Travel review: Studios, stadiums and stellar accommodation in a relaxing weekend trip to Cardiff by train
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What I didn't realise is that there are now (and possibly even then) Railcards for almost everyone, whether you travel solo, as a couple, or as a family.
So my Student Railcard, nowadays badged as the 16-25 Railcard, has as its stablemates the Senior Railcard (over 60s), the Two Together Railcard, 16-17 Saver, 26-30 Railcard, Disabled Persons Railcard, Family & Friends Railcard, Network Railcard and the Veterans Railcard - all starting from £30 for a year (£20 for disabled) and rising to £70 where applicable for three years. More about this later.
So with UK Staycations becoming more de rigueur these days - a recent survey showed that half (47%) of Brits are more likely to holiday in the UK than abroad* - here was a chance for us to travel in style and comfort to see a home nations capital I'd yet to visit - Cardiff.
It felt unusual for us to leave the four wheels at the station car park, but was really refreshing to sit back and relax, a surprisingly tasty train coffee in hand, watching the Yorkshire countryside idly pass by as we travelled down to the county of Glamorgan.
Cardiff is developing a reputation as one of the UK's most vibrant cities - and we were not to be disappointed. Arriving at Cardiff Central, our busy schedule kicked off (pun intended) with a tour of The Principality Stadium, home to the Wales national rugby union team.
Our meander around this magnificent and imposing 74,000-seater sporting venue was in the safe hands (another one!) of Steve, whose sharp and gently sardonic humour was an ideal accompaniment to some impressive sights, including the breathtaking vista of the stadium from the best seat in the house - that belonging to William, the Prince of Wales!
We went pitchside, to hospitality, saw the home and away changing rooms, and even travelled in the service lift which has taken Madonna, The Rolling Stones, Ed Sheeran and Beyonce to name but a few to the stage when The Principality hosted their gigs, with history, facts and gags a la Steve thrown in for good measure.
Well worth giving it a 'try'...ahem. For more details, visit www.principalitystadium.wales/tours
Our next experience was a trip to BBC Cymru Wales, bang opposite the train station, where tour guests can take a sneak peek at TV galleries and other broadcast facilities, and even read the news and weather, commentate on a sports match and discover much more in this exclusive 90-minute behind-the-scenes tour, winner of a coveted Visit Wales gold award.
This is one of the largest BBC newsrooms, packed with cutting-edge technology including augmented reality, virtual reality and robotic cameras.
Because it's a live and working broadcast centre, no two tours are ever the same and you never know who you might bump into, be it Carol Vorderman, Go Compare singer broadcaster Wynne Evans or others.
On our tour TV meteorologist and star of BBC2 series Weatherman Walking Derek Brockway promptly walked up and joined our tour, happily answering questions and posing for pictures.
And yes, feel free to take snaps with your own cameras! A great and recommended experience. For more details, visit www.bbc.co.uk/showsandtours
We were staying at the five-star voco St David's, a relatively new build and part of the ihg Group of hotels, located in Cardiff Bay.
This luxury contemporary hotel provided the perfect welcome after our busy first day and, though I'm told a normally pleasant 25-minute walk from the town centre, we were caught in the throes of Storm Otto, so took a taxi which will cost you roughly £9-10.
A family room provided us with two opulent double beds, stylish bath and shower room, tea and coffee-making facilities, a large flatscreen for TV and hotel information, handy fridge, and bathrobes and slippers to use in the hotel's Spa and Leisure area.
The gym, sauna, whirlpools and swimming pool are free to use for guests and accessed via a private lift for you to pad along in your fluffy towelling ensemble without having to parade through reception and possibly disapproving eyes therein.
For an additional cost you can also treat yourself to a bit of personal pampering with a spa treatment at voco St David's. I succumbed to the ishga Deep Tissue Massage, 50 minutes of dreamy indulgence from the expert kneading of Molly for £95, while my wife and daughter opted for the OPI Gels nails treatment (£50) and ishga Facial (£95) respectively.
With a vista over the Bristol Channel to die for and a sumptuous full and continental breakfast selection to boot, this was a wonderful stay in state-of the-art surroundings.
Without a car we were reliant on nearby places to eat and drink, but Mermaid Quay just five minutes' walk away has a plethora of eateries and bars, and even with Otto threatening to do its worst, this area is so picturesque and must be even prettier in spring and summer.
It's also from the quayside that you can avail yourself of the Aquabus City Bay link service which takes you to Cardiff city centre.
With a tight schedule and Otto putting paid to any scenic views we might have had out at sea, we didn't partake this time, but maybe on our next visit. Prices are £6 for adults, £3 for children under 15 and free for under 3s.
This drops you directly at Cardiff Castle, which was our last but certainly not least tour experience in the Welsh capital.
There is so much to see with a Castle general admission ticket affording visitors access to the grounds, the 12th century stone Keep, the museum and the walled remains of a Roman fort. For a small extra cost I can recommend the add-ons, which include the House tour, the theme parkesque Black Tower Tales experience, and there's a Clock Tower tour in the summer months.
For details, visit https://www.cardiffcastle.com/
We ended our fantastic break with a bit of retail therapy and you can guess that as a capital city Cardiff has every high street shop imaginable, with Church Street famed for its rich and diverse choice of restaurants and eateries.
For other ideas of things to do it's well worth checking cardiff.gov.uk and clicking on the what's on section.
So, for your next UK Staycation - be it Cardiff, Edinburgh, London or wherever - why not consider leaving the car keys at home and look into a suitable Railcard opportunity. There's one for virtually everybody and can save you a third off most rail fares across Britain and an average of £153 a year. Visit Railcard.co.uk for more details.
*Stat taken from survey conducted by CensusWide on behalf of Great Western Railway. The survey took place between 25/05/2022 to 27/05/2022, and involved a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults, aged 18 and over.