Cardiff Bay played a major part in Cardiff’s development by being the means of exporting coal from the South Wales Valleys to the rest of the world, helping to power the industrial age. The coal mining industry helped fund the building of Cardiff into the Capital city of Wales and helped the Third Marquis of Bute, who owned the docks, become the richest man in the world at the time.
As Cardiff exports grew, so did its population; dockworkers and sailors from across the world settled in neighbourhoods close to the docks, known as Tiger Bay, and communities from up to 45 different nationalities, including Norwegian, Somali, Yemeni, Spanish, Italian, Caribbean and Irish helped create the unique multicultural character of the area.
After the Second World War most of the industry closed down and became derelict. But, in 1999, new life was injected into the area by the building of the Cardiff Bay Barrage, one of the most controversial building projects of the day but also one of the most successful.
The Cardiff Bay Development Corporation (CBDC) was created in 1987 to stimulate the redevelopment of 1,100 hectares (2,700 acres) of derelict land. The Development Corporation aimed to attract private capital by spending public money to improve the area. Despite opposition by environmentalists and wildlife organisations, the mudflats at the mouths of the River Taff and River Ely were inundated, with loss of habitat for wading birds. The Barrage has created several new habitats for freshwater species with the wetlands to the south of the Hamadryad Park.
When the Development Corporation was wound up in on 31 March 2000, it had achieved many of its objectives. The whole area was unrecognisable from ten years before. Much private land was now open to the public, particularly around the inner harbour and the north side of Roath basin. Work is progressing to complete a 13 kilometre walkway around the Bay. In addition, the development has enabled land in the city centre to be redeveloped for higher-value uses.
The development of "something like 1,250 apartments a year" however might cause future problems. As at 2008 up to one third were not occupied. Critics such as Lorraine Barrett (AM Labour, Cardiff South and Penarth) say, the flat complexes will not help to build up a community and too little attention has been paid to develop affordable housing. With the recent falls in property values, sales in the area have become problematic. Therefore, landlords might be more willing to rent their places out to "people who may not be suited to that type of living."
Connecting the Bay area to the centre of Cardiff was a primary goal when plans to develop the docklands were first mooted. Original plans included a grand boulevard (similar to where Lloyd George Avenue is located now) with high density commercial and residential units straddling both sides. This would have created significant demand for quality public transport provisions facilitating connections to the new Bay area but public transport was often of poor quality and, but there are now much improved connections through the Cardiff Bus BayCar service and rail service from Cardiff Queen Street to Cardiff Bay railway station.
On 30 January 2013 the award-winning planning consultant, Adrian Jones, stated that Cardiff Bay was a contender for the "worst example of waterside regeneration in Britain". Specifically noting that the Empire Pool was replaced with a "trashy leisure complex" and that "It is not principally the buildings – poor as most are, sadly they represent the current British regeneration standard. No, it is the lack of any coherent urban structure, of real streets and worthwhile public spaces. In other words, it is the dumb plan."
The St David's Hotel and Spa is a 5-star luxury hotel with commanding views of the Bay and Penarth. Built by Rocco Forte in 2000, the hotel was sold in 2007, to Principal-Haley hotels.
The Pierhead was built in 1897 and designed by William Frame, who studied under William Burges It was formerly the headquarters of the Bute Dock Company.
The Senedd is the National Assembly for Wales building which includes the debating chamber and committee rooms.
The Wales Millennium Centre is home to the Welsh National Opera.
The Norwegian Church Arts Centre, is a rescued historic wooden church that was rebuilt in 1992 and operates as a registered self funded not for profit charity. It is managed by Cardiff Harbour Authority and is as a venue for small concerts, art exhibitions, conferences, meetings and celebrations. When living in Cardiff as a child, the famous children's author Roald Dahl attended this church.
A refurbished Victorian dockside building houses Craft in the Bay, the home of the Makers Guild in Wales.
Techniquest is an educational science & discovery centre, which also includes a science theatre and planetarium.
Roald Dahl Plass is a large open amphitheatre style plaza frequently used as a venue for carnivals and festivals all year round.
Mermaid Quay comprises a mix of restaurants, bars, cafés, shops and services located on the waterfront.
Dismantled in 2010, this unique building "single-handedly put Cardiff on the architectural map", housing exhibitions and visitor information.Cardiff Bay Wetland Reserve – which has rare birds and a boardwalk leading to a viewing platform.
Cardiff Waterbus – which offers a public transport service and tourist cruises.
Cardiff Bay Barrage – accessible via the Water Bus and by road, and free to explore and also has guided tours.
Lightship 2000 – a restored old red Helwick Lightvessel with a cafe and chapel on board.
Queen Alexandra Dock
Cardiff International Pool
Cardiff International White Water
Cardiff Sailing Centre – A council run watersports facility based on Cardiff Bay Barrage.
Cardiff Yacht Club – dinghy racing and cruising, yacht racing and cruising, sea fishing and rowing- RYA training Centre for sailing and powerboating.
Cardiff Bay Yacht Club – watersports club.
Cardiff City Rowing Club.
Style-conscious shops, bars and restaurants at Mermaid Quay.
Cardiff Bay Retail Park
Mischief's Cafe Bar, a cafe bar and live music venue.
The Coal Exchange, formally a music venue, but due to be developed into a hotel and museum.
The Mount Stuart, a Wetherspoons Pub situated in an 1880s, former dock building.
Cardiff International Sports Village, which includes Ice Arena Wales and Cardiff International Pool.
The Red Dragon Centre (formerly Atlantic Wharf Leisure Village), a leisure and entertainment complex with a Doctor Who exhibit.
Cardiff Bay was used as the high-tech urban setting for the Doctor Who episode "Boom Town" and the show's spinoff, Torchwood, whose makers deliberately avoided stereotypical portrayals of Wales in order to portray Cardiff as the modern urban centre it is today. In Torchwood series, there is a giant secret base underneath the Bay, named "The Hub", from where the Torchwood team works. There is also a lift from the hub into the plaza with a perception filter making anyone who stands on the spot "not noticed". In the third series of Torchwood entitled "Children Of Earth", Cardiff Bay was the centre of a bomb explosion, destroying the Torchwood Hub and Cardiff Bay. Roald Dahl Plass features prominently. The Doctor Who episode "The Runaway Bride" made use of office buildings in Cardiff Bay.
Cardiff Bay railway station is northeast of Mermaid Quay and is served by shuttle services to Cardiff Queen Street railway station. Cardiff Bus operates the following services to the Bay:1 – Bay Circle clockwise: Grangetown-Leckwith-Canton-Fairwater-Llandaff-Gabalfa-Heath-Penylan-Roath-Tremorfa-Central Station
2 – Bay Circle anticlockwise: as above but reversed
6 – Baycar: Queen Street station via Central Station
8 – City Centre via Grangetown
11 – Pengam Green via Central Station and Tremorfa
35/36 – Gabalfa via Central Station, Cathays and Heath
The Bay lies off the A4232 before the Butetown tunnels and is linked to the city centre by Lloyd George Avenue and Bute Street.
The Pont y Werin pedestrian and cycle bridge opened in July 2010, completing a six and a half-mile circular route around Cardiff Bay and Penarth.
A cycle hire system, similar to those in other large cities, launched in September 2009, and includes 70 bikes and 35 hire points (initially 7) around the centre and the south of the city. The current stations are: Central Station; Cardiff Bay Station; County Hall; Cardiff Bay Visitors’ Centre; Churchill Way; City Hall and eastern Queen Street. It is necessary to register before using bike. The first half an hour is free after which a small hourly fee is payable.