Visiting Cardiff – A City Guide
Cardiff bustles with a sense of purpose befitting the capital of Wales. This compact waterfront city combines historic buildings, verdant parks and friendly locals who turn out for the city’s many sport and music events.
Cardiff: city layout
Cardiff divides into two main areas. The city centre runs from the tree-lined avenues of Cathays Park past the Castle to Bute Park. South of the castle, major roads include St Mary’s Street, the Hayes and Queen Street. You can catch a waterbus, train or bus to Cardiff Bay. From there you can explore bayside attractions using frequent boat services, the road train or by walking or cycling.
Top attractions in Cardiff
Get a taste of Wales’s past and present with visits to Cardiff Castle, the Earl of Bute’s ornate medieval folly, and the Senedd, an ultra-modern building with views across Cardiff Bay.
Weather permitting, stroll through the riot of flowers in Bute Park and take a coffee beside the river Taff. Or browse the Victorian shopping arcades then get swept up into a pub singsong in the Pontcanna area before heading to the shops, restaurants and bars at Mermaid Quay.
Art and natural history buffs should make a visit to the grand National Museum Cardiff a priority.
The concierge recommends…
Hotels in Cardiff
Most of Cardiff’s hotels are clustered around the city centre or Cardiff Bay. Cardiff also has hotels convenient to its busy airport (CWL).
The bustling city centre contains Cardiff’s central business district and government buildings. Hotels are within easy walking distance of Millennium Stadium, top shopping areas, Cardiff Central Railway station and the nightlife district. Families will appreciate easy access to Cardiff’s best parks.
Hotels around Cardiff Bay are close to the Millennium Centre and the waterfront attractions around the Bay, such as the Dr Who Experience. Mermaid Quay offers shopping, dining and bars. Buses, trains and a waterbus link the Bay area to the city centre for those who don’t want to take the 15-minute walk.
Set in the quiet tranquillity of the Vale of Glamorgan, the area around the airport is well out of the city but handy for early morning flights.
Eating Out in Cardiff
Some of Britain’s best food comes from Wales – think Welsh lamb, farmhouse cheeses and fresh sea trout. Despite this, you won’t find many Welsh restaurants in Cardiff. Instead, a huge variety of restaurants, pubs and street food vendors provide authentic Italian, innovative Indian and other international food.
The area around Cardiff is home to a strong Welsh-Italian community that keeps several small independent Italian restaurants in the city centre busy. Check out Whitchurch Road and Canton for some upscale and exciting Indian restaurants. Head to Cardiff Market and the stall on The Hayes for rib-sticking rolls overflowing with roast pork. Sit outside any of the Mermaid Quay restaurants to take in the Cardiff Bay buzz; you’ll also find the best ice cream shops around Cardiff Bay. The three cafes in Bute Park never disappoint, nor do the host of small cafes and delis in the Victorian arcades.
The chef recommends...
Shopping in Cardiff
Shops in the compact, pedestrianised city centre range from high-end to budget-friendly; quirkily independent to mainstream.
St. David’s Centre, an airy temple to modern shopping, is anchored by major department stores. Venture across the Hayes and you can wander in the Victorian equivalent, Cardiff’s six arcades. They are all clustered around the High Street area and house fun cafes and delis, Welsh craft shops and independent boutiques.
In the same area is Cardiff market, with a mix of food and down-to-earth clothing stores. Sunday mornings you can check out the Riverside Farmers’ Market opposite the Millennium
stadium. Wales is the land of song, and Cardiff centre has some of the best music and musical instrument shops you will find anywhere. Find rare sheet music, buy a harp or have a fine violin made for you.
Best only-in-Wales souvenirs
Culture & Nightlife in Cardiff
Cardiff is alive with music of every kind. Opera competes with orchestras which make way for musicals which live alongside international choir and piano competitions. None of which dents the throbbing live music scene and busy pubs. No less than ten universities make Cardiff a young city, while its world-class sport venues make it a party city whenever there is an event on. Which is almost always.
Daytime in the city centre the National Museum is host to visiting exhibitions. Nearby are several contemporary art galleries. A walk through Cathays Park takes you to the exotic new building that houses the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Worth a look for the spectacular foyer, but don’t miss what’s on at its various performance venues. St David’s Hall and the Motorpoint Arena are two city centre performance venues which have the big name acts which don’t need the full capacity of the Millennium Stadium. There’s always great theatre in Cardiff at the New Theatre or the Sherman.
City centre nightlife spills out of venues in St Mary’s Street and Mill Lane. They compete with hopping bars on Mermaid Quay, close to the Millennium Centre and Cardiff Bay. There is a cinema complex at the Bay and two more in the city centre. For more arty cinema and theatre head for Chapter.
If you want a quiet drink, maybe a sing song or a pub quiz, try the Pontcanna area. Younger crowds congregate at the pubs in Cathays. And for dancing, head to any club in the city centre.
Something for everyone
Visiting Cardiff with a Family
Cardiff’s compact city is crammed with activities for active kids of all ages. When the sun shines Cardiff’s parks beckon. When it rains you will understand why Cardiff’s museums and public buildings win national awards for being family-friendly.
Cardiff Bay links a wide range of activities for families. Start at Cardiff International White Water for rafting and indoor surfing classes. Across the road is Cardiff International Pool, featuring a leisure pool with waterslides, toys and floats. Head to Cardiff Bay Barrage for the city’s newest play park, right next to the skate plaza. You can hire a bike and a trailer link from Pedal Power and ride the safe path round the Bay to the Millennium Centre, which has its own special family area.
Just across the old dock, past the best ice cream shops in Cardiff and a cluster of family-friendly restaurants, you can divert yourself and the kids for hours at Cardiff’s indoor science centre, Techniquest.
In the city centre kids love the Animal Wall that links wide-open Bute Park to the Castle. If it rains there are always activities at Cardiff’s new Central Library and at the National Museum of Wales.