A Christmas guide to Cardiff.

Cardiff, Cardiff Eats, Travel, UK, Wales

It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. It is socially acceptable to live in loungewear, there is cinnamon in absolutely everything and raclette is officially its own food group. This year, the festive build up looks a little different, but with this guide, and a little help from For Cardiff , it should see you through this “new normal” and have you skipping merrily down Castle Street singing like Mariah herself and showing a bit of love to all of the amazing businesses that really, really need it right now.

Don’t forget to check the current restrictions before you venture out into the world! You can find updated restrictions here.

1.Enjoy the Christmas markets

My fave part of Christmas in Cardiff. The markets. I really thought this year it wouldn’t be doable but how amazing it is to see those lodges lit up and full of amazing produce. Don’t miss the Raclette stall! They are doing a raclette mac & cheese this year and it’s truly to die for.

2.Toast some marshmallows at Cardiff Castle

If it’s good enough for Kate and Wills, it is good enough for me! The folks at Cardiff Castle have gone to an unbelievable effort this year in order to bring us some Christmas joy safely. The Castle is free to the public and packed with ski style chalets, light shows, food trucks and my fave, the marshmallow roasting station. Sadly, the interior of the Castle has had to close due to Covid restrictions but the public square and food stalls are still open and brimming with merriment. 

3.Treat yourself to a spot of lunch.

It still amazes me what a culinary hub that Cardiff is becoming. Christmas means meals with loved ones, festive menus and overdue catch-ups. The 6pm curfew, rule of four and restrictions of premises serving alcohol has certainly thrown a curveball our way but why not book a lunch at any one of the countless restaurants the City has to offer. Try Honest Burgers for their Christmas special stuffed with an oozy slice of Camenbert. Or, Mowgli, with their swing seats and authentic Indian street market dishes. Don’t miss the yogurt chat bombs. Or, The Ivy! Those beautiful decorations draw me in every time, as does their iconic Shepherd’s pie. The perfect winter warmer.

4.Cardiff’s best hot chocolates.

Where do I start first? The Ferrero Rocher one at the Christmas market, the Nutella latte at Coffee Barkers or maybe even the Gingerbread one at Hotel Chocolat made with real flakes of chocolate. City of Arcades, City of hot choccies.

5.Raid the Market for all your Christmas must-haves.

Cardiff Market truly is a Cardiff institution. A bustling hub of sellers that have been there for years on end and sell anything and everything you can imagine – Tophats, fabrics, fruit and veggies, wood fired pizzas, flowers and more. I always take a visit to Ashtons to pick up some fresh seafood for Christmas Eve. Followed by a quick stop off at The Secret Garden Florist for some of their adorable mini Christmas trees. Just do not leave with getting a bag of fresh Welshcakes from Bakestones – it’s basically against the law.

6.Shop for some last minute decorations.

It is never too late to shop for decorations. Cardiff is home to the only John Lewis in Wales and every year in mid-November the 3rd floor becomes a treasure trove of baubles, tinsel and fairy lights. My tree may be up and fully decorated but there are always space for a few more pretty pieces. If you like your baubles with a side of wacky make sure you head to Paperchase – it’s the only place I know that you can get baubles in the shape of Ramen noodles…

7.Get wrapping.

Wrapping is one of my favourite parts of Christmas! I plan my colour scheme and then hunt for all the paper, ribbon and decorations I need. I usually get my paper at Paperchase in St David’s 2 but for ribbons, tags and little pretties it’s always Cardiff Market and Tiger! Tiger has those gorge little Scandi tags this year with the old-fashioned Santa’s on. Too cute.

8.Inject a bit of luxury with a Festive Afternoon Tea.

Why not book an early Christmas treat for someone? The Park Plaza are currently serving up a Festive Afternoon tea in their Laguna kitchen and bar and it is the perfect treat for this time of year. A selection of festive pastries, finger sandwiches, fresh scones, mince pies and the cutest little Christmas sweets you’ll ever see. Get there a little early and enjoy a non-alcoholic mulled wine in their lobby, which is beautifully lit right now with log fires and fairy lights.

