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Delights of Cardiff for groups to sample

The little capital of Cardiff is perfect for group visits, with plenty of coach parking and a wealth of culture, sport and foodie delights to explore

Cardiff is a real gem of a city – small enough to walk around easily, but still without question a proper capital city, with world-class attractions, a high-quality shopping offer and myriad fantastic bars and restaurants.

Adorable ‘Snow Dog’ trail was on when we visited – recognise the famous Welsh football player…?

It’s also coach-friendly: Flat enough for groups to walk around, with plenty of city-centre drop-off points and coach parking.

We explored the city with the help of Visit Cardiff.

A taster of Cardiff

The first thing we do in Cardiff is a tasting tour of the city, with Loving Welsh Food.

Run by Cardiff-born Sian Roberts, who started the business in October 2015, the tour is an excellent way to explore the city if you've never been before.

We start at the castle, and take a short walk to atmospheric Pettigrew's tea room, formerly the park lodge. Here, the group has a lovely pot of tea and bara brith – a kind of Welsh fruitcake that has to be served with butter, and apparently goes beautifully with cheese. Pettigrew's can seat up to 30 in a group but on this tour, 12 is the ideal number – Sian won’t normally take more than 20 on a walking tour.

The next stop is Wally's, a Cardiff institution in Royal Arcade. It was started by the current proprietor Steve's father Wally, who came from Poland, and now offers a good range of charcuterie and cheeses from Europe and Wales, which we get to sample. Wally's is growing – it has just opened another shop in one of the other arcades, selling drink.

Then we go to The Cottage on St Mary Street, a beautiful little pub selling Cardiff’s famous Brains beer. Here you can have a tasting of beers and ciders, including the notorious Cardiff Dark beer.

All along the three-hour tour, Sian gives potted histories of the buildings and people of Cardiff. At one point we pop into the Old Library, now the Cardiff Story, to see its beautiful Arts & Crafts tiled corridor.

Charcuterie on display at Wally’s – try some on a Loving Welsh Food tour

The next stop is splendid Cardiff Market, which will be revamped over the next four years with emphasis on its fine Victorian heritage. Here we have laverbread and cockles, laverbread being a rather curious seaweed-based condiment, not to everyone's taste – a little like a Welsh Marmite – but, we think, excellent with anything fishy.

Also in the market is the family-run Market Deli, where we try mouthwatering Welsh faggots, and Clark's pie – a peppery, savoury beef pie with lovely soft pastry.

We walk through the Castle Arcade to Fabulous Welshcakes, a tiny, sweet-smelling shop selling handmade traditional welshcakes as well as flavoured welshcakes – such as blueberry and dark chocolate and orange.

Our final stop is Bar 44, opposite the Principality Stadium, a tapas restaurant where we finish with another sweet treat – delicate chocolate truffles.

Sian's tours are a really excellent way to see the city. Her 'Cardiff Food Safari' is ideal for groups of up to 20, but she does plenty for larger groups of up to 50 and can be very flexible, arranging bespoke tours for the group's needs, whether a tour is on foot or based on the coach. The tours can incorporate Cardiff Bay as well as the city centre, including a boat ride.

Adventure on the water

A great way to add adventure to a tour, for any age group, is to pick from a number of exciting, varied activities at Cardiff International White Water (CIWW).

The only attraction of its kind in the region, CIWW has a vast programme and great facilities. Groups can try their hand at white water rafting, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, and even surfing. The centre also has a high ropes course and a climbing wall.

The centrepiece of CIWW is its impressive white water rafting course, which is pumped electrically – meaning that the flow can be turned up or slowed down. That means lower-pump sessions can be held for younger children and for older age groups – and the latter is surprisingly well-represented among CIWW's clientele, as well as stags and hens, and school groups.

The Principality Stadium, a superb venue for sports and national events

There's not a lot of carrying of equipment involved, and CIWW provides all equipment, including wetsuits – so all you need to bring is a towel.

The standard group rate is 10% off for groups of 10+, but CIWW will also do special deals with group organisers.

Sport lovers catered for

Cardiff offers excellent touring options for the sports lover. It has a number of world-class stadia and events venues, and with their particular brand of homely sporting passion, these really do make for a very special group tour.

First we visit the Principality Stadium, Wales' national stadium and home to the Wales Rugby Union team. It's the second-largest stadium in the world to have a closing roof, which makes it ideal for huge indoor events like boxing matches – in fact, the city is still buzzing from the recent Anthony Joshua fight when we visit.

Built for the 1999 Rugby World Cup (and previously called the Millennium Stadium), it's fabulously impressive, with 60,000 seats (including one for the queen). It's nevertheless intimate, thanks to its steep stand arrangement and proximity to the pitch.

On the guided tour, groups can see the press conference room, home and away dressing rooms, and the international players' lounge. They can walk out pitchside to the same deafening music that plays for the rugby stars when they walk out, and go to the very top of the steep stadium on level six – there's an incredible view, and it's still easy even at this height to discern individual players.

The home of Welsh cricket is open for tours at Glamorgan County Club

The tour also takes in the lovely hospitality suites, and the queen's own seat, where visitors can have a photo with a real Welsh rugby union trophy.

The Principality is very keen to welcome groups, and while pre-booking is advised, the team have been known in the past to accommodate group tours that have walked in off the street – “We don't like to turn people away,” says Tours Manager David Cox, who on that occasion had guided the group around himself.

Tours are for up to 30 people, with larger groups split. The stadium is very accessible – the only place wheelchair users can't access is the very top stands, but they can still get to level six.

