Cardiff has gone seriously upmarket in recent years, and the regeneration and investment in tourism has paid off by making it one of the nicest places to visit in the UK, whether it's for a spa break, a holiday or just to do some shopping.
The showpiece of the new Cardiff is the fabulous Cardiff Bay, and the locals are justifiably proud of it. Restaurants, bars, shops and hotels (with spas) sit alongside arts centres and government buildings in a shining example of what a city can become with a hefty investment and a lot of vision.
Music lovers can visit the Millennium Opera and sports fans have the Millennium Stadium, and the atmosphere is lively and fun. Old Cardiff also has its attractions, with Victorian buildings, Cardiff Castle, Llandaff Cathedral and the National Museum and Gallery to wonder at while sightseeing.
Cardiff has green spaces to chill out in, with Roath Park's beautiful rose gardens and a boating lake. Bute Park, which was once part of the castle grounds, is also a lovely place to go for a wander when the weather's nice, to gather your thoughts. There's also the Taff Trail, a cycle route which travels from Brecon through Cardiff city centre and all the way to Cardiff Bay.
Spa Breaks in Cardiff
- Right in the heart of the city, The Laguna Health and Spa at the Park Plaza tries to take you on a sensory holiday through exotic lands - Bali, Tibet, Polynesia, Japan, Morocco and Thailand are inspirations for some of the deliciously exotic treatments along with reassuringly popular Elemis and Dermalogica. The spa prides itself on exotic and unusual treatments, including the Thai Yoga Massage, and also offers acupuncture and hypnotherapy. It's not all about chilling out, there's also a spacious gym with state-of-the-art equipment, a full list of classes, pools and personal training.
- For a little secluded bliss, St Mellons Hotel & Spa makes the most of its setting in landscaped gardens, and combines Edwardian hotel character with modern spa-style, located between Cardiff and Newport. Easy transport links to Cardiff make it an ideal place to hide away, wander the secluded gardens and then visit the spa to enjoy a delicious Elemis treatment, refreshing swim in the pool, soak in the Jacuzzi and finish off with a steam or sauna. The Lanarthen Restaurant is the next logical step for a great stay.
- If you want your spa where the action is, book in for pamper time during a stay at the Mercure Holland House Hotel & Spa, close to the station and the Millennium Stadium and with some stunning views over the city centre. In-spa you'll find ten therapy rooms, some of them doubles, an award-winning restaurant and bar, and a spa café where you can hang out in your robes if you so choose. There are lots of places to relax and chill out and a list of treatments that will leave you in a quandary as to which to try first.
- Although it's not strictly Cardiff, any Welsh spa and city guide has to mention the amazing Celtic Manor Resort – a fantastic hotel, golf resort and spa. Just half an hour from Cardiff if you want the bright lights, it's also close to Tintern Abbey and the ancient town of Caerleon for some sightseeing. If you're thinking of taking the kids, The Forum Health Club and Spa even has a crèche for children and babies up to the age of 11. The spa has 16 treatment rooms, with Elemis treatments to enjoy and signature treatments that include Dry Floatation and Hydrotherapy, and a Rasul Mud Ritual.
- For a down to earth spa with all the relaxation you need and a friendly ambience, the Healthworks at the Village Hotel Spa in Cardiff is a great find. There's a full on health and leisure club that gives you the chance to sweat, swim and workout – plus a long list of spa beauty treatments, places to chill out and even a pub, restaurant and café. The hotel is easy to get to, just off the M4, and not far from the centre of Cardiff.
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If you're in the mood for some fine dining, a trip into Cardiff will leave you spoiled for gastronomic choice. The restaurants are proud of their Welsh heritage, and produce is often imbued with a little Cymraeg flavour and style along with the best locally-sourced ingredients.
You'll find plenty of choice in the café quarter on Mill Lane, with South American, Indian and Italian well-represented - and then around the corner is the Brewery Quarter where you'll also find some fine Spanish, Thai and Portuguese eateries.
- For a taste of South America, the popular Las Iguanas is great value as well as fun, with the early evening set menu and fantastic tapas offers – all this and a happy hour on cocktails make it a great place to try out. The a la carte menu showcases gourmet fajitas, and encompasses everything from salads to seafood. Gluten-free and vegetarian options are happily catered for, too.
