Cardiff, the Capital of Wales: a guide to the essential places to visit during your stay!
Cardiff is one of those cities that is unfairly underrated: not many people knows that it is actually a vibrant and welcoming place famous for its lively university and nightlife life, its stadium and sports events, green lush parks and a rich history!
The origin of its name derives from Welsh caer ‘fort’ plus the genitive of the river name Taf, from Welsh taf ‘water’, ‘stream’.
Cardiff is perfectly located between the sea and the hills: Cardiff Bay is the perfect place to try some international restaurants with nice views over the sea, cycle your way around the bay to the posh village of Penarth and its villas! In less than 30 minutes by car you can reach the famous Brecon Beacon National Park renowned for its scenic waterfalls and peaks. In between there are a pretty villages, castles, manors and gardens nestled in the woodlands and hills inhabited by warm and hospitable people! If your time is short check out this well-organised and comprehensive free guided tour of the city or take an hop on hop off bus, very handy to reach Cardiff Bay (30 minutes walking from the main train station)
If you come to Cardiff for three days here is my list for the main things to see:
I put it first on my list not only because I have an obsession for castles, but also because it is one of the symbols of this city right in the heart of the city centre. Surrounded by a long defensive wall featuring hanging animals sculptures and the scenic Bute Park, this castle dates back to the end of the 50s AD when it was only a Roman fort which has then been invaded by Normans until finally in 1766, it passed by marriage to the Bute family who was responsible for turning Cardiff into the world’s greatest coal exporting port. Here you can purchase the ticket to avoid queues.
To enjoy the best views over the castle go to the surrounding Bute Park and do a picnic on the lawn admiring this imposing building. Don’t miss the opulent apartments starring Italian and Arabic decorations, wood carvings, stained glasses, marble and themed rooms!
2. Bute Park
Taking the name after the family who made Cardiff rich with the coal trade, this awesome park of 140 acres used to be part of the castle and today is one of the main places for locals and tourists to relax along the river, take the best pictures of the castle, making picnics, running, have lunch in one of the small restaurants featuring open-air terraces and smell the scent of flowers wisely and scenically planted throughout the park.
The sculpture trail in itself is a good reason to come and follow this leisure path which will lead you through 21 wooden animal sculptures realised by different artists: frogs, crocodiles, beetles which are made from dead trees within the park.
3. Cardiff Bay
Cardiff Bay owes its importance as harbour to the Industrial Revolution and the mining activity in the valleys of South Wales. Iron and coal were traded at the docks from 1830’s and the area was frequented by sailors and explorers of 50 different nationalities who decided to settle in here in the so-called “Tiger Bay’ helping to build the docks, and working on ships.
Today, the ex-Cardiff docklands area is known as Cardiff Bay and it has been transformed by the Cardiff Barrage: his construction was completed in 1999 was one of the largest engineering projects in Europe. It has created a 500 acre freshwater lake which helped the area to develop with hotels, restaurants, shops, business and tourist activities which are now attracting people from all over the world.
Cardiff Bay is home to a number of attractions such as Techniquest Science Discovery Centre ideal for children keen on Science and experiments, the Millenium Centre a modern Art and cultural events complex, the Welsh Assembly, the Norwegian Church Arts Centre, the Pierhead, the red building telling the history of Cardiff and Wales, The Red Dragon Centre a huge indoor entertainment centre including an aquapark, cinemas and much more. It is worth to mention on the left hand side of the bay the Doctor Who experience for fans of this renowned sci-fi tv series shot and made in Wales. Water taxi are available for lazy one (or if you don’ t have enough time) to cross the bay and visit the posh village of Penarth and its Marina.
4. The National Museum
This free entry museum located near Cardiff Castle and the university is well worth a visit, especially on rainy days: it is an entertaining art and natural history museum which will interest all the family for a couple of hours at least! They organise entertaining art and crafts activities for children and features an interesting collection of Impressionist portraits and canvas.
5. The Victorian Arcades
The Castle Quarters are definitely my favourite spot in the city and the reason why this city is also called ” the Arcades City“. This area is home to the seven Victorian and Edwardian arcades which create a maze of independent bars, restaurants and quirky vintage shops right in the city centre and will make your shopping experience unique!
