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A weekend in Cardiff, Wales: 2-day Cardiff itinerary

How to spend a weekend in Cardiff: Discover the best things to see, do, eat and drink in Cardiff in a two-day itinerary featuring the Welsh capital’s castles, museums, arcades and redeveloped dockside.

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A weekend in Cardiff, Wales: 2-day Cardiff itinerary

AD: My trip was hosted by Visit Wales, but all views are my own

Located along the banks of the River Taff, the Welsh city of Cardiff is Europe’s youngest capital. This dynamic city has a great mix of history and culture, from its 2000-year-old castle to the modern architecture of Cardiff Bay. It’s a centre for sport, for music and for food, with seasonal, local produce and drinks from around Wales on the menu.

It packs it all into a small space too, so you can easily experience the city’s highlights in a couple of days. So join us for a weekend in Cardiff, with this two-day Cardiff itinerary which shows you what to see as well as where to eat, drink and stay in the Welsh capital.

How to spend a weekend in Cardiff

Views across Cardiff from the castle keep
Cardiff from the castle keep

Friday evening

Check into your accommodation then start your weekend in Cardiff with a pre-dinner drink at The Dead Canary bar on Barrack Lane. This speakeasy bar has a Prohibition-era feel – ring the bell by the birdcage to be let inside. Interiors are moodily lit and atmospheric, with a creative cocktail menu, currently inspired by Welsh folklore and superstitions.

Then have dinner at the Potted Pig. This former underground bank vault in the city centre is now a restaurant serving modern British dishes made using seasonal Welsh ingredients. Think roast pork belly with black pudding bonbons or miso-glazed aubergine with spiced lentils. There’s also an impressive range of gins as well as a few Welsh whiskys.

Cardiff Castle keep
Cardiff Castle

Saturday morning

Begin your Cardiff itinerary at its castle, located at the heart of the city and surrounded by parkland. Over its 2000-year history it’s been a Roman fort, Norman castle, Victorian Gothic mansion and Second World War bomb shelter. It’s owned by the city of Cardiff, and if you live or work there you can apply for a castle key which gives you free entry.

Visitors can take a walk around the battlements, see an original Roman wall, tour the wartime tunnels, and climb to the top of the keep for panoramic views across the city.

It’s worth paying the small extra cost (£4 adults/£3 children) on top of the entry fee to take a 50-minute guided tour around the Castle Apartments too. These fairytale rooms were renovated for the Bute family, who took over the castle in 1766. They’re lavishly decorated with elaborately painted murals, wood carvings, gilt, stained glass and marble.

Inside the Castle Apartments at Cardiff Castle
Inside the Castle Apartments

Just outside the castle, you can see the Animal Wall along the edge of Bute Park. The first statues were added in the late 1880s, based on sketches by William Burges, who was the architect who designed the Castle Apartments for Lord Bute. Original designs included lions, a wolf, bear and hyena, and six more animals were added in the 1920s.

Bute Park covers 130 acres, and was once the part of the castle grounds. It’s a lovely place for a walk on a sunny day, with an arboretum, flower gardens and a riverside pathway. There’s also the remains of the 13th-century Blackfriars Friary.

Next head across to the 18th-century Castle Arcade, which is one of several Victorian and Edwardian shopping arcades around Cardiff. Each of these covered arcades has a mix of independent shops, cafés and restaurants perfect for browsing. And make sure to head up to the Castle Arcade balcony to get an up-close view of the beautiful architecture.

The Morgan Quarter Arcade on a weekend in Cardiff
The Morgan Quarter Arcade

The Royal Arcade is the city’s oldest arcade and its first shopping centre. Call into Sobeys Vintage Clothing and visit Wally’s Delicatessen to stock up on treats from around the world. Then a passageway links the Royal Arcade to the Morgan Quarter Arcade, where you’ll find Spillers Records, the world’s oldest record shop which opened in 1894.

Next call into the Cardiff Market for lunch. There’s been a market here since the 1700s, and today it takes place inside a glass-roofed Victorian building. Stalls sell a mix of local produce and hot food – our favourites include Ffwrnes for Neapolitan-style pizzas, Tukka Tuk Canteen for Keralan street food and Bao Selecta for vegan steamed buns.

