Arcade gains

The arcades of Cardiff were opened during a period of extreme wealth in the Welsh capital. Today you can still see them in all their Victorian glamour!

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Shopping arcades, Cardiff, Wales

Wealth brings more than just money. It often brings expectations, coveting, flaunting… and often a combination of them all. And it’s usually even more extreme when that wealth is acquired quickly.

Such was the case in Cardiff during the second half of the 19th century.

The Welsh capital was seeing a huge influx of money because of the coal industry and the new port that had been built here. It had become one of the richest places in the world and the people benefiting from the trade felt like they needed to live lives appropriate to their sudden newfound status.

How do you show your status?

Well, with the finest goods that money can buy.

And where do you get these goods?

Well, from shops.

Historic shopping arcades in Cardiff, Wales

And such was the genesis of the famous shopping arcades of Cardiff that you can still see in the centre of the city today.

They were constructed for two main purposes – to provide a shopping experience for the upper class of the city, and to show off to the world what was happening here.

The first to appear was the Royal Arcade, which opened in 1858. Others came over the following decades.

These days, a total of seven still remain. The newest of them is the Dominions Arcade, opened in 1921.

Historic shopping arcades in Cardiff, Wales

Back then, chain stores didn’t really exist like they do these days. There was nothing like H&M or Zara.

The stores were all small independent traders and they brought in luxurious goods from around the world.

If the rich women of New York were wearing something one season, the rich women of Cardiff would have it shortly afterwards.

Historic shopping arcades in Cardiff, Wales

What’s interesting about the Cardiff arcades today is that the stores may have changed, what they sell may be different, but the ethos is the same.

There are still no chain stores. All the businesses are small independent operators that mostly sell boutique (although not necessarily expensive) items.

Sure, there are surf shops and tattoo parlours but there are also jewellery stores and shops selling soap, top hats, records and art.

Historic shopping arcades in Cardiff, Wales

Also amongst the shops are small restaurants and tearooms. Tables against the walls outside have teapots, cakes and flowers. The residents of Cardiff meet friends for a chat over a cup.

Historic shopping arcades in Cardiff, Wales

Now, though, the arcades are not reserved simply for the wealthy, for those who have been buoyed by the flow of coal money.

There’s an egalitarian mood to the tearooms and shops and you’re just as likely to see a well-dressed student buying a violin as you are to see a couple in tracksuits grabbing a coffee.

Historic shopping arcades in Cardiff, Wales

The arcades have kept their original designs for the most part – glorious Victorian and Edwardian structures with glass ceilings, lamps and tiles.

Many of them connect the larger pedestrian malls that have been developed in Cardiff’s shopping centre and, although they all fit together, you can feel the difference as soon as you step inside one of the old passageways.

But this is why I love them so much.

They are definitely part of the history… but they have become part of modern Cardiff too.

In a city where there have been so many highs and lows over the years, they have been a constant for more than 150 years.

Let me leave you with a few more photos that I took of the arcades.

Historic shopping arcades in Cardiff, Wales
Historic shopping arcades in Cardiff, Wales
Historic shopping arcades in Cardiff, Wales
Historic shopping arcades in Cardiff, Wales
Historic shopping arcades in Cardiff, Wales
Historic shopping arcades in Cardiff, Wales


Although there are some nice places around the bay, I would recommend staying in the centre of Cardiff so you’re close to the main sights.


There’s a relaxed and homely feel to Mrs Potts, which is well located and has beds with decent privacy.


For a bit more space, this stylish two bedroom apartment in the heart of the city has a modern interior and fully equipped kitchen.


Set in a heritage-listed Victorian building, The Royal Hotel Cardiff has added a funky feel to its themed rooms.


Along with the vintage feel in the interior design, Hotel Indigo has excellent service, a good location, and free breakfast.

Time Travel Turtle was a guest of Visit Wales and Visit Britain but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

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