Formerly known as Tiger Bay, Cardiff Bay is often described as one of the most successful redevelopment projects in the UK. The Bay has transformed from the rough red-light district of previous decades into the flourishing and trendy part of Cardiff that it is today, full of sights to see and hotel options for every budget. From Flat Holm Island to the Roald Dahl Plass, here are the top places to check out in this part of Wales.
Norwegian Church Arts Centre
The Norwegian Church Arts Centre is a Lutheran Church building that has recently undergone a £500,000 refurbishment. The building was formerly a place of worship for the Norwegian Community living in Cardiff, including the likes of Roald Dahl and his family. An example of Norwegian architecture, it was built for the sailors who settled in Cardiff when it was a major trading port. Nowadays, the building is used as an arts and live music centre, where visitors can also taste Norwegian-style food.
The Senedd – National Assembly for Wales
Opened in 1999, the Cardiff Bay Barrage was one of the largest civil engineering projects happening in Europe at the time. The Barrage was built in order to reduce the mudflats, which were not aesthetically pleasing and were seen as a hindrance to the area’s progress. The Barrage runs from Penarth to the mouth of the Bay. Its creation has been central to the redevelopment of the Bay, and with the recent addition of a pedestrian and cycle route, it has made Penarth far more accessible.
The Pilot Pub, Penarth
The Pilot, a traditional pub in Penarth, sits right on top of a hill that overlooks the Bay. Offering an ever-changing menu and craft beers on tap, this is the perfect place to sit outside with a meal or a drink while enjoying the view. The laid-back and friendly atmosphere is complemented by a cosy log burner in the winter, and they have board games available for rent. The staff are eager to please and happy to cater for particular needs.
The Cardiff Devils Ice Hockey team play in the British Elite Hockey league, and their current arena is located in the Bay. Formed in 1986, the team has a large number of followers, many of whom travel with them around the country for support. Wearing red, white and black, the team encourages adults and children to get involved with ice hockey. The fast-paced matches provide an exciting experience. The arena is part of the International Sports Village, which also hosts an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a kayak and canoe course, among other facilities. The season runs from October to April and is well worth looking into if you’re there at the right time.
Flat Holm Island
Flat Holm Island is located on the southernmost point of Wales. The island has a long history of occupation, beginning at least in the Anglo-Saxon age. It is now a local nature reserve and has been declared a special protection area. A handful of shipwrecks can be seen from the island, depending on the weather. The best way to visit the island is by taking a boat trip; visitors are given a few hours to explore the island and the few buildings that remain.
Cardiff Bay Wetlands Reserve
Much of Cardiff Bay has been modernised by new buildings and urban restoration, but a small corner of it has been left to nature. The Cardiff Bay Wetlands Nature Reserve is a section of reeds and manmade wooden flotillas designed to provide nesting for local waterbirds. A boardwalk just near the voco St David’s Hotel provides a picturesque route through it and a great vantage to watch the birds, especially during the summer months.
Considering that Cardiff Bay is, well, a bay, there are plenty of options for those who wish to get out on the water. Sailing lessons, water taxis and water sports are on offer, but there are also several different boat tours available. The Open Boat provides bookings onto a tiny open-top steamboat replica, the Daffodil. Guided by the captain, you will be taken across the harbour to learn more about the maritime history of Cardiff in style.
The Doctor Who experience may be gone, but there are still hints of the TV show all over Cardiff to be seen and enjoyed. For die-hard fans, Ianto’s Shrine is a must-see. This section of wall pays tribute to Ianto Jones, a very popular character who played a central role in the spin-off Torchwood, and is covered in messages, pictures and poems placed there by fans of the series, who travelled from all corners of the world to see it. You have to admire the dedication.
Roald Dahl Plass
Speaking of literary figures, Roald Dahl is perhaps one of the most famous former Cardiff residents, and he has his own corner of the Bay dedicated to him. The Roald Dahl Plass is near the Senedd, a public space featuring an oval basin with pillars that light up at night and a tall water tower. It has previously been a preferred site for outdoor theatre and street performers, and it has featured in the background of various TV shows including – you guessed it – Doctor Who.
Craft in the Bay
Founded by the Makers Guild in Wales, Craft in the Bay is an open gallery featuring the work of artisans and makers from all over the city and indeed the country. It regularly runs talks and workshops to help visitors get a hands-on experience. This gallery has been listed as a vital cultural heritage destination since 2004 and continues to update its collection and put on new exhibits all year round.
Another great destination for the discerning art fan, BayArt was founded as an independent collective called Butetown Artists in 2002, thanks to a large grant from Cardiff City Council. Now it is one of the most prominent studio galleries in the city. BayArt has a varied, ever-changing exhibition calendar, so it’s always worth finding out what’s on, and it regularly runs open-studio tours so that you can see what resident artists are working on before it goes on display.
It’s difficult to miss Techniquest when you walk past it; it’s a huge, glass, oblong structure with various scientific apparatuses on display through the windows. Since opening in 1986, it has become one of the most popular science museums anywhere in the UK. The focus is very much on interactivity, especially aimed at kids, with many of the exhibits being designed in such a way, and with events and talks running regularly. The museum features a planetarium, a science theatre and a wide range of exhibits, so there’s plenty to keep you occupied.
Red Dragon Centre
Previously the Bute Town East Dock, this section of waterside was converted into new housing in the 2000s; this included the construction of the Atlantic Wharf Leisure Village before it was redubbed the Red Dragon Centre. Inside you’ll find restaurants, a bowling alley, a cinema, and a gym – and it’s even the home of Capital FM, one of Cardiff’s most popular local radio stations.
Additional reporting by Callum Davies
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