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Bridge over the River Taff, in central Cardiff - seen from the Millennium WalkwayAll through 2005 Cardiff celebrated a double birthday, marking its centenary as a city, and 50 years as the capital of Wales. 

But every year has plenty to celebrate with plenty of sport, music and art events. Indeed Cardiff has so many attractions that a short break any time is worth while, catering for a wide variety of interest.

Cardiff is now firmly established as one of the world's top sporting venues. During 2007 Cardiff's Millennium Stadium hosted Cup Final football, World Cup rugby, and six matches of Rugby League in one weekend.

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Getting there: By road, approach via Junction 30 or 32 on M4.
By public transport, the Bus and Coach Station is right opposite Cardiff Central railway station. City transport from there is excellent.

Entrance is free to all national museums in Wales. Don't miss the National Museum & Gallery with its outstanding art collection. The Techniquest Science Discovery Centre is popular with all ages. 

More information: Cardiff Gateway Visitor Centre, the Old Library, The Hayes, Cardiff CF10 1WE. Tel: 029-2022-7281.

In Cardiff Bay go to the Visitor Centre, 'The Tube', Harbour Drive.

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Arts-lovers can enjoy a full season of theatre, music and opera at Wales Millennium Centre, and a special exhibition to celebrate the  bicentenary of Charles Darwin: a revolutionary scientist in the National Museum .

The Welsh Proms and a host of other musical entertainment ranging from folk music to the Bootleg Beatles are at St David's Hall. Cardiff has so much in the way of entertainment that it is impossible to even scratch the surface here but the local tourist board website has a full listing.

You might start exploring Cardiff  by strolling along the Millennium Stadium Walkway. That's a 21st-century promenade in the middle of town, with the huge Stadium on one side, and the charming River Taff on the other. 

It's far removed from the city's grimy years as a major coal port. In fact Cardiff has been awarded high rank in the league table of Britain's cleanest cities.

The top sightseeing attraction is Cardiff Castle, built by the Normans in 1081 where the Romans sited the original fort. 

It costs £8.95 ( concession £7.50) for the Eddential Ticket which covers the Interpretation Centre with exhibition & film show, an audio guide of Castle grounds, Norman Keep and Battlement walk, entry to a selection of Castle apartments and the Welch Regiment Museum ( this is closed on Tuesdays). The castle is a dramatic ruined Norman Keep perched on a steep mound encircled by a moat. On warm days, visitors picnic among the peacocks on the Castle Green. 

For many centuries, it wasn't nearly so tidy looking. Cardiff was just a sleepy little settlement of farmers and fishermen. Total population was only a thousand people in year 1801. 

Everything changed when the Bute family, lords of the manor, built a canal from Merthyr Tydfil to haul coal. Docks were constructed from 1839 by the 2nd Marquis of Bute who owned the mineral rights to huge areas of the South Wales valleys. 

He demanded that all coal and iron should be shipped through his family docks. By late 19th century, Cardiff was the world's largest coal exporter. 

But the big historical name in Cardiff is the 3rd Marquis of Bute, who inherited the aristocratic Scottish title in 1848 when he was six months old. 

During his long and mega-rich lifetime, the Marquis and an architect friend set the style for central Cardiff. The Castle living quarters were converted into a Victorian fantasy, no expense spared. It's worth taking the 50-minute tour of the interior.

Close by is Cardiff City Centre, rated the finest in Europe. Among the majestic buildings are City Hall, the Law Courts and the main University Building. The National Museum of Wales has one of the best collections of Impressionist paintings outside Paris.
Every building sparkles white with Portland Stone. That was a condition laid down by the Marquis when he sold the land to the council in 1898. 

The best introduction to Cardiff is aboard the City Sightseeing Bus tour, costing 9 (Concession £7.00) and starting right outside the Castle. It's the Hop-On Hop-Off variety, with top-rate guides describing all the changes since coal exports ended.

Cardiff Bay - formerly called Tiger Bay - is now the great tourist highlight. All the derelict docks, warehouses and miles of railway sidings have been swept away. You get a distant view of the last operating dock, where piles of coal are imported from Poland.
A sightseeing boat awaits at Mermaid Quay
Centred on the Inner Harbour is Mermaid Quay, gleaming with cafes, smart restaurants and designer boutiques. The promenade is great for a fresh-air stroll, with no coal dust. 

Pleasure-boats operate trips around the harbour, and out to the Barrage which saves Cardiff from being flooded by 39-ft tides that come sweeping up the Bristol Channel. 

Mudflats have been converted into a freshwater lake formed by the estuaries of Rivers Ely and Taff. Overlooking the waterfront is the 5-star St David's Hotel, rated among the top twenty luxury hotels in the world. 

On the other side of Mermaid Quay is the stunning architecture of the Wales Millennium Centre. It includes a theatre seating 1950, and is the home of the Welsh National Opera company and other arts organisations. 

A neighbouring building houses the National Assembly for Wales which likewise is in full-blown 21st-century style. Another modern complex is the Atlantic Wharf Leisure Village, which includes a 26-lane bowling alley, cinemas, restaurants, bars and high capacity night club.

All this means that Cardiff is truly a year-round short-break destination. Don't worry if the weather turns wet. There is enormous choice of indoor attractions, museums, shopping and sporting events. 

The Millennium Stadium opened in 1999 and seats 72,000 people. Its retractable roof takes 20 minutes to open or close. The Stadium is setting for Rugby and Soccer matches, occasional pop concerts, and an annual World Speedway Championship. 
Wales Millennium Centre, home to Welsh Opera and numerous concert and theatre performances
While most of Cardiff's attractions are handy for easy walking - Civic Centre, Castle, the Queen Street to St. David's Centre shopping area, the Stadium and Cardiff Bay - it's worth planning time to visit two out-of-town highlights.

Llandaff Cathedral is two miles out along Cathedral Road, dates from 1120, and includes a stunning Jacob Epstein sculpture called 'Christ in Majesty'.

Further west is the free Museum of Welsh Life at St Fagans. Farmhouses, barns, miners' cottages, mills, workshops, pig- sties and cowsheds have been re-erected on the 100-acre site. All buildings are furnished in original style, and even the pig-sty has a resident sow. You need half a day to explore the museum thoroughly.  While the museum entrance is free car parking costs £2.50.


Here are more ideas on where to go in Wales

CARDIGAN - Self-catering along the Heritage Coast

LLEYN PENINSULA - Go walking around the Edge of Wales

SWANSEA - On the Dylan Thomas trail around the Gower peninsula 

TENBY - along  Pembroke's coastline

WALES - Steam up for North Wales

WALES ALONG THE A5 - Follow the historic highway for great sightseeing

WELSH RAREBITS - for a taster of Wales

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Francis Frith's Cardiff Old and New (Photographic Memories S.) - Much of the interest in Cardiff comes from comparing 'then' and 'now'. This photo collection underlines the enormous changes in the city during recent times.

Cardiff, Swansea and Gower (Jarrold Pathfinder Walking Guides) - An ideal publication for any walking enthusiast who wants to spread into the two great cities

Itchy Insider's Guide to Cardiff - gives you the low-down on where to go, and what to do, in the Welsh capital.

Down the Bay: Picture Post, Humanist Photography and Images of 1950s Cardiff - Based on classic images taken by the great Picture Post photographer, Bert Hardy, who chronicled Tiger Bay and Bute Town. A superb record of social history.

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