Cardiff insider tips

By Dave Jenkins, your Cardiff expert

I write for Real Travel. Read more

How to save money plus other advice on Cardiff

Cardiff hotels are reasonably cheap, read on and I'll make your trip to the city even more affordable...

Eating and drinking

  • Many of the smaller independent restaurants are closed on Mondays. Cardiff’s a grand city but it’s not quite big enough to offer round the week dining.
  • Tipping is expected but not completely necessary if you feel you’ve not had a good service. I’ve noticed some restaurants adding a 12.5 per cent tip automatically onto your bill so check your bill when it arrives, especially if you are paying electronically.
  • Reservations aren’t absolutely necessary every night of the week because there are so many places to choose from in the city. You’re best off calling ahead from Thursday to Saturday, however, especially at some of the more expensive restaurants. See Cardiff caf├ęs and restaurants for more details on some of Cardiff’s best restaurants.
  • Try and eat early if you can, many restaurants offer an afternoon special until 7pm. Three courses can be as low as £15 in some of the best brasseries
  • City Road in Roath is a great hub of restaurants. If you’re unsure on your evening’s meal and fancy choosing from an international menu then head here for a choice of Syrian, Japanese, Indian, Libyan, Turkish, Hawaiian, Mexican and vegetarian.
  • For late night munchies you might wish to experience Caroline Street, AKA Chippy Alley or Chippy Lane depending on who you speak to. One of Cardiff’s most notorious nocturnal hives, its array of chip shops has become a fond city institution. Thanks to the Brewery Quarter complex development it’s now a lot lighter and safer than it once was.
  • For up-to-date knowledge on all the best parties, visit Catapult Records (High Street Arcade; +44 29 2022 8990; www.catapult.co.uk). They’re an information hub for all things lively.
  • Unless you enjoy weak beer in plastic cups, long queues and puff-chested gentlemen pushing and shoving for no apparent reason, then you might want to avoid the top of St Mary Street. The large, soulless chain pubs and bars aren’t a patch on the more individual, friendlier bars elsewhere in the city. For more information visit Cardiff nightlife.
  • And be careful on match days when Wales lose. Unfortunately there are folk who take the game too seriously and some of the more sports-oriented or budget boozers can be a little edgy in atmosphere.

Getting around

  • I’ve highlighted the cheapest routes from both airports in Cardiff flights. The train is the most convenient for solo travellers while a taxi is a more favourable bet for groups of two or more.
  • Baycar buses are the most efficient way of getting from the centre to the Bay. They run a circular route from town to the waterfront every 10/15 minutes for the humble sum of £1.50. Although you might consider walking; a stroll along the grand Lloyd George Avenue isn’t without its charm.
  • If you’re staying in Cardiff for an extended period of time and will be using the buses regularly then an If Card is a worthwhile consideration. An electronic payment card, you can charge it online or at Cardiff Bus head office on Wood St (+44 29 2066 6444, www.cardiffbus.com).
  • For advice on driving in the city visit Cardiff car hire, the centre doesn’t really require four wheeled transport but rest of the city and surrounding attractions do. The cheapest car parking is on Tyndall St, about a five-minute walk outside of the centre and costs only £3.50 for the whole day. It does fill up quite early with commuters, however.
  • Don’t park your car outside the city centre unless you know the area. Car crime is a problem in all the neighbourhoods near town so lock your valuables up or take them with you.
  • If you’re driving from just outside the city, there are Park And Ride schemes available from the east, west and south of the city. Check www.cardiff.gov.uk for full details.
  • While cycling is usually a joy in the city, there are one or two roads to avoid if you’re cruising on two wheels. Newport Road, the main trunk route from the east, is the worse. At points it’s six lanes wide and cycle lanes have a habit of popping up and disappearing. North Road and Cowbridge Road are another two prime candidates for white-knuckle, traffic-dodging bike rides.
  • Speaking of cycles, if you find yourself in the Bay, head to the barrage and you’ll find Cardiff Pedal Power (+44 7775 616 411; www.cardiffpedalpower.co.uk). They’ve got a great range of bikes, including some rather funky four seat bikes that are great for families and friends.
  • And on that note, an hour or two’s boat hire on Roath Park lake is a fine afternoon attraction. Whether you favour the bicep-busting row boats, or the thigh-thundering pedalos, on a summer’s day nothing could be better.

Sights and attractions

  • Cardiff’s museums are free but Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch cost to enter.
  • The Senedd is another great free attraction and a great way to see Welsh politics in action.
  • The open-top tourist bus is an ideal way of seeing a few of the sights in one day. Your ticket also includes a two-for-one tours of the Wales Millennium Centre and discounts in selected restaurants. A tour costs £9, visit www.city-sightseeing.com for more information.
  • If you’re after more sport than I’ve recommended on my Cardiff attractions notes then Cardiff City Football Club are home in a plush new stadium. A proud Championship League team, the matches come primed with a great game atmosphere and family tickets can cost as cheap as £43

Insider tips

  • Cardiff is what’s known as an event city, which is either a pleasure or total pain depending on why you’re visiting. If you’ve come for a game, concert or event then you’ll be rewarded with a bustling, vibrant atmosphere. If, however, you’ve come for a more romantic, laid-back or quieter affair then you might want to avoid the main events and plan ahead. A full guide to the city’s events can be found on www.visitcardiff.com.
  • Events or not, the summer is by far the most popular time to visit and there’s a good reason; the city positively blooms when the sun is shining.
  • Make sure you take a wander around the Civic Centre, it’s right next door to the National Museum Cardiff and is graced with some of the city’s oldest, most formidable buildings and institutions. Each one facing a series of pretty, well kept parks.
  • Hotels are often cheaper at the start of the week and always cost less when a match or event isn’t taking place. See my recommend list of Cardiff hotels for more detailed advice on prices.
  • Still looking for things to do? Then hire a car and drive due north for 55km to the Brecon Beacons and climb the highest mountains in South Wales. Besides petrol and some mountain top sandwiches, it won’t cost you a penny.
  • Finally, I’d like to apologise for the street vendors on Queen Street. These loathsome oiks litter the main pedestrianised shopping area and sell all manner of tat and rubbish including a selection of really annoying, tacky bird whistles that they chirp all day. If you’re travelling with headphones, now is the time to wear them.

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