Cardiff

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By Dave Jenkins, your Cardiff expert

I write for Real Travel. Read more

Why go to Cardiff?

Croeso i Gaerdydd!

Welcome to Cardiff! Don’t worry, you don’t have to speak the lingo to get the most out of your trip to the city, but the language is likely to be the first thing that strikes you as you enter Wales. All road signs are written in English and Welsh, providing that great instant sensation of being in another country. Beautifully brutal consonants, tricky tongue dexterity and peculiar place names, I dare you not to try to say some of them yourself. My favourite is archfarchnad. It means superstore, you’ll see it everywhere.

Besides the distinctive national language, what else does Cardiff have to offer? Heaps! Culture lovers, sports aficionados, history enthusiasts, foodies, music addicts and anyone who loves the outdoors will be rewarded with a trip the Welsh capital. From contemporary architecture to ancient Roman ruins, from the mountains to the coastline, Cardiff is still maturing into a vibrant capital city. Wales has only had a capital since 1955... I think it’s making up for lost time.

Size does matter

Good news! It’s official, small is best... With a population of approximately 327,000 Cardiff is a compact capital. All the thrills and retail spills, but in a manageable size. You can get from one side of the city centre to the other in less than 15 minutes if urgency arises. Anything outside of town is a mere stroll or short bus or cab ride away.

Location, location, location

Cardiff is a logistical sweet spot. The Roman settlers knew it, the city’s once thriving port knew it... Two hours from many UK metropolises and less than an hour of two busy international airports, Cardiff and Bristol (and two from Heathrow) it’s conveniently plugged into the UK from every direction.

The environment is just as blessed. Nestled between the sea and the mountains, anything from challenging hill hikes to invigorating coastal horse rides are to be found within half an hour from the city centre. It’s the ultimate evening quandary – do you watch the sunset from on high, or look the horizon square in the eye? Take your pick of neighbouring beaches, from the Gavin & Stacey-endorsed Barry Island to the craggy mini cliffs of Ogmore just down the road.

Bayside bliss

Cardiff’s Bay redevelopment has had a huge effect on the city. Once a busy commercial port, then an unforgiving neighbourhood famously known as Tiger Bay, now a cool cosmopolitan nucleus for the arts, bars, restaurants and sea-faring activities, this attractive area of the city stretches over to neighbouring Penarth via a barrage and has all sorts to offer. It’s especially essential if you visit on a sunny summer’s day.

Be a good sport

Witness the fitness! Sport runs through Cardiff’s veins, beating from the city’s heart – the mighty Millennium Stadium. Unlike other city stadia, this is slap bang in the centre, throwing you right into the action the moment you arrive with match atmosphere affecting the entire city.

Cardiff is also home to, among other things; a sports village including a fantastic Olympic pool, white water rafting, a well respected half marathon circuit, an ice rink, great cycle routes and a championship football team with a fancy new stadium to boot. It’s also played host to The Ashes and was only a putt away from the Ryder Cup last year.

Park life

Beautiful parks and open fields can be found in every corner of the city. You can walk from Bute Park in the centre of town right up to the mountains in Taffs Well and Tongweynlais and barely cross a road. Other notable leafy hotspots include the parks in Roath that stretch for several miles across the three different grounds and a blissful boating lake, and Victoria Park in Canton, home to one Billy the seal, a famed resident from 1912-39.

If music be...

From pop-up parties in creative cafés to headline acts at the Millennium Stadium, Millennium Music Hall or the CIA, Cardiff’s not short of a gig or two. After a club-land lull, progressive live arts venues are picking up again in the city, especially at The Globe and Cardiff Arts Institute.

...The food of love...

Hungry? Good. The city’s diverse community has led to an eclectic menu where every nationality of dish can found. The majority of upmarket eateries can be found at the Bay but for the broadest choice head to City Road where everything from Syrian to fine veggie cuisine is on offer.

...Then play on

World touring musicals and stage shows in the awesome armadillo-shaped Wales Millennium Centre; captivating drama in the Sherman and New Theatres; leftfield and experimental contemporary theatre in Chapter Arts Centre; Cardiff has a stage to fit all tastes.

Happy shopper?

Retail freak out! Cardiff’s latest development is the mega shopping complex St Davids 2. Several years of putting up with a monstrous building site in the centre has paid off as the city is now home to a giant mall that’s home to a good range of major chains, chic boutiques, diners, a gallery and one magnificent glass ceiling that lights up the area with class.

Ale be back!

Like all cities, Cardiff is home to a vast array of boozers and bars, but it also has an impressive range of local brews to match. Brains, Otley, Vale of Glamorgan and Newmans are all well respected ales, the first two being multiple CAMRA award winners. Sample these wares at traditional pubs such as The Conway, Y Mochyn Du, Cayo, Beverley Hotel, Butchers Arms, City Arms and The Goat Major. Or head to the Artisan Micro Brewery in Pontcanna who hold monthly events to celebrate their Bare-Naked beer!

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expert rated...

Cardiff Restaurants

Price guideRating (out of 5)
1. Milgi
Budget
4.8
2. Mimosa Kitchen & Bar
Mid-range
4.8
3. Woods Brasserie
Expensive
4.7
4. Vegetarian Food Studio
Budget
4.7
5. Bully's
Expensive
4.7
See all expert-rated Restaurants in Cardiff

Cardiff Things to do

Price guideRating (out of 5)
1. Bute Park
Free
5.0
2. Millennium Stadium
Expensive
4.8
3. Cardiff International White Water
Expensive
4.8
4. The Big Pit
Free
4.8
5. Cardiff Castle
Expensive
4.7
See all expert-rated Things to do in Cardiff