, a stroll through Alexandra Gardens and a quick look at this university building are well worth it.
Cardiff's city centre might look a bit boring, as it is not in the least historical. Queen Street, its main street, is just lined with chain shops and different shopping centers, and it is all very commercial. Cardiff's main attractions are all elsewhere: the castle and Bute Park are located at the northern end of Queen Street, the beautiful buildings are located in the Civic Centre, and nearly everything else is at Cardiff Bay, not here.
However, I still liked the city centre - despite its being full of chain stores, I think it has a very friendly look. Most of the buildings have light colours, there are trees and a few statues by Robert Thomas, and I just liked the general atmosphere: Fast and fluent, but not really hectic.
If you walk into the direction opposite of the castle, you get to an area of a few smaller streets, where the Millennium Stadium, St John Church, Cardiff Market and the Old Library are located. This is quite a pretty area where you also find some old pubs and individual shops.
It is maybe nothing special - but it is still pleasant enough!
The town of Caerphilly is only a 45 minute bus ride from Cardiff and thus makes the perfect destination for a half day trip.
Caerphilly Castle is usually described as one of the grandest castles in the UK, and I can only agree. It really is huge, and looks as if it comes directly out of a history book. Most of it was constructed in the 13th century when it was a totally ingenious castle with the best defenses you could find anywhere - portcullises, gates and drawbridges galore! It later became a ruin, but restoration started in the 19th century and was later continued by - yes, you guessed it - the Marquess of Bute. Who else. But thankfully he did only restore it to to some extent - parts of it still look like a ruin, most of all the leaning tower, and all the rooms are empty, not full of colorful fairtytale stuff. It is thus a much more authentic and original place than Cardiff Castle, and I recommend a visit here very much.
The town Caerphilly is dominated very much by its large castle (the castle is located directly in the city centre), but it is also a pleasant town in its own right, although there are not many tourist attractions.
Admission fee to the castle: Adult £4,00, child and concession £3,60, family £11,60 - included in the cadw Explorer Pass
Opening times: March to October daily 09.30am to 05.00pm, to 06.00pm in July and August. November to February: 10.00am to 04.00pm Monday to Saturday, 11.00am to 04.00pm Sunday
Getting from Cardiff to Caerphilly by bus is easy: Take Bus 26 or bus A/B from the main bus station. Bus 26 runs every hour on the hour (09.00, 10.00 and so on), bus A/B runs at 10 and 40 minutes past the hour. On sundays, bus 26 runs at 12.15 and 14.15. A return ticket is £3,70.
You can also easily combine a trip to Caerphilly with a visit to Castell Coch, as bus 26 stops there as well.
A seperate page on Caerphilly is to come soon
The Crown Court is located next to the City Hall, so when you walk to the Civic Centre and see the three enormous white buildings, it is the one on the left (middle: City Hall, right: National Museum). It is another fine building of portland stone, and its façade is of neo-classic style, reminding of a Greek temple. Other influences are of the Renaissance. I personally liked the engravings best (see second picture).
The building was constructed in 1904, when Cardiff was becoming a city and the Civic Centre was created to show its new self-confidence and strength. Its main façade (the pillar one) faces King Edward VII Avenue in the directions of Alexandra Gardens, not Gorsedd Gardens Road.
This building is home to the Welsh parliament, the National Assembly for Wales. It was opened in 2006 and is particularly famous because of its eco-friendly design: there is a rotating system on the roof which provides free air circulation and cooling, and rainwater is collected to provide flushing for the toilets!
The dominating materials are wood, slate and glass, and surprisingly I really liked the building (I say surprisingly because usually I do not have that much interest in contemporary architecture). I think to really appreciate it, you have to enter it, though. You just need to undergo the usual security procedures, then you are free to wander around the lobby, and also the main assembly hall (you need a ticket for this, though, if it is in use - otherwise you can just walk in and have a look).
From the lobby, you have a perfect view of the wooden ceiling and its curvy shape, and also the funnel which is the main part of the rotating system.
The Senned's website has a very good FAQ page concerning visits and opening times.
The City Hall was constructed from 1901 to 1905 and is one of the most prominent building in the Civic Centre. Its most distinctive features are the belfry, which is 60m high, and the dome which is crowned by a Welsh dragon.
The City Hall was built from white Portland stone which looks very luxurious and you can see that the city was indeed very self-confident during that time, when it was the largest coal-exporting harbour in the world. Before the City Hall and the other civic buildings in this area were built, the land belonged (like to much else in Cardiff) to the Bute family who sold it to the city.
This red brick building is very noticeable when you arrive at Cardiff Bay, because of its bright red colour, but also because it is the only historical building at the waterfront and therefore stands out. The building was constructed in 1897 in neo-gothic style and belonged to the Bute Docks Company, a railway company. It now belongs to the National Assembly which has some meeting rooms here, but some rooms are also converted to an interesting museum about Welsh history. On display are pictures and a film about Cardiff Bay, and some very important documents.
Apart from this, the interior itself is well worth a look at, providing an insight into the days when Cardiff Bay was a flourishing industrial centre and the Victorian railway industry was very important. And: They don't mind if you take pictures :-)
Picture 1: The building from the outside
Pictures 2 and 3: The wonderful interior, where I instantly felt like within a period drama.
Picture 4: The official document of the Government of Wales Act in 1998, when the National Assembly was established, signed by Elizabeth II.
Picture 5: A document from 1406, sent by Welsh national hero Owain Glyndwr to Charles VI of France, seeking his alliance and telling him that the pope approved of the establishing of a Welsh national church with Welsh-speaking priests.
Opening times: 10.00am to 04.30pm monday to saturday
The Millennium Centre was opened in 2004 and is a distinctive, big building next to the Senedd. It is a big arts complex and home to the National Opera, the National Dance Company, the National Orchestra and others.
The building is constructed of slate, but topped by a very impressive bronze roof formed like a shell. This shell has big windows which form the words In these stones horizons sing and Creu Gwir del Gwydr o Ffwrnais Awen, which means "Creating truth like glass from inspiration's surface".
I do not know much about contemporary architecture, but I liked this building very much. It looks very nice when the bronze reflects the sun shine, and I think that the shape of the shell is just very interesting and fitting for a centre of the arts.
You can enter the foyer and cafés of the Millennium Centre and wonder around here, but to see more you need to join a guided tour (I did not).
In the far corner of the building, when you approach from the waterfront, there is also the Cardiff Bay Tourist Information Centre. The famous Tourist Information called "The Tube" was closed in 2010 to make way for a new road and was replaced by this one.
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