At the Bay, Roald Dahl Platz is the fish-shaped focal point – seen in Dr Who, and as the gateway to the subterranean HQ of alien-hunting spin-off Torchwood. It’s a family place, with cafés, restaurants and ice-cream parlours mixed in with things to do. These include the Millennium Centre arts complex complete with poetry cut into its copper dome (it offers a fascinating backstage tour and touchy-feely design), the Senedd (the Welsh Assembly’s striking home), the white-wood Norwegian Church (built for visiting sailors, and where Dahl was christened), now an arts centre/café, the Techniquest science play centre, and the Red Dragon Centre, a complex with restaurants, a bowling alley and a cinema. The Bay is protected by the Barrage, a fantastic wind-blown walkway to the Victorian seaside resort of Penarth.
In the centre, Cardiff Castle (built for the 3rd Marquess of Bute, the man who controlled the coal and docks and the railways in-between, and was the world’s richest man) is a Gothic fantasy with exquisite wall paintings featuring fables, fairy-tales and Biblical stories, and a magical rooftop garden. Dr Who (him again) has been here, while Daleks rolled down concrete ramps beneath the Millennium Stadium. The latter is also great for sports-mad boys or girls, offering visitors a dressing-room tour and the chance to run from the pitch-side tunnel to the roar of a taped crowd.
The National Museum and Gallery is packed with dinosaurs and Impressionist paintings, while Capability Brown-designed Bute Park also delights young and old. The largely car-free city centre has Victorian arcades and the colourful indoor Central Market.
Out of town but worthy additions to your family holiday itinerary are Castle Coch, a turreted, woodland sister to Cardiff Castle, and St Fagans: National History Museum, with more than 30 old buildings in a run-wild setting. Beaches, both Penarth and Barry, are only a few minutes’ drive away, and you can quickly get into the hills to visit historic coal mines.