We Are Cardiff blogger Helia Phoenix gives us an insight into Cardiff’s cultural life.
Covering a relatively small physical location for a capital city, Cardiff is brimful of alternative arts and cultural spaces that all lie either in or within easy reach of the city centre. There is also a nice mixture of types of location: we have interesting venues everywhere, from Grade II listed Victorian follies, to giant, modernist glass structures.
By no means an exhaustive list, the below gives a flavour of the kinds of alternative spaces you can expect to find in Cardiff: definitely worth a visit if you’re in the neighbourhood.
Wales Millennium Centre
Set over 7.5 acres in Cardiff Bay, the Centre is the glorious, metallic-roofed arts Goliath that welcomes tens of thousands of visitors every year, and is home to everything from West End productions to intimate, immersive theatre experiences. A creative force in its own right, Festival of Voice is the Centre’s latest contribution to the cultural footprint of Wales. It’s a particularly beautiful sight at night, when the inscription on the front is lit up through the glass.
Chapter Arts Centre
Cardiff’s spiritual home from home for nomadic, freelance creative types, Chapter Arts Centre has been a west-Cardiff arts mecca for over 40 years. It’s a multi-artform venue that presents, produces and promotes international art, live performance and film alongside a dynamic social space. Don’t miss the regular beer festivals: tasty!
A relative newcomer to Cardiff’s selection of venues, the red-brick Tramshed (as the name suggests) is a recently converted, Grade II listed tramshed that was once the old tram depot serving west Cardiff. Today the trams are long gone, but the space now hosts an art gallery, dance studios and cafe as well as office space alongside the 1,000 capacity live music space: all just a five minute walk from the city centre.
Neuadd Dewi Sant
From the outside, St David’s Hall doesn’t look like much. Originally built in the 1980s, architects Seymour and Harris had to somehow create an acoustically perfect, 2000 seater auditorium into a space that was already partly filled by a shopping centre (a challenge which led to the building’s unique shape). Today, St David’s Hall plays host to major events like the Welsh Proms and Cardiff Singer of the World, and is situated in the centre of the city, just off the Hayes.
First opened to the public in 1906, the New Theatre is like the pantomime dame of Cardiff venues: she’s big, she’s bold, and on the inside, she’s absolutely fabulous. Over the years, the venue has played host to West End musicals, comedies, dramas, and discussions, with legends like Peter Ustinov, Maggie Smith, Anthony Hopkins, and Matthew Rhys all treading the boards at some point. One of its most diverse productions to date is probably Ben Hur in 1913, with its case of one hundred people, and several horses and camels.
An indoor market with an Antiques-Roadshow-meets-jumble-sale vibe, Jacob’s Antiques is one of our quirkiest venues. Hidden away just next to Cardiff Central Station, by day, Jacobs has over 30 stalls of everything from taxidermy to comics to medals to contemporary art. By night, the market often hosts gigs, cabarets and club nights, where partying ’til the break of dawn on the building’s roof terrace is a particular treat.
https://jacobsmarket.co.uk/ / https://www.facebook.com/Jacobs.Market.Cardiff/
Located alongside Cardiff University, Sherman Cymru’s mission is to make and curate exciting theatre, developing and nurturing the work of Welsh and Wales based artists. A recent revamp has given the space a new shiny shell and larger foyer space, as well as a dedicated room for writers’ workshops. Sherman Cymru also have a strong focus on community engagement, with a strong community programme aimed at maximising participation of local people in the arts.
Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Another venue that’s benefitted from a recent overhaul is the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, which – as well as training the next generation of musical talent – also plays host to a number of concerts in the city. Recent improvements to the RWCMD include a theatre and a concert hall, plus the dramatic vision of the huge wood, glass and steel building that sits between Bute Park and the Civic Centre. If you have time, be sure to wander into Bute Park and see the other side of the complex: it’s quite something.
