Downtown Cardiff seems deceptively small at first. It’s only a few square miles in size, a significant downsize from the urban sprawl of London. Yet there are so many gems in Cardiff, and I felt I was discovering a new one every day. Many of the coolest shops in Cardiff are tucked away in what are called “arcades”. It’s one way that downtown Cardiff is able to fit so much stuff into such a small space.
Before Cardiff, the only definition of “arcade” I was familiar with were rooms full of ‘80s-style video games. But in Cardiff, an arcade is a small pedestrian street filled with shops and restaurants. Some are also called “quarters”. Some are themed—for example, Brewery Quarter mainly contains bars and breweries, though it also contains a location of the chicken chain Nando’s where I ate with Dasheng on Sunday. Others have a mix of places. In Morgan Arcade, I browsed a record store called Spillers that sits next to a bunch of men’s clothing boutiques. In Castle Arcade, I checked out a vintage book store called Troutmark Books that is next to an office of the Welsh National Theatre and an upscale coffee shop that was blaring a ‘90s Portishead hit (good taste!) when I walked past.
I looked into why so many of these streets are called arcades. Turns out, it’s all about their design. The arcades are so named because they are situated underneath arches. This is what differentiates arcades, which are connected to the outdoors but under arched ceilings, with quarters, which are open-air. These arcades also featured many independent businesses—a really strong point of downtown Cardiff in general—though some chains, like Nando’s, did appear. Brewery Quarter featured many chains, including Nando’s, while the arcades had more unique local businesses–unless they were just chains I didn’t recognize. Apparently, Cardiff is known for having many of these arcades, which function as outdoor shopping malls off of main streets. Cardiff also has indoor shopping malls that are more similar to American malls.