Although Cardiff’s only an hour from home, I hadn’t been there for years until recently – and I was really missing out! Europe’s youngest capital has a great mix of history and culture, from ancient castles to Cardiff Bay’s modern architecture and into the future as the home of TV’s Doctor Who. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to eating and drinking too. Seasonal, local produce has become a real buzzword but that’s the type of food Wales has been doing well for years. Not to mention the local ciders, beers and even wines – you definitely won’t go hungry or thirsty. So here’s my 48-hour itinerary for spending a weekend in Cardiff.
Read more: 10 Great British weekend break ideas
How to spend a weekend in Cardiff
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 from small doubles to a two-bedroom suite with kitchen. There are lots of luxury extras too, like a private chef, butler and even a chauffeur-driven vintage Rolls Royce. Rooms start from £150 a night.
Or if you’re on a budget, try the Sleeperz Hotel Cardiff. It’s one of a small chain of hotels which come with compact, contemporary-style rooms in city centre locations – this one is right next to the train station. Rooms start from £48 a night. Head into town to start the weekend off at Tiny Rebel Cardiff. This former fire station is now a bar run by Tiny Rebel, a cult craft brewing company which is based in 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 is 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 battlements and grounds, and climb to the top of the keep for a panoramic view over the city. Entry costs £12.50 (£10.95 for seniors/students and £9 for children) but it’s worth paying the extra £3.25 for a 50-minute guided tour around the Castle Apartments with their ornate interiors. Tours run every hour from 10am–5pm (4pm from November to February).
When you’ve finished clambering around the castle, cross the street to the Castle Arcade – one of a series of Victorian shopping arcades around the city. It’s home to Madame Fromage, a great lunch spot where you can try a traditional cawl – a soup made with lamb and root vegetables – or a local cheese platter (they have 150 varieties on sale). Leave room for dessert at nearby Science Cream, which uses liquid nitrogen to make super-smooth ice cream.
Take the short walk over to the National Museum of Cardiff next. Entry’s free, though donations are welcomed, 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 the Hopbunker, where they have an award-winning and ever-changing selection of ciders and real ales, before dinner at the Potted Pig. This former underground bank vault in the city centre is now a restaurant which specialises in modern British dishes using local Welsh ingredients. It also has an impressively huge range of gins and, to go with the name, your drinks come with a side of crispy pork scratchings.
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 off 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 (open 10.30am–4.30pm).
You can also take a look around the red-brick Pierhead Building which was built as the headquarters of the Bute Dock Company in 1897. Its clock tower its been nicknamed the ‘Big Ben of Wales’ and there’s a Welsh history museum inside. There’s also 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 is the Millennium Centre, where you can see opera, music and theatre performances. The copper frontage has a poem by Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis built into it which is lit up at night. Translated it means “Creating truth like glass from the furnace of inspiration”. Stop at the Centre’s restaurant ffresh for lunch which has an open kitchen with a great view across the bay where you can watch chefs prepare modern Welsh dishes.
For a view of the Bay from a different angle, take a boat trip. Cardiff Sea Safaris run a few different trips departing from Mermaid Quay, with a 15-minute blast around the Bay in their high-speed inflatable RIB boats for £8 per person. Or there’s a longer one-hour Coastal and Island tour which runs out as far as the Cardiff Barrage then into the Bristol Channel and on to Flat Holm Island (£22 for adults and £16.50 for children up to 14).
Back on land, Doctor Who fans might recognise a few Cardiff Bay locations from the show. Since it restarted in 2005, most of the series’ filming has taken place around the bay. Roald Dahl Plass was the site of ‘The Rift’ in Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood. And under a bridge by the waterside is ‘Ianto’s Shrine’, where Torchwood fans left letters and flowers after character Ianto Jones was killed off. Finish the weekend off with a hot dog and milkshake at Eddie’s Diner, a 50s-style American diner complete with real Cadillac that’s also featured in a Doctor Who episode.
Have you visited Cardiff? Do you have any tips to add on what to see, do and eat?
Thanks to Visit Wales for hosting me in Cardiff. All views and opinions are, as always, my own. This article contains affiliate links, where I get a small commission at no extra cost to you – thanks.