9.Pretend you’re in The Holiday at Wally’s Deli.

“Oo someone’s having a party!” “Oh yeh”

I have never stepped into a Deli that looks anything near to the one Cameron Diaz steps into in The Holiday. Apart from Wally’s that is. Whether it’s their Deli you’re heading too or the Liquor Cellar over in Castle Arcade what you’ll find is endless shelves and corners of gorgeous foods, booze and goodies. I love piling up tub after tub of olives, artichokes and sun dried tomatoes to graze on. They also sell those gorgeous lebkuchen that are perfect attached to a gift for a little extra treat for someone you love.

10.Satisfy your sweet tooth.

One word. Hotel Chocolat. I remember when the 1st store in Cardiff opened, my closest one at the time was Birmingham so when they opened in the ‘Diff it was utter heaven! Then, they opened a new store… with a cafe!!! So now when I go to buy boxes of Christmas sleeksters, caramel penguins and Apple strudel truffles I can also pick myself up a Billionaire sundae. Treat for you, treat for me!

11. Finish off some last minute shopping.

The St David’s shopping centres truly are a one stop shop for all your gifting needs. Everything from something for the little ones in Disney or Hamleys to something handmade from one of the many businesses at Cardiff Creative. A little further outside the comfort of St David’s is The Castle Emporium – a sweet little independent store with several small businesses selling house plants, art and gifts.

12. Add a touch of Wales

All Christmas’ should have a touch of Wales. Even if it’s a simple Nadolig Llawen in the Christmas card. If you want to get something a little more personal this year then why not head to Shop Wales. Tucked away on St John Street, Shop Wales is a lush little gift shop selling art, ornaments, gifts and some very cute cuddly leeks… I’ll be picking up a few Welsh cake candles for relatives living in England. Bringing a little bit of Wales to their Christmas!

So many of these wonderful businesses featured are For Cardiff members and you have the chance to win a £150 voucher to spend in a plethora of Cardiff busineeses. To enter just head over to Instagram to find out more – @forcardiff

For more tips on where to go this Christmas in Cardiff don’t forget to go to the For Cardiff website, there are also some fantastic videos on their Instagram page, guides to the arcades, little glimpses into the City’s favourite restaurants and a through the doors of Cardiff Market!

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas all! Nadolig Llawen.


Peachy Keen Jellybean – Grease the Musical – Cardiff

Cardiff, Lifestyle, UK

Dan Partridge as Danny & Louis Gaunt as Kenickie (front) and the T-Birds in the UK and Ireland tour of GREASE, credit Manuel HarlanMartha Kirby as Sandy and Dan Partridge as Danny in the UK and Ireland tour of GREASE, credit Manuel HarlanLtoR Natalie Woods as Jan, Eloise Davies as Frenchy & Tara Sweeting as Marty in the UK and Ireland tour of GREASE, credit Manuel Harlan

Picture the scene. I’m thirteen, studying for one of my singing grades and my tutor picks ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You” as one of my exam pieces. I spend almost every waking hour listening to Olivia Newton-John perform it in the 1978 movie. Whilst studying for my exam, the guy in my class that I think is pretty lovely tells me that I look like a boy and have a bowl cut (I did). I now not only love Sandra Dee, I think I am her. I watch that scene of her singing by the pool and I wallow over my childhood crush. A heartbroken and pitiful teen. Thank god fourteen years later I’m far more Rizzo than Sandy…

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This week, I kindly got invited along to the performance of Grease the Musical at the Wales Millenium Centre. Now, if like me your memories of the 70s classic are watching it on a Sunday afternoon with your parents and later singing the songs into your hairbrush in front of a mirror, I doubt you would know that Grease was actually a stage musical first. Shock. I know! I was as shocked as you. What do you mean Sandy is actually brunette?! What do you mean there are MORE Grease songs!? The outrage that no-one told me this before.

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I only found out that the Musical actually preceded the film as I gulped down a large glass of red in the theatre bar beforehand but as soon as the curtain lifted and the stage was revealed, I knew that I wouldn’t be disappointed, regardless of any differences.

