Top 10 Things to Do in Cardiff

Cardiff will always hold a special place in my heart. As I was telling you in a previous post, I fell in love with it as soon as I got off the London train on a cold and dark December. In my mind, the name will always conjure up a memory of frozen nose and red cheeks on evenings at the Bay. I was so cold that I could no longer feel my fingers and Mermaid Quay sparkled with fairy lights. We stopped at the (now defunct) Café Rouge. I remember the warmth of the onion soup bowl around which I wrapped my hands and afterwards, the icy wind as we walked back to our hotel. I loved that winter, as I have loved every winter there ever since (though it is of course very nice in the summer too).

The place is unlike any other in terms of atmosphere. When I asked Jon what he preferred in Cardiff, he said the park. Or the bay. Or the castle. Or the pubs. He couldn’t choose, and I think it is representative of what Cardiff really is: a pretty, green, historic city with a buzzing nightlife. Leisurely sitting between sea and land since immemorial times (the first settlement is said to have been built in 6.000 BC, about 1.500 years before Stonehenge was completed), Cardiff, or Caerdydd in Welsh, really has it all. Whether you are travelling alone, as a couple or as a family, you will always find something to do or to see that you will enjoy.

Here are my (completely subjective) top 10 things to do in Cardiff.

For the purpose of this post, I will be assimilating Llandaff to Cardiff, though the former definitely deserves a visit of its own, preferably for an entire day or two because there are many things to see there.

1. Cardiff Bay

IMG_2772

The Norwegian Church (Photo Credit: @ms.houyaux)

Certainly the city’s best asset, the Bay is where it all happens. Chances are that you’ll arrive either by boat via Tacoma Square, by foot via Bute Place, or by train in Cardiff Bay Station (Bae Caerdydd); in either case, start with the Millennium Centre, one of the most beautiful examples of contemporary architecture I have ever seen, the Water Tower and the Pierhead building, all located around or on Roald Dahl Plas.

A little further left, you’ll see the very modern National Assembly for Wales (the devolved parliament) and the quirky Norwegian Church/Art Gallery/Tearoom. There are lots of sights to see on both sides of the small bridge that will take you from the Scott Antarctic Memorial to Port Teigr.

If, like me, you’re a bit of a geek, you’ll enjoy walking Tardis Way to the former Doctor Who Experience (it’s a shame, really), or to the BBC Roath Lock Drama Village where much of the magic happens. The buildings alone are worth the trip (there’s also the shrine to Ianto Jones from Torchwood on Mermaid Quay, a truly weird thing). Walk on in the direction of Penarth for a splendid view on the Bristol Channel.

 

IMG_2768.JPG

The Pierhead Building

IMG_4670

View of the Bay from Tardis Walk

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cardiff Bay Beach 2018

It is all so pretty I could talk about the Bay for ages, so there will be a longer post on the matter.

2. Bute Park

Bute Park is big. Really big. And it is very recognizable thanks to the fifteen monumental statues of exotic animals that adorn its walls. Built in 1890, they were completely refurbished in 2010 and are now a Grade I listed structure. See if you can spot Priscilla the pelican or William the seal — my favourite being the hyena, of course.

 

IMG_4584.JPGThe park makes for a very nice promenade along River Taff. I am always amazed at how green and wild some bits of it are. On top of some rare trees in the arboretum and your regular squirrels, you’ll also see herbaceous borders, the former mill leat, and the surprising Gorsedd stone circle. It’s also a nice place to run and there are eight fitness stations (I always feel the need to try the horizontal ladder, to no avail).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are three places where you can eat: the vintage Pettigrew tea rooms on Castle Street, the Summerhouse Café, and my personal favourite, the Secret Garden Café.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Practical information:
  • Location: City centre
  • Entrance through the West Gate on Castle Street [download the map]
  • Opening times: 365 days a year from 7.30 am – 30 mins before sunset
  • Entrance fees: free

3. Cardiff castle

IMG_4580

The library

The Castle started out as a Roman Fort in the 50s AD. It was transformed into a shell keep by the Normans, then passed from one noble family to another until 1766 when the Bute family received it through marriage.

