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top things to do in Cardiff

Cardiff | Gateway to Wales

When it comes to tourism, Wales is often overshadowed by neighboring England and even, a bit, by the natural wonders of nearby Scotland. Just because it is overlooked, however, doesn’t mean it should be. The Welsh capital of Cardiff has tons to offer even to the most seasoned of travelers, as we shall soon see.

Top Things To Do In Cardiff

With such a vivid history, it’s little wonder that Cardiff has much to offer any intrepid tourist. One of the best places to start the day’s adventures is beautiful Cardiff Castle, located in the city center. The castle provides an excellent look at the city’s history, as well as some outstanding architecture and interior design. The Norman Keep, located in the center of the castle, provides breathtaking panoramic views of the city as well as its surrounding mountains. Be sure, also, to explore the castle apartments and the wartime shelters.

things to do in cardiff

More adventures await just meters from the castle in the city’s famous arcades. Dozens of unique shops and cafes await you inside these covered alleyways. From bookshops to ice cream parlors, and record shops to rare collectibles, you never know what you’ll find when you explore a Cardiff arcade. While the arcades show a quieter side of the city, all it takes to find a more bustling atmosphere is to step out onto the adjacent Hayes or St. Mary’s Street. Only slightly farther away from Cardiff Castle is the Cardiff City Hall and National Museum Cardiff. This free museum offers a walk through Welsh history, with art galleries taking up most of the upstairs, and natural exhibitions located below.

city hall cardiff

Get away from the city center entirely, and you may find yourself at the famous Cardiff Bay. Once the backbone of industry for the Welsh capital, the Bay is now as cultural as it is industrious. Here you will find the Norwegian Church Arts Centre, Techniquest (a science museum of sorts), the Senedd (or National Assembly), and even the Doctor Who Experience. The Wales Millenium Centre, which features touring concerts and stageplays, and Mermaid Quay, a diverse shopping and dining district, round out the offerings. The Bay itself also offers some picturesque views, especially at sunset.

cardiff bay sunset

Day Trips From Cardiff

Cardiff serves as a fantastic base of operations from which to explore the surrounding area. Nearby St Fagan’s National Museum of History provides an excellent day trip experience, particularly for those with an interest in Welsh history and culture. While the museum has several traditional exhibitions, most of it is actually outdoors. Highlights include a castle, various historic buildings, farm animal encounters, and traditional workshops complete with trained craftsmen. The best part? Admission is free! For another free yet somewhat different look at the history of Wales, consider visiting Big Pit National Coal Museum as well. This museum focuses on the mining industry that so dominated Wales in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Three Cliffs Bay UK
Three Cliffs Bay – Swansea

Museums aren’t the only attractions that are day trip worthy, however. The city of Swansea lies less than an hour away, and provides visitors with a chance to experience a more relaxed seaside atmosphere. There’s plenty of history to explore here too, of course, including the famous Oystermouth Castle. If you go an hour in the opposite direction, you’ll find yourself in the English city of Bristol. Home to fantastic zoos, museums, and architecture, Bristol is a contrast to its Welsh brethren, and is worth the trip if only to get a taste of English hospitality. Those wishing to venture a bit further into England might consider visiting Stratford-Upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare.

day drips from cardiff

Dining

In comparison to London and other English cities, Cardiff is quite affordable – especially when it comes to dining. While the city boasts a diverse array of cuisine, perhaps the best starting point is at one of the city’s many pubs. These fine establishments are some of the best ways to get a feel for Cardiff’s pace and culture, and provide a great opportunity to unwind after a day full of sightseeing. Must-visit pubs include The Goat Major and the Prince of Wales, a historic theater turned pub dripping with personality.

There are also a number of great options outside the pub scene. On the high end, The Potted Pig is notable for its diverse (and delicious!) offerings, as well as its location inside a former bank vault. Other options include Chapel 1877 and The Clink, both purveyors of great Welsh cuisine (note: The Clink does not serve alcohol). In the mid-range, the Spice Quarter offers fantastic Indian fare, and Pieminister will satisfy any craving you might have with its succulent pies, sides, and beer.

places to eat in cardiff

Accommodation

Befitting its position as the Welsh capital, Cardiff offers up a number of accommodation options ranging from high-end hotels to homestays. Those looking for a lavish experience (~$100-150/night) should check out the Hotel Indigo Cardiff, featuring many Welsh elements in its decor, or the Park Plaza for a more traditional hotel experience (and spa). Voco St. David’s also offers great rooms along the Bay, for those looking for a change of scenery.

Mid-range hotels (~$50/night) include Cathedral 73, a fantastic boutique experience in the heart of Cardiff, and the Royal Hotel on St. Mary’s Street. The city also has its fair share of homestays and Air BnB options (~$30-40/night), including many flat and studio apartment rentals.  

Fun Facts

  • Cardiff has a robust public transportation system, and while you can call an Uber or use a taxi if you wish, the best way to get around town is via the many buses and trains. 
  • Wales has two official languages: English and Welsh. As you explore Cardiff, you’ll see that nearly all public signage appears in both languages.
  • Not only is Cardiff a compact city, it’s actually the smallest capital city in Europe.
  • Cardiff is famous as the home of Willy Wonka author Roald Dahl, who was baptized as a child at the Norwegian Church on Cardiff Bay.

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