On one of the Christian sites in the British Isles, Llandaff Cathedral is a truly awe-inspiring building. Set in the small hamlet of Llandaff (itself, a ‘city’ within the city of Cardiff), it’s a place rich in history: Roald Dahl attended the Cathedral School, while the area is reputedly haunted by a number of ghosts. The Cathedral itself has one of the longest dedications of any British church, and has a beautiful interior that has been restored periodically over the past 300 years.
Reardon Smith Theatre (National Museum, Cardiff)
Hidden away inside the huge and grand exterior of the National Museum, the Reardon Smith Theatre is a 340-seater hall that usually plays host to lectures, guest speakers and conferences. But it’s a perfect music venue: there are great views from all seats and impressive acoustics.
BBC Hoddinott Hall
Hoddinott Hall forms part of the extensive Wales Millennium Centre estate in Cardiff Bay. The 349 part-tiered seating studio is home to the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and finished in American white oak and European beech. With adjustable acoustic panels, Hoddinott Hall has some of the best acoustics in the city.
Around the other side of the Centre is The Dance House. With a number of studios and performance spaces, The Dance House’s Blue Room has the highest quality technical specification for producing and presenting dance, including 100 tiered and retractable seats. It belongs to the National Dance Company Wales, but it’s also a world-class production facility and performance and rehearsal space for local artists, youth groups and touring companies.
A beautiful 100 year old Grade II listed building that was formally the Plasnewydd Presbyterian Church. The Gate is a multi-purpose arts venue where you can find everything from ballet to opera to comedy to klezmer to indie-pop. There’s a small bar downstairs, and wooden benches lining the main hall around the dancefloor, perfect for those who’d like to take a load off while they listen.
Cardiff’s city centre is well known for its arcades: beautiful, indoor Victorian and Edwardian arcades, mostly Grade II listed, which mostly connect St Mary Street to the Hayes. In our arcades are some of the city’s best independent retailers, so they’re definitely worth getting lost in if you find yourself with some spare time on your hands.
Cardiff Central Market
There’s been a market on this spot in the centre of Cardiff for over 100 years and it’s one of the best spots in town for people-watching. Today you can get all manner of things from the market: from wool to second-hand records, and there’s also an impressive selection of local fresh produce available (be sure to check the fishmongers on a Thursday for specials).
The Masonic Temple
Originally a Methodist Church built in 1863, the building – usually home to a number of Cardiff’s Masonic chapters – also doubles as a venue, for everything from touring wrestling shows to burlesque conventions. It’s an incredible location for events, and well worth visiting when it’s open.
The Pumping Station
Though this is still inside the city limit, it’s located off the industrial estates on Penarth Road. Established in an old Victorian pumping house, The Pumping Station is home to an eclectic mix of traders: three floors of unique stores and boutiques, including an extensive outdoor garden store and a small café. It’s a nice spot to while away a few hours, checking out some of the more fantastic items and imagining how you’d furnish your house after that lottery win.
In case you’re wondering what the giant glass building next to the Centre is, it’s the home to the National Assembly for Wales. Wales’ Senedd (or ‘parliament’ building) was designed by Richard Rogers, has a cafe and also offers tours where you can learn about devolution in Wales and also see the debating chamber where laws are passed.
The Pierhead Building
Another piece of the architectural jigsaw of Cardiff Bay is a link back to its history as the busy port town of the 1800s, when the area was known as ‘the docks’ (or Tiger Bay, depending on exactly which part you were in). The red brick, Grade I listed Pierhead Building was built in 1897 as the headquarters for the Bute Dock Company (renamed the Cardiff Railway Company). Today, the Pierhead Building is part visitor attraction, part museum, and plays host to travelling exhibitions as well as a permanent installation that gives more of the history of Cardiff.
The Printhaus Workshops
For those who like their arts more hands-on, the Printhaus Workshops are home to some of the city’s best and most industrious artists. They offer courses, have open days, markets, and even hold gigs and occasional weddings.