Cardiff holds a special place in my heart for so many reasons, so I was thrilled to be returning for the festive period in December. The city was resplendent with decorations, from the elegantly-dressed arcades to the unabashedly fun Winter Wonderland. I love that the holiday spirit spills over into all facets of life this time of year, and I took it all in over the course of several days. Here are some of my favourite things about Cardiff at Christmas time…
1. The arcades
Cardiff’s Victorian arcades snake their way through the heart of the city, cutting crosswise along the major pedestrian streets and offering both a respite from the frequent rain as well as an excuse to peruse the quirky shopfronts and cafes within. They are beautiful in summer time when cheery bunting crisscrosses overhead, but they turn absolutely magical at Christmas. The lights cast an ethereal glow, and the warmly-lit shops beckon you in.
For coffee, try Uncommon Ground, and settle into its industrial-chic atmosphere while you sip on your latte or flat white. The relaxed setting invites you to stay a while and catch up with an old friend.
If an elegant night out is what you’re looking for, Barker’s twin bars, Gin and Juice and Rum and Fizz are a staple of the bar scene for a reason. Thoughtfully decorated and wildly aesthetic, they are begging to be photographed before you take a seat at the bistro tables lining the arcade. It’s the perfect place to people-watch and take in a beautiful drink or two.
Wally’s is just the place to stock up on goodies for your next Christmas party (or, you know, a present or two for yourself). The gourmet grocer, located in the Royal Arcade, carries an array of meats, snacks, sweets, and drinks to fill you with good cheer. It’s snug inside, so get there early to ensure you have the best pick of their extensive olive bar (or whatever else your heart desires!)
3. Winter Wonderland
Cardiff’s annual winter fair, located at City Hall Lawns, is full of carnival rides, games, and an ice rink, as well as food and drink stalls selling seasonal goodies. (Beware, you’ll pay for the novelty of having these in an alpine-style ski lodge, but you can always chalk it up as an experience.) The best time to go is after the sun sets, when the grounds turn into a neon-lit extravaganza. Brace yourself for crowds of families with young children, but know that their childlike wonder and joy is infectious.
4. Cardiff Bay
A bit of a walk from the city centre, Cardiff Bay is a lovely place to escape if you’re after a more peaceful Christmas celebration. The wind off the water is brisk, so make sure you wrap up warmly as you stroll around the harbourfront.
Luckily, Cardiff Bay is full of places to stop to warm up, with restaurants and bars aplenty, including a surprisingly classy Wetherspoon’s. In December you’re also likely to encounter pop-up outfits, like the champagne bar I came across on my visit.
Take a stroll to appreciate some of Cardiff’s icons while you’re at it; these include the Pierhead Building…
the National Assembly…
the Millenium Centre…
and of course the Norwegian Church.
5. St. Mary’s Street and The Hayes
The heart of Cardiff comes alive at Christmas time, and you’ll find lots of shopping along St. Mary’s Street and The Hayes. Pop into Cardiff Market to visit any one of the vibrant food stalls, and don’t miss the bakers selling traditional Welsh favourites like Welsh cakes and bara brith.
If the weather’s good, Cardiff Christmas market can’t be missed. Brass bands and buskers along the streets add to the good cheer, and you might be tempted by a luxury hot chocolate or German bratwurst while you’re there. There’s a whole day of shopping to be had, if you’re up for it, so you may as well build up your strength!
Cardiff may not hold the grand allure of London or the charm of Bath at Christmas time, but its friendly, warm festive spirit makes it one of my favourite places to be during the holidays!