By the 1860s, the 3rd Marquess of Bute was reputed to be the richest man in the world, and you can clearly see it when visiting the castle. From the Moorish ceilings to the clock tower, you will not believe your eyes during the visit.

In my opinion, Cardiff Castle is very different from the other castles I have visited because it boasts a little more than 2.000 years of history on the same grounds. It really is a must-see! My favourite parts of course are the lavish library and the façade of the main range.

 

IMG_2834

The Clock Tower

 

 


Practical information:
  • Location: City centre
  • Entrance through Castle Street/Duke Street [download the map]
  • Opening times: Open 7 days a week, all year (apart from 25, 26 December and 1 January), 9 am – 6 pm (March-October) / 9 am – 5 pm (November-February)
  • Entrance fees: £13.00/adult, £11.30/senior/student, £9.25/child (5-16), children under 5: free
  • Book online

4. Llandaff

IMG_2931IMG_2924While you’re in the neighbourhood, push a little further to Llandaff. The Cathedral is absolutely magnificent. I remember arriving through the cemetery, and upon seeing the askew ringed crosses, I realised that, even though it is easy to forget, the Welsh truly are a Celtic nation. The Cathedral is a strange yet mesmerizing combination of modern and Norman architecture, and there’s a reason to that. During the German Blitz of 1940-1941, parachute-borne landmines fell on Llandaff, which resulted in the roof collapsing. The renovation works only ended in 1960.

If you like the Pre-Raphaelites, you’ll be delighted to see a rather formidable triptych by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Seed of David (1864) in Illtyd Chapel. Those of you who are interested in history will be glad to see the beautiful Welch Regiment memorial chapel and its collection of military banners that float from the ceilings in perpetual immobility.

 

IMG_2899


Practical information:
  • Location: Cathedral Cl, Cardiff CF5 2LA (Llandaff) [See map]
  • Daily and Sunday services at usual times
  • Entrance fees: Free

5. Boat ride

There’s a whole different dimension to Cardiff when you see it from the river, and there is something quaint and romantic in the idea of crossing the city by boat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You can catch a boat in the Riverside Gardens (Bute Park) and sail the Taft up to the Bay for a very decent price (£4.00/adult and £2.00/child) every hour. The trip lasts 25 minutes from the Park to the Bay (or from the Bay to the Park) or one hours if you decide to stay on board to come back where you came from. Bonus: if you choose to sail with the Princess Katharine, there is an interesting commentary.


Practical information:
  • Location: Bute Park (next to Pettigrew Tea Rooms) [see map] and Cardiff Bay (Lower Board Walk at the bottom of Roald Dahls Plas) [see map]
  • On the hour departures from Cardiff Bay from 10 am and half past the hour departures from Bute Park [see timetable]
  • Price: £4.00/adult, £2.00/child, babies: free

6. Cardiff Market

If there’s something I love, it is going to Cardiff Market in the morning, which is a bit ridiculous because let’s face it, I am on holidays so I am definitely not going to buy an entire halibut or nuts and bolts. But I am totally going to buy pre-loved vinyl records (or, as my generation used to call them, “records”), second-hand books, fruit, sweets, Welsh cakes, and perhaps a pair of earrings or two. You can find all that (and lots of food) at the Indoor Market on St Mary Street in a superb building of 1891.

It is also good to know that the entrance of the Market is exactly where the gallows on which Dic Penderyn was hanged stood. Spare a thought for him as you proceed to the pastries and the elegant balcony.


Practical information:
  • Location: City centre
  • [See map]
  • Opening times: Monday to Saturday 8 am – 5.30 pm
  • Entrance fees: free

7. See a game of rugby

IMG_2780Now I don’t know if I have to tell you this, but the Welsh are pretty big on rugby. They are, after all, (deservedly) among the six best nations in the world and as such, they take that sport very seriously, which doesn’t prevent them from being cordial about it. For instance, I was the only Scarlets (Llanelli) supporter among about 5.000 Cardiff Blues supporters and everybody was super nice to me (though of course I was very discreet in my triumph when the Scarlets annihilated the Blues).

