A trip to Wales is not complete without properly exploring the city of Cardiff. The Welsh capital is packed full of wonderfully charming attractions and activities. With a population of just under half a million, Cardiff is vibrant and bustling. Home to the world-renowned Cardiff University, there is a dynamic and youthful energy all throughout the city.
Interested to know about the top Cardiff attractions? You will quickly understand why this city has become such a tourist favourite in recent years. Here are 20 of the best things to do in Cardiff, Wales:
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The medieval mansion known as Cardiff Castle is the number one attraction in the city. The castle is located in central Cardiff city and has stood since the 11th century. Constructed in a motte-and-bailey design at the request of the Normans, it also incorporates Victorian Gothic revival and Roman architectural elements.
This land has been a defensive location for thousands of years. The first fort is estimated to have been built in 55 AD, with three additional Roman forts built and used until the end of the fourth century.
Cardiff Castle opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. daily. The highly recommended house tour will take you through some of the opulently decorated rooms, including the nursery, Lord Bute’s bedroom, the rooftop garden and the winter smoking room. These tours take 50 minutes and cost only a few pounds per person. Make sure you visit the incredible rooftop garden while you’re here.
National Museum Cardiff
Your next stop to learn more about Cardiff is the National Museum Cardiff. The impressive museum and art gallery showcases collections of geology, archaeology, botany, zoology, and fine art.
The gallery includes many works by notable Welsh artists, from painters Thomas Jones and Richard Wilson to Neoclassical sculptor John Gibson. There are always interesting temporary exhibitions too, so be sure to check the museum website to see what’s on.
Entry to the National Museum Cardiff is 100% free, although donations are accepted. There’s also a great gift shop and a cafe selling snacks and drinks. Stop by at any time between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. from Tuesday to Sunday.
One of Cardiff’s most beautiful structures is the Llandaff Cathedral. The exquisite Anglican cathedral and parish church is dedicated to the Welsh saints Dubricius, Teilo and Oudoceus, as well as Saint Peter and Saint Paul. The Gothic medieval church was built in the 12th century on the site of an earlier Norman church.
Highlights include the Seed of David triptych above the altar and the Somerset-style bell tower. Spend a quiet moment of reflection here and admire the concrete arches and chancel ceiling.
Wales Millennium Centre
The city’s performing arts centre is the go-to destination for an evening of fun and entertainment. The Wales Millennium Centre is made up of one large theatre and two small halls. Since its opening in 2009, it is home to the national orchestra and opera, as well as Welsh dance, theatre and literature companies. There is always a diverse event calendar to suit everyone’s tastes, from comedy shows to musicals.
Don’t forget to check the Millennium Centre website in advance to see what performances are on during your visit. Before or after the show, share a few small plates of food at the venue’s outdoor bar and street food area. If you find yourself in the main Donald Gordon Theatre, grab another drink during intermission at one of the theatre’s many unique bars.
Roald Dahl Plass
Take a walk through Roald Dahl Plass, a public outdoor area named after the Cardiff-born author Roald Dahl. The area is located by the Wales Millennium Centre and the Welsh Assembly Building. It is a popular venue for open-air concerts, festivals and cultural events, and the much-loved Cardiff International Food and Drink Festival is held here during July. If you’re visiting during the summertime, wander through the area and see what’s happening.
An enchanting attraction in the outskirts of Cardiff is Castell Coch. It was originally built in the 11th century in the village of Tongwynlais to protect central Cardiff. Shortly after, it was abandoned and later destroyed during the Welsh rebellion in 1314.
Fortunately, the castle was repaired during the 19th century. The architecture has received praise from historians, as it uses the remnants of the medieval castle while incorporating contemporary French elements. The castle’s three circular towers are encased in stone, and the modern reconstruction used red sandstone in addition to the surviving grey limestone. The conical roofs are topped with charming weathervanes and chimneys, adding to the castle’s dramatic appearance.
Inside the Keep, the Kitchen Tower and the Well Tower are various apartments, all in the 19th-century High Victorian Gothic style. The octagonal Drawing Room is one of the most extravagantly decorated rooms. The Banqueting Hall, the Windlass Room, and Lord and Lady Bute’s bedrooms are also highlights. Remember to look up and admire the beautiful vaulted and coffered ceilings.
