12 Hours in Cardiff, Wales
A perfect day trip in a stunning capital city with lots of history in the Land of the Red Dragon.
By: Alex Mathews, Davidson College
A two hour train ride from London Paddington, Cardiff has plenty to offer in a day trip, whatever your tastes might be. It was settled by the Romans in 55AD and officially founded when the Normans conquered Clamorgan. After its founding, it experienced many years of battle and changes of power. In 1896, Cardiff became the site of the first ever British news film. By the 19th century, it was the largest coal exporting port in the world. Because of its prominence in the industrial sector, Cardiff saw the world’s first one million pound deal in its Coal Exchange in 1907. It has more green space per person than any other city in the UK and is the birthplace of author Roald Dahl. Today, Cardiff is a thriving city filled with a mix of modern developments like Millennium Stadium and charming streets, markets and attractions. It has experienced a revitalisation of national pride and culture and the number of people who speak Welsh is actually increasing. When you visit the capital city of Wales, notice its distinct culture and language and enjoy a completely different part of the United Kingdom! While it would be easy to spend quite a few days in Cardiff, this guide will help you make the most of a day trip!
Arrive in Cardiff at Cardiff Central Station and walk down the main street, High Street, marveling at the small town vibe of Wales’s largest city. On the way there, have a laugh with your friends trying to pronounce the bilingual street signs that make absolutely no sense phonetically! Grab breakfast at Coffee Barker, considered Cardiff’s coolest café according to Lonely Planet. It is inspired by coffee shops in New York’s West Village and bistros of St. Germain in Paris and sells breakfast, dinner and tea! It is located in Castle Arcade off High Street.
If you love history, walk down the street to Cardiff Castle, an impressive complex that comprises a medieval castle and a Victorian Gothic revival mansion. Traces from the Roman wall from 55AD can still be seen and you have the opportunity to enter the medieval keep and the mansion and learn about the history of the castle and city through a complimentary audioguide. You can even walk through the old World War II bomb shelters housed within the castle walls. As a bonus, a climb to the top of the keep provides fantastic views of the city!
Take this time to walk around Cardiff Central Market, found right in the middle of Cardiff’s city centre. This indoor market was opened in 1891 and its two stories house numerous stalls selling fresh produce, pastries, meat, fish, flowers and vintage clothing at affordable prices.
After you’ve wandered through the market and perhaps purchased a some Welsh cakes, try to find the six Victorian arcades hidden throughout the city centre. They house several cute craft stores, bakeries and vintage clothing stores and Morgan Arcade is the home of Spillers Records, the oldest record shop in the world which opened in 1894. If you’d rather spend your time in a mall, check out St. David’s Shopping Centre, one of the largest in Great Britain.
You can’t go wrong with any pub in Cardiff, but I recommend The Goat Major. It’s a cozy pub on High Street, selling only award-winning pie and chips (fries, for all you American readers). You won’t regret any pie choice and washing it down with a Brains brew will only improve it!
If the weather is nice, take a post-meal stroll through Bute Park, located right next to Cardiff Castle. It is a lovely 146 acre park donated by the Fifth Marquess of Bute in 1947 to the people of Cardiff. Today, the park is an arboretum and full of wildlife. If the weather is less-than-ideal, walk to the nearby National Museum Cardiff, which houses not only one of Europe’s best collections of Impressionist art, but also collections featuring Wales’s national history, art, geology, and natural history. As a bonus, entry is free!
If you’re a Doctor Who fan, you must check out the Doctor Who Experience, home of the world’s largest collection of original Doctor Who props. Take a look at the costumes, sets and behind the scenes experiences at this fantastic venue close to Cardiff Central Station. If you’re not keen on the show, take a 5-minute cab ride to Llandaff, a district in the north of Cardiff offering a small-town feel within Cardiff. It is home to Llandaff Cathedral, one of the oldest Christian sites in Britain dating back to the 500s. It was used as a post office by Oliver Cromwell and was severely bombed during World War II, making it a church filled with a unique blend of the past and present. This is the perfect destination if you’re looking for a leisurely afternoon stroll through the neighborhood and nearby park.
Grab a pint before dinner pint at a nearby pub you come across. It is a great way to get to know friendly locals and the Welsh culture.
Grab dinner at another pub. The Queens Vaults is a great pub frequented by locals, offering large menu and a jukebox to play your favorite tunes to get ready for a night on the town! Try some Welsh Rarebit (melted cheese on toast) if you can.
If you’re lucky to spend the night in Cardiff or if your train departs late at night, the Cardiff nightlife won’t disappoint. Pubs are great for gathering before going to a concert at Clwb Ifor Bach or Gwdihw, Cardiff’s hipster bar and music venue. If you’re lucky and plan in advance, you could score tickets to a concert at Millennium Stadium, which regularly hosts top concerts at night as well as important rugby matches during the day.
Cardiff is one of the best places to spend a day in. Unique from England, it is an easy-to-reach capital city with a lot to offer. If you have more than twelve hours, the best advice I have is just to wander around the city, see what interests you most, and interact with the friendly locals!