Official capital of Wales since only 1955, buoyant CARDIFF (Caerdydd) grew swiftly into its new role. A number of massive developments, not least the shiny Welsh National Assembly and Millennium Centre on the rejuvenated Cardiff Bay waterfront, and a fabulous city-centre sports stadium, give the city the feel of an international capital, if not always with a very Welsh flavour.
Cardiff’s sights are clustered in fairly small, distinct districts. The compact commercial centre is bounded by the River Taff, which flows past the tremendous Millennium Stadium; in this rugby-mad city, the atmosphere in the pubs and streets when Wales have a home match – particularly against the old enemy, England – is charged with good-natured, beery fervour. Just upstream, the Taff is flanked by the wall of Cardiff’s extraordinary castle, an amalgam of Roman remains, Norman keep and Victorian fantasy. North of the castle is a series of white Edwardian buildings grouped around Cathays Park: the City Hall, Cardiff University and the superb National Museum. A mile south of the centre, Cardiff Bay, once a bustling port, now a classy waterside development, houses the stunning Welsh National Assembly and Millennium buildings, and a stack of bars and restaurants. North of the city, a number of sights warrant a visit: Llandaff Cathedral, with its strange clash of Norman and modern styles; the thirteenth-century fairy-tale castle of Castell Coch, on a hillside in the woods; and the massive Caerphilly Castle. To the west, there’s the hugely popular National History Museum at St Fagans.
The second Marquess of Bute built Cardiff’s first dock in 1839, opening others in swift succession. The Butes owned massive swathes of the rapidly industrializing South Wales Valleys and insisted that all coal and iron exports use the family docks in Cardiff, which became one of the world’s busiest ports. The twentieth century saw varying fortunes: the dock trade slumped in the 1930s and the city suffered heavy bombing in World War II, but with the creation of Cardiff as capital in 1955, optimism and confidence in the city blossomed. Many government and media institutions have moved here from London, and the development of the dock areas around the new Assembly building in Cardiff Bay has given a largely positive boost to the cityscape.