Shopping in Cardiff centre is a tale of three centuries. The sprawling, shiny St Davids 2 complex is totally 21st century, Queen Street’s grand wide concrete parade is unarguably 20th century, while stately St Mary Street and its wonderfully worming Victorian arcades and big and boomy traditional market are positively 19th century. What’s more, the entire shop-populated centre is now fully car free.
But enough of the centre’s impressive architectural spread and convenient layout. It’s what’s in store that counts.
St David's 2
A giant haven for all shoppers, this brand new addition to Cardiff’s retail run seemed to take forever to arrive but has given the city a huge facelift. The buildings it replaced had a stale whiff of 60s functionality but this complex, its residential apartments and generous amount of space on both sides give the city a really confident contemporary twang. Its resident shops reflect this with a whole range of chains and upmarket fashion stores, several restaurants and a swanky salon and spa. It’s also the current magnet for all shoppers, however, so be prepared to get annoyed with the slow-motion, window gazing people traffic.
In one direction St David's 2 leads to John Lewis (The Hayes, CF10 1EG; +44 29 2053 6000; www.johnlewis.com). The one-stop-shop for pretty much everything, it’s the respected chain’s first store in Wales. And boy did we know about it when it first opened. The other direction leads directly into its original undercover forefathers; the dimmer and low-ceilinged St David's Centre and the slightly younger, brighter Queens Arcade. Both are home to the same variety of stores from toy shops to electrical goods stores to the Post Office.
St David's tip: Exit on the east side and enjoy Cardiff’s pretty new green on David Street.
AKA Massive Shopping Street. Queen Street is a vast, vast retail thoroughfare with all the large high street fashion stores, fast food joints, electrical goods and banks you’d expect from a city. Warning: it doesn’t matter how wide this street is, it gets stupendously busy on Saturdays and beware of the charity collectors and tacky toy sellers peeping incessantly with their really annoying bird whistles. The east end of Queen Street leads to the Capitol shopping centre that’s home to yet more clothes stores and a collection of passable eateries on the second floor. Meanwhile the west end leads to Cardiff’s most historic of shopping areas...
Queen Street tip: Charles Street can be found half way down. It’s a great breathing space from the madding crowds and there’s an interesting selection of bars, jewellers and galleries.
Castle, High Street, Morgan and Royal Arcade
Cardiff’s most historic of retail quarters; these Victorian arcades are by far the best shopping spot for window shopping, browsing and people watching. These beautifully architected, well-lit passages are home to a whole range of quirky little independent stores selling everything from retro clothes to obscure board games, rare techno records, antiques and great food.
All the arcades feed on to St Mary Street. Once a loud, brash, dirty road, it used to be the city’s equivalent of Oxford Street in London. While it’s still home to the same grand buildings, the market and a great selection of shops, it’s lost a little of its urgency and can sometimes feel a little naked. Until match days when it’s more akin to Barcelona’s Las Ramblas, just with drunkards instead of Spaniards.
Arcades tip: Don’t forget to enjoy that slipper at Minuets at the bottom of Castle Arcade. See my Cardiff introduction to see exactly what this is!
Food: Madame Fromage (21-25 Castle Arcade, CF10 1BU: +44 29 2064 4888: www.madamefromage.com) and Wallys Deli (42 Royal Arcade, CF10 1AE: +44 29 2022 9265: www.wallysdeli.co.uk) are both foodie heaven. For fresh veg, meat and fish, head to the market on St Mary Street and Trinity Street.
Souvenirs: Inflatable sheep, plastic daffodils, cuddly toy dragons, cups, mugs, tea cosies, magnets, Welsh maid costumes and any other national keepsake you desire can be found at Things Welsh opposite the castle (6-7 Duke St, CF10 1AZ: +44 29 2023 3445: www.castlewelshcrafts.co.uk). For something with a bit more class check out Welsh Tartan (30 Castle Arcade, CF10 1BW; www.welsh-tartan.com) or Fabulous Welsh Cakes in the Bay (14 Mermaid Quay, CF10 5BZ; +44 2920 45 6593; www.fabulouswelshcakes.co.uk)
Clothes: Take your pick! The whole city is coated in clothes stores. For independent fashion boutiques, ladies should head to High Street Arcade for the best selection in one small area.
Department stores: Head to BHS (48 Queen Street, CF10 2GQ; +44 29 2039 0167; www.bhs.co.uk) House Of Fraser (14 St Mary Street, CF10 1TT; +44 844 800 3713; www.houseoffraser.co.uk) and John Lewis (The Hayes, CF10 1EQ; +44 29 2053 6000; www.johnlewis.com).
Music: Spillers Records is the world’s oldest record shop! It’s actually moved from its original premises but it’s still alive, kicking and selling all manner of musical styles (31 Morgan Arcade, CF10 1AF; +44 29 2022 4905; www.spillersrecords.co.uk). Electronic purists will be more at home at Catapult (22 High Street Arcade, CF10 1BB; +44 29 2022 8990; www.catapult.co.uk) while those happy digging around for second hand gems should head for Dvinyl Records in Roath (4 Mackintosh Place, CF24 4RQ; +44 29 2049 4998)
Design: There’s some superior furniture available at Momentum (31 Charles Street, CF10 2GA; +44 29 2023 6266; www.momentumcardiff.com).
Books: Waterstone's is the major bookstore in town (2a The Hayes; +44 29 2066 5606; www.waterstones.com). For a more independent, old-school bookshop vibe head to Allan Ian (31 Royal Arcade; +44 29 20390615) or for second-hand hunting visit Capital Bookshop (27 Morgan Arcade, CF10 1AF).
Jewels: Cardiff is home to various jewellers, but for traditional and unique gems Dewi Griffiths on Charles Street (46 Charles Street, CF10 2GE; +44 29 2034 0103) is a great place to start.
- Don’t just stop at the centre. Albany Road and Wellfield Road in Roath are home to some great boutiques and charity shops.
- Thursday is late shopping night for many of the bigger chain stores.
- Some of the city centre hotels offer shopping packages. I’ve highlighted the ones that do on my Cardiff Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Cardiff guide.
- Avoid all shops on Saturday if you can; the main shopping centres get frustratingly busy!
- If you’re visiting during the winter, the pedestrianised St John Street and the bowl on Bute Crescent in the Bay are both home to winter markets with lots of interesting craft and food stalls.
- For a full catalogue of every single shop in the city, www.cardiffonline.org.uk is a great resource.