Cardiff is the capital and largest city of Wales. It’s a historic destination that in recent decades has seen huge revitalization and regeneration projects that have turned Cardiff into a flourishing city break destination.
The Welsh capital overlooks Cardiff Bay, and the city is best known for its vibrant and lively waterfront, and love of sports. The Millennium Stadium is an iconic Welsh sports stadium, that regularly plays host to packed out international rugby matches, while any weekend during the football season you’ll find crowds across the city supporting the local teams.
More than this though, Cardiff has some excellent museums and an array of striking architecture, from the Welsh Assembly to Cardiff Castle, while the city is just a short journey from the wild mountains of the Brecon Beacons or the windswept coastline of the Gower Peninsula.
This ultimate travel guide to Cardiff will show you all the most beautiful places in Cardiff, what to expect when visiting, where to stay in Cardiff and things to do in Cardiff which will help you in planning a trip to Cardiff.
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How to get to Cardiff
Cardiff is located along the southern coast of Wales, looking over the Bristol Channel towards Somerset in southwest England.
Cardiff International Airport is located just 12 miles from the city centre, but unfortunately, there are few flight connections outside of the UK. There are irregular flights to select European cities and seasonal charter flights to popular destinations such as Turkey or southern Spain. Bristol is the next closest airport, but again, flights to this regional airport are limited.
London is 3 hours by road to the east, and this is usually the best place to fly into. Cardiff is well connected to the capital by bus and rail, and direct trains on the Great Western Rail line take as little as 2 hours from Paddington Station.
From Cardiff, there are good connections to other Welsh cities such as Swansea and Newport, as well as to English cities such as Birmingham, Bath, Bristol and Oxford.
What to expect in Cardiff
Wales has two main languages, English and Welsh and you’ll find that all signs and notices will be displayed in both of these languages. For hundreds of years, Welsh was the majority language, but in the last century, the number of Welsh speakers drastically dropped, and today the majority of the city speak English as a first language.
Welsh is making a revival, although it’s notoriously hard to learn, as it’s incredibly different to English. You can try to learn a few words of course, but you can also get by fine in English.
The Cardiff accent tends to be thick and fast, and for non-native English speakers – and even for native English speakers from other parts of the United Kingdom! – it can be tricky to understand at first. You might think Welsh is being spoken, but actually, it’s probably just English!
As in the rest of the United Kingdom, the main currency in circulation is the Pound Sterling, and you’ll find ATMs all across the city and money changers in the city centre if you need to convert foreign currency.
How to get around Cardiff
Cardiff is a relatively compact tourist destination, especially given it’s a capital, and it’s not too difficult to travel around even if it’s your first time in the city. For touristic purposes, there are two primary districts within Cardiff that you will spend most of your stay exploring. These are the city centre and the redeveloped Cardiff Bay area.
Cardiff Bay is connected to the city centre and the Castle Quarter by St Mary Street, which is one of the oldest thoroughfares in Cardiff. It’s essentially a long high street, and you can walk from the city centre to Cardiff Bay in 20 minutes following this road.
Both areas are easily accessible on foot too, but there’s also an extensive bus network that you can use to explore Cardiff, with day tickets also allowing you to reach nearby Newport and other surrounding towns and villages too.
The best time to visit Cardiff
As a city break destination, you can visit Cardiff all through the year, as there are plenty of indoor attractions to explore even if it’s raining or cold outside. Wales is a notoriously rainy place too, and any time of the year you will want to be prepared for showers, and in winter, you’ll want to be prepared for storms.
The most popular time of the year to visit Cardiff is either spring or summer because of course, this is when the weather is most pleasant. Temperatures average around 20 degrees celsius during summer, and rarely break over 30 degrees celsius. This is when the city is at its busiest and liveliest, and you’ll always find plenty of events planned all through the summer season.
If you want to avoid any huge crowds, then be wary of booking a trip here when a big sporting event is on, such as Six Nations Rugby, or international football matches. Equally, if you want to experience the great Welsh sporting heritage, consider travelling here to see a match.
If you want to explore any of the surrounding national parks, which are all easily accessible from Cardiff itself, then you will definitely want to travel to Wales in the spring or summer, when the weather is best.