The castle is tucked into luscious woodlands and is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. If you want to learn more during your visit, pick up a free audio guide in the gift shop before you begin.
Watching the sunset with your significant other is one of the most romantic things to do in Cardiff. Without a doubt, the ultimate viewing point in the city is Cardiff Bay. Take a walk down the barrage hand-in-hand and admire the vibrantly coloured skies reflected in the water. Depending on the time of year, it’s a beautiful, relaxing activity before dinner or to perfectly end a busy day of sightseeing.
There is a gorgeous parkland area right within the centre of Cardiff named Bute Park. Formerly the grounds of Cardiff Castle, it was landscaped in the late 18th century and underwent restoration in 2007 to conserve historic elements. At 56 hectares, it is one of the largest urban parks in the country.
Known as the “green heart of the city”, the area is a popular hangout with locals looking to soak up the sun or enjoy a picnic lunch with friends and family. Along Castle Street, you can enter via the Grade II listed West Lodge Gate.
The park has over 3,000 individual tree species, including the higher number of champion trees in the UK. If you’re lucky, you might spy a few unique bird species and even some otters along the river.
Norwegian Church Arts Centre
One of the most noticeable attractions in Cardiff Bay is the Norwegian Church. The black rooftop, tower and spire beautifully contrast the white timber exterior walls.
The Gothic-style church was created as a place of worship specifically for the Norwegian population living in Cardiff, as well as Scandinavian sailors. Roald Dahl, whose parents were from Norway, was baptised here and regularly attended the church growing up. Today, it is open for anyone to visit and now features a small gallery and cafe.
You won’t regret taking a short trip out of Cardiff to visit the medieval Caerphilly Castle, the second largest castle in Britain. Constructed in the 13th century, the structure is historically known for revolutionising the future of military architecture. The castle is completely fortified with an impressively elaborate system of moats and dams. It is also the first concentric castle in Britain, otherwise known as a castle within a castle.
If you’re an avid Doctor Who fan, you may recognise the castle as a filming location in several episodes. There’s a lot of interesting information to learn about here, so a guided tour is absolutely recommended. One such fact is that the castle’s southeast tower actually leans more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa!
The castle is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. To get here, catch a 20-minute train to Caerphilly station from Cardiff Central. From the station, Caerphilly Castle is less than a kilometre away.
The vibrant waterfront district known as Mermaid Quay is a must-visit in Cardiff. Overlooking Cardiff Bay, this cosmopolitan area is full of inviting shopfronts and lively restaurants and bars. It’s the place to be for a superb (and scenic) lunch or dinner, which means it can get quite busy during the summer.
One of the best spots in Mermaid Quay is the Glee Club. If you’re looking for fun things to do in Cardiff, catch a live comedy show here. There are shows every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening, with the option to purchase dinner with your ticket.
St Fagans National Museum of History
The St Fagans National Museum of History showcases thousands of years of Welsh culture, lifestyle and architecture. The open-air museum is set on the grounds of a 16th-century Elizabethan mansion called St Fagans Castle. There are over 40 buildings re-erected from throughout Wales, from churches and chapels to farmhouses and workers’ cottages.
St Fagans recently underwent a £30 million revamp, which earned it the title of 2019 Art Fund Museum of the Year. Overall, it’s a wonderful place to get an authentic glimpse into the development of Welsh life. Entry is free, and St Fagans is easily accessible via bus or taxi. Fortunately, the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, so there’s no reason to miss out on this attraction.
Another enjoyable activity is a wander through Cardiff Market. This daily, covered market has been operating since 1891, when traders began selling fruit and vegetables, fresh fish, and various home-cooked goods. In the past 120+ years, the vendors have expanded to offer vintage clothing, vinyl records, gold and silver jewellery, and a range of souvenirs.
Since you likely won’t be doing any home cooking as a tourist, make your way straight to the delicious international food stalls for some baked goods or a quick meal. Fortunately, the market is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and is centrally located.
Cardiff City Hall
One of the most extravagant buildings in the city is Cardiff City Hall. The Edwardian Baroque structure is made of Portland stone and is most notable for its 59-metre-high clock tower. Inside the first floor is the Marble Hall, featuring a dozen marble statues of historic Welsh figures. The richly decorated Assembly Room with a canopied ceiling is also worth a look. However, as the venue is rented out for exhibitions and events, some rooms may not be available to enter.