Grease the Musical is everything that the movie is. It’s fun, kitsch, tongue in cheek and packed full of the most iconic songs to ever hit the silver screen, with a few extras thrown in for good measure. This is no Sandy and Danny show though, sure, the main storyline still has them at the centre of it, but, with standout performances from Rizzo (Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky) Kenickie (Louis Gaunt) and Jan (Natalie Woods) you find yourself more invested in their storylines rather than the post-summer fling genre that we have all come to know (and love).

Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky (Rizzo) in the UK and Ireland tour of GREASE, credit Manuel Harlan (1)Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky (Rizzo) in the UK and Ireland tour of GREASE, credit Manuel Harlan

The musical had a lot of qualities that I felt the movie simply didn’t. Despite being almost fifty years old, there is a lot of grit behind the storyline. The plot focuses more around the incessant need to fit in at all costs, bullying and other pressures that teens today still face. I have always adored Stockard Channing’s rendition of “There are worse things I could do”, who doesn’t, but when McCaulsky started singing, almost directing her words towards Sandy, you feel her pain, you start to contemplate just how hard this character works to fit in and the impact it can hold on a person. Something that I know many of us can relate to, especially in the world of social media. Her rampant sexuality is paramount, it oozes out of McCaulsky’s performance in every way. The way she walks, speaks, the way she sidles up to some of the main male customers or shuns others that aren’t in favour. In many ways, this performance, despite still being an All-American bubblegum setting, is incredibly modern.

There are parts of the show that tear at your heartstrings; Jan and Roger performing “Mooning”, Sandy (Martha Kirby) watching on as Rizzo (McCaulsky) teases her in “Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee”, but Rydell High’s high octane, free-spirited group of teens are still serving up pure cheese and boy is it served up well. As the curtains roll and the cast burst immediately into Frankie Valli’s “Grease” it is hard to not be blown away with the performance – Sharp dance moves, bright fifties costumes and Rydell High in huge neon lights. It’s simply electrifying.

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A huge surprise for me personally was Darren Bennet’s performance as both Teen Angel and Vince Fontaine. As Fontaine, he is the eccentric, high energy, slightly sleazy radio DJ we expect from watching the movie, his performance during the Rydell Halloween Ball is frantic and a little wild, so he plays Fontaine perfectly. Making a return on stage as the pretty in pink Teen Angel, in a set that looked like the inside of my dream had exploded, Bennett gets right into “Beauty School Dropout” and its a performance that is something quite special, for me, I kind of forgot about Frenchie!

Much like the movie, you simply won’t be disappointed by the musical, it is everything we need in our lives, it’s bright, it’s fun and it’s a wonderful escape from what is a very grey UK right now! Today and tomorrow will be the last performances in the Wales Millenium Centre Cardiff but the cast will be popping up all over the UK in 2020 and it is certainly worth the journey.

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To purchase the last remaining tickets for the Cardiff showings you can use the WMC website.

I was invited along to the performance of Grease the Musical at the WMC but all thoughts and opinions are my own.

The Ultimate Guide to Harry Potter Studios, Watford

Travel, UK

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Any self-confessed Potter head has either already ventured to the Warner Bros Studio Tour in Watford or has spent each waking moment dreaming of going. Well, whether you are an Auror or a first-year it doesn’t really matter, This guide should help your visit be the best yet.

 

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Tips & Tricks

1.Buy your tickets in advance and try to go on a weekday!

You will inevitably arrive to a hoard of people queueing outside the main entrance. If you have already pre-purchased your tickets online you have no need to queue at the kiosk. There are handy touch screen machines that you can collect your ticket from and that is much quicker.

2. Leave the shopping until the end of your tour

Unless you’re a sad act like me and want a prop to wear on the tour, then leave the shopping until you are finished. There are several shops throughout the studios and the exit point is through the store that you see on entering anyway. Save your arms from carrier bag marks and wait. Unless you know Hermonie’s bag enchantment charm? DM me!

