Ask any Cardiffian the best time to visit the city and they’ll tell you the summer. But let’s face it, that can be said for any city in the UK thanks to the more favourable summer weather. The truth is, Cardiff is actually really attractive to visit any time of year in terms of events and happenings throughout the city.
If you’re not looking to visit for any particular sporting event, read my Cardiff insider tips on how to avoid the crowds. Sport is huge in the city and major events can either be a fantastic, lively event or a complete nightmare depending on your reasons for visiting. The bulk of events take place in the Millennium Stadium so visit www.millenniumstadium.com for a full timetable of events.
Spring - flowers and fullbacks
It is said that Cardiff has the most trees per head of population of any British city and it really shows from spring onwards. The city’s many parks all start to bloom and you can really feel the city lift itself out of its dreary winter doldrums.
St David's Day marks the birth of the season on March 1 with a parade through the town. The country’s national emblem, the humble daffodil, starts to flower accordingly, teasing all bloomers for the annual RHS Flower show which takes place early April. You’ve just missed this year’s event, but visit www.rhs.org.uk details on next year’s event.
Another major spring event that wipes Cardiff’s frosty winter slate clean is the Six Nations tournament. A celebration of all things rugby takes place between February and March every year as Wales, England, Ireland, Scotland, France and Italy fight it out on the pitch. The atmosphere at each home game is truly electric. Unless Wales lose, unfortunately.... Visit www.rbs6nations.com for details on 2012’s fixtures.
Summer - food, singing, laughter and more!
Cardiff’s summer timetable is crammed with goodies for all styles of culture vulture. The city really does sparkle from June to early September and there are lots of opportunities to see it at its best.
Those who praise the art of song should consider the BBC Cardiff Singer Of The World competition (www.bbc.co.uk/wales/cardiffsinger). A biennial event, it takes place between June 12-19 and attracts the most talented voices of the planet. Another opportunity to sample powerful larynxes is the series of Welsh National Opera At Home events that take place between mid May and early June in the Wales Millennium Centre. See the Welsh National Opera’s website for information on performances (www.wno.org.uk). And if you’re still after a tune or two, there’s the Welsh Proms in July!
The music and festivities don’t stop at singing... Cardiff Mela, a celebration of the city’s multicultural make up takes place in the Bay on July 17, and the city’s Mardis Gras is a great way to bid the summer adieu on September 3. Sandwiched between these two events, however, is Cardiff Big Weekend, easily the city’s most attended annual al fresco event. Live music and a whole precession of fairground rides take over the civic centre attracting thousands. This year’s event takes place between August 5-7.
Food fans should take note of these events... The Beer & Cider Festival takes place in June in the Cardiff International Arena (Mary Ann Street, CF10 2EQ; +44 29 2022 4488; www.livenation.co.uk/cardiff) and the Food & Drink Festival in the Bay late July. Foodie-minded families should also head to Cardiff Castle on July 31 for the annual Picnic In The Park. This year’s theme is fantasy and fairytales, so make sure you pack your fairy wings.
In fact Cardiff Castle is home a cool selection of events throughout the summer. Outdoor Shakespeare performances take place between June 30 and July 2, and there’s a great Medieval Melee on August 13-14 where all manner of olde schoole events take place such as jousting, archery and sword fighting. Visit www.cardiffcastle.com and www.cardiff-festival.com for more details.
Other notable happenings throughout the summer include the boat-tastic Harbour Festival in the Bay between August 27-29 (www.cardiffharbour.com), international cricket test matches in the Swalec Stadium (www.swalecstadium.com) and Cardiff’s Comedy Festival. A great way to see the best comedians practice their japes before the famous Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, giggles galore can be found throughout July at St David's Hall (The Hayes, CF10 1AH; +44 29 2087 8444; www.stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk) and the Glee Club (Mermaid Quay, CF10 5BZ; +44 870 472 0400; www.glee.co.uk/cardiff).
Autumn - students, half marathons and cheese
Cardiff gets an injection of vibrancy every year come mid September as the city’s hefty student community arrive. From freshmen to post graduates, the centre, civic centre, nightclubs, cafés and areas such as Roath and Cathays are suddenly awash with youthful activity, and you really do notice it. Another less-scholarly but equally important occurrence in the city during the autumn in Cardiff is the Great British Cheese Festival. A highly popular event, it takes place in Cardiff Castle and is a must for all foodies! This year it takes place between September 24-25 and will be home to the National Cheese Awards on September 23. Cheese lovers should hit this link now: www.thecheeseweb.com
You might want to save some of your dairy delights for the following month, however, as one of Cardiff’s lesser known but just as commendable events takes place between October 22-23 in St Fagans National History Museum . The Apple Weekend (http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/whatson/?event_id=4842) is a core celebration for all apple juice, cider, toffee apple and apple pie fans. Don’t worry if you haven’t got any cheese – they sell it there too!
It’s not all about munching during the autumn, however. Cardiff’s half marathon is always on hand to help you burn a few calories. This event gets bigger and bigger each year and the course is beautiful. I’ve run it twice now and have relished in Cardiff’s stunning cityscape and super-flat terrain each time. This year’s run takes place on October 16 and you can find out more on (www.cardiffhalfmarathon.co.uk).
Technology freaks might want to consider a visit to the city this autumn as the May You Live In Interesting Times festival (www.mayyouliveininterestingtimes.org.uk) takes in October. A biennial celebration of technology and innovation, it’s an enlightening hands-on affair that puts our high-tech existence into an insightful context.
Winter - fast cars and wonderlands
Cardiff’s lively factor doesn’t really settle until the post-Christmas lull in January and February. In fact November and December are a really good time to visit if you’re into sporting activities such as World Rally Championship racing, ice skating or the mother of all competitive events... Christmas shopping!
Winter festivities kick off with Sparks In The Park, a huge bonfire, live music impressive fireworks display on the closest weekend to Guy Fawkes night November 5. It takes place in Bute Park.
The Wales Rally has been in place in the city for almost 10 years now. It attracts some the world’s best drivers, and some of the biggest motoring fanatics. The route traces around some of the most treacherous valley lanes in South Wales before climaxing in the city. The 2011 championship is held between November 12-13 and you can find out more on www.walesrallygb.com.
Obviously Cardiff’s sprawling pedestrianised shopping network is a major attraction for Christmas shoppers. Discover more about Cardiff shopping on my Shopping in Cardiff page. If you do decide to fulfil your Santa duties then be sure to check out Cardiff Winter Wonderland (www.cardiffswinterwonderland.com) for a post-shopping ice skate on the temporary outdoor ice rink. Or, if you’re really bad on ice skates like me, then maybe a cosy warm cup of mulled wine. This year’s Winter Wonderland takes place between November 10 and January 2 2012.
And finally, lovers make a note of this date: January 25, St Dwynwen’s Day. Wales’s very own St Valentine’s Day, no one in Cardiff seems to make an occasion of it, but such a quirky, touching gesture is sure to impress your loved one. Impress them even more by calling it Dydd y Cariadon (Love Day).