Cardiff (Welsh: Caerdydd) is the capital and largest city in Wales and the tenth largest city in the United Kingdom, part of the British Empire. The city is the country's chief commercial center, the base for most national cultural and sporting institutions, the Welsh national media, and the seat of the National Assembly for Wales. The unitary authority area's mid-2011 population was estimated to be 487,543, while the population of the Larger Urban Zone was estimated at 1,195,730 in 2009. Cardiff is a significant tourist center and the most popular visitor destination in Wales with 18.3 million visitors in 2010. In 2011, Cardiff was ranked sixth in the world in National Geographic's alternative tourist destinations.
The city of Cardiff is the county town of the historic county of Glamorgan (and later South Glamorgan). Cardiff is part of the Eurocities network of the largest European cities. The Cardiff Urban Area covers a slightly larger area outside of the county boundary, and includes the towns of Dinas Powys and Penarth. A small town until the early 19th century, its prominence as a major port for the transport of coal following the arrival of industry in the region contributed to its rise as a major city.
Cardiff was made a city in 1905, and proclaimed the capital of Wales in 1955. Since the 1990s, Cardiff has seen significant development. A new waterfront area at Cardiff Bay contains the Senedd building, home to the Welsh Assembly and the Wales Millennium Centre arts complex. Current developments include the continuation of the redevelopment of the Cardiff Bay and city center areas with projects such as the Cardiff International Sports Village, a BBC drama village, and a new business district in the city center.
Sporting venues in the city include the Millennium Stadium (the national stadium for the Wales national rugby union team and the Wales national football team), SWALEC Stadium (the home of Glamorgan County Cricket Club), Cardiff City Stadium (the home of Cardiff City football team), Cardiff International Sports Stadium (the home of Cardiff Amateur Athletic Club) and Cardiff Arms Park (the home of Cardiff Blues and Cardiff RFC rugby union teams). The city is also HQ of the Wales Rally GB and was awarded with the European City of Sport in 2009 due to its role in hosting major international sporting events. It has been announced that Cardiff will again be the European City of Sport in 2014. The Millennium Stadium hosted 11 football matches as part of the 2012 Summer Olympics, including the games' opening event and the men's bronze medal match.
The center of Cardiff is relatively flat and is bounded by hills on the outskirts to the east, north and west. Its geographic features were influential in its development as the world's largest coal port, most notably its proximity and easy access to the coal fields of the south Wales valleys. The highest point in the authority is Garth Hill 1,007 feet (306.93 meters) above sea level.
Cardiff is built on reclaimed marshland on a bed of Triassic stones; this reclaimed marshland stretches from Chepstow to the Ely Estuary, which is the natural boundary of Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan. Triassic landscapes of this part of the world are usually shallow and low-lying which accounts and explains the flatness of the center of Cardiff. The classic Triassic marl, sand and conglomerate rocks are used predominantly throughout Cardiff as building materials. Many of these Triassic rocks have a purple complexion, especially the coastal marl found near Penarth. One of the Triassic rocks used in Cardiff is "Radyr Stone", a freestone which as it name suggests is quarried in the Radyr district. Cardiff has also imported some materials for buildings: Devonian sandstones (the Old Red Sandstone) from the Brecon Beacons has been used. Most famously, the buildings of Cathays Park, the civic center in the center of the city, are built of Portland stone which was imported from Dorset. A widely used building stone in Cardiff is the yellow-grey Liassic limestone rock of the Vale of Glamorgan, including the very rare "Sutton Stone", a conglomerate of lias limestone and carboniferous limestone.
Cardiff is bordered to the west by the rural district of the Vale of Glamorgan, also known as The Garden of Cardiff, to the east by the city of Newport, to the north by the South Wales Valleys and to the south by the Severn Estuary and Bristol Channel. The River Taff winds through the center of the city and together with the River Ely flows into the freshwater lake of Cardiff Bay. A third river, the Rhymney flows through the east of the city entering directly into the Severn Estuary.
Cardiff is situated near the Glamorgan Heritage Coast, stretching westward from Penarth and Barry—commuter towns of Cardiff—with striped yellow-blue Jurassic limestone cliffs. The Glamorgan coast is the only part of the Celtic Sea that has exposed Jurassic (blue lias) geology. This stretch of coast, which has reefs, sandbanks and serrated cliffs, was a ship graveyard; ships sailing up to Cardiff during the industrial era often never made it as far as Cardiff as many were wrecked around this hostile coastline during west/south-westerly gales. Consequently, smuggling, deliberate shipwrecking and attacks on ships were common.
Cardiff lies within the north temperate zone and has an essentially maritime climate (Köppen: Cfb), characterized by mild weather that is often cloudy, wet and windy. Summers tend to be warm and sunny, with average maximum temperatures between 19 and 22 °C (66 and 72 °F). Winters tend to be fairly wet, but rainfall is rarely excessive and the temperature usually stays above freezing. Spring and autumn feel quite similar and the temperatures tend to stay above 14 °C (57 °F)—also the average annual daytime temperature. Rain is unpredictable at any time of year, although the showers tend to be shorter in summer.
The northern part of the county, being higher and inland—for example, The Garth (Welsh: Mynydd y Garth), about 7 miles (11.27 kilometers) north west of Cardiff city center, (elevation 1,007 feet (306.93 meters))—tends to be cooler and wetter than the city center.