Address: 8 Mill Lane, Cardiff CF10 1FL
Tel: 02920 226 373
- Gios is the stylish Italian option, with a menu of Mediterranean dishes inspired by the Calabria region of Italy. If you fancy some al fresco dining, Gios is the place to go – and you can move on to one of the nearby night clubs or stay for a few drinks. Run by Cardiff's longest established restaurant family, the restaurant is squarely at the heat of Cardiff's restaurant culture.
Address: 10-11 Mill Lane, Cardiff, South Glamorgan CF10 1FL
Tel: 029 2066 5500
- For over twenty years the Juboraj, also in the café quarter, has been tingling Cardiff's collective taste buds with flavoursome Indian and Bangladeshi cuisine. A fusion of modern and traditional food and influences, The Juboraj has recently been transformed by a makeover and a brand new menu has been created for diners at the city centre's favourite Indian restaurant.
Address: 10 Mill Lane, Cardiff CF10 1FL
Tel: 029 2037 7668
- Le Gallois ('the Welshman') has become a bit of an institution since the arrival of head chef Grady Atkins. The food is very distinctive – think French food with a Welsh twist – and the restaurant has a relaxed atmosphere to complement the menu. So popular it's a good idea to book in advance.
Address: 6 - 10 Romily Crescent, Canton, Cardiff CF11 9NR
Tel: 029 2034 1264
- The Armless Dragon has been a haven for Welsh foodies for many years, and produces dishes that showcase the best in modern Welsh cooking. You'll find classic Welsh specialities like cawl (Welsh stew) and rarebit – along with the very best quality fresh organic and local ingredients – all served with a twist.
Address: 97 Wyeverne Road, Cathays, Cardiff
Tel: 029 2038 2357
- Head to the Pearl of the Orient on Mermaid Quay in Cardiff Bay if you feel like something a little bit Oriental – the menu takes its influences from Peking, Cantonese, Malaysian and Szechwan cuisine. The inviting décor is modern and elegant and the restaurant feels relaxed and spacious.
Address: Mermaid Quay, Cardiff, South Glamorgan CF10 5BZ
Tel: 029 2049 8080
- For a sophisticated meal in the heart of Cardiff Bay, Mimosa Kitchen & Bar is Cardiff's very first Gastro Bar, and has just been entered into the 2011 Good Food Guide. It's striking to look at, and always popular with drinkers and diners for its relaxed yet up-tempo ambience. The menu is modern and there's a bustling yet relaxed ambience. The modern interior is classy and so is the menu – using free range, local and organic produce wherever possible with the addition of an excellent drinks menu
Address: Mermaid Quay, Cardiff, South Glamorgan CF10 5BZ
Tel: 029 2049 1900
- Thai House is a well-established Thai restaurant on Guildford Crescent that's loved for its delicious food and friendly service from staff who complete the experience by serving you in traditional Thai dress. Fish and meat dishes feature on the menu and it's well known for a good curry as well as the house speciality – fillet of salmon with broccoli marinated in red curry paste, then steamed in banana leaves.
Address: 3-5 Guildford Crescent, Cardiff, South Glamorgan CF10 2HJ
Tel: 029 2038 7404
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The best place to head towards for a great night on the town is St Mary Street where there is a plethora of clubs, including some huge super-clubs. Around Greyfriars Road there's plenty going on, and great live music is on offer with some famous venues and some not so well known.
The Wharf on the Cardiff Bay area is modern and stylish, with some amazing views over the water and great value food. The Wharf is a purpose built venue that's always popular, with great music, a fabulous bar and a location that means it's perfect for heading to after a day shopping in the city of before and after a trip to the Millennium Stadium.
The funky Mocka lounge in the cafe quarter is good for hungry clubbers as there's good food on offer as well as a great cocktail menu. The bar is great for themed nights, including the popular movie nights and if conversation is getting dull you can position yourself near the plasma screens and watch Eastenders or the football!
For die-hard rock and metal fans, the place to go is Bogiez Rock Bar & Night club - Cardiff's only dedicated rock and metal music venue. Specialising in fine spirits, especially whiskeys, and with a great beer and ale selection too, metal heads and rock chicks will find a welcoming atmosphere along with music from back in the day to bang on trend. Intriguingly, there's also a sweet bar!
