Clustered around the mediaeval castle, Cardiff’s compact city centre packs in museums, monuments, markets and a plethora of shops and cafes housed in several glass-roofed arcades. Part of the historic Castle Quarter, these Victorian structures are lined with independent businesses that are delightful to visit in all seasons.
The scenic Copthorne Hotel Cardiff–Caerdydd makes an ideal base for visitors to explore Cardiff’s unique attractions. This luxury hotel is within easy reach of Cardiff Bay attractions and historic Castle Street, the pulsating artery of this lively city.
Cardiff is known as ‘the City of Arcades’, with several Victorian and Edwardian structures housing hundreds of small shops and cafes in an intimate atmosphere. In a country known for its damp climate, the Victorians certainly had the right idea when they created a cosy microclimate around their warren of shops, beneath a gabled glass roof.
Castle Arcade. Image credit: © Crown copyright (2014) Visit Wales
Opposite the stone walls of Cardiff Castle, a gap in the shops on Castle Street indicates the Dutch renaissance-style entrance to Castle Arcade. Here, you’ll find a cluster of independent shops and businesses doing a brisk trade. Spread over three levels, the arcade has staircases leading up to balustraded galleries on the upper floors, all lined with quaint shopfronts. Decorative oriel bay windows and the Victorian lanterns inside the sturdy superstructure are all worth a second look.
Steeped in history, the Castle Arcade was built in 1887 and, like the neighbouring arcades, it is a Grade II listed building. The ‘street’ follows an L-shaped footprint connecting Castle Street with the more modern High Street. Pop into the Seasons Cafe Bar and look at the framed 1880s receipt book, discovered during recent renovations. It’s like disappearing into a time capsule and re-emerging in 21st century reality.
The Castle Arcade continues to serve the purpose it was built for. Drapers, fruit sellers and fortune tellers have been replaced by boutiques, bookshops and gift stores, but it is still a pleasant place to browse, eat and shop. Barely four metres wide, and enhanced by decorative Victorian wall tiles, the arcade is lined with tables.
Menu boards entice shoppers to stop for a creamy cappuccino and scone-like Welsh cakes, homemade soup with crusty bread or Welsh rarebit – a local delicacy of grilled cheese on toast. Enjoy the range of specialty foods at Madame Fromage or shop with a conscience at Oyster, which specialises in fair-trade items. You can even check your emails at Coffee Barker.
Welsh Cakes. Image credit: © Crown copyright (2014) Visit Wales
Designer fashion in the High Street Arcade
Still in the Castle Quarter, High Street Arcade is one of the oldest of Cardiff’s arcades and retains its grand Gothic architecture. Built in 1885, it connects High Street with St John Street. The olde-worlde shop windows feature everything from vintage to designer clothing in boutiques and fashion stores.
This is a great place to absorb the friendly ambience and admire the decorative Victorian features as you hunt for costume jewellery, antiques, toys and unusual gifts.
Duke Street Arcade
High Street Arcade. Image credit: © Crown copyright (2014) Visit Wales
Opened in 1902, Duke Street Arcade showcases ornate Edwardian architecture beneath its lofty glazed roof. The light, bright atmosphere provides a warm bubble for visitors frequenting the bridal shops, gift shops, hairdressers and other thriving businesses. Enjoy refreshments at Garlands Eatery and Coffee House and listen to locals conversing in their lilting Welsh accents. It’s the perfect place to sit and people-watch.
Further afield, two more arcades worth visiting are the elegant Royal Arcade and the Morgan Arcade with its Venetian windows, both situated between St Mary Street and the Hayes.
Local Produce at Cardiff’s Central Market
Similar in architectural style and ambience to the arcades, Cardiff’s Central Market has been in business since 1891. Look out for the oversized clock above the St Mary Street entrance, donated by H. Samuel Jewellers. With entrances on St Mary Street and Trinity Street, this Castle Quarter landmark sells a range of deli foods, fish, vegetables and other goods on two levels.
Historic Landmarks in the Castle Quarter
Cardiff Castle. Image credit: © Crown copyright (2014) Visit Wales
Once you have completed your vintage shopping experience, Cardiff’s compact city centre has far more to keep you entertained in all seasons. Cardiff Castle is a must-see. Built on Roman foundations with a Norman keep, the well-maintained castle includes a palatial residence within the fortified Roman walls. Take a guided tour of the ostentatious house, clock tower and castle apartments and prepare to be wowed by elaborate wood carvings, stained-glass windows and colourful murals.
More Gothic treats can be found in the castle’s Animal Wall adjoining Bute Park. Bordering Castle Street, the 19th-century wall features 15 three-dimensional animals scaling the wall, including a life-size bear, lion, hyena and an anteater – all imaginatively carved in stone.
Close to the magnificent City Hall is the National Museum Cardiff with free entry Tuesday through Sunday to the Welsh National Art Collection and the Natural History Collection, among other treasures. The nearby Principality Stadium, home of Welsh rugby, offers informative tours of the hallowed ground between matches.
Cardiff Bay Waterfront. Image credit: © Crown copyright (2014) Visit Wales
As you can see, Cardiff is brimming with history, culture, good food, arts and entertainment. You may have to consider extending your stay at the Copthorne Hotel Cardiff–Caerdydd if you want to fit everything in.