3 DAYS IN // Cardiff, Wales

The capital of Wales is perfect for a city break. We spent 3 days/2 nights in the city and it was terrific. We visited in late September and most of the pedestrianised streets had outdoor and indoor dining.  The city is compact and eminently walkable. We visited during Freshers’ week and the city had a definite vibe. Just walking through the city centre there was music being played and we really enjoyed the buzz. We cannot recommend visiting more highly.

Magnificent 7 // Cardiff

1. Visit Cardiff Castle

2. Stroll through Bute Park

3. Hoover up history at St Fagans

4. Take to the water on Cardiff Bay

5. “Try” the Principality Stadium

6. Amble through the arcades

7. Go underground at The Big Pit

Getting there –

We drove to Cardiff, stopping to charge our car at Cribbs Causeway in Bristol. Driving to Cardiff is straightforward, but as anywhere in the UK, subject to unforeseen roadworks and traffic holdups.

Where we stayed –

We stayed at the Jurys Inn hotel in central Cardiff. We booked a package through Travel Zoo which was very good value. The location of the hotel could not have been better.  It is right in the middle of the city centre.  Getting there was a matter of following the sat-nav, which for a change was spot on.  The car park (extra cost per day) is very small and when we arrived we found space, although bad parking (ie not in parking spaces) made it a bit tricky.  But once we were in we simply left our car until we left Cardiff.  Our room was fine, the view was of a building being refurbed, but it was spacious and mostly quiet and the shower was excellent.

To eat and drink –

We ate breakfast at the hotel. The hotel breakfast was OK/good. Something that made us smile was the sign on the toaster: Only bread please.  Yet there were crumpets and bagels.  Not sure untoasted crumpets would be an ideal breakfast item.  The things you would expect at a buffet style breakfast were all there. Our two evening meals were at a Turkish restaurant, Lezzet. We had the Sultans feast set menu, terrific, but too much food. On the second night we went to Turtle Bay, a Caribbean-style restaurant and my goat curry was absolutely superb. They also offer 2 for 1 cocktails (time restricted) and add coconut to the Expresso Martinis which were morish.

Magnificent 7

1. Visit Cardiff Castle

This is a must-do. We spent a wonderful three hours here. We could have lingered longer, but we wanted to explore other places.

An example of the opulence found in the Bute residence

It is best to book before you go and in addition to the general admittance ticket, we strongly suggest purchasing a tour of the house. We have been on a lot of tours of historic and National Trust houses and frankly, this was the best tour of this type we have ever taken. The passion and insight of our guide was superb.

An area of the castle that is less well known is the Second World War bunkers, deep within the castle walls. Entrance is included in the general admission ticket and it is worth visiting. We loved the posters as well as the atmospheric presentation.

2. Stroll through Bute Park

Next to the castle is a large green space. You can look up the history of Bute Park on Wikipedia. We loved walking through it. Unusually there are two more or less parallel routes, one for bikes, pushchairs and easy strolling, the other through a woodland path. We took the woodland path and walked to the weir and returned by another path. Given that the park is right in the middle of the city and so accessible it should be cherished.

3. Hoover up History at St. Fagins

St Fagans National Museum of History boasts 230,000 years of history in one place.  This is out of Cardiff and is worth visiting on the journey in or out of a city break.  An open-air museum, it features over 50 buildings of various types, from Iron Age roundhouses to WW2 prefabs, via Tudor farmhouses, a Victorian shop and school, a Working Men’s Institute and a chapel, to name but a few.  Visitors can go inside some (not all) of the buildings, and there are some working displays, such as a waterwheel-driven corn mill, a bakery and a smithy.  Our favourite part was the row of terraced workers’ cottages, each of which was furnished from a different time period from the 1840s onwards – it was fun trying to ‘spot the differences’ as we moved from one house to the next.  There was a good café and beautiful gardens near the St Fagans Castle area of the museum.  The museum itself is free to enter, with visitors only needing to pay for parking, but currently tickets must be booked in advance. Highly recommended!

4. Take to the water on Cardiff bay

Coming in to dock at Cardiff Bay

Not quite Baywatch, but worth a visit. We took a water taxi from Bute Park to Cardiff Bay along the River Taff. It took about 25 minutes and landmarks were pointed out along the way. We got our timing all wrong, arriving too late for entrance to some of the buildings and too early for any nightlife that might have been open. There are some lovely buildings in Cardiff Bay and a huge number of chain restaurants. We liked the Norwegian Church and tried to get into the Welsh Assembly, but failed miserably as both closed at 4 pm. If you want to visit and listen to a session you can, but it is advisable to book ahead, which we didn’t.

There is also an international arts centre at the Wales Millennium Centre and a Science Discovery Centre aimed at families, neither of which we visited. We were able to walk back to the city centre in about 30 minutes with the help of Mr Google.

5. “Try” the Principality Stadium

We did not go here. But it is incredibly important for rugby fans as this stadium (which holds over 70,000) is the home of the Welsh rugby team. There are several tours that you can take and if this is your sport it is a must-do.  The stadium has a fully retractable roof and apparently uses falcons to scare off pigeons and small birds. Other events also take place at the stadium; they are all online.

6. Amble through the arcades

Not just the arcades, Cardiff city centre is easily walkable. There are lots of arcades in Cardiff. I do not know if that is due to the Welsh weather or not, but they are everywhere. There are Victorian, Edwardian and modern-day indoor shopping arcades housing a lot of independent shops, from afternoon tea to fine art, to board games, to vinyl records. If the weather is bad, arcade hopping is a good way to spend a few hours.

7. Go underground at The Big Pit

We visited The Big Pit on our way back from Cardiff to England.  It’s about a 50-minute drive from Cardiff and a visit rounds off a city break in Cardiff.  You can go 300 feet underground on a free tour.  This is recommended and needs to be booked in advance.  When we went only six people were allowed on each tour, which lasts 50 minutes or so.

Why this visit rounds off a trip to Cardiff so well, is because during our visit to Cardiff Castle we were wowed by the sheer splendour and extravagance of the Bute residence.  The 3rd  Marquess of Bute was reportedly the richest man in the world, based on his interests in the coal mining business including Cardiff docks.

The Big Pit shows the human cost associated with the wealth accumulated by the few. Workers lived in company houses, paid the mining company rent, shopped in the company store, with prices set by the company and had to buy their tools from the company, so started off in debt.  Life was unimaginably difficult with men, women and even children working in squalid, dangerous conditions for very little reward.

Of Note –

Another attraction worth visiting is Dyffryn Gardens, which belong to the National Trust. 

Sue visited these a few months ago and saw some beautiful floral displays, though apparently Covid has meant that they are not up to their usual standard and many areas are described as ‘a work in progress’.  The house is currently closed, but there is a café, a very impressive second-hand bookshop and plenty of picnic areas.  You don’t need to book in advance.

Fun Fact. Roald Dahl was born in Cardiff and christened at the Norwegian Church in Cardiff Bay.


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