All over Europe, covered shopping arcades was THE vogue from the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the 20th. They are small historic pockets in many cities, for the most part inhabited by speciality stores, cafés and artisan shops, making it an authentic and extraordinary shopping experience.
They ooze Victorian, Edwardian and sometimes even Art Nouveau or Art Deco charm, and especially in Cardiff, the unpretentious capital of Wales, they hide everywhere. No wonder Cardiff is called “City of Arcades” as it has most covered shopping arcades in all the UK. Ready to go on a shopping spree back in time?
This arcade from 1887 is one of three that make up the Castle Quarter together with High Street and Duke Street Arcades. It was named the “finest of Cardiff’s Victorian arcades” in 1975 and is the only arcade that offers two-storey shopping. The balconies and bay windows add to the poshness of this arcade.
It’s accessible both from Castle Street and High Street and is the largest of Cardiff’s arcades with 36 unique stores. Our favourite was Barker Rum & Fizz with its lavish rooms and Princes & Paupers with its vintage and handmade clothes and cool collectibles.
High Street Arcade
When you exit Castle Arcade on High Street, you can spot High Street Arcade on the opposite side, just to the right and wonderfully Victorian with its gothic arch entrance. The arcade from 1885 exits on St. John’s Street but is also joined with Duke Street Arcade, which is a later addition. More about that in the next section. The arcade curves beautifully towards St. John’s Street and is super elegant.
The pedestrianisation of High Street 10 years ago has revitalized shopping in this area and it only adds to the charm of the arcades, that you can now enjoy the outside architecture as well without having to dodge moving cars. High Street Arcade has 19 shops and 5 of them are cafés. My personal favourite, though, was Hobo’s Vintage Clothing with its colourful shop and 60ies groove.
Duke Street Arcade
This arcade was constructed in 1902 and joined with High Street arcade, linking this to Duke Street.
At the time when High Street Arcade was built, Duke Street was kind of dodgy, with lots of overcrowded housing. In the end of the 19th century those buildings were demolished, clearing the wall and south gate of Cardiff Castle and opening up the street, making it accessible – and popular – for the genteel shoppers. Duke Street Arcade allowed the clients from High Street Acade to exit with a grand view of of the castle. It was built in gothic style and has recently been renovated, emphasizing its Art Deco details. The smallish arcade is home to 7 shops.
The youngest of the arcades, this petite one has a different, sleek feel to it. Gone are the elaborate details, typical of the Victorian era, and instead the rationalistic modernity of post-WWI era. There are less than 20 years of age difference between Duke Street Arcade and Dominions Arcade from 1921, but you can really sense the shift in perspective during those years; the loss of innocence and the adult, streamlined symmetry that characterised architecture from then on.
It was, as if the world had grown up when they left the bloody battlefields of the Great War. They shed those romantic notions that had influenced architecture up until then and instead tried to instigate a feeling of rationale, efficiency and order. As the people had lost faith in the world view that had caused the horrors of WWI, they looked for something else to define their future. And the streamlined Art Deco was perfect for the job. The arcade lacks a glass roof and has only 5 shops – but one of these is a hotel with rooftop terrace, so perhaps it’s worth checking out?
This arcade from 1896 is fashionable, airy and elegant – and our favourite amongst the arcades. Not only because of the luxury boutiques, the cosy cafés or the exquisite dark wood, gold and black Victorian style interior. Its crowning feature is the curving of the arcade – specifically the winding glass ceiling, snaking an inverse S. The first floor Venetian windows underline the elegance.
Morgan Arcade has entrances on St. Mary’s Street and The Hayes and is only 4 minutes down the road from High Street Arcade. It’s also linked with Royal Arcade, as you can read below, and was originally built by David Morgan to bring shoppers safely (and preferably with their shopping spirit intact) from his department store on St. Mary’s Street to his other store on the Hayes. in 2005, after 125 years of operating, David Morgan’s Department Store closed its doors. But Morgan Arcade lives on.
Connected to Morgan Arcade, Royal Arcade is the oldest arcade in Cardiff, dating back to 1858. It still has retained some of its original shop fronts at St. Mary’s Street but the real magic happens inside, alongside Morgan Arcade. Royal Arcade is a bit more clean cut, straight and without any ornamental features. If you arrive from Morgan Arcade, it can seem rather dull, but that’s exactly the problem with so many wonderful arcades: even the pretty ones will seem simple when compared to the really beautiful..
Royal Arcade began with real thug life, though, as it was kinda slum before The Cardiff Arcade Company bought it and, together with Morgan Arcade, turned it into a respectable place to shop and stroll, running under the then David Morgan’s department store. Today, the arcade boasts 26 unique stores, and my favourite was Sobeys Vintage, that specialises in vintage, re-worked and vintage inspired items. At a close second comes Wally’s Delicatessen, who’s been here for 60 years, and who specialises in Welsh textiles, gifts and homeware.
This last, Edwardian style arcade was built in 1887 by Cardiff Arcade Company that earlier had created Royal Arcade a little to the north and its 3-storey entrances makes it look rather imposing. The arcade is named after the Wyndham-Quin family, which owned large areas of land in the region.
Originally, it was home to 37 shops with cellars and private rooms. Today, only 13 unique stores remain, but they are as diverse as a cigar shop, an Italian eatery, a taylor, tea shop, café and many more. After a long day with so many wonderful impressions, we finished our tour-de-arcade with lunch at Eat Italian. The perfect place to sit in the last arcade and enjoy the architectural details, while letting the explorations sink in.
And the little extra – Cardiff Market
If you want another, glass covered experience, Cardiff Market is another Victorian marvel. A farmers’ market is known to have existed at the site since the 18th century, but this covered market has existed since 1891. It’s just as wonderful as the arcades and has the added bonus that you can (still) purchase your groceries here.
- Cardiff – The City of Arcades website
- List of shopping arcades in Cardiff on Wikipedia
- Cardiff’s official Tourism website