What does Cardiff have in common with St Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace? They’re all made from Portland stone, quarried from a tiny rock outcrop off the Dorset coast and fashioned into grand Edwardian buildings to impress the tourists.
You’ll find these mini-Washington DC impersonations in what the locals call Cathays Park (with a silent H) The row of imposing civic buildings house the National Museum of Wales, the National Gallery of Wales, Cardiff City Hall and Law Courts.
Cathays Park also marks the beginning of University territory. Follow the adjacent road parallel to the trainline heading north to find the Student Union.
The imposing dome-crested dragon-topped buildings are lit up at night, or if you are visiting at Christmas time, you can admire them whilst skating on the outdoor ice-rink. The surrounding gardens are strategically important for the city’s workers, acting as a central meeting point and a picnicking spot in summer months. The August Cardiff Festival culminates here with a funfair and the Big Weekend of free live music.
Step inside the National Museum and you’ll be greeted by a Big Bang. That is, if you go through to the exhibition which starts at the beginning of time. If the grand journey through time gives you itchy feet you could go and look at the live nest of 55,000 leafcutter ants. Or if you prefer whales to Wales go and see a hump backed one – whose skeleton washed up on the Welsh coast.
Meanwhile in the gallery upstairs you will find the largest collection of impressionist art outside the Louvre. Check out the Cezanne, the Monet lilies, and even a Van Gogh – before he went mad. The first home for the national art collection was in eleven police cells and a corridor in the Cardiff Law Courts. Transferred to the present building in the 1920s, the National Museum Cardiff now has 15 art galleries that show works from the collection and tell the story of art in Wales and Europe over the last 500 years.
The Glanely Gallery is interactive, encouraging visitors to get close to the collections. With over 7.5 million items squirreled away in stores, seek the help of specialist staff to find out more about your favourite subject.
Admission is free, so when your brain gets full, go and rest it in your holiday cottage and return the next day for more,and with art, archaeology, natural history, geology and an ever-changing programme of exhibitions and events, if it’s raining, the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff is the perfect place.
Further information may be obtained from National Museum and National Gallery of Wales website.