48 hours in Cardiff

Cardiff is playing host to the Rugby World Cup this month. But don't let that put you off. It's a great city of culture too.


WHY GO NOW?

WHY GO NOW?

It's suddenly sexy to be Welsh, thanks to Catherine Zeta Jones and Catatonia, but Cardiff is also in the headlines as it plays host to the Rugby World Cup. The magnificent new Millennium Stadium on Westgate Street (replacing the much-loved Arms Park) is one of the world's most modern sports pavilions, with a sliding roof, moveable turf and innumerable other sporting luxuries. Tickets for internationals aren't cheap (prices vary) but, with no internal column supports to block the view, watching a match here will be an experience. Contact the Welsh Rugby Union (01222 781700) or www.rwc99.com.

BEAM DOWN

The fast train from Paddington takes about two hours (details First Great Western, 0345 48 49 50, or www.greatwesterntrains.co.uk). National Express also runs a regular service from London to Brecon that passes through Cardiff (details 0870 580 8080), and the M4 grazes the city to the north. There's also an international airport (01446 711111). The excellent Tourist Information Centre at 16 Wood Street (01222 227281) has details of the Cardiff Visitor's Pass, which lasts exactly 48 hours and gives free local transport and many discounts for a good value pounds 12.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

Sink a bottle of Welsh wine while you're in town: South Wales has a mild climate and my Welsh granny remembered vines growing on the hillsides in the days of her youth. Peter and Diana Andrews have started the Llanerch vineyard at Hensol in the Vale of Glamorgan (their 'Cariad' label is highly rated) and give guided tours from March to December. Take bus 32 from the central bus station and, if you overdo it, book in for the night (01443 225877, Fax 01443 225546 for reservations and information).

BRACING BRUNCH

For a peaceful Sunday morning, wander down to the designated cafe quarter, a pedestrianised area between Mill Lane and Custom House Street.

SUNDAY MORNING CHURCH

Llandaff Cathedral, sunk in a picturesque grassy hollow, houses the chapel of the Royal Welsh Regiment and an Epstein sculpture of Christ in Majesty dominates the aisle. There are seven services on a Sunday, so you've no excuse for not catching at least one. To get there, take bus 33 or 133 from the central bus station.

CHECK IN

The Angel Hotel, at Castle Street, Cardiff, CF1 2QZ (01222 232633) is an atmospheric luxury stopover, right next to the rugby ground, with doubles from £130. Its long history of distinguished guests includes people as diverse as Lady Diana Cooper and Anthony Perkins. For something cheaper, the Chalice Keep Guest House at 163 Cathedral Road, Cardiff, CF1 9PL (01222 374457) has double rooms from pounds 45. Alternatively, the Cardiff Marketing Agency has an accommodation hotline (01222 395173); bear in mind that hotel prices are generally lower outside rugby season.

TAKE A HIKE

The development of the docks area is a huge and controversial project, creating a freshwater lake with eight miles of shoreline. Take a 7, 7A or 7E bus from the station to Pierhead for the Cardiff Bay Visitor Centre (01222 463833) which can supply maps and useful information and give details of guided walks during the tourist season. There's also an events centre in the Inner Harbour and the old white-painted Norwegian Church, which was once a mission for Scandinavian seamen, is now an arts centre (Harbour Drive, Cardiff Bay, 01222 454899). The Welsh Assembly is nearby and the magnificent 19th-century Pierhead Building, once the headquarters of the old Bute Dock Company, still dominates the area. Don't expect to find Tiger Bay, home of the young Shirley Bassey and 100 tough legends: the entire area has been re-developed.

TAKE A TRIP

The Rhondda Heritage Park is almost all that's left of the once-great mining industry that created the wealth of Cardiff, but today's visitors can take underground tours on its "Black Gold Story". Frequent sprinter trains run from Cardiff Central to Trehafod in under 30 minutes, or the Stagecoach service 132 from the central bus station to the Rhondda takes just under an hour. For more information and opening times call 01443 682036.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

If it's a fine day, walk up St Mary Street and buy a take-away meal from the 19th-century covered market or, if it's wet, go to one of the greasy spoons near the evangelical bookshop on the market's gallery. Welsh produce is on sale in the market and, if you walk right through to The Hayes entrance, there is a splendid fish stall where you can buy laver (blackish seaweed once scraped up only by poor old types, now consumed at the trendiest tables).

WINDOW SHOPPING

Head to the arcades, an enticing, rambling, covered network of antique shops, delicatessens, bookshops and expensive shoe boutiques, especially around the south end of St Mary Street. David Morgan's department store has a good souvenir shop on the ground floor with an almost tasteful array of fluffy red dragons, Welsh Castle fridge magnets and the like.

DEMURE DINNER

Two French/Welsh restaurants close together in Romilly Crescent, Canton, are both highly recommended: Le Gallois (01222 341264) and Le Cassoulet (01222 221905). If you fancy a night out afterwards, see if any of the big Welsh groups - the Preachers, Stereophonics, Catatonia - are playing on home turf. The main venue is the Cardiff International Arena (01222 224488) but britpop and rock feature regularly at the Clwb Ifor Bach, 11 Womanby street (01222 232199). For something more refined, visit the Welsh National Opera at their New Theatre base (01222 878889).

AN APERITIF

For a place pickled in time, try the upstairs bar of the Albert in St Mary Street, where Fifties gentility and tapestry banquettes still reign supreme, along with Brains, the local beer. But don't miss JD Wetherspoon's newly-opened Prince of Wales on the corner of St Mary Street and Wood Street, a converted theatre that was previously empty and rotting for decades. Meals are ordinary, though good value and rapidly served, but the glory of the place is the preservation of many thespian features, including the stage.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

The recently opened Old Library Visual Arts Centre has regular exhibitions of modern art. The splendid former public library is in The Hayes, a central open space with genuine Cardiff greasy bun stalls and less authentic arty crafty stands. For more certain cultural pleasures, the National Museum of Wales offers a magnificent and unexpected collection of Impressionist paintings, thanks to the enlightened bequest of the Misses Gwendoline and Margaret Davies, two rich spinsters who bought works by Renoir, Monet and Degas at a time when most people thought they were crazy. You could also go round Cardiff Castle, all gilt and ornate murals and the designs of William Burges. Otherwise, opt for a walk in Bute Park, between the castle and the River Taff, instead. Walk alongside the "animal wall" and turn right into the gateway just before the bridge. You'll get a good free view of the castle and a lovely spot for a picnic in these beautiful gardens which were once the castle grounds.

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