The capital city of Wales, Cardiff is renowned as an exciting, vibrant, and fun-loving city. Just a couple of hours from London by train, there’s plenty to see and do to fill an action packed weekend in Cardiff.
Not many cities can claim to have a castle, museums, theatres, fantastic shopping, open green spaces, a world-class national stadium plus incredible nightlife all within a square mile of its central station.
The easiest way to arrive at Cardiff from elsewhere in the UK is by train. If you’re visiting Cardiff on a short break from London there are around 60 trains a day from Paddington station direct to Cardiff. The journey takes around 2 hours and 20 minutes.
If you’re planning a Cardiff city break from a little further afield you could also fly in to Rhoose Cardiff International Airport.
It’s only a 35 minute train ride from Cardiff Airport to Rhoose Cardiff International Airport train station. A shuttle bus service runs between Rhoose Cardiff International Airport train station and the airport, costing £1 per person.
There are direct flights into Cardiff Airport from other UK destinations such as Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast, as well as European cities such as Paris, Amsterdam and Dublin.
Cardiff’s main sights are all located within the city centre and can all be easily reached on foot. As all of Cardiff’s main attractions are neatly packed within close proximity of each other nothing is more than a ten minute walk away.
The attractions in Cardiff Bay are easily reached by either train or by local buses, as can those a little further away such as St Fagans and Castell Coch.
Cardiff has a wide range of accommodation to suit all budgets, most of which are in the city centre and close to Cardiff Central train station.
Be aware that if you’re planning a weekend in Cardiff when there’s a game or concert at the Principality Stadium then all accommodation anywhere near the city centre is likely to be sold out months in advance.
If you need a few suggestions here a few hotels in Cardiff that we recommend:
If you’re keeping an eye on costs, check out the Cardiff Sandringham Hotel on St. Mary’s Street, right in the heart of the action, for decent sized and spotless rooms plus super-friendly staff.
At the top end of Queen Street is the ultra-funky Hotel Indigo, a gorgeous modern hotel with beautifully decorated rooms full of arty nods to Welsh culture and heritage.
Top of the Range
The sleek and chic Park Plaza is one of the best hotels in Cardiff, located just off Queen Street and within easy reach of Cardiff’s main sights. For a real treat indulge in afternoon tea at the Laguna, the hotel’s on-site restaurant.
Cardiff’s centre is small enough to make it easily manageable on foot yet it’s filled with a huge assortment of shopping, dining, culture and more to keep you busy.
Whilst you might only plan on a weekend in Cardiff there’s easily enough to keep you here longer. You could spend a couple of days in Cardiff before moving on to one of the many other great places to visit in Wales.
Right at the heart of Cardiff’s centre is the magnificent sight of Cardiff Castle. There has been a castle on this site ever since the Romans established a fort here over 2,000 years ago.
Today, Cardiff Castle is made up of an amalgamation of buildings built over several hundred years. The elevated Norman keep inside the grounds of Cardiff Castle dates from the 12th Century.
Over the centuries ownership of the castle changed hands several times following countless domestic wars and battles. Various additions and amendments were made to the castle by each owner.
In the 18th century Cardiff Castle became the property of the 1st Marquess of Bute. This was when Cardiff Castle began to resemble its current form. Several generations of the Bute family redeveloped the castle at huge expense, turning it into a Gothic-inspired mansion.
As well as adding the castle’s ornate clock tower, the Bute family decorated the Castle Apartments with a spectacularly lavish interior, much of which remains today. In the 1940s the castle and its grounds were donated to the city of Cardiff by the Bute family.
Guided tours of the castle are highly recommended and give you the chance to see the wonderfully luxurious interiors, particularly the Banqueting Room and Arab Room.
Just next to the castle is the famous Animal Wall. The Animal Wall was originally built in 1890, featuring nine life-like stone sculptures of a variety of animals, including a bear, a hyena, a seal and a pair of lions.
In the 1930s, six more animals were added to the wall, amongst them a pair of raccoons, an ant-eater and a beaver.
Follow the Animal Wall to the entrance of Bute Park. Once the castle’s private grounds, Bute Park is now open to the public.
Sitting on the banks of the River Taff, Bute Park is a beautiful place to relax whilst still in the heart of the city. Pettigrew’s Tea Rooms is an excellent choice for a spot of lunch or afternoon tea.
Cardiff’s city centre is based around the two bustling main shopping streets of Queen Street and St Mary’s Street. Mostly pedestrianised, the city centre’s manageable size means that nothing is ever more than a short walk away.
Darting off St Mary’s Street are a number of beautiful, Grade II listed Edwardian and Victorian shopping arcades. These arcades are filled with a huge array of fabulous cafes and independent stores.
The oldest arcade, Royal Arcade, dates from 1858, while Spillers Records, the world’s oldest record shop, can be found inside Morgan’s Arcade.
Stop in at Castle Arcade and pick up a chunk of finest Welsh cheese at Madame Fromage, then follow it up with afternoon tea at Barkers Tea House in High Street Arcade.
Also on St Mary’s Street is the southern entrance to Cardiff Market, another Victorian listed building, and home to a myriad of stalls and sellers.
On the ground floor is everything from fishmongers, butchers, greengrocers, cheesemongers, jewellers, and booksellers.
There are also plenty of bakeries where you can stock up on Welsh cakes. On the first floor alongside a number of down-to-earth cafes is another essential stopping point for any vinyl collector, Kelly’s Records.
There’s plenty to keep those looking for a fix of culture entertained in Cardiff. A number of world class galleries and museums can be found the city centre. In Cardiff’s picturesque civic centre, just opposite the beautiful City Hall, is the National Museum Cardiff.