Clwb Ifor Bach is one of Cardiff's major players in the club arena, with three separate floors featuring everything from Indie and electro to funk and soul. The club is distinctively Welsh – all bar staff are expected to be fluent in the mother tongue, and you'll find it on Womanby Street, a narrow alley near to Cardiff Castle.
How could you resist a club called Glam?! Glam is an unashamedly decadent club that's comfortable as well as stylish and a perfect place to unwind. The club floor features two large bars and a fabulous sound system. Right in Cardiff city centre, the club regularly hosts top international acts and DJs.
For a taste of the super-club experience, the Oceana is massive. It's split into several rooms – just pick the one which suits your mood. Fancy a bit of a boogie in the New York Disco, a sophisticated Parisian Boudoir or super super-cool Reykyavik IceHouse – it's all there and there's even a comedy room.
For a bit of tried and tested fun, Tiger Tiger won't disappoint. Great music, a good menu, and great location make it a constant favourite. It's spread out over two floors, has a restaurant, four bars and a club, and the Lucky Voice Private Karaoke is a definite winner.
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What would you expect from one of the top best shopping destinations in the UK? Cardiff is probably best-known for its charming Edwardian and Victorian arcades, ideal to meander through, as well as bang up to date shopping malls and all the high street names.
The glamorous glass-roofed Grand Arcade stretches out over two levels and is where you'll find Cardiff's most contemporary stores from the Apple Store to Republic and Monsoon
Cardiff has a huge range of small and boutique stores offering vintage and individual pieces, and if vintage is your thing, go for either High Street Arcade or Morgan Arcade, the latter of which is where you'll find a fine selection of vintage shops including the Oxfam Boutique store, one of only seven in the UK. The Arcades are also the best places to find one-off stores and pretty cafés, plus Welsh souvenirs crafts, jewellery and art. Another place you have to visit if you like your music is Spillers Records, the oldest record store in the world. It's recently been relocated to Morgan Arcade and is a must for musos.
The Hayes is a trendy pedestrianised shopping area that's crammed with upmarket boutiques and designer shops, with major players like Radley, Kurt Geiger, Hugo Boss and Molton Brown. The Hayes joins the city's older arcades with the St David's mall.
The Capitol Shopping Centre is found at the end of Queen Street and has plenty of retail therapy available from the likes Hobbs, Jaeger, Kookai and H&M.
Mermaid Quay in Cardiff Bay has some stylish stores, boutiques and delis mixed with gorgeous views across the Bay and a cosmopolitan atmosphere. Don't miss Craft in the Bay, home to the Makers Guild in Wales, for contemporary craft and art, with a gallery, retail area, exhibitions and a café.
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CARDIFF'S TOP THREE SPAS
- They call it the jewel of Cardiff Bay – it's the St David's Marine Spa. St David's is a fantastic modern spa hotel with an emphasis on water-based and Thalasso therapies. Relax after a treatment on the beautiful spa terrace which overlooks Cardiff Bay and you'll realise why it's won so many awards - Cosmopolitan named it 'number one in the UK's Top Ten Spas', and the Sunday Observer described it as 'number one Best Urban Retreat in the World.' There's also a soothing relaxation room, Waves spa restaurant, gym and pools, all blessed with fabulous views.
- The fantastic Fusion Spa & Wellness is one of the loveliest places to hang out if you're at the four star boutique resort, Bryn Meadows Golf, Hotel & Spa, a valley retreat that's just 20 minutes away from Cardiff. With a calming, tranquil vibe and a brilliant range of holistic spa treatments to choose from, it's a spa that begs to be visited! The therapy suites are all climate controlled, and some of the stand out attractions include a Rasul mud chamber, a stone mosaic steam room and gorgeous - aromatherapy suite. If the Welsh weather is kind to you, you can also relax on the sun terrace and have a dip in the outdoor hot tub.
- Another top notch Cardiff spa is The Spa at the Vale Resort, Wales' largest spa and an absolute gem that's set into 650 acres of beautiful Welsh countryside, all adding to the chilled out feel of the place. Part of the luxury four star hotel, it's not just a spa, there's also two championship golf courses (The Wales National course and the National course) along with an AA rosette restaurant. The spa is a little bit exclusive, boasting exclusive Gerard's spa treatments that aren't seen in many UK spas, and 19 treatment rooms.