There's a drop-off point right outside, a well-stocked shop onsite, and as the stadium is right in Cardiff's centre, there are hundreds of dining options nearby.

Cricket is ‘making Wales proud’

Next we visit the Glamorgan County Cricket Club in Sophia Gardens, which has a different kind of magic to its atmosphere. It seats 15,000, but it's an international venue and that is highlighted through the tour, with groups from different countries able to see their own sporting heroes around the walls.

The gentility of the game is reflected in the beautiful ground, nestled among tall trees by the river.

The gleaming Banqueting Hall in Cardiff Castle, a neo-Gothic wonder of craftsmanship

It's very well geared up for tours; it was enlarged in 2008 and a museum of Welsh cricket opened at the ground in 2012.

The ground has around 50 matchdays a year, but it's open for tours all year round, including on matchdays. It's nicely suited to school groups as well as adult and special interest groups, and Heritage and Education Co-ordinator Andrew Hignell says there are two unique selling points: the first is that it's an international sports stadium, the second is that visitors can actually play while they're there, in a large indoor hall.

The tour normally starts in the museum, which is worth around 20-30 minutes for a normal group. It's fascinating, and has interactive monitors as well as a 'cinema' area where talks are given and films are shown. Andrew shows us that a huge selection of PowerPoint presentations are loaded up ready to deliver to groups on almost any area of interest: Usually on a group tour, a presentation on the history of the ground will be shown.

The tour of the stadium takes in the players' dining room, the away dressing room (a lovely photo opportunity, particularly for groups from other counties or countries, as they can dress up in their local team's shirt), and the media centre – a particularly impressive spot, with space for 122 journalists and its wonderful view of the ground. The tour takes around 90 minutes, and is priced at only £5 an adult, with group discounts available.

New for this winter, a QR-coded trail will allow visitors to self-guide themselves around the stadium, offering interactive information on visitors’ phones.

The house that Bute built

Cardiff Castle's function as an important Roman and Norman fortress had long faded into obscurity by the Victorian age. Its ruined keep and 15th century manor house, the latter extended in the Georgian era, presided over what was no more than a coastal village – until the earls of Bute moved in, and overnight turned Cardiff into one of the largest coal ports in the world.

The Princess Katharine with its own Snow Dog arriving into Cardiff Bay

The second Early of Bute built Cardiff as we know it, but it was the third Earl who built the Castle as we know it. He remodelled almost all of the interiors in a richly decorated neo-Gothic style, and symbolism flows through each room in utterly fascinating ways.

The tour starts in the Smoking Room in the Clock Tower, which has the theme of time – the months of the year, the days of the week and hours of the day are symbolised and personified in lavish paintings and plasterwork.

The children's day nursery has fantastic painted tiles portraying various fairy tales, and the fabulous Arab Room honours the architect William Burges and has a gold-leaf stalactite ceiling. The beautiful library commemorates all of the third Earl's literary heroes, while an amazing tower-top garden heralds his interest in all things Italian.

The centrepiece of these rooms is the Banqueting Hall, which is so elaborately carved it's almost over the top. Happily, though these rooms were hardly used when they were first designed – as the Butes used it as a holiday home – today the Castle is often used for important functions as befitting a capital city.

The guided tour takes about 50 minutes, then groups are free to wander at their leisure – around the house again if they like, and over to the ruined keep, a great contrast to the house. There are steep steps up to the keep, but the views are worth the climb. There’s also Second World War air raid tunnels to explore, the Roman wall, and a real working replica of a 13th-century trebuchet.

New for 2018, Cardiff Castle has launched a special groups package for £30pp – a visit to the castle combined with a cruise onboard the Princess Katharine to Cardiff Bay, where the group has a cream tea in the Norwegian Church.

In the Bay

The Wales Millennium Centre, one of the country’s top attractions. CREDIT: Phil Boorman

The group-friendly Princess Katharine docks a short walk from the Castle, and departs at half past every hour for Cardiff Bay. It's a half-hour journey with a commentary, so a wonderful way to see the city and some of the attractions of the Bay if you don't have much time.

The commentary points out the Norwegian Church with its connections to Roald Dahl, Mermaid Quay with its many bars and restaurants, the Barrage built in 1999 to protect the Bay from flooding, and the fantastic red-brick Pierhead building.

Our final call is the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay, a pinnacle of modern architecture and a treasure trove of Welsh materials and Welsh history.

As you read this the theatre will have just finished its first run of Tiger Bay, its own fully-produced musical that will doubtless be staged in other theatres around the UK before long. Only the Brave – currently showing in London – is a Millennium Centre production.

As well as seeing a show, groups can take a guided tour of the Centre (sometimes, architect Jonathan Adams himself takes the tours). The guides are brilliant, and the tour unleashes the theatre's many stories – the Welsh slate and steel making up the frontage, the wonderful poetic bi-lingual words cast in vast letters across the front, the 'ship shape' of the building, and its many backstage areas.

The theatre has the second-largest stage of any theatre in Britain, and the loading bays have been designed to make it as easy as possible to get truckloads of scenery and costumes in – a huge advantage over older theatres, and one of the reasons why many huge productions are coming to Cardiff, including Miss Saigon, Matilda and War Horse.

The highlight of the tour is seeing the beautiful auditorium, which avoids the need for any view-blocking pillars by having the stands cleverly cantilevered. The design throughout is nothing short of genius – the very walls have been computer-designed for optimum acoustics. It's a stunning theatre and a wonderful place to see a show.

If your group isn't going to a show, they can still enjoy an evening at the Millennium Centre – the beautiful restaurant, Ffresh, runs a programme of live music and spoken word events through autumn, winter and spring.

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