To the front of the building are the City Hall Lawn and Gorsedd Gardens, with the Alexandra Gardens behind. All this greenery adds to the charming setting of the hall, so try to plan your visit on a sunny day.
One of the most popular venues in Cardiff is the Principality Stadium, the national stadium of Wales. Originally built to host the Rugby World Cup in 1999, it has become of the official home of the Wales national rugby union team. In addition to various footy matches, the stadium also hosts music concerts.
Depending on when you visit Cardiff, you may be able to attend a match or show here. The best way to keep up to date is to check the event calendar on the official Principality Stadium website.
Cefn Mably Farm Park
Travelling with children? You won’t want to skip a visit to the Cefn Mably Farm Park. Stop by and feed the adorable farm animals, from the fluffy sheep to the friendly horses. There’s also a restaurant on-site selling burgers, baguettes, pies and ice cream.
The farm is about 10 kilometres from central Cardiff, halfway to Newport, and open every day from 10 until 5. It’s sure to be a wonderful afternoon out that the kids will remember.
Chapter Arts Centre
A fantastic cultural venue in Cardiff is the Chapter Arts Centre. Located in the suburb of Canton, Chapter hosts independent, foreign and Hollywood films, music performances, plays and performance art pieces. The centre receives an annual grant from the Arts Council for Wales and has over 60 work spaces available.
Before your visit, head to the Chapter Arts Centre website to see a full list of upcoming events. If nothing on the event calendar catches your eye, you can always stop by to view the free art gallery or enjoy a nice lunch at the award-winning Caffi Bar.
Penarth Pier Pavilion
Take a 15-minute train ride from Cardiff Central to Penarth, then walk to the Penarth Pier Pavilion. This wonderful art deco structure along the Bristol Channel has been open since 1930. Today, it includes a bar, a tea room, an art gallery, a retail area, a small cinema and more. The pavilion even holds daily health and wellbeing classes if you’re feeling like a bit of yoga or tai chi.
Check the Penarth Pier Pavilion website to find out if any special events are happening during your time in Cardiff. Nonetheless, it’s worth the trip simply to have a scenic brunch at Waterloo Tea.
The beautifully landscaped botanic gardens of Dyffryn are about 12 kilometres from central Cardiff and well worth a visit. They are a wonderful place to see a diverse range of colourful flora, no matter what the season. Located on the grounds of the 19th-century Dyffryn House, the gardens are divided into three main areas: the arboretum, the house lawns, and the garden rooms.
On the Great Lawn is a large bronze fountain with a Chinese dragon wrapped around it. Towards the end of this lawn and the croquet lawn are the lavender garden and vine walk. Within each garden room, you will find plants from specific regions around the world, including Italian, Australasian and Mediterranean.
Dyffryn House itself is a grandiose Second French Empire-style building that only adds to the enchanting atmosphere of the gardens. There’s no rush to see everything, as there’s an on-site cafe with indoor and outdoor seating, as well as a log playground for kids.
Cardiff International White Water Rafting
Why not finish off your trip to Cardiff with a rush of adrenaline? Cardiff International White Water (CIWW) has the only white water rafting course in the south of Wales. Challenge yourself on the exciting turbulent currents no matter what time of year you visit. If you’re a beginner, there are also less challenging rapids that don’t require much control. Regardless of your previous experience, you’ll have a professional guide with you to show you the way.
In addition to white water rafting, you can also partake in stand up paddleboarding, gorge walking, indoor wave surfing and wall climbing. A big part of travelling is getting outside of your comfort zone, so try something new and adventurous!
Recommended tours in Cardiff
- Cardiff Food Tasting Walking Tour
- Cardiff Castle Admission Ticket
- Cardiff 1-day tour Wye Valley
- Cardiff 1-day tour Gower Coast
- City Sightseeing Cardiff Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour
- ‘Doctor Who’ TV Locations Tour of Cardiff
- Castles, Coast & Celts
- The wildlife and history of South Wales walking tour
- Zombie Scavengers Game – Cardiff
- Cardiff Bay Boat Tour