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, 30-something crowd – indulging its camp side with karaoke, cabaret and occasional strippers. Mary's is a luxury bar with a plush interior and cutting edge design. A great atmosphere allows you to just sit back, relax and watch the world go by on St Mary’s Street. Basement bar Eagle is located on Charles St, with occasional theme nights and something to suit every fancy. It runs a men-only private members bar after 11pm on Friday and Saturday. Opposite is Eagle 50, a men-only health spa, with sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi.
WOW Bar appeals to a young, student crowd with DJs, 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. Live music venue Live Lounge is gay friendly, as is music and comedy venue PRYZM.
Where to stay
When international stars like Madonna and Kylie perform at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, their preferred hotel is the five-star St David’s Hotel and Spa on Cardiff Bay waterfront. It was also the choice of actor John Barrowman, star of Doctor Who and Torchwood, both filmed in Cardiff, when he and his partner Scott Gill had their civil partnership ceremony here in 2006.
The four-star Park Plaza 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 guest rooms, 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, and a 40-station gymnasium with cardiovascular equipment, free weights, and classes covering yoga and circuits.
Cardiff Castle and National Museum Cardiff are well worth visiting, if you can drag yourself away from the shops. The city centre is criss-crossed by charming Victorian and Edwardian arcades, each one full of specialist retailers whose eclectic wares include violins, buttons, Welsh cheese, surf gear and designer fashion. The vast St David’s shopping centre has all the mainstream names, including John Lewis.
To refuel, visit Coffee Barker in Castle Arcade, or the new Barker Tea House in High Street Arcade – both funky and fabulous spots for gourmet coffee, reviving tea infusion, 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 down 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.
Around Cardiff and down Cardiff Bay you’ll also find many Doctor Who filming locations. First broadcast in 1963, it was revived in 2005 by Russell T Davies (the Welshman behind Queer As Folk), and soon earned praise for its positive portrayal of its many LGBT characters and their relationships – in fact, each of the main characters in spin-off series Torchwood had a same-sex encounter during the first season.
Gay dates for your diary
Wales’ biggest LGBT event is Pride Cymru, usually held in August, a loud and proud celebration that includes music, a funfair and market, a good deal of dressing up, and lots of fun.
The annual Iris Prize Festival (October) 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 £30,000.