Tag Archives: what’s it like to live in cardiff

Should I move to Cardiff?

UPDATED! As this piece is one of our most read, we’ll keep updating the main details, costs and facts. Last updated – January 2020.

I got an email recently from someone who had recently discovered the blog. I’ll call her Bethan. She sent in this very lovely email:

Over the past five or so years have fallen in love with Cardiff on my trips to visit. Following a trip this weekend I found your blog on my way back to London.

I’ve lived in London for the best part of the decade and am getting fed up with no money and a rubbish quality of life. Apologies for the slightly random email but I just wondered if you thought someone Londonified but loves Cardiff would be happy if they moved there? Or any challenges or tips you have?

My gut instinct is that I’d be very happy there as there’s so much on offer but in a much more friendly and welcoming place where you’re not bankrupted when you leave the house! Any thoughts etc would be greatly appreciated

Are you feeling like Bethan? Struggling in London, underpaid, bummed out, in need of fresh air, cheaper pints, in a city you can walk across? Then why not consider a move to Cardiff.

Here’s what I sent back to her.

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Hi Bethan!

If you’re getting fed up with being broke and having a rubbish quality of life, then I highly recommend Cardiff to you. I mean, I don’t know anything about you really, other than you have a friend in Caerphilly and you live in London, but I’m presuming you have a job you don’t mind much about leaving, and that you’re into the sort of thing we write about on We Are Cardiff, so that’s mostly what I’ve based this answer on.

YOUR QUESTIONS

I’m going to run through some reasons why Cardiff is awesome now. Also if you don’t believe me, there are STATS to support this, like the fact that the population of the city is currently growing at a faster rate than any UK city. People are moving here. Our secret is getting out!

MONEY

Cardiff has a cheap cost of living for a capital city. It’s much easier to get by on a low salary here than somewhere in London – there are lots of house shares (particularly in Roath, Splott and Canton) where you can find a double room in a beautiful old Victorian terrace (very common type of Cardiff house) with like-minded people from £300 a month to £800 a month (including bills). I did a quick search on SpareRoom using the CF24 postcode (which covers Roath – a popular, artsy location near the university and close to town) just to sense check my figures and as you can see from this Cardiff room search on SpareRoom, there are loads of options within that price range.

There was a survey published recently that gave some actual figures which back up my abstract wafflings (I’ve included it in the links below – NOTE THESE FIGURES ARE FROM 2016, I AM SEARCHING FOR UPDATED ONES!)

  • Average weekly household spend of £384.60 compared to a UK average of £426.30;
  • Disposable income per head stands at £16,520, which is below the UK average of £17,559 but up 3 per cent on 2014 levels;
  • House prices are 6.6 times the value of salaries compared to a UK average of 8.8.

So! There you go on the stats. That’s enough of that.

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QUALITY OF LIFE

Well, I suppose it all depends on what you mean by quality of life, but going back to stats again, Cardiff achieved a life satisfaction score of 7.53 out of 10 (ONS data). From a completely subjective position, what that means for me is the following things (which you will see reflected throughout the We Are Cardiff content!):

  • varied nightlife (a whole bunch of pubs, clubs, bars, pop-up restaurants etc)
  • lots of artsy stuff going on (we’ve got the Welsh National Opera here, NoFit State Circus are based here, we have touring musicals and theatre on a weekly basis, there are loads of smaller scale cabaret type events all the time, circus skills workshops, hula hoop classes, open mics, writer’s groups, art exhibitions).
  • farmers markets, community gardens, a growing sustainability / green interest community
  • LOADS OF GREEN SPACES, like EVERYWHERE. The centre of town pivots around the castle and behind it, the endless green swathes of Bute Park. Nearly every neighbourhood has some super lovely park nearby
  • it’s 20-30 minutes drive to the gorgeous Brecon Beacons (MOUNTAINS!!!)
  • it’s zero minutes drive to the coast (WE ARE ON THE COAST!!!!)
  • there are castles everywhere (castle fact: Wales is actually the country in the world with the most castles – built and ruined)
  • if you like running, we have an awesome Park Run around Bute Park and Grangemoor Parks on the weekend
  • if you like cycling, the Taf Trail runs all the way from Cardiff to the source of the river Taf up in Merthyr Tydfil – you can take your bike up there on the train and cycle all the way back, stopping in pubs on the way, it is THE BEST
  • it’s very small so easy to get around on foot and bike
  • also because it’s small it’s to find  things you’re interested in and meet people / get involved in things
  • also because it’s small you bump into your friends! all the time! it’s lovely!
  • Bristol is only an hour on the train – loads of gigs and great nightlife going on there
  • if you like roller derby, we have one of the top women’s teams (go Tiger Bay Brawlers!)
  • I am in no way into sports (like, not at all) but we have LOADS of massive sports events here. I should really appreciate this more.

