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A weekend in Cardiff

A weekend in Cardiff, Wales

The second in my series of weekend guides takes us to the Welsh capital, Cardiff. Although it’s not far from home for me, I hadn’t been to Cardiff for years but discovered Europe’s youngest capital has a great mix of history and culture, from ancient castles to Cardiff Bay’s modern architecture, and even into the future as the home of TV series Doctor Who. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to eating and drinking too. Using seasonal, local produce has become a real trend recently but that’s the sort of food Wales has been doing well for years. Not to mention the ciders, beers and even wines produced in the region. You’ll definitely not go hungry or thirsty. So here’s my guide on how to spend 48 hours in Cardiff.

More weekend guides: Oxford, Bath, Cheltenham, Canterbury, Rye, Chester, York, Glasgow
Norwegian church in Cardiff Bay

Norwegian church in Cardiff Bay

Friday evening

Check into boutique hotel Cathedral 73, on a tree-lined street an easy walk into the city centre. This Victorian townhouse has been converted into a stylish hotel, with rooms ranging from small doubles to a two-bedroom suite with its own kitchen. There are lots of luxury extras too, like a private chef and butler service, and you can even get chauffeured into town in their vintage Rolls Royce. Rooms from £150 a night.

Or if you’re on a budget, try the Sleeperz Hotel Cardiff. One of a small chain of hotels with compact, contemporary style rooms in city centre locations, this one is right next to the train station. Rooms from £48 a night. Head into town to start the weekend off at the Urban Tap House. This former fire station is now a bar run by Tiny Rebel, a cult craft brewery from nearby Newport. As well as 15 of their own beers on tap they also have a kitchen which claims to serve the best burgers in the city.

Cardiff Castle in Wales

The keep at Cardiff Castle

Saturday morning

Cardiff’s Castle is right at the heart of the city. Over its long history it’s been a Roman Fort, Norman Castle, Victorian Gothic mansion and Second World War bomb shelter. Take a walk around the castle battlements and grounds, and make sure to climb up to the top of the keep for a panoramic view across the city. Entry to the castle costs £12 (£10.50 for seniors/students and £9 for children) but it’s worth paying the extra £3 for a 50-minute guided tour that takes you around the Castle Apartments with their ornate interiors. Tours run every hour from 10am–5pm (until 4pm from November to February).

When you’ve finished clambering around the castle, cross the street to the Castle Arcade. It’s one of a series of Victorian shopping arcades around the city centre. It’s also home to Madame Fromage, a great lunch spot where you can try a traditional cawl – a soup made with lamb and root vegetables – or one of their local cheese platters (they have 150 varieties on sale in the attached deli). But leave room for dessert at nearby Science Cream, where they use liquid nitrogen to make the smoothest ice cream.

Ice cream at Science Cream

Chemistry meets ice cream at Science Cream

Saturday afternoon

Take the short walk over to the National Museum of Cardiff next. Entry’s free and you get two museums in one. The ground floor is all about natural history, telling the story of the evolution of Wales from the Big Bang to the end of the last Ice Age, with everything from meteorites to wooly mammoths. Then the upper floor is an art gallery with paintings, sculpture and ceramics from Wales and around the world.

Stop off for a drink at Y Mochyn Du, a traditional-style pub with a good range of Welsh ciders and ales, before dinner at the Potted Pig. This former bank vault in the city centre is now a restaurant which specialises in Italian-inspired food using local Welsh ingredients. It’s also got an impressively huge range of gins and, to go with the name, your drinks come with a side of crispy pork scratchings.

Cardiff Museum

Inside the art galleries at the Cardiff Museum

Sunday morning

Head over to Cardiff Bay, where a huge urban regeneration project has transformed the city’s old docklands. They were originally used to ship coal out from the Welsh Valleys but are now a mixture of modern architecture and renovated historic buildings. Start at the Senedd – the Welsh Assembly’s parliament building – where you can take a free tour to find out more about the building and the Welsh political system. You can also look around the red-brick Pierhead Building and the white wooden Norwegian Church where author Roald Dahl was christened, which is now an arts centre and café.

The bay’s most recognisable building though is the Millennium Centre, where you can see opera, music and theatre performances. The copper-coloured frontage has a poem by Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis built into it which is lit up by night. Translated it means “Creating truth like glass from the furnace of inspiration”. Stop off at the Centre’s restaurant and bar, ffresh, which has an open kitchen where you can watch chefs prepare modern Welsh dishes from a spot with a great view across the bay.

Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay, Wales

The Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay

Sunday afternoon

If you’re a Doctor Who fan, you might recognise a few Cardiff Bay locations as backdrops from the show. Since it restarted in 2005, most of the series’ filming has taken place in and around the bay. So it’s only fitting that it should be the home of the Doctor Who Experience. It’s part interactive adventure and part exhibition, with props, sets and costumes from all eras of the series, whether your favourite Doctor is William Hartnell or Peter Capaldi. Entry costs £16 for adults or £11.75 for children 5–16 (save £2 if you book in advance) and you can add on a studio tour of the current TARDIS set when it’s not being used for filming.