The arcades are one of the main reasons I used to love living in Cardiff. I used to come here to wander and glance curiously at the shop windows, take a tea and a piece of cake at one of the bars or have a quick but heathy and tasty lunch at The Plan, a two floors cosy café or to Madame Fromage, a French-Welsh little restaurant cooking yummy fresh and home-made food and selling French cheeses and local products.
For international Mediterranean or Eastern food I recommend Wally’s Delicatessen a true Ali Baba cave where you will find all sorts of delicious products, cheese and much more.
6.Cardiff Central Market
Once a simple live cattle and farmers market, it then became the prison of Cardiff in 18th century. This historic building should absolutely on your top list of places where to have a quick lunch or buy food for a picnic. The market is famous for selling fresh and home-made traditional food but also for hosting vendors selling all sorts of goods such as gardening stalls, pet shops, vintage books and CDs, flowers, textiles…the list is long.
I used to come here to buy fresh bread and Welsh cakes, an English breakfast or fresh seafood at very honest prices! This Victorian building has an upper balcony floor from where you an take great pictures of the central clock and the floor below!
7. Landaff Cathedral
This scenic Anglican church founded in medieval times is located only 30 minutes away from Cardiff ( Bus routes 25, 63 or 66 from Westgate Street (alongside the Millennium Stadium or 10 minutes journey by train stopping at Fairwater). This two-towered church has been refurbished many times following the Second World War bombings and it is located in a quiet green area with panoramic views over the hills due to its elevated position.
Self-guided visits with audio guides are available especially to see Rossetti’s paintings and it is possible to attend organ concerts which can be followed by a walk in the nearby fields and gardens surrounding this peaceful corner of the world!
8. The Millenium Stadium
The Millennium Stadium, known since 2016 as the Principality Stadium for sponsorship reasons, is the national rugby stadium of Wales. It is located in Cardiff city centre and it is visitable when games are no taking place booking on their official website. Rugby is probably the “national” sport of Wales and locals are very proud of their team!
The “Home of the national rugby team” features a fully retractable roof, which can be opened in 20 minutes and it is the third largest stadium of the whole UK. Don’t miss the chance to experience the engaging and exciting atmosphere during the games in the Rugby homeland!
9. Roath Park
I have spent many hours in this park when I used to work as Au pair in Cardiff and the first thing I think about when somebody says Roath Park is the huge artificial lake, the iconic white clock tower, grand houses mirroring the lake waters and the scented botanical rose garden!
This park features many different species such as swans, ducks, seagulls and a variety of fishes and squirrels who made of this astonishing park their home! This Victorian park opened at the end of 19th century and it was one of the first public parks of the city. Today this park, located about 30 minutes walking from the city centre, is the perfect spot to see locals coming here for running, playing tennis or rugby, bringing children to the playground, do a picnic or have an ice cream a the parlour!
At the end of Roath Recreational ground you will arrive in one the most international and ethnic area of Cardiff where you will only find locals in the streets! Wellfield road, Albany road, and City road is a place where you could feel anywhere in the world since you will find traditional Italian, Indian, Greek, French independent cafés and restaurants where food is fresh and prices are fair since it’s an unknown area to tourists! Have lunch here and find your next favourite restaurant!
10. Pontcanna Fields and Sophia Gardens
For those who didn’t get it, yes I love gardens and nature and that’s why I loved the time I spent in Cardiff. It is such a green city with plenty of places for open-air activity where you are surrounded by flowers and nature!
Sophia gardens is located on the other side of the river Taff overlooking Bute’s Park. It is linked to Pontcanna fields and they both constitute one of the main green lungs of the city where people can do sports on the extensive playing fields, or cycle along the river!
They are maybe out shadowed by the more touristic Bute park nearby but they are particularly loved by locals to find a peaceful spot or as starting point for major cycling routes.
Did you find this post useful? Then follow the upcoming articles about the best day trips from Cardiff and the best hikes to do in the area!
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