Caerdydd am byth: two days in Wales

With the invitation to come for an interview, I was bound for Cardiff for an early week break in late March. My Dad and my little brother, who was on his Easter holiday from school, decided to come with me and to keep each other company while I sat in a lecture room and let fate decide my future.

When people mention UK capitals, or even UK city breaks, there are several stops you’ll come to before Cardiff even comes to mind. But this quaint city is a glaring omission from any holiday planner’s to do list. Anyone who has visited Limerick will be more than familiar with having an open-walled castle in such close proximity to the city’s bustling heart, while Dubs may need to take a second look to make sure some of the streets aren’t actually in their beloved fair city.

So how did you get there?

Just a short trip across the Irish Sea, Cardiff Airport is merely an hour’s flight from Ireland. Aer Lingus Regional fly to and from Dublin twice daily. Lower cost airline FlyBe also depart from Dublin once a day, and began a new twice-weekly route from Cardiff to Cork in June.

The airport is about 20 minutes from Cardiff city centre, and a bus directly from the arrivals terminal to Cardiff Central will cost you £5.

Where did you stay?

About a five minute walk from Cardiff’s main bus and train station, the Royal Hotel on St Mary Street is Cardiff’s oldest hotel, finding itself in a building erected in 1866. Despite this, the hotel comes fully equipped with WiFi connections, modernly and elegantly decorated rooms and flat screen TVs in each room. The staff here go above and beyond to make sure your stay is a memorable one for all the right reasons, even going so far as to deliver a copy of The Guardian to my room on the morning of the interview. Aren’t they pets?

The hotel couldn’t be placed any better in Cardiff city, standing a five minute walk from Queen Street, the main shopping area in the city. The Millennium Stadium is just behind the hotel- literally. Many of the rooms (but not ours, they must have been still sour over Ireland’s Six Nations win two weeks previous) boast views of the stadium, and the rafters of the stadium itself can be seen peeking over the rooftops of the buildings lining St Mary Street.

The only fault I could find with the hotel? The reception is a right arse to get to. Access to the hotel from the street requires steps. Inside, to get to the reception on the second floor, you must either take four flights of stairs, or go down one windy flight of stairs to get to the lift.

Ok, what did you do?

Though we were there for two days, I only managed one day actually exploring what the city had to offer. But I wasn’t disappointed.

Cardiff Castle lies on the aptly named Castle Street, right at the end of the street I stayed on, and though I didn’t head inside, it was difficult not to admire the exterior. Stretching out behind the castle, and across the road from Cardiff University, lies Bute Park, which turned out perfect for an afternoon stroll in the late March sunshine.

The big thing for us though was a tour of the above mentioned Millennium Stadium. I come from a big sporting family, and we’ve done tours of Croke Park already. Why not cross this off our list?

That it is not.

The tour lasts about an hour, bringing you to both changing rooms for the Welsh rugby and soccer teams, to the press room, out to pitchside, and up to some of the corporate boxes. Tours run Monday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm, and from 10am to 4pm on Sundays, and an adult tour costs £10.50.

If you’ve come with pockets burning, look no further than Queen Street. Akin to Dublin’s Grafton St, this pedestrianised street is home to high end names such as Karen Millen, Lipsy, or Marks and Spencer, but also boasts high street brands like New Look, Primark and Zara. It also houses three shopping centres within throwing distance of each other- St David’s, Queen Street Arcade, and Capitol Shopping Centre.

Did you eat anything?

For dinner, we headed to Bella Italia on St Mary Street. We’re big Italian food lovers, but this beautiful restaurant doesn’t just cater to Mediterranean tastes: while I went traditional (and basic) with spaghetti, my Dad picked a steak burger. The restaurant, part of a chain that runs across the UK, offers two courses for £9.95 after 5pm from Sunday to Thursday, and is a must if looking for traditional Italian food that tastes fantastic.

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