DRAWBACKS
I don’t think this would be a reasonable email if I didn’t also tell you about some of the drawbacks of living here.

  • the smallness can be stifling for some people. I haven’t really experienced this, I think if you grow up here it’s more of a thing than if you move here from somewhere else (I have been informed by locally born and raised friends that on Tinder that you can run out of people to swipe right!)
  • we often get overlooked for gigs because Bristol is just an easier option, especially if bands are continuing north or the other way on to London. However, Bristol is easily visited in an evening (see above).
  • you might suddenly develop massive smugness at how much better your life is here and become unbearable to all your other friends. this is normal and hopefully should die down at some point (!)

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LINKS

There have been countless reports and surveys released over the past year or so that frequently name Cardiff as the best city to live in (or one of) in Europe. I’ve included below a list of the most recent ones that might be of interest to you:

OTHER PEOPLES’ EXPERIENCES
I’m not sure how much of We Are Cardiff you’ve looked through (there are, I just realised, over 700 posts on there now!!) but there are a couple of people who have written pen portraits of themselves and have similar pasts to you (ie they’ve come from other places and now live in Cardiff)

PEOPLE WHO HAVE MOVED FROM LONDON TO CARDIFF!

PEOPLE WHO’VE MOVED FROM OTHER PLACES TO CARDIFF

Now then – this next story is actually completely the other way round – it’s written by a guy who is from Cardiff but moved to London during the ‘bleak’ 90s, but then came across We Are Cardiff and wrote a blog post about it based on what he remembered of Cardiff as a youngster and his feelings about it now, and also a bit about his current life in London. I thought it was really fascinating reading and beautifully written which is why I posted about it:James – ‘It’s where you’re between’

Generally speaking to get what ‘the people’ are saying about Cardiff, flick through the ‘People‘ section on the website. Also I’d like to say I don’t edit anything for content – people are free to write what they want, I don’t in anyway force them to be positive about Cardiff, and again for balance I’ll point you to Lee’s post.

I have lived in loads of different places, but love Cardiff to pieces. It’s really friendly, there’s plenty of variety of nights out and places to eat and communities to join and things to do – if you’re into the alternative vibe, you’ll find lots of that here.

Also I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. It was set up a few years back as a response to the mass of negative news reports we were seeing about Cardiff in the mass media (this was around 2010). Back then it was mostly pen portraits about Cardiff written by people that we knew – today obviously it’s a very different thing, but the aim of the blog is to showcase the variety of amazing things that go on here, and still interview people involved in the local scene. So it’s fabulous that you found it, and I’m pleased it’s making you consider a change!

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If you want to add your comments to anyone thinking about moving to Cardiff, please do so below!

All photos in this article by Doug Nicholls

“Back to my roots” – Dan

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Cardiff born and Cardiff bred? Not quite in my case. I was actually born in Leicester; a bit of a mongrel really. Dad was born in Shotton, Flintshire, although his mother was a Welsh speaker from Gorseinon and his father a Mancunian raised in Hawarden.