Heading back across the bay, pass through Roald Dahl Plass – site of ‘The Rift’ in Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood. Under a bridge by the waterside you’ll find ‘Ianto’s Shrine’. When Torchwood character Ianto Jones was killed off in the series, fans started leaving letters, gifts and flowers here as an impromptu shrine. Finish the weekend off with a hot dog and milkshake at Eddie’s Diner, a 50s-style American diner complete with real Cadillac that featured in the Doctor Who episode The Impossible Astronaut.

Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay

A few of the Daleks at the Doctor Who Experience

Have you visited Cardiff? Do you have any tips to add on what to see, do and eat?

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A weekend in Cardiff – On the Luce travel blog

Many thanks to Visit Wales for hosting me in Cardiff. All views and opinions are, as always, my own.

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36 Comments

  • Reply
    shazza
    April 13, 2015 at 7:32 pm

    Ohh I have never thought about visiting Cardiff. This might change my mind.:)

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 13, 2015 at 9:48 pm

      It’s not one of the most obvious UK weekend destinations but it’s a great city and lots to explore!

  • Reply
    John
    April 13, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    I haven’t been to Cardiff in years either, but it’s still one of my favourite UK cities – it’s meant to have an amazing foodie scene!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 13, 2015 at 9:38 pm

      We had some really great food while we were there – it’s only just over an hour from Cheltenham so I’ll definitely go back again.

  • Reply
    abitofculture
    April 13, 2015 at 8:59 pm

    Did You like the cawl? I’d never heard of it until I saw it on Countryfile a while back. To be honest, I thought it looked horrible!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 13, 2015 at 9:37 pm

      It was actually really nice (well their version was anyway!) – it’s kind of more stew than soup really and on a cold winter’s day it was a good warming lunch.

  • Reply
    Shikha (whywasteannualleave)
    April 13, 2015 at 11:57 pm

    What a great guide Lucy! The last time I was in Cardiff was donkey’s years ago when I went to a university open day there when I was thinking of applying there! The castle looks lovely! There’s a similar liquid nitrogen ice cream place in London that I love – had no idea they have one in Cardiff too! They are such fun quirky places to pause for ice cream ☺

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 14, 2015 at 6:06 pm

      Both my brother and one of my friends were at uni down there so I used to go down quite a lot, there wasn’t much sightseeing involved though and that was about 15 years ago, so I was well overdue a visit! Loved the liquid nitrogen sorbets, I’m not usually a massive ice cream fan but they were amazing.

  • Reply
    The Vagabond Baker
    April 14, 2015 at 8:47 am

    For shame, I’ve never been to Cardiff, despite my grandmother being from there! I have seen a lot of Wales though and I think if I was there again I’d definitely pay a visit, it looks great!
    I’m not up with all the Dr Who stuff, that when right over my head but I loved all the random, quirky stuff you’ve recommended. How did I not know about the Norwegian Church!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 15, 2015 at 2:24 pm

      Sounds like you’ll definitely have to make the trip then! The Norwegian Church was lovely, not what you’d expect to see in Cardiff!

      • Reply
        The Vagabond Baker
        April 15, 2015 at 3:58 pm

        I will hopeful be seeing lots of Norwegian churches in June, we are hopefully road tripping there!

        • Reply
          Lucy
          April 15, 2015 at 4:46 pm

          How fantastic! I got a little taste of Bergen and the fjords last year but would love to see more.

  • Reply
    ambitiouswanderer
    April 14, 2015 at 9:56 am

    Cardiff is not the first destination that comes to mind when thinking about a weekend away, but you raised my interested. The castle defintely looks like something I would enjoy; a scene from a fantasy movie/series.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 15, 2015 at 2:26 pm

      The castle was fascinating, there’s such a different range of things to seem from the old keep right up to the air shelter tunnels. Cardiff is well worth a trip sometime.

  • Reply
    timelessitaly
    April 14, 2015 at 11:54 pm

    Cardiff is lovely! Clear, clean and it has a castle. Love your photos…if I can ever get myself out of Italy, I would enjoy a visit here quite nicely. Thank you for a very informative article about a place I didn’t know.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 15, 2015 at 2:50 pm

      Thanks, it’s great for a weekend as there’s a good mix of things to do and it’s not too big to get around (plus the food is fantastic!).

      • Reply
        timelessitaly
        April 15, 2015 at 4:54 pm

        I would love to try the food….i’m sure it is wonderful. A different spin from my Mediterranean diet:)

  • Reply
    darwinontherocks
    April 16, 2015 at 3:14 pm

    It’s a great weekend destination. I plan to go there in the future. i would love to visit wales as well as swnowdonia np 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 17, 2015 at 2:08 pm

      Hope you enjoy it – I’m going to be back in Wales next month so hope to make it to Snowdonia for the first time then too (fingers crossed I get such sunny weather as I did in Cardiff!).

