A weekend in Cardiff
Everything you need to know for a city break in Wales’s lively capital
Why you should visit Cardiff
Cardiff is “loud, lively and out for a good time”, said Rob Crossan in The Times. The capital of Wales “doesn’t really do demure” and it’s a city that “isn’t shy about showing visitors its many charms”.
With its industrial landmarks “stylishly repurposed” and a waterfront that has been regenerated, Cardiff “knows a thing or two about keeping with the Joneses”, said Luke Waterson in The Telegraph. It has “happily adapted” to being a “suave” shopping centre, live music hotspot and craft beer capital. “You never quite know what might come next.”
To see the city at its “most vibrant and euphoric”, then you should visit Cardiff when the Welsh national rugby union team are playing at home at the “mighty” Millennium (Principality) Stadium, said the World Travel Guide. This is the city “at its best”, but Cardiff is no “one trick pony” – it has “earned its growing reputation” as an exciting year-round tourist destination. “This pint-sized capital is finally having its day.”
Top attractions: things to see and do
Cardiff Castle is the city’s “crowning glory”, said Kayak.com. Located in the centre and with almost 2,000 years of incredible history, Cardiff Castle has “a medieval keep at its heart, but it’s the later additions that really capture the imagination”, said Lonely Planet. Access to the Public Square, café and gift shop is free, though tickets and bookings are required for entry to the castle’s main attractions, such as the Norman Keep, Castle Apartments, Roman remains and Chariot Corner.
Formerly known as Tiger Bay, Cardiff Bay is “often described as one of the most successful redevelopment projects in the UK”, said India Leigh on Culture Trip. Home to a number of attractions and hotels, The Bay has “transformed from the rough red-light district of previous decades into the flourishing and trendy part of Cardiff that it is today”.
Occupying some 2,700 acres of waterfront land, Cardiff Bay is so large that “it could easily take the best part of a day to explore properly”, said Bryan Dearsley on PlanetWare.com. It’s “well worth the expenditure of time and energy” and is home to plenty of fun things to do, “particularly if you’re travelling with kids”.
Boasting shopping, hotels, restaurants and attractions such as the Techniquest – Science Discovery Centre and Y Senedd, home of the National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff Bay is just a short bus or train ride from the city centre, or a decent stroll on foot.
Arts and culture
At Cardiff Bay you will also find Wales Millennium Centre – the national home of Wales’s performing arts. Residents include the BBC National Orchestra and Welsh National Opera. It is one of the UK’s top cultural attractions with more than 1.5 million visitors each year.
Wales is known as the “land of song”, said BBC Travel. And its capital is a great destination to watch concerts and shows. Womanby Street is the “heart of Cardiff’s live music scene”, said WalesOnline.
Retail therapy: shopping and markets
If you want some retail therapy, Cardiff has got “everything you need to dress to impress”, said Nicholas Witts on Culture Trip. And Wales’s capital is “a patchwork of different styles of shops”. With more than 150 shops, restaurants and cafes, St David’s Dewi Sant is Cardiff’s biggest shopping centre. Other major places to shop include Queens Arcade, Cardiff Bay Retail Park, Capital Shopping Park and Capitol Shopping Centre.
You’re bound to be able to find what you’re looking for at one of Cardiff’s many markets, said WalesOnline. From more permanent fixtures to weekly farmers markets, “there’s something to explore nearly every day of the week”. Cardiff Market, a Victorian indoor market, has been “an iconic part of the city since the 1700s” and is one of the city’s most popular attractions.
Cardiff is also known as “the city of arcades”. In the heart of the centre, you will find Victorian and Edwardian arcades which are home to independent cafes, bars and shops. Places to visit include Castle Arcade, Royal Arcade and Morgan Arcade.
The great outdoors
With the close proximity of its attractions, station and castle, Cardiff is a great place to explore on foot or by bike. The River Taff also offers a “5,000-step roam” through parks, oak-lined avenues and abundant arboretums, said The Guardian.
St Fagans National Museum of History
Located about 25 minutes outside of the city centre, this open-air museum is Wales’s most popular heritage attraction and free to enter. Here, visitors can explore the story of Wales and walk around more than 40 original buildings from different historical periods. If you fancy exploring a new city post-lockdown “without spending time inside”, then at the “star attraction” St Fagans National History Museum, you can spy “all the sights without once going indoors”, said Luke Waterson in The Telegraph.
Hotels and accommodation: where to stay
Cardiff has a wide range of accommodation and places to stay, which can suit every budget. “Best for location” is The Angel Hotel on Castle Street in the city centre, said Angela Hui in The Independent. Mercure Holland House is “best for spa” while Park Plaza Cardiff is “best for families”.
According to The Telegraph’s experts, Hotel Indigo Cardiff gets an 8/10 rating. “Welsh culture and quirky symbolism have been bottled up in each of the 122 rooms at Cardiff’s Hotel Indigo, giving the city an injection of modern accommodation with boutique leanings and a headline Marco Pierre White restaurant that has captured the attention of locals.”
If you’re looking for luxurious lodgings, then the New House Country Hotel, about 30 minutes’ drive outside of the centre, is a “delightful” and “historic” property, said LuxuryHotel.guru.
Restaurants, pubs and bars: where to eat and drink
Cardiff has “long been devoid of restaurants with Michelin stars”, said Ellie Donnell on SquareMeal.co.uk. “In fact, it wasn’t until the guide released its updated line-up of restaurants with Michelin stars in 2022 that the Welsh capital finally gained a Michelin-starred restaurant.” In nearby Penarth, approximately four miles south of the city centre, you will find Home by James Sommerin. With “high quality cooking”, it’s “worth a stop”, the guide said. “It’s a small, intimate space providing an immersive yet warm and friendly experience. The impeccable dishes make great use of the produce provided by local suppliers.”
According to Michelin, Thomas on Pontcanna Street and Nook on Cowbridge Road East are both popular restaurants which offer modern British cuisine, while Heathcock on Bridge Street serves up a menu of contemporary British dishes. Other popular places to eat in Cardiff include Heaneys (modern cuisine), Asador 44 (Spanish), La Cuina (Spanish), and Purple Poppadom (Indian).
The Bottle Club’s poll of the UK’s most mysterious bars named three Cardiff venues among the best, WalesOnline reported. Lab 22 in Caroline Street, Pennyroyal on High Street and The Dead Canary on Barrack Lane were all “deemed worthy of inclusion” based on their secrecy, creativity, cocktail range, affordability and reviews.
For those who prefer their drinks in pint measurements, 14 Cardiff pubs were selected in the Campaign for Real Ale’s Good Beer Guide 2022. Included on the list were pubs such as The Andrew Buchan, Cathays Beer House, The Central Bar, The Deri Inn, and The Flute & Tankard.
Transport: how to get there
By far the best way to travel to Cardiff is by train. Cardiff Central Station is just under two hours direct from London Paddington and the GWR service calls at Reading, Swindon, Bristol Parkway and Newport. Cardiff Central also has trains to Portsmouth and Manchester.
Cardiff Airport is the only international airport in Wales. You can fly directly from Edinburgh in Scotland, Dublin in Ireland and a number of major European cities.
What the locals say…
Cardiff has “just about everything you could want from a capital city”, said writer Megan Potterton, who spent three years living and studying there. In her “local’s guide” on the Emily Luxton Travels blog, Potterton gave a “top tip” for visitors going to Cardiff Bay. “If you’re up for a walk, you can stroll around the whole of the bay in just 6 miles! It’s an easy walk and you’ll get to see the Cardiff Bay Wetland Reserve en route.”