The National Museum’s art collection contains work by some of the world’s greatest artists, including Van Gogh, Cezanne, Renoir and Monet, as well as famous Welsh artists, such as Sir Kiffyn Williams.
A little further north is the Sherman Theatre, which regularly hosts a wide range of the finest contemporary theatre, comedy and more.
Directly opposite the northern entrance to Cardiff Market on Victoria Place is the Cardiff Story Museum. This museum documents the history and development of the city from the 14th century to the present day.
Next door, alongside the massive St David’s shopping centre, is St David’s Hall, the performing arts centre and concert hall that has been a mainstay of Cardiff’s cultural scene for over 30 years.
At the other end of Westgate Street is the mighty Principality Stadium. The home of Welsh rugby, as well as a huge number of sporting events and major concerts, the Principality Stadium is something of a rarity as a national stadium located right in the heart of a capital city.
The stadium’s central location means that Cardiff is absolutely rammed whenever there’s an international rugby game taking place, particularly during the Six Nations tournament each February and March.
The Principality Stadium holds 80,000 people and when there’s a game on almost all of them seem to want to drink and eat before and after the match.
Every pub, restaurant and hotel for miles around does very well out of the day. While there’s always an incredible atmosphere in the city on match day, if you’re planning a weekend in Cardiff you may want to avoid it when Wales are playing.
The stadium also regularly hosts other sporting events, such as football, motor sport and boxing, as well as huge concerts by global megastars such as U2, Bruce Springsteen and Rihanna.
You can take a tour of the Principality Stadium to get a glimpse behind the scenes including a view of the Welsh rugby team’s dressing room.
The Pierhead building and Mermaid Quay in Cardiff Bay
A five minute train journey from Cardiff Queen Street station is Cardiff Bay. Once one of the busiest docks in the world, this former industrial site was part of a huge redevelopment programme during the 1990s and today is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.
Alongside modern apartments are a huge number of cafes and restaurants overlooking the bay at Mermaid Quay. A number of companies provide boat trips from Mermaid Quay out into the bay and to picturesque Penarth.
Cardiff Bay is also home to some of Cardiff’s finest cultural landmarks, most notably the spectacular Wales Millennium Centre, the world class venue that attracts high profile performers from all over the world.
Next to the National Assembly for Wales is the glorious Gothic-style red bricked Pierhead building that was once the headquarters of the Bute Dock Company.
Today the building is a museum dedicated to Welsh history and features an excellent exhibition documenting the history of Cardiff Bay.
A little further along the bay is the Norwegian Church Arts Centre. Originally a church built for Norwegian sailors, today it’s home to an art gallery and a small cafe.
Also in Cardiff Bay is the excellent Techniquest, a fascinating science centre that kids and adults will both love.
Cardiff still enjoys a reputation as a city that likes a drink, and at night the pubs, bars and clubs in the city centre are always busy.
There’s no shortage of options either. Cardiff’s city centre is lined with an exhaustive choice of drinking establishments, making it one of the best cities in the UK for a great night out.
For a great traditional pub pop into the City Arms opposite the Principality Stadium or head over to the Pen and Wig near the National Museum. Fans of craft beer should head to Tiny Rebel on Westgate Street whose award-winning beers are brewed in nearby Newport.
If cocktails are more you’re thing you can’t go wrong with the super-chic Libertine on High Street or the speakeasy style of The Dead Canary tucked behind St David’s shopping centre on Barrack Street (ring the doorbell to get in).
Meanwhile the sports bar Elevens, located directly opposite Cardiff Castle, is owned by Cardiff’s most famous son and Welsh hero, Gareth Bale. The bar’s chic interior is adorned with an array of memorabilia from some of the world’s most famous sport stars.
For the best live music, head to Clwb Ifor Bach just around the corner on Womanby Street, a much loved stalwart of Cardiff’s music scene.
It’s tradition for nights out in Cardiff to end on the infamous Caroline Street, the tiny street affectionately referred to as Chippy Lane. Until recently Caroline Street was a grubby narrow lane consisting of a brewery, sex shops and fish and chip takeaways.
Despite attempts to tidy up the street, and the conversion of the brewery into glossy restaurants and apartments known as the Brewery Quarter, Caroline Street’s chip shops remain and are local institutions. Dorothy’s has been here since the early 1950s and claims to be the oldest takeaway restaurant in Cardiff.
If you’re looking to make the most of two days in Cardiff then there’s much more to explore outside the city centre.
St Fagans National Museum of History is an open air museum consisting of dozens of historic buildings from all over Wales. Each building has been relocated and reconstructed at St Fagans and offers a fascinating insight into the history of Wales.
As well as homes and farmhouses the museum includes a post office, a tailors, a workman’s institute, a school a chapel and a church. Among St Fagans’ highlight are the row of six terraced houses dating from the early 18th century.
Each house is decorated and furnished from a different period of time from when they were first built in around 1795 until they were relocated to St Fagans in 1983.
On the 1st floor of the Gwalia general store is a tea room that serves an excellent traditional Welsh set of cream tea with sandwiches, Bara Brith and Welsh cakes.
Castell Coch and afternoon tea at St Fagans.
Pitched into the side of the forested hills of Tongwynlais about five miles north of the centre is the beautiful Castell Coch.
As with Cardiff Castle, Castell Coch was once owned by the Marquess of Bute, who turned the derelict site that he inherited and constructed the fantastic Gothic castle that stands today.
Intended as a summer retreat the Marquess rarely stayed at the castle once it was completed. Castell Coch passed through several generations of the Bute family but each paid it little attention despite its glorious architecture, stunningly decorative interiors and cinematic location.
The interior decorations of the Drawing Room and Lady Bute’s Bedroom are utterly spectacular and are an example of the extraordinary wealth of the Bute family during that period.
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