Mum’s father was an RAF officer from Sussex, shot down and killed over Norway in 1941 before he’d even met his infant daughter. Mum’s mother (our Gran) was a dedoubtable lady of Scottish stock and temperament, one of nine children. After the war she married a Trinidadian civil engineer, and they moved to Sale in Manchester.

My parents met whilst teaching together at Eccles Grammar School in Cheshire, and after their marriage in Sale their careers took them to Northampton and then to Loughborough. In 1972, Leicester General Hospital was the nearest maternity unit, and so that’s where I came into the world. Within a few months we had moved to Newport in South Wales, and then two years later we alighted in Whitchurch, a relatively affluent suburb of Cardiff. By then I’d acquired a sister, and my parents decided it was time to stay put for a bit. And there we stayed for 20 years.

Our house was a Edwardian semi just north of the railway which divides the mean streets of Llandaff North from the leafy boulevards of Whitchurch. Our childhood was blissfully happy and we had a close-knit group of friends from the surrounding streets who all went to the same primary school, Eglwys Newydd, next to the brook in Glan-y-Nant Terrace. At the time, Eglwys Newydd had English and Welsh streams; I went into the Welsh stream in spite of neither of my parents being able to speak the language. Nevertheless, I flourished academically, despite being painfully shy and small compared to my peers.

A fork in the road came in 1983, when a choice had to be made about my secondary education. Would I go to Whitchurch High School, the enormous English comprehensive across the brook, or would I follow several of my closest friends to Glantaf, the (then) relatively new Welsh-medium secondary school across the tracks in Llandaff? My best friend Howard, neither of whose parents spoke Welsh either, had already decided that he wanted to go to Glantaf, so it was natural that I wanted to go there too. But Mum and Dad were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to support my studies if I was learning through the medium of a language they didn’t speak, so I went to Whitchurch.

I often wonder how things would have turned out if I’d gone to Glantaf. It was then, and is now, a very good school with some impressive alumni from the world of the arts and sport.

In any case, the choice was made and I went to Whitchurch High School. My experience in my early teens at that school broadly reflected a lot of people’s experience of the 1980s in South Wales: a feeling of confidence and ambition being crushed by the people in charge. In the early 80s, Whitchurch had grown to be the largest secondary school in Wales, with over 1000 pupils. It was divided over two sites in the village, with kids from places as diverse as Rhiwbina and Mynachdy on the roll. I felt swamped.

There was the added complication of my mother being an English teacher at the school. Luckily for me, she was well-respected by the majority of pupils so I didn’t suffer from any of the usual “teacher’s kid” treatment from my schoolmates. On occasion I did suspect I was being made an example of by some teachers, notably when I was given a week’s detention by the head of year for uttering the word “Smarties” during a Science lesson.

My time in Lower School was pretty miserable. But things took a turn for the better when I moved to Upper School in my fifteenth year. We were the first kids to take the new GCSE exam, the replacement for the O-Level. I’d narrowed my career choices down to two options: journalism or medicine. Instead of leaping in one direction, I took a compromise and chose a mixture of arts and science subjects. Partly, I suspect, due to the fact that neither of my parents had any background in science. I did fairly well at both (although I was a disaster at Drama due to my horrific shyness), and when A-level decision time came, I plumped for sciences, as I felt medicine was my chosen path. Probably one of the biggest mistakes I ever made; not that I knew it at the time.

At the same time, my social life had started to re-establish itself, mostly outside of school, through my membership of County Wind Bands and Orchestras. I’d eschewed the sexy french horn in favour of the deeply creepy oboe, but luckily it seemed the oboe section were the outsiders of the orchestra: the kids who were too cool for school. We formed an alliance with like-minded viola and clarinet players and other “edgy” types. Some of them had super record collections. I went from Ultravox to the Cure within 12 months. Girls from Howell’s School, Glantaf and St Cyres danced with me to to “Lovecats” and “This Charming Man” at summer camp. We went on coach trips to Manchester and London listening to The Pixies and The House of Love on our personal stereos. School was all about work, and this was play, with my exotic new friends from Glantaf, Howell’s, Stanmore and St Cyres. The music we played in the orchestras and wind bands was incidental: we were in it for the alternative social scene, which revolved around the legendary and dingy Square Club on Westgate Street.

