With the news that one of the shops in Cardiff’s High Street Arcade is to close, blaming the St David’s shopping centre expansion, I’ve felt compelled to write about the arcades, which are in my opinion Cardiff’s hidden gems.
Cardiff’s shopping arcades date back to Victorian times. Royal Arcade was the first to open in 1858, shortly followed by High Street Arcade, Castle Arcade, Wyndham Arcade, Duke Street and Dominions Arcade. The arcades link the Hayes (now known as the cafe quarter) with St Mary’s Street, along to Castle Street and most are listed buildings. During a recent gig in Cardiff, Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine said she’d been shopping in Cardiff’s arcades and loved the vintage shops. It’s not all bad news for the arcade traders either, WalesOnline is reporting that Castle Arcade is now fully occupied, for the first time in two years.
I love the new St Davids development. Bringing much longed-for stores such as John Lewis, LK Bennett, Reiss and soon Urban Outfitters is a real plus for Cardiff’s shoppers and the regeneration of The Hayes can only be good for the city.
My concern is that too many people are visiting these new developments alone and not seeing what Cardiff can offer, to set it aside from every other capital city in the UK. I am often guilty of this myself. A few years ago a family friend was staying from England and wanted to see Cardiff’s shops. I took her along Queen Street and remember stopping at the Castle and saying – “Well, that’s it”. “But, what about the arcades?” She asked. I had completely overlooked the arcades until she mentioned them and we spent a lovely few hours rediscovering the boutique shops and cafes on offer.
The fact that there are minimal chain stores in the Arcades is another plus. Most of them are independent and have been there for some time. Claire Grove Buttons in Castle Arcade was a favourite haunt of mine as a teenager, where I used to hunt out unusual beads to make my own earrings. I can’t think of another shop that has lasted so long, while specialising simply in buttons and beads. I was also a fan of City Surf during my teenage years (mainly due to the surfer boys hanging out there!) and City Surf is another Castle Arcade shop still going strong. Head further into the arcade and you’ll now find Madame Fromage Deli and Cafe, a bridal shop and fancy dress shop and on the corner of High Street there’s Barker – a boutique that has always been popular with Cardiff’s fashion-forward, currently stocking brands such as G Star and Two Stoned.
There’s really something happening with fashion in the Arcades. Head across the newly pedestrianised St Mary’s Street and into High Street Arcade, where you’ll find unique fashion boutiques including Buzz shoes, the lovely Lunacy Boutique, Looby Loos (perfect for a vintage style tea dress or two) and 70s Emporium Hobos.
High Street Arcade also houses my personal favourite for lunch – the New York Deli. The NY Deli opened in 1990 and moved from its previous premises across the arcade, to its current location. It’s a mish-mash of styles inside, ranging from graffiti art to Cardiff Devils Ice Hockey memorabilia, but the bagels and hoagies (crammed full of your choice of American-style filling) are to die for. I’d also recommend a coffee and a chocolate brownie, if you have the room.
If you like your tea and cake a little more traditional, try Garlands coffee shop in the adjoining Duke Street Arcade.
Morgans’ Arcade, running alongside the old David Morgan building, houses another independent cafe – The Plan – a light and airy two-floor cafe – named by the Independent as one of the UK’s 50 best coffee shops. Morgan Arcade also houses Neal’s Yard and childrenswear boutique Fred and Grace’s.
Nearby Royal Arcade contains Wally’s delicatessen – a must visit if you’ve never been. Open in its current location since the 1980s, Wally’s is a real ‘Cardiff Institution’ – with a temporary pop-up shop in St Davids, which is aiming to direct more traffic to their Royal Arcade base. No need to look for it, the smell will entice you in and a tub of olives or wasabi peas are a must-buy.
If you prefer something a little more edgy from your shop, try Wyndham Arcade where the Comic Book Guru, stocking comics (of course) and Dr Who memorabilia may suit your appetite, or perhaps Rebel Rebel if you fancy a piercing or tattoo to mark your day in the capital city.
I’d really encourage anyone to visit the arcades next time you’re in Cardiff. I hope you find a hidden gem of your own.