Exciting historic attractions to explore in Cardiff
By Nerys Lloyd-Pierce
From the Romans and Normans through to the industrial revolution, Cardiff is a treasure of historical influences, and, of course, the coal industry which transformed Cardiff from a small town into a thriving, international city. If you’re due to enjoy a break in and around the Welsh capital, here’s some of the most interesting historical attractions to visit and really make the most of your time here.
Cardiff owes its existence as a major centre to the discovery of coal. One of the main beneficiaries of the coal boom was the Bute family – then owners of Cardiff Castle. The 3rd Marquess of Bute spent much of his new-found income commissioning architect William Burges to oversee the renovation.
The Welsh flag flying at Cardiff Castle
Marvel at the castle’s stunning interiors
Within the castle’s tall Gothic towers, no expense was spared in the opulent refurbishment of the apartments. Precious stones, gilding, marble, elaborate carvings, Mediterranean rooftop gardens all combined to create the ultimate fantasy makeover. A tour of the castle reveals in no uncertain terms how the upper crust lived in the late 19th century.
Roald Dahl Plass honours the famous writer, a son of Cardiff, who was born in the genteel suburb of Llandaff, and christened at the Norwegian Church, where his parents worshipped, now glistening white at its waterfront home, which it was moved to when it was renovated. The ‘Plass’ (Norwegian for plaza) hosts events throughout the year such as the annual food and drink festival, performances by the anarchic NoFit State Circus, and the Harbour Festival which have been a huge hit with families.
The Norwegian Church once hosted Roald Dahl’s baptism
Within easy reach of Cardiff are the spectacular remains of Tintern Abbey, one of the UK’s most dramatic monastic ruins, set in the lush and lovely Wye Valley. This Cistercian monastery was wealthy and successful until it was laid waste by Henry V111 when he embarked upon the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s, destroying the religious orders’ power and appropriating their wealth for his own ends. The magnificently atmospheric ruins have inspired a poem by Wordsworth, a famous painting by Turner, and were the setting for a 1988 music video by Iron Maiden.
Walk through the spectacular remains of Tintern Abbey
A short train ride from Cardiff, another must-see is medieval moated Caerphilly Castle, which featured in BBC TV series Merlin. Alongside a wonky tower to rival Pisa’s, the second largest castle in Britain hosts outdoor performances and cinema, with an annual Big Cheese festival in July.
Insole Court, a 36-room Victorian mansion in Llandaff, is another opulent reminder of these hedonistic times. Public events such as concerts, film screenings, market days and heritage tours have made the mansion and gardens a new destination for both tourists and Cardiff residents.
Families will love Insole Court
A stroll around provides a flavour of the extraordinary privileges the wealthy enjoyed, while the Potting Shed cafe offers home-made ethical treats. The latest instalment of the massive restoration project is the opening up of the sumptuous upstairs apartments of the mansion – tours are available, and are well worth taking as this part of the house is particularly special.
One of the city’s most beautiful buildings is Llandaff Cathedral. Llandaff was once a village in its own right, but now is one of Cardiff’s most affluent and attractive suburbs, complete with a pretty green and quaint houses.
Llandaff Cathedral sits in quiet surroundings
Admire the craftsmanship within Llandaff Cathedral
The cathedral is situated on one of the oldest Christian sites in Britain, dating back to the sixth century. Work began on the current cathedral in 1107, when Bishop Urban, the first bishop appointed by the Normans, instigated its construction. Inside, one of the key features is the splendid statue by Jacob Epstein, Christ in Majesty.
National History Museum of Wales in St Fagans
Go back in time at the National History Museum of Wales in St Fagans, a short drive or bus ride from the centre. More than 40 historic buildings have been re-erected in 100 acres of parkland: stepping inside them is like climbing inside a time machine.
A row of six terraced cottages illustrates how life evolved from the mid-19th century to the 1970s. A Victorian school highlights a bygone educational system complete with rough discipline, while Kennixton Farmhouse reflects a superstitious past, where its 18th-century occupants kept evil spirits at bay by painting their home a vivid pink. There’s also a working bakery, a Tudor merchant’s house, a village shop, a pottery, a corn mill complete with a friendly cat ensconced in front of the fire, a Working Men’s Hall and a wonderful late 12th-century church.