3. Stop off at the Three Broomsticks and share a Butterbeer

Ok it’s not actually The Three Broomstick it’s The Backlot cafe but there is a small Butterbeer shack for you to stop at. If you have an insane sweet tooth then be my guest, have a Butterbeer all to yourself, if not, get one to share. Butterbeer is exceptionally sweet, imagine a cream soda with a butterscotch cream on top, That’s the level of sweetness. I’d recommend ordering one in a souvenir glass, ok it’s plastic and isn’t the most attractive but it makes a much better photo than if you order one in the flimsy plastic beer glasses they have. Rain or shine, I recommend getting a seat outside the Backlot Cafe. There is a small overhead canopy and you get a lovely view of the Knight Bus, Privet Drive, etc. Take a jumper!!

4. Make sure to take your Time Turner with you

What? You don’t have one? How absurd. I suppose you will have to make do with the good old fashioned Muggle way… taking your time. The website advises that you will spend 2-3 hours at the Studios, I spent just over 4 on my visit and I still didn’t get to see everything. Don’t give yourself any time constraint. Take your time wandering through and read the information sections – you can find out some really fascinating facts about the movies and the sets. A lot of the props are incredibly detailed too – Spend your time meandering over the Gryffindor Common Room tapestries or gazing at the carefully placed detail on the Tri-Wizard Cup. One of the most beautiful things about the Harry Potter franchise is the almost incomprehensible attention to detail that went into the films, so take a few moments to appreciate it. I promise you, you’ll feel like you are in Hogwarts itself!

 

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Hidden Gems

We know the books and the films are magic but so are the sets and the props. Here are a few hidden gems that you shouldn’t miss.

  • The tiny bottles of memories stored in the corner of Dumbledores Office – You’ll spot a few familiar names…
  • Uncle Vernon’s most prized possession, The trophy made entirely of drillbits – Sat on the mantel in 4 Privet drive behind the flurry of letters
  • Dolores Umbridge walking the tight rope in Fred and George’s Joke Shop – The Diagon Alley set
  • a grubby little package wrapped up in brown paper lying on the floor” of Vault 713. 
  • The Chocolate Frog cupcake at The Chocolate Frog Cafe – Entrance of the studios
  • Harry’s spectacles on a shelf in the cupboard under the stairs
  • Self-stirring cauldrons – These were made for the film!
  • The board of the animal actors in each film – Read the short bio’s, it is utter heartfelt loveliness reading them.

 

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Best Photo Opportunites

You can be honest with me, it’s ok, we all know that one of the main things you want to do at the Studios is have your photo taken in the Potions Lab to show off on Instagram. Me too, but there is no need to spend hours queuing at the green screen stations. Seek out some of these locations to get the Golden Snitch of photo ops.

  1. The Harry Potter Undesirable No1 posters – Outside the studios either as you arrive or exit
  2. Sat at one of the benches in The Great Hall – Everyone else will be gathered in front of the costumes, take your moment and get a great shot of you on one of the benches.
  3. Mirror of Erised – this one is trickier to get (crowds) but try to find a moment and get your closest photographer to snap your reflection in the mirror.
  4. At the entrance to Dumbledore’s Office
  5. Looking into the Pensieve
  6. Boarding the Hogwarts Express – Queue to board the train and as you are boarding get your mate/partner/resident photographer to stay at the bottom of the small steps to catch you heading off to Hogwarts!
  7. Rushing onto Platform 9 and 3/4 – Luggage in hand of course
  8. Sipping on a Butterbeer – Take it outside and use the Knight Bus or Privet Drive as your backdrop
  9. Outside No3 Privet Drive – yes, I know Harry lived at No4 but there will be a huge queue outside No4 – Go next door and stand tactfully in front of the house number. They’ll never know the difference…
  10. The Hogwarts bridge.
  11. Gringotts Bank in front of one of the Goblins – Hand over your card and request some galleons.
  12. Perusing in any one of the storefronts on Diagon Alley.
  13. The sweet shop within the gift shop – This real store looks just like Honeydukes!

 

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Key Information:

Website here.

For all transport information, opening hours and FAQs use the above website link.

Ticket prices:

  • Adult (16+): £41
  • Child (5-15): £33
  • Family (2 adults & 2 children OR 1 adult & 3 children): £132