As a result of this separation of work and play, and also due to some subtle nagging from my mother, I managed to avoid cocking up my A-levels and gained a place at Cambridge to read Natural Sciences. The story of the intervening years between then and my return to Wales over a decade later is for another time and place (check my 30 Day Song Challenge for some highlights), but eventually I ended up in London, in my late 20s, having accomplished not that much.

Luckily for me, London Welsh RFC was the place to be for the young Welshman about town, so I headed there. In 1998 I’d discovered Gwladrugby.com, an Welsh rugby fans’ website created by a chap called Rhys, a Welsh exile in London. The site soon became a focus for rugby-related social gatherings in London and a number of us went on trips to watch Wales play in exotic locations such as Edinburgh, Paris, Rome, Nottingham and Bedford. Wales’s victory over England at Wembley in 1999 was a particular highlight during the period.

Whilst in London, Gwladrugby.com also provided me with the opportunity of meeting my wife. We spent several carefree years in London before something began to tug us back to Wales. I’d like to say it was hiraeth, but in fact it was a job I’d managed to secure, at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. And so, in 2003, we moved back to Whitchurch, to the street next to the one I’d grown up in from 1974 to 1990.

So finally I get to the point of this story: why I love Cardiff, and Whitchurch in particular.

Cardiff has had a terrible reputation over the years. According to many, our city centre is infested with binge drinkers and football hooligans. Hen and stag parties stalk St. Mary’s Street, rendering it a no-go zone for respectable folk looking for an enjoyable night out in one of Europe’s newest capital cities. This may be true. I’m not that fond of Cardiff city centre on a Friday or Saturday night, but that could be because I’m getting old.

On the other hand, Cardiff has been lauded as “better than London” by many of my London friends who’ve travelled here to watch sporting events at the Millennium Stadium, due to the proximity and density of pubs and restaurants in the city centre. Far better than the suburban wastelands of Twickenham and Wembley, for sure. And cheaper too, for the most part.

For me, the return trip to Cardiff for rugby internationals took a turn for the better after the completion of the Millennium Stadium and the Rugby World Cup in 1999. True, the Welsh rugby team’s fortunes had already been on an upward curve for a few months that year, with victories over England and South Africa, but since we started playing at the new stadium, it feels a lot more like a fortress than the old one and I really think it gives us an edge over visiting teams. Two Grand Slams in the last decade would tend to support this theory. Sadly the fortress effect doesn’t always work, but we’re a small nation punching well above our weight, so we can’t win all of the time.

I left Cardiff in 1990 and didn’t return for 13 years. During that time, another massive project was completed in the city. The Cardiff Bay Barrage was constructed and with it came the redevelopment of the waterfront around the old Bute Docks. In the early 90s the barrage and the wider redevelopment of the Bay were very contentious and many people questioned the long-term value of the project. Twenty years later those objections have been largely forgotten and Cardiff Bay has been transformed into an impressive waterside destination. I’ve worked in the area on and off for a few years since I moved back to Cardiff and I really like the Bay as a place to go, whether it’s for food, drink, a show or a film.

The Bay still feels a bit disconnected from the city centre. It’s partly a transport problem, but the regeneration has been concentrated around the waterfront and has left the relatively deprived areas of Butetown and Riverside which sit between the Bay and town untouched.

Until the mid noughties, the development of the Bay left the city centre looking tired and unappealing. People in search of a quiet night out would stay in the suburban peace of places like Pontcanna and Roath. But in 2010 the balance was restored with the opening of the new St. David’s 2 shopping centre, complete with a John Lewis department store and celebrity chef-branded restaurants like Jamie’s and Carluccio’s.

