Get Carried Away In Cardiff

Cardiff, the capital of Wales, is a bilingual city where both English and Welsh are official languages. Both enjoy equal status under Welsh law and co-exist on road signs, tourist maps, restaurant menus and public toilet doors. Wales has taken a similar stance on gay marriage: in July 2013 England and Wales passed a law making it legal for gay men and lesbians to marry their chosen partners, with the first same-sex weddings taking place tomorrow, Match 29, demonstrating that Wales also speaks the languages of love and equality.

This change in legislation shows Wales to be a country that’s proud of its history and heritage—but one that’s brave enough to be forward-looking. This is certainly true of Cardiff, whose medieval castle and historical center complement the cutting-edge architecture of Cardiff Bay waterfront, and where the lively gay scene sits comfortably amidst the city’s primary shopping district.

Welsh men are 100 percent beef, reared on a diet of rugby, choral singing and dragon-chasing: Wales is birthplace of gay rugby player Gareth Thomas, legendary singer Tom Jones and film stars Richard Burton, Ioan Gruffudd and Matthew Rhys. Shirley Bassey and Catherine Zeta-Jones are also Welsh, proving the women are just as fiery. So what better place for an unforgettable gay holiday, wedding or honeymoon?

OUT & ABOUT
Like the city itself, Cardiff’s gay scene is small and compact—but with something for everyone. The main venues are focused around Charles Street and Churchill Way in the city centre, all within walking distance of each other.

An historic pub with a traditional glazed tile exterior, The Golden Cross is popular with a predominantly male, thirtysomething crowd—indulging its camp side with karaoke, cabaret and occasional strippers. Bar Icon is a stylish little place for post-work or pre-club cocktails. Open since 2011, Eagle is Cardiff’s small-but-tough men-only gay bar. It has occasional theme nights, so guys can explore their leather, rubber, skin, sports and workwear fetishes. Another men-only space, Locker Room is Cardiff’s gay sauna, with steam room, Jacuzzi, video cabins, maze and darkroom. WOW Bar appeals to a young, student crowd with DJ’s, live music, cabaret and drinks deals. Spread across two floors and a roof terrace, The Kings is a large, modern bar attracting a young gay/lesbian/mixed crowd—it’s the official pre-bar to gay dance club Pulse, which attracts a similar young, mixed crowd of party people and university students. For drag aficionados, Minsky’s Showbar is popular with hen nights, stag nights and birthday celebrations as well as cabaret-loving gays and lesbians. After an authentic Cardiff night out, you’ll likely end up with everyone else (gay/straight, young/old, rugby boys/office girls) on Caroline Street, known locally as “Chippy Lane” in reference to the numerous fast-food shops. Established in 1953, Dorothy’s claim to be the street’s oldest, so “friends of Dorothy” should relish the local delicacy: chips and curry sauce.

The Golden Cross sabrain.com/golden-cross
Bar Icon bariconcardiff.co.uk    
Eagle eaglecardiff.co.uk
Locker Room lockerroomcardiff.co.uk
WOW Bar wowbarcardiff.com

The Kings kingscardiff.com
Pulse pulsecardiff.com    
Minsky’s Showbar minskys-showbar.com

GAY WEDDING HOTSPOTS
When international stars like Madonna and Kylie perform in concert at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, their preferred hotel is the 5-star St. David’s Hotel and Spa on Cardiff Bay waterfront. Brides and grooms also favor this contemporary, wedding cake-white hotel: it was the Best Wedding Venue regional winner at the Welsh National Weddings Awards 2013. It was also the choice of actor John Barrowman, star of BBC TV’s sci-fi shows Doctor Who and Torchwood, both filmed in Cardiff, because he and his partner Scott Gill had their civil partnership ceremony here in 2006. Various suites are licensed for civil weddings of between 16 and 350 guests—all have floor-to-ceiling windows providing panoramic views across Cardiff Bay, so the sky’s the limit if you get married here! thestdavidshotel.com