Stalls at the market in Cardiff Wales
Stalls at Cardiff Market

Saturday afternoon

After lunch, take a short walk to the National Museum Cardiff. This two-in-one museum is free to visit, though donations are welcomed to help support its work.

The ground floor is all about natural history, and tells the story of ‘The Evolution of Wales’ from the Big Bang to the end of the last Ice Age, with a mix of multimedia exhibits and displays including everything from meteorites to a woolly mammoth’s skeleton.

And the upper floor is an art gallery, showing paintings, sculpture and ceramics from across Wales and beyond. Its Impressionist collection is one of the best in the world, featuring Monet’s Water Lilies as well as works by Renoir and Van Gogh. Welsh artists are well represented too, so it’s a great place to discover some new works.

The Evolution of Wales exhibition at the National Museum Cardiff
The Evolution of Wales exhibition

Allow at least a couple of hours to explore the museum, then call into Tiny Rebel Cardiff for a drink. This former fire station is now a bar run by a cult craft brewing company based in nearby Newport. They have their own brews on tap, including the quirky pineapple and mango Clwb Tropica and doughnut-flavour Pump up the Jam, plus guest beers.

Then have dinner at Pasture Restaurant, on the High Street near the castle. They specialise in dry-aged, charcoal-grilled beef, with big plates of tomahawk steak or Châteaubriand to share, and tasty sides like truffle chips and cabbage cooked in bacon butter.

Inside the art galleries at the National Museum Cardiff, Wales
Inside the art galleries at the National Museum

Sunday morning

Start your Sunday with breakfast at Coffee Barker in the Castle Arcade. Choose from a doorstep bacon, egg or sausage sandwich, or go for a sugar hit from their ‘Tom Jones toast’ which comes covered in Nutella, peanut butter, banana and strawberries.

Then take the scenic route to Cardiff Bay by catching a water bus from Bute Park, which leaves from the landing just opposite the Holiday Inn. Cardiff Boat Tours run trips on board the 90-seat Princess Katherine which take 25 minutes. (Or if the boats aren’t running then you can also take a train from Cardiff Queen Street or catch the Baycar bus.)

Bute Park and the River Taff
Bute Park and the River Taff

A huge urban regeneration project has transformed the city’s old docklands in Cardiff Bay. The docks were originally used to ship coal out from the Welsh Valleys, but now combine a mixture of modern architecture and renovated historic buildings.

Start at the bay’s most recognisable building – Wales Millennium Centre, a performing arts centre where you can see opera, music and theatre shows. The eye-catching copper frontage has a poem by Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis built into it which is illuminated by night. Translated it means “Creating truth like glass from the furnace of inspiration”.

Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay
Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay

In front of the centre is Roald Dahl Plass, named after the popular children’s author who was born in Cardiff. Fans of Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood might also recognise it as the location for ‘The Rift’. And under a bridge by Mermaid Quay is ‘Ianto’s Shrine’, where Torchwood fans left letters and flowers after character Ianto Jones was killed off.

Next head to the Senedd – the Welsh Assembly’s strikingly modern parliament building. You can also take a look around the red-brick Pierhead Building, which was built as the headquarters of the Cardiff Railway Company in 1897. Its clock tower its been nicknamed the ‘Big Ben of Wales’ and there are exhibits on Welsh history inside.

Then stop for lunch at Culleys Kitchen and Bar, set inside the Coal Exchange Hotel and named after the wine merchant who opened the first restaurant there. They do a great Sunday lunch, with sharing platters of beef and chicken or a cauliflower steak served with Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes, pigs in blankets and seasonal veg.

The Senedd – the Welsh Assembly's parliament building – in Cardiff
The Senedd

Sunday afternoon

After lunch take a walk along the waterfront towards the Cardiff Bay Barrage, past rows of boats in the harbour and with views out across the Severn Estuary. The walk takes around 30 minutes each way, and passes the white wooden Norwegian Church.

The church was built in 1868 as a base for Norwegian sailors working in the docks, though it was moved during the regeneration. Its also where author Roald Dahl – whose parents were Norwegian – was christened. Today it’s an arts centre and café that’s free to visit.

