Now here’s a place that’s easy to fall for. It may not draw the kind of tourist crowds that are second nature to London and Edinburgh, but charismatic Cardiff feels every inch a capital. Wales’ premier city is a confident, upbeat visitor destination, with some grand set-piece heritage sights offset by ranks of shimmering modern developments. You can expect the kind of cultural attractions that befit an international capital, as well as plenty of good dining and nightlife – and at a disarmingly fair price, too.
The main attractions
Visitor attention tends to fall initially on Cardiff Castle, not least because its imposing walled compound still occupies the heart of town. It’s a site with serious history – a Roman fort once stood here – and still contains the opulent house that once belonged to the 2nd Marquess of Bute, the world’s richest man. Buy the Cardiff Visitor Card for a few pounds before your visit – it grants you discounted entry, as well as giving money off tours, restaurants and other attractions.
Take time to visit the Cardiff Story, a free-to-enter gallery set in a gorgeous old library building. It gives an overview of the city’s remarkable, coal-powered rise to prominence – once little more than a small market town, it became one of the planet’s biggest shipping ports by the early 1900s.
Not far away, the National Museum Cardiff has a superb collection of artworks – including one of Europe’s best troves of Impressionist paintings – and natural history. It’s free to visit, as is the excellent St Fagans National Museum of History on Cardiff’s outskirts – it plays home to dozens of painstaking, brick-by-brick recreations of Welsh farmhouses, shops, social clubs and more.
Looming over the Cardiff skyline since its 1999 opening is the Principality Stadium – unusual, given its 74,500 capacity, for being so centrally located. It’s primarily a rugby venue, and if you’re in town when the national team are playing at home, you’ll find the whole city centre bubbling with atmosphere. It’s easier (and often cheaper) to get match tickets for the autumn internationals (November/December) than the Six Nations (February/March), but the Cardiff Visitor Card gives money off stadium tours year-round.
Head down to the redeveloped Cardiff Bay to see the city’s modern face. The Wales Millennium Centre is the area’s eye-catching centrepiece and occasionally has free events, but also notable is the Pierhead building, which has high-quality, free-to-visit historical exhibits. Take time too to call in at the free Norwegian Church Arts Centre, where the writer Roald Dahl was baptised (his seafaring father was stationed in Cardiff). And don’t miss the chance to stroll across the bay to Penarth – one of Britain’s great city walks.
Free Walking Tours run pay-what-you-feel tours of the city centre and the bay over the summer months. If your idea of an enjoyable walk is one involving retail therapy, meanwhile, take note of the new Cardiff Gift Card, which gives various offers at independent shops, restaurants and more. Lastly, Wales is renowned for its outdoor drama, but if you can’t make it to the mountains, try the well-priced ‘Give it a Go’ taster sessions at Boulders, one of the UK’s biggest and best indoor climbing centres.
Getting there and around
Cardiff Airport has plenty of European and UK connections, but Cardiff is also easy to reach from other major UK cities, including Bristol (50 minutes away by rail) and London (under two hours by rail). Check out Arriva Trains’ tips on how to save money on rail tickets. In town, much of the city centre is pedestrianised, and many of the key sights are within walking distance of each other, but Cardiff Bus has an extensive network and reasonable fares. Near essential for any visitor, meanwhile, is a journey with Cardiff Boat Tours – a few pounds buys you a scenic water-taxi voyage from the city centre to the bay, or vice versa.
Where to stay
Affordable accommodation close to the heart of town includes the ibis budget Cardiff Centre, the Holiday Inn Express Cardiff Bay, the Premier Inn Cardiff City Centre and Travelodge Cardiff Atlantic Wharf. In the summer months, Cardiff Metropolitan University has good value en-suite rooms, while YHA Cardiff Central is one of the smartest hostels in the UK and has numerous private rooms. There’s also a good selection of Airbnb short-term rental properties.
Where to eat
As you’d expect from a city of Cardiff’s stature, it has some great restaurants. You can sample high-quality dining at a reduced price by trying out the set-lunch menus at Park House Restaurant and the seafood-focused Fish at 85. Elsewhere, keep an eye on the online restaurant deals offered by Wriggle Cardiff and – if you’re here over the summer – try to take in the good-value food at Street Food Circus, which pops up for several weeks each year in the city’s Sophia Gardens park. Lastly, don’t miss a trip to the Victorian-era Cardiff Market to pick up some Welsh Cakes…
For more information on Cardiff and the rest of Britain, head to VisitBritain.com
To purchase attraction tickets, sightseeing cards and more, head to VisitBritainshop.com