I’ve never had the pleasure of going to Cardiff but as usual, when I put together one of these guides I immediately want to plan a trip. Today I’ll hand over to Sarah for a tour of the tenth largest city in the UK and by golly there’s lots to see and do…
The capital of Wales, Cardiff is a unique small city with big city benefits and was even described as the ‘epitome of cool’ by Lonely Planet. But, as one of Cardiff’s biggest fans I’m all too aware that outside of the Welsh bubble our diverse, friendly and culture-packed little city is more famous for rugby, rain and raucous nightlife.
As we say in Cardiff, I’m not going to lie – there’s a big chance you’ll get caught in a shower or two, but come for the weekend and you’ll see the city’s sunnier side too!
Starting with the aforementioned rugby, it’s famous for a reason. If you’re here on an international weekend, as we call them, just embrace the daffodil outfits, impromptu street singing and the flowing drinks. With the (recently renamed), iconic Principality Stadium right at the heart of the city centre, Cardiff comes to life when there’s a big game being played. You won’t find a better atmosphere anywhere.
Other cities have cathedrals, but the jewel in the Cardiff crown is its castle. Again, it’s at the heart of the city and everything is within easy walking distance. Climb to the top of the keep for a great view of the city or stroll in via Bute Park’s riverside gardens if you’re here in spring or summer. Glance up at the outer wall on the approach from the west and you’ll see the quirky ‘Animal Wall’ with 100 year old statues of lynx and seals scrambling above you.
For more Welsh culture, the National Museum of Wales’ impressive building is always worth a visit, where you can see a £35m Rembrandt and some of Monet’s most famous paintings for free, or head to the new Yr Hen Lyfrgell (The Old Library) on the Hayes, which is also home to the Cardiff Story Museum and has a cool canteen-style café serving delicious hearty lunches by local hero chef Padrig Jones AND a bottle of prosecco is only £13.95! It’s a hub of Welsh language culture and welcoming to all, so a simple ‘Shwmae’ (hello) and ‘diolch’ (thank you) will be warmly received. There’s a tasteful little Welsh gift shop too with some nice homey bits and bobs. Next door is bar and restaurant Locke and Remedy – its industrial chic décor, dark paint palette and patterned tiles offering great interiors inspo.
Although Cardiff is great for walking around, it’s also very easy to get from A to B by water taxi. Catch it from the Bute Park stop next to the Castle, have a cuppa and a cake in the vintage-chic Pettigrew Tea Rooms while you wait and head down to Cardiff Bay, Europe’s biggest waterfront development. Check out the poetically beautiful architecture of the Wales Millennium Centre building – all Welsh slate and glinting copper and take your pick of waterfront bars and restaurants. The cute little Norwegian Church houses the Roald Dahl named gallery – Cardiff is the little-known home city of everyone’s favourite author.
If you are here with kids my recommendation would be to head over towards the Cardiff Bay Barrage, a flat waterside walk perfect for scooters and buggies, with a sandy wooden play park halfway, and stop off at the World of Boats museum, where the waterside café and bar offers the sunniest spot and the best panoramic views. On a rainy day (!) the Techniquest Science Centre is a great way to entertain kids of all ages for an hour or two. And if you’ve got time, the water taxi also goes from the Bay over to the Victorian seaside town of Penarth where the perfectly photogenic little pier includes a refurbished art deco era cinema and a café with beautiful sea views.
Food and Drink
You will not go hungry in Cardiff as it’s really become a foodie destination. Much like its shops it’s got quality chains to rival the biggest of the UK’s cities, but for a more local experience try the Potted Pig, a restaurant in an old bank vault with a well-stocked gin bar, or the Grazing Shed on St Mary’s street for some of the best burgers in town – (and there’s plenty of those.) Cafe Citta is the best place for pizza, but is tiny and cosy so book ahead. A favourite of mine is the Purple Poppadum in Canton; an incredible restaurant serving award-winning South Indian food that is absolutely a cut above the usual ‘half and half’ curry. Opposite the stadium, Bar 44 serves unbeatable, authentic Spanish tapas and the best rioja, with more lust-worthy tiled décor! For cocktails try the Dead Canary – a speakeasy inspired bar with a strong drinks menu (Welsh lamb infused Appleton VX, anyone?) If you can get in, the Pop-Ty Welsh supper club is a completely lovely way to spend an entire evening. For the best of Cardiff’s independent food scene under one roof, head to Depot, a warehouse filled with twinkly lights and amazing variety of street food and drinks. For a real taste of Cardiff’s multicultural food scene, City Road is the place to head. It’s not slick and shiny like the Bay, but you’ll find everything from Syrian to Thai and Turkish restaurants with a loyal local following. If you’ve still got the appetite for a night out, Clwb Ifor Bach and The Moon Club are the places to head for indie discos and new bands.
It’s not a weekend away if you don’t treat yourself to brunch in my opinion. Head out to leafy Pontcanna and have a full Welsh breakfast and a Bloody Mary at Café Brava, or have coffee and pastries at the new super-cool Danish bakery, Brød. If it’s the first Saturday of the month, stick around for craft ale at the Pipes Brewery event and head over to The Bone Yard for arty finds afterwards.
You can browse vintage bargains galore at The Castle Emporium and the St Mary St weekend market, or unearth treasures at the four storey Jacobs Antiques, which also screens rooftop cinema events.
Away from the frankly brilliant range of big chains in St David’s 2 and the rest of the city centre (the John Lewis beauty hall, Jo Malone and new Michael Kors are particular treats) , Cardiff’s warren of stunning covered Victorian arcades are a wonderful way to while away a few hours. Don’t miss Home by Kirsty for scandi-inspired, Welsh-made interiors and gifts, and for vinyl fans, Spillers Records, the oldest record shop in the world. Pad Deco has high-end designer interior items and Wally’s Deli is a total treat for the foodie shopper. Madame Fromage, The Plan and Waterloo Tea are the best places in the arcades to stop for refreshments. In the suburb of Roath you’ll find loads of arty little shops and in Pontcanna, Kitki boutique has very stylish threads and unique brands.
Thanks Sarah for a smashing tour of Cardiff. Any other places you lovely lot want to suggest in the welsh capital?