A more historical choice, Cardiff Castle will fulfill your wildest wedding fantasies. This medieval castle and Victorian Gothic revival mansion in Cardiff city center has several rooms licensed for civil wedding ceremonies for up to 100 guests, from the magnificent Banqueting Hall with its flamboyant Camelot-style décor, to the dungeon-like vaulted Undercroft that dates from the 15th century. cardiffcastle.com

Another impressive venue is City Hall. There are numerous options here for wedding ceremonies and receptions, whether you have 5 or 500 guests. The magnificent Assembly Room, City Hall’s largest, has hosted royalty and international Heads of State—and boasts an elaborate plasterwork ceiling, massive bronze chandeliers and gilded mermaids, fish and seahorses. Quirkier still is the oak-paneled Council Chamber: once the setting for passionate political debates, it’s ideal for an impassioned gay or lesbian wedding for up to 94 guests. cardiffcityhall.com/weddings

Culture-vultures will love the fact that you can get married surrounded by 500 years of art at National Museum Cardiff (above). Depending on which of the galleries you choose, you can say “I Do” beside classic or contemporary art. The museum’s world-renowned Impressionist gallery, with paintings by Monet, Cézanne and Renoir, is available for post-wedding drinks receptions—or, if you’re a bit more alternative, pick one of the Archaeology galleries with their Roman relics and Celtic crosses. museumwales.ac.uk/cardiff/weddings

HOTELS, B&B’S AND HONEYMOON SUITES
Cardiff’s singular 5-star option is St. David’s Hotel and Spa. The 142 guestrooms and suites have contemporary décor, floor-to-ceiling windows, private balconies and outstanding views. Its renowned Marine Spa is great for spotting visiting celebrities—the BBC film various network TV dramas at nearby BBC Broadcasting House Cardiff (including Doctor Who, Sherlock, fantasy-drama Atlantis and medical drama Casualty), and guest stars enjoy being pampered here. Honeymooners booking a suite could end up in a room that Matt Smith, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kylie, Robbie Williams or even Madonna once stayed in. thestdavidshotel.com

The 4-star Park Plaza is a centrally located choice and received TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence 2013. This large, spacious hotel in Cardiff city center is a short walk from Cardiff Castle, the shops and the gay scene. Despite being on a lively city street with numerous bars, the hotel’s modern, caramel-hued interior is calm and tranquil—many of the 129 guestrooms and the award-winning Laguna Kitchen and Bar overlook a tree-fringed canal to the rear. There’s also a spa offering Elemis treatments, a heated indoor swimming pool, plus a 40-station gymnasium with cardiovascular equipment, free weights and yoga and circuits classes. parkplazacardiff.com

Recommended by British-based LGBT travel website Further Afield, Maison Galles is a self-catering townhouse with stylish Welsh-French fusion décor. Located a 15-minute walk west of Cardiff city center, close to the green spaces of Llandaff Fields and Bute Park, it houses up to eight guests and boasts quirky details like bespoke wall coverings, king size French beds and a mix of antique and contemporary furniture. furtherafield.com/maison-galles-cardiff-wales

Welsh for “pink house,” Ty Rosa is a hetero-friendly bed & breakfast that’s earned accolades from TripAdvisor and Britain’s The Times newspaper for its friendly, openly-gay attitude. There are five homely guestrooms in the main house, plus an annex apartment. It’s located a 15-minute walk south of Cardiff city centre—but hosts Paul and Stuart will point you in the right direction! tyrosa.com

DATYIME DIVERSIONS
Even if you’re not checking them out as potential gay wedding venues, Cardiff Castle and National Museum Cardiff are definitely worth visiting in their own right. You should also explore Cardiff city centre’s charming Victorian and Edwardian arcades: there are six in total, each one full of specialist retailers whose eclectic wares include violins, buttons, Welsh cheese, surf gear and designer fashion. Specializing in imaginative cakes for weddings, birthdays and anniversaries, Celtic Cakes are adept at creating confectionery Welsh dragons, castles and rugby players as well as more conventional cakes. Their showroom is in Castle Arcade.