Gareth has been laughing at me for more than six months now because I wanted to arrive half an hour early to the game, which is apparently not something the Welsh do. Instead, they just go to the pub until five minutes before kickoff, which is good to know. But I like me some good waiting.


Practical information:
  • Location: City centre
  • [See map]
  • Book your tickets online

8. Go to the National Museum

The National Museum is another must-do. I am not going to cover all the departments because it would take days as the collections are extensive and varied, but there are a few pieces I find particularly interesting.

IMG_3103.JPG

Reconstruction of the Dracoraptor hanigani

Firstly, you have to see the Dracoraptor hanigani, a meat-eating dinosaur that lived in the earliest Jurassic about 201 million years ago and measured 70 centimetres high. It was discovered by two brothers, Nick and Rob Hanigan who describe themselves as “amateur paleontologists” in Penarth, about four miles from where the museum is. I love the reconstruction that is on display.

 

 

Secondly, there is the massive chamber organ built by John Snetzler and designed by neo-classical architect Robert Adam in 1774. It is a beautiful thing, and if you’re lucky, you might even be able to hear it played as the National Museum sometimes organises recitals.

IMG_3109.JPG

John Snetzler’s chamber organ

Thirdly, I wouldn’t leave the museum without visiting the art gallery. I was surprised to see the impressive collection of 19th and 20th century paintings. There, you’ll find a version of the water lilies by Monet as well as a Magritte I had never heard of before. I really liked The Shooting Stars by Jean-François Millet, which is a very poetic interpretation of Dante’s Inferno’s souls of the lustful being whirled endlessly around the skies of hell by a great gale.

 


Practical information:
  • Location: City centre
  • [See map]
  • Entrance fees: free (God bless the UK!)
  • Website

9. Eat at the Thai House

IMG_3305.JPG

The Thai House’s Dom Yam Gung

Established in 1985 by Noi Ramasut and his wife Arlene Thomas, the Thai House has become a hallmark among the restaurants of Cardiff. I have never had Thai food that can compare to theirs. While it can be busy at the weekend (please do book a table), it is a lovely and peaceful place during the week. The restaurant is pretty big, but the service is quick and the staff is very nice. I recommend the Dom Yam Gung because it will make you cry tears of joy. Jon’s favourite is the Ner Pat Prik, a perfect combination of Welsh meat and Thai know-how.


Practical information:
  • Location: City centre
  • [See map]
  • Prices: Starters from £4.95, mains from £9.25, 3 courses lunch menu £16.00
  • Book by phone (+44(0)29 2038 7404) or e-mail (info@thaihouse.biz)

10. Shopping

IMG_4628.JPGCardiff is not London, but it has a very nice offer of shops of all sorts on Queen Street, St Mary Street and The Hayes, where you can find all the High Street classics, from All Saints to Vivienne Westwood. On top of that, you have all your regular department stores (John Lewis, House of Fraser, Debenhams) and an enormous mall (St David) where makeup addicts will find stuff beyond their wildest dreams, as well as your more quirky shops (Bodlon, Daisy Daisy, and my personal favourite, Vintage Zizou).

Call me old-fashioned, but I like a nice arcade, and they come in all shapes and styles in Cardiff. My favourite is Castle Arcade with its beautiful 1887 wrought iron balconies and glass ceilings. It is also where you’ll find Coffee Barker where they dip your cup into Nutella before pouring the coffee. It’s pure madness; you definitely have to try it.


Practical information:
  • Location: City centre
  • [See map]
  • Opening times: Mon – Sat 8.30 am –  6 pm, Sun 10.30 am – 5 pm
  • Entrance fees: free

Bear in mind that in Great Britain, most places offer a discount upon presentation of a valid student card, including pubs, shops and restaurants.


Psst! While you’re here…

Liked this? Let me know in the comments, join the conversation on Facebook or help me create more guides like this one by checking out my Patreon. You can also receive The Unexpected Ms. Houyauxmonthly newsletter for free.


All texts and pictures © Justine Houyaux.
Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Top 10 Things to Do in Cardiff

  1. Pingback: South Wales | The Unexpected Ms. Houyaux

  2. Pingback: Out of the Blue(s) | The Unexpected Ms. Houyaux

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s