- Cardiff and Area

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Cardiff, located on the banks of the River Taff, is the capital and largest city (320,000+ inhabitants) of Wales. It's a busy commercial, maritime and university city.

Cardiff Castle built on medieval foundations within a Norman wall is located in the city centre within the site used by both the Romans and the Normans for defensive purposes. The 12-sided Norman keep still sits on top of a small hill today, providing views over Cardiff.

Cardiff's Civic Centre, enriched with white Portland stone buildings, is northeast of the castle. Cathays Park, part of the Centre, has gardens, trees and green spaces. The City Hall (look for the dragon on the domed rooftop), Law Courts and Welsh National War Memorial are in the park, but it's the National Museum and Gallery that is of most interest to visit. It tells the story of the evolution of Wales from the land's beginning and houses a large collection of 18th century porcelain. There are art galleries of European work, including Impressionist paintings and sculpture. Natural history and archaeological exhibits are part of the museum displays.

The Museum of Welsh Life, 4 miles from the city centre at St Fagans, is a 100-acre (40.5ha) open air museum of reconstructed buildings gathered from all over Wales. They vary from St Fagan's Castle, a late 16th century manor house, to an original pigsty. An indoor museum on the site houses farming implements, costumes and artifacts of daily living from the middle ages to today. There's a library and photo archives.

The Glamorgan Heritage Coast is a 14 mile (22.5km) stretch of protected coast running from Aberthaw to Porthcawl. The area is characterized by the Merthyr Mawr dune lands (some of the largest in Europe), sandy beaches and high cliffs. Merthyr Mawr is said to have the prettiest thatched cottages in all of Wales.

Porthcawl is a traditional seaside resort with sandy beaches and a Victorian/Edwardian street with a promenade. Barry Island (not really an island but a peninsula) is another popular seaside holiday spot for families with its large amusement park. The Heritage Coast Visitor Centre is located at Southerdown.

Llantwit Major, an attractive town with medieval streets, is home to the cathedral-like church of St Illtud. It's really two churches linked with a tower. The 13th century part has a wall painting of St Christopher, and the 15th century part is a reconstruction of Norman origin. It contains a number of effigies and early Christian stones and crosses.

The Valleys of South Wales consist of the mountainous landscape to the north of Newport, Cardiff and Swansea. The area's once beautiful green hills are scarred with its industrial past when they yielded millions of tons of coal and iron during Victorian times. Former miners' cottages terrace the hillsides, and old industrial sites are now museums and heritage parks. Rhondda Heritage Park at Trehafod and Big Pit at Blaenafon (located at the head of the Afon Llwyd Valley) are two to visit. The Rhondda lets visitors experience the life and times of miners over the past 150 years. It's part of the Rhondda Heritage Trail that leads to over 20 sites of industrial, cultural and scenic importance.

The Valley area is home to an impressive 13th century castle, Caerphilly in the village of the same name. It boasts massive remains and is justly famous for its leaning tower. Surrounded by a moat and lakes, the concentric castle was built as a threat to the Welsh. It contains both an inner and outer ward.

Tourist Attractions

Llancaiach Fawr Manor South of Merthyr Tydfil
Llancaiach Fawr Manor was the home of Colonel Edward Prichard during the Civil War years. Guides are dressed in period costume and speak in the style of the 17th century. Tales of life in a Civil War gentry household are unfolded when touring the home. Charles I visited in 1645. After his visit loyalties were switched from the King to Parliament. The house was built circa 1530 by Colonel Prichard's great grandfather and is a good example of a semi-fortified manor house of Tudor times. There are candlelight ghost tours in the winter months.
Open: weekdays 1.00-5.00, weekends 10.00-6.00. Tel: 01443 412248

Caerphilly Castle Caerphilly
Caerphilly, covering 30 acres, is one of the greatest surviving castles in the medieval Western world. It was a highpoint in medieval defensive architecture with its massive gatehouses and water features. An informative Castles of Wales exhibition is located in one tower. Working replicas of siege engines are on the grounds.
Open: End March-end Oct, daily 9:30-6:00; Nov-Feb, weekdays 9:30-4:00, Sun 2:00-4:00. Tel: (0) 1222 883143

Big Pit Mining Museum Blaenafon
Big Pit, a working coalmine until 1980, got its name from the size of its shaft. Visitors can walk around the surface workings, the blacksmith's shop and the engine house. A gallery and exhibition on the surface tells about daily life and mining methods. A tour descends 294 ft. in a miner's cage to explore coalfaces, underground roadways and engines. The tour explains the life of the miner and their mining ponies.
Open: March-Nov, daily from 9:30-5:00, Feb on Tues-Thur only.

Rhondda Heritage Park Trehafod
Lets visitors experience the life and times of miners over the past 150 years. It's part of the Rhondda Heritage Trail that leads to over 20 sites of industrial, cultural and scenic importance.

Museum of Welsh Life St Fagans, Cardiff
The collection of farmhouses, cottages and working buildings illustrate vividly the life of the Welsh people through different periods and social levels. The buildings are fully furnished. A gas lit farmhouse filled with Edwardian furniture includes a farmyard and outbuildings that are home to animals and poultry of the time. A Celtic village shows household and hunting equipment of 2000 years ago.
Open: Daily from 10:00-5:00. Allow a full day to visit.

National Museum and Gallery Cardiff
The National Museum and Gallery's founders' purpose was "to teach the world about Wales and to teach the Welsh people about their own Fatherland." This Museum is a real treasure house. The main hall has a marble floor, a dome and staircases with secondary domes leading to the balconies that house the art collection. The galleries present a survey of European painting and sculpture from Renaissance times. There is an impressive collection of Impressionist art, including Renoir, Manet and Monet.
Open: Tues-Sun, 10:00-5:00. Tel: 029 2039 7951

Cardiff Castle Castle Street, Cardiff
Cardiff Castle's extravagant rooms are themed. Astrological and Biblical themes are everywhere. The 15th century Great Hall is the oldest room in the castle and relates to the son of William the Conqueror. The Winter Smoking Room, located in the Clock Tower, is themed to time with its decor representing the seasons of the year and the days of the week. The Arab room is decorated with gold and sandalwood and parrots, one of the architect Burges' favourite animals. Understandably, the nursery decorations represent fairy tales and nursery rhymes. The bedroom with its mirrored ceiling has a religious theme. Marble fireplaces adorn many of the rooms.
Open: 10:00-4:30/6:00pm. Tel: 029 20 878100

Cardiff and Area Tourist Information Centres

Barry Island Tourist Information Centre
The Promenade, Paget Road, Barry Island, CF62 5TQ. Tel: 01446 747171

Caerphilly Tourist Information Centre
Lower Twyn Square, Caerphilly, CF83 1JL. Tel: 029 2088 0011

Cardiff Cardiff Visitor Centre
16 Wood Street, Cardiff, CF10 1ES. Tel: 029 2022 7281

Penarth Tourist Information Centre
The Esplanade, Penarth Pier, Penarth, CF64 3AU. Tel: 020 2070 8849

Destination guides by kind permission of Britain Express

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