To refuel, visit Coffee Barker in Castle Arcade or the new Barker Tea House in High Street Arcade—both funky and fabulous gay-frequented spots for gourmet coffee, reviving tea infusions, and tempting cakes and snacks made fresh in their kitchen every day.

To see a new side of the city, take the three-minute train ride from Cardiff city center to Cardiff Bay. This rejuvenated waterfront area is home to some impressive modern architecture, including the Wales Millennium Centre, home to the Welsh National Opera. Its facade comprises of a vast inscription in Welsh and English by revered local poet Gwyneth Lewis.

Here in Cardiff Bay you’ll also find the Doctor Who Experience, an interactive ride into one of Britain’s most enduring TV shows. First broadcast from 1963 to 1989, it was resuscitated in 2005 by Russell T Davies (the Welshman behind Queer As Folk), and soon featured gay characters—in fact, each of the main characters in spin-off series Torchwood had a same-sex encounter during the first season. So although the TV show and this visitor attraction are primarily for children, there’s lots for gay and straight adults to enjoy—whether its reminiscing about Daleks and Cybermen or looking enviously at the rakish military greatcoat worn by gay actor John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness.

GAY DATES FOR YOUR DIARY
Wales’ biggest LGBT event is Cardiff Mardi Gras (summer 2014 date TBD), Cardiff’s answer to Pride. In 2013 it strayed away from Cooper’s Field, its usual home, to be held in the massive Millennium Stadium—with mixed results. In 2014 it’s set to return to Cooper’s Field, and organizers are proposing to expand it to a 2-3 day event. cardiffmardigras.co.uk

The annual Iris Prize Festival (Oct. 8 - 12, 2014) is Cardiff’s queer alternative to Cannes. During four days of international film screenings, panel sessions and parties, 30 short films by or about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people compete to win the top accolade, valued at £25,000. irisprize.org

GETTING HERE
Cardiff is situated on the south coast of Wales, 150 miles west of London. Regular trains connect Cardiff to London in just over two hours, while Cardiff Airport is served by numerous European airlines including Flybe, Aer Lingus, Germanwings, KLM and Vueling.

THE FACTS ABOUT SAME-SEX WEDDINGS IN BRITAIN
The first legally recognized same-sex weddings take place in England and Wales beginning March 29, 2014. Starting in June 2014, same-sex couples may get married in British Embassies, Consulates and High Commissions, as well as on British military bases. By the end of 2014 gay couples in civil partnerships may convert these to marriages. This new law doesn’t currently include Scotland or Northern Ireland, but in February 2014, Scotland voted overwhelmingly in support of same-sex marriage, with its first gay weddings expected by the end of 2014.

The Church of England maintains that they don’t wish to conduct same-sex marriages; hence the new law doesn’t allow same-sex couples to marry in a church. Other religious and belief bodies can “opt in” to perform same-sex marriages—with the United Reform Church, the Quakers, Buddhists and the Pagan Federation among those indicating their intent to do so.

It’s not just British gays and lesbians who’ll benefit. Certain rules and conditions apply to foreign nationals wishing to marry here, but now those rules will be the same for all foreign nationals regardless of sexual preference.

For information on how to get married in England and Wales visit www.gov.uk/marriages-civil-partnerships/overview

Want the 4-1-1 on all things relationships, marriage and weddings this spring? Check out instinctmagazine.com/marriage for more and check out the Marriage & Equality (April/May) issue of Instinct—out now! Instinct is available at Barnes & Noble, at iTunes for the iPad and iPhone or through our subscription services at (888) 45-INSTINCT or through our online store here.

(Photo source)

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