The Norwegian Church and Scott Antarctic Memorial in Cardiff Bay
The Norwegian Church and Scott Antarctic Memorial

Next to the church is the Scott Antarctic Memorial, which overlooks Roath Basin where Scott’s ship the Terra Nova set sail in 1910 on its ill-fated expedition. You can also see the BBC Wales studios where shows like Casualty and Pobol y Cwm are filmed.

The path then continues on along the waterside – it’s part of the 870-mile Wales Coast Path which runs on over the barrage to the town of Penarth. The barrage is a kilometre long and was built to regulate the water level when the docks were regenerated. Originally the bay would’ve just be mud at low tide but the barrage keeps it full of water.

The Wales Coast Path along Cardiff Bay
The pathway along the bay

Or if you fancy a view of Cardiff Bay from a different angle, you can take with a boat trip. Bay Island Voyages run a few different trips, from a 15-minute blast around the Bay in a high-speed inflatable RIB to a 90-minute Coastal and Island tour which runs out past the barrage then into the Bristol Channel to Flat Holm and Steep Holm Islands.

Finally, finish your weekend in Cardiff back in Mermaid Quay with a visit to Fabulous Welshcakes. They hand make traditional buttery Welsh cakes which are cooked in small batches over a cast iron griddle – though its impossible to eat just one.

Freshly cooked Welsh cakes
Welsh cakes

Map of things to do in Cardiff

Map of things to do in Cardiff Wales
Click on the map to open an interactive Google Maps version

The details

How to get to Cardiff

Cardiff’s main train station is Cardiff Central. It takes around two hours from London Paddington to Cardiff by direct train* or 50 minutes from Bristol Temple Meads.

If you’re driving, Cardiff is 150 miles (3 hours’ drive) from London, 45 miles (1 hour) from Bristol or 118 miles (2 hours 15 minutes) from Birmingham. Overnight car parking is available at Central Station (CF10 1LA) and Sophia Gardens (CF11 9FH).

Cardiff has an international airport, which is 15 miles or a 30-minute drive west of the city. You can also catch a 905 bus from the airport to Rhoose train station (7 minutes) where you can pick up a train to Cardiff Central or Queen Street (30 minutes).

Getting around Cardiff

The centre of Cardiff is fairly compact and easy to get around on foot. To get from the city centre to Cardiff Bay it’s around a 35-minute walk, 25-minute boat trip, 10-minute bus ride on the Baycar (number 6) bus or a short train journey from Cardiff Queen Street.

The Pierhead Building in Cardiff Bay
The Pierhead Building

Where to stay in Cardiff

The Hotel Indigo* is a smart, modern hotel on Queen Street in city centre. The 116 bedrooms reflect three themes – Made in Wales, Welsh Industry and Music – with colourful nods to Welsh culture, from bore da cushions to portraits of Tom Jones. And the Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar & Grill on the top floor has great views.

No 73 by CoffiCo* (formerly known as Cathedral 73) is a boutique bed and breakfast in a converted Victorian townhouse an short walk into the city centre. There are eight rooms and apartments, plus a separate two-bedroom coach house. It’s run by a coffee company, who have a café-bar downstairs, and there’s a tucked-away secret garden.

Or splash out on a stay at the Parkgate Hotel,* near the Principality Stadium. Two historic buildings, the old post office and county court, have been merged into a sleek, chic new hotel. Rooms are decorated with leather and wood in restful shades of blue and gold. And there’s a bar and brasserie, plus a luxurious spa with a thermal infinity pool.

Looking for somewhere to stay in Cardiff?*

Cardiff Castle grounds on a weekend in Cardiff
Cardiff Castle grounds

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How to spend a weekend in Cardiff: Discover the best things to see, do, eat and drink in Cardiff in a two-day itinerary featuring the Welsh capital’s castles, museums, arcades and redeveloped dockside | Weekend in Cardiff Wales | Things to do in Cardiff | Cardiff itinerary | Cardiff weekend breakHow to spend a weekend in Cardiff: Discover the best things to see, do, eat and drink in Cardiff in a two-day itinerary featuring the Welsh capital’s castles, museums, arcades and redeveloped dockside | Weekend in Cardiff Wales | Things to do in Cardiff | Cardiff itinerary | Cardiff weekend break

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