      • Reply
        darwinontherocks
        April 17, 2015 at 4:49 pm

        oh Snowdonia with a nice weather would be AMAZING ! I’m going to Wales in early June for a wedding 🙂

  • Reply
    Charlotte
    May 19, 2015 at 8:10 pm

    I’m heading to Cardiff this weekend and this has been so helpful! Thanks x

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 22, 2015 at 8:51 pm

      Thanks Charlotte – hope you have a great time!

  • Reply
    RomeNYLondonWorld (@RomeNyLondWorld)
    May 20, 2015 at 9:45 am

    Thank you Lucy for your precious tips! I’ve noted everything down and am now ready for my day trip to Cardiff this weekend 🙂
    Valeria @ romenewyorklondonworld.com

    • Reply
      Lucy
      May 22, 2015 at 8:53 pm

      Great to hear that Valeria, hope you enjoy Cardiff, it’s a great city!

  • Reply
    Susanna
    June 26, 2015 at 6:10 pm

    I’m moving to Cardiff in September. I visited a couple months ago and fell in love. This was a great overview. The only thing I would add is to make sure you take the time to stroll through one of Cardiff’s many gorgeous parks and don’t forget to try a Welsh cake! There is a wonderful Welsh cake store tucked away in a corner of the new Cardiff Bay shopping area.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      June 27, 2015 at 9:30 pm

      Is that Fabulous Welshcakes in Cardiff Bay? Amazing place, you can’t beat a good Welsh cake!

  • Reply
    Alex - Old Post House Bed and Breakfast
    July 16, 2015 at 3:27 pm

    What a great write up, but only just scratching the surface of great things to do in Cardiff, a 2nd visit is in order, with St Fagans Museum voted as one of the leading tourist attraction, we’re located in this picturesque village a stone throw from the city centre!

    Cardiff truly is a wonderful city to visit

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 14, 2015 at 7:24 pm

      Only so much I could squeeze into one weekend so I concentrated on the city centre this time, but I have heard great things about St Fagans so will check it out next time!

  • Reply
    girl meets world
    November 13, 2015 at 5:39 pm

    My friends and I are planning to do a day trip to Wales from London, because the bus tickets are so cheap. We are having a hard time deciding between Cardiff and Swansea, but after reading about the nitrogen-made ice cream I may be sold. Have you been to Swansea as well? And if so would you suggest one over the other? I really want to see as much of the UK as possible during my 4 month stay in London (I’m from America). So thanks for the post!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 14, 2015 at 7:23 pm

      Hi, there’s lot of lovely scenery around Swansea but if you’re coming by bus then I’d recommend Cardiff as there’s more to see and do in the city (and the nitrogen ice cream is so worth it!). Hope you have a great trip.

  • Reply
    Dawn
    January 13, 2016 at 6:56 pm

    Hi Lucy, my husband and I are travelling from Canada in mid-May 2016 to visit Wales and either England or Scotland. Wales is our primary destination as three of my grandparents were born and raised in Wales. One of my grandmothers was born and raised in Cwmfelinfach until she emigrated to Canada. We love to hike (this will be a day hike trip only, multi-day is not an option for us at this point) and want to see as many sights and hikes as possible during our 3 week stay. We plan to rent a car for the full trip. Any suggestions on the things we must see and do (including what may be of interest in Cwmfelinfach?)

    • Reply
      Gemma
      April 18, 2016 at 10:56 pm

      Was looking for things to do in my local area that I haven’t visited before and thought I can help with this query 🙂 There isn’t much to do in Cwmfelinfach, it is a very small village but there are some nice walks in the area. It is situated near the Sirhowy Valley Country Park where you can walk and cycle. I would recommend a visit to the nearby Cwm Carn Forest drive where you can stay in a pod for the night or camp and there are some great views from the top of Twmbarlwm which is in the forest drive. I would also recommend that you visit Big pit on the way to the Brecon Beacons National Park. Local libraries such as the one in Blackwood will have books and photos of Cwmfelinfach over the last 100 years or so if you wanted to find out a little more about the town your grandparents grew up in. I grew up in a town about 5 mins drive away from Cwmfelinfach so happy to help if you want more info.

  • Reply
    fatima
    December 13, 2016 at 6:02 pm

    My cousin lives in Cardiff and I am hoping to visit her soon. Sounds like an interesting place.

    Fatima | http://www.blogsbyfa.com

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 14, 2016 at 9:25 am

      It’s a great city – hope you enjoy it!

  • Reply
    jase1971Jason
    March 20, 2017 at 6:13 am

    We love Cardiff, especially Mermaid Quay in Cardiff Bay, it’s so funky and there are some excellent places to eat.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 24, 2017 at 10:29 am

      It’s a great part of the city to explore!

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