“Where’s the local identity?” you may ask. Most of these newcomers are chains; this could be any city in the UK. There are still plenty of Cardiff originals, such as the Cameo Club and Bully’s restaurant in Pontcanna, along with relative newcomers like The Potted Pig and Oscar’s. The big question is whether Cardiff can sustain places of this quality itself, through local residents, without having to rely upon big events to draw in the punters from elsewhere. That depends on the affluence of the city increasing. At the moment I don’t think it’s quite there.

When it comes to the arts scene, Cardiff is definitely there. As a boy in the late 1970s I went to see Star Wars at Chapter Arts Centre in Canton. More than 30 years later the place is still going strong; a recent refurbishment having injected new life and light into the building. Whether you’re going to see a film, show or just hang out in the bar with the great and the good of the Cardiff media and arts scene, Chapter is a wonderful destination.

Fairly recently I’ve also discovered a couple of groovy smaller venues: The Gate and the Globe in Roath, and Gwdihŵ in Guildford Crescent. Last year I was lucky enough to see one of my childhood heroes, David Gedge, play at the Globe with his band The Wedding Present.

I also saw the eternal loony Julian Cope play the Globe in October, and a toweringly beautiful and fierce set by the Throwing Muses, one of my favourite bands from the golden age of Indie Rock, at the Gate just a couple of weeks ago. The Gate is a former chapel just off City Road in Roath. An intimate venue with a friendly little bar; it’s a great place to get close to the performers, as I did when Neil Hannon played there last October.

Then there’s the WMC. As I said, I worked there before, during and after its opening in November 2004. One of the most ambitious building projects ever conceived in Wales, it very nearly didn’t happen. Several times. But through the hard work of a dedicated, passionate team of people, we got it open on time. It’s now part of the dramatic skyline of Cardiff Bay, and an institution that is respected and admired across South Wales and beyond. I love going back to the building and it evokes some powerful, proud memories for me. The centrepiece of the is the staggeringly beautiful Donald Gordon lyric theatre; probably the best place to see and hear live performance I’ve ever been in. Although I’m probably a bit biased.

Before it became the glittering, albeit slightly tarnished capital city it is today, Cardiff was little more than a collection of villages: Llandaf, Radyr, Llanishen, Llanederyn, Rhymney, Rhiwbina, Tongwynlais and the rest. And to a great extent it still is. Certainly my village, Whitchurch, retains a character of its own: a high street, the common, a village pub or two, small primary schools and some well-kept local shops. My favourite shop in Whitchurch is Martin Player’s butcher opposite the library on Park Road. Shops like this bring you closer to the producers of the products you’re buying, and you can see the care taken to preserve this closeness.

For the past five years or so our lives in Whitchurch have revolved largely around activities with our children. We’ve been incredibly lucky to have access to exceptional Welsh-medium nursery and primary education in the village; it makes such a difference when these facilities are on your doorstep. And with kids come a new social circle. We have a jolly and sizeable Mums and Dads’ club who enjoy nothing better than lounging on each others’ patios in the sun, sipping wine while the kids chase each other around the garden.

Finally, there’s the allotment. Earlier this year our 30 month wait was rewarded with an allotment plot in Llandaff North, just around the corner from our house. The first harvests have been pretty fruitful; some spuds, beetroot and runner beans. It’s early days, but over the years I’m sure we’ll get the hang of growing our own and the crops will become more bountiful each time. Gardening is great exercise and being outdoors makes me feel particularly happy, even when it rains (which it does a lot in Cardiff). Coming back to my roots in Whitchurch has been a joyful experience and I can’t imagine life being any other way.

Dan Allsobrook is an IT consultant who lives and works in Cardiff. In his spare time he’s one of the editors of Gwladrugby.com, an irreverent, amateurish yet surprisingly popular Welsh rugby fans’ website, and is responsible for @gwladrugby on twitter. He writes about politics, music, food and many other things on his own blog, Eggnewydd and has been known to tweet as @eggynewydd too. He is married to Eleri and they have two young sons, Geraint and Rhodri. Dan currently lives in Whitchurch.

Dan was photographed near his allotment by Adam Chard

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