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Ancient Languages to New Museums, Lots of Culture in Cardiff

The entrance of the iconic Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff bears a bilingual inscription reading “Creu Gwir …

Cardiff is the capital city of Wales — which makes it the youngest national capital in Europe (it's held that title since it became the capitol in 1955). But the city has been around, in many forms, for a long time, laying a foundation for a complex culture.

Wales — part of Britain but with its own longstanding national identity — is known for many things: rugged walking paths, pointy peaks, crumbling castles, mining history, miles of seascape. Its capital city also has a lot of culture to offer, becoming a regional hotspot of arts, entertainment and museums over the past few years. And when you want to relax your brain after you've taken all that in, Cardiff has many nightlife spots, too.

Cardiff's museums will keep visitors occupied throughout its wet winter. The National Museum Cardiff houses works of art both old and new. Just opened: an exhibition of seven paintings by fames landscape painter JMW Turner (the show runs through January 20, 2013).

But the National Museum not just about visual art: It includes a natural history component that aims to bring science to life with interactive exhibits such as "Origins: in search of early Wales," which takes visitors on a virtual tour  back to the Stone Age. Download and listen to an introductory podcast to get a sense of it before you go.

At the Chapter Arts Centre, movies and art exhibits are housed in one place, which means you could see visual art (including, perhaps, some live performance art), grab a bite to eat and maybe do a little shopping before you head in to see your film. There's even a farmer's market every Wednesday afternoon.

Cardiff Bay, "Europe's largest waterfront development," sits on the docklands waterfront area, once home to a multi-ethnic group of sailors, fishermen and other workers. Easily accessible from downtown Cardiff by water taxi, the development's amenities include the Techniquest Science Discovery Centre, Craft in the Bay, The Welsh Assembly at the Pierhead and the Wales Millennium Centre for the arts.

Given that the bay itself is subject to one of the world's greatest differences between low and high tide, the shallow waters have long been accessible. The man-made Cardiff barrage, a barrier that impounded two rivers and created a giant freshwater lake, was built to overcome that limiting factor. It also created a whole new waterfront. Chapters from the bay's history are on display at Butetown History and Arts Centre.

Beyond the museums and government buildings listed above, Cardiff Bay is also home to restaurants, bars and clubs, making it a magnet for after-hours fun.

By the way, if you're wondering about the long words, consisting mostly of consonant letters, that you'll see on many signs around town? That's Welsh, the native Celtic language of Wales.  The country made it an official language in 2011, which is one reason it's so prominent. Don't worry: English is the other official language.

by Christy Karras

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