The Welsh capital isn't groaning under the weight of its history like many British cities. It was a tiny settlement of fewer than 2000 people before the Industrial Revolution turned it into the world's largest coal port. This relatively recent rise gives it a blank slate feel – which is filled with ambitious projects such as the vast city-centre Principality Stadium and the strikingly odd Millennium Centre in revitalised Cardiff Bay. Qatar Airways launches direct flights in May 2018, and anyone on board will discover a young, instinctively genial playground.
The main house of Cardiff Castle is a neo-Gothic fantasy added in the 18th century by the preposterously wealthy Bute family. The rooms are predictably opulent, but the castle's atmospherics come courtesy of the semi-ruined keep in the middle and the World War II shelters in the battlement walls. See cardiffcastle.com
Cardiff has quite a trend for inventive Indian joints, and the Purple Poppadom is top of the tree. Specific regional dishes are picked out and tweaked, rather than relying on hoary old curry house staples. And the signature dish – tiffin sea bass on a bed of curry leaf-infused mashed potato – is spectacular. See purplepoppadom.com
The two-hour Cardiff on Foot walking tour is great for both history – pointing out the Roman section in the castle walls – and easily missed quirky oddities. These include the faux-druidic standing stones in Bute Park and the Cornerstone, a church made from ballast rocks dumped in Cardiff Bay by visiting ships. See cardiffwalkingtours.com
The St David's Centre dominates the shopping scene, but the real heart is in the series of arcades that play home to independent stores, delis, and tea houses. Perhaps loveliest is the Castle Arcade, where a board game shop sits next to a Welsh cheese specialist. But the Morgan Arcade is home to local legend Spillers – the world's oldest record shop. See spillersrecords.com
The newly opened Exchange in Cardiff Bay is an odd combination of heritage public areas and suave, contemporary rooms with interesting gimmicks such as biographies of key Cardiff industrialists written across the ceilings. The building was once the commercial hub of the coal industry – and was where the first ever million-pound cheque was signed. Doubles cost from £79. See exchangehotelcardiff.co.uk
On a sunny afternoon, the traffic-free, 10-kilometre stroll around Cardiff Bay is worthwhile. Highlights include the marina at Penarth, the Barrage that turned the bay into a freshwater lake, the fish ladders that allow trout and salmon to reach their breeding grounds, and a surprisingly riveting open-air exhibition on the ill-fated Scott Antarctic expedition.