Things to do in Cardiff
Arguably the best place to visit in Cardiff, is Cardiff Castle. This is the most historic sight in the city, and it’s found in a striking location in the city. The ancient walls rise dramatically from a grassy mound, and you can explore the high turrets and keeps and enjoy great views over the surrounding city.
The Romans first built a castle here in the 3rd century AD, then the Normans built the one you find today when they were attempting to subdue the Welsh in the 11th and 12th centuries.
Cardiff Bay is the city’s much-revered waterfront district, and it’s often cited as being one of the most impressive and successful regeneration projects in Europe.
Today, you’ll find an impressive array of shops, public buildings, bars, cafes and restaurants, but just a few decades ago, there was nothing here except silt and muddy water. Cardiff Bay nightlife is notoriously good or bad, depending on your personal love for a night out in the United Kingdom.
Wales Millenium Centre
One of the best places to visit in Cardiff is the Wales Millenium Centre, which is found in the heart of the Cardiff Bay area.
The impressive building was unveiled in the year 2000, and it’s primarily a cultural and artistic centre that plays host to concerts, operas, ballets and more throughout the year.
Welsh National Assembly
Another of Cardiff Bay’s most distinct buildings is the Welsh National Assembly, which opened in 2006. Also known as the Senedd, this is a symbol of Welsh identity and freedom within the United Kingdom, as well as a symbol of Cardiff’s revitalised skyline.
You can join guided tours on certain days of the week to gain a look inside the workings of the Welsh Parliament
National Museum Cardiff
One of the most interesting places to visit in Cardiff Wales is the National Museum Cardiff. This excellent museum and art gallery is one of the best in Wales, and you’ll be able to journey through time as you learn all about Welsh history.
There are great galleries focusing on archaeology and zoology, as well as a truly impressive collection of art from around the world.
What to eat in Cardiff
Wales has a rich culinary tradition, and you’ll soon find that many traditional dishes are still very much staple foods within the capital.
You can start your day with a classic Welsh Breakfast, which is very much similar to English or Irish breakfasts, but with some unique distinctions. As well as big servings of sausages, bacon, beans, eggs and everything else, the Welsh often add in cockles and Laverbread. Laverbread is a portion of seaweed. It’s very unique to the Welsh coast, and an unlikely item to find on the breakfast menu anywhere else in the UK.
Another traditional speciality is Welsh Rarebit. This is essentially just cheese on toast, but it’s a Welsh delicacy flavoured with different spices and toppings, and often served with large chunks of bacon.
Welsh cakes are found everywhere, and you’ll want to pop into a local bakery to find the best ones. They make for great snacks and are baked with a healthy dose of butter, sugar and currants.
For dinner, and especially so if you’re visiting in winter, you’ll want to indulge in a steaming bowl of Lamb Cawl. This hearty stew has been a staple for centuries, and it’s delicious in its simplicity.
Where to stay in Cardiff
Budget – Cardiff has a great range of hostels for budget travellers, ranging from homely, family-run hostels to spacious and utilitarian YHAs. One of the best picks is the River House Cardiff, which offers free walking tours and has a loveable pet cat. The YHA Cardiff Central gets fantastic reviews and offers everything an international budget traveller could ever need.
Mid Range – There is a wide selection of mid-range hotels available in Cardiff, but just remember that on weekends and when sporting events are on, they can easily be sold out quickly. The Premier Inn and the Travelodge are two chain hotels that offer no-nonsense accommodation at great prices and the earlier you book, the better the deal.
Luxury – Cardiff has a few wonderfully luxurious offerings for those not travelling on a budget, including the St David’s Hotel and Spa, which regularly hosts visiting celebrities.
Tours to do in Cardiff
The Millenium Stadium is one of the UK’s premier sporting venues, and since the year 2000, it’s hosted FA Cup Finals, Six Nations matches and FIFA world cup qualifying games to name just a few.
It’s the home of Welsh rugby, and if you can catch a game here, you’ll have a true Cardiff experience that few other experiences can match. If you can’t see a match though, then you can still tour through the grounds, visit the dressing rooms and learn about Welsh sporting history at this iconic venue.
Doctor Who Tour
The classic British TV show Doctor Who has been running for decades and much of this cult show has been filmed in Cardiff over the years.
One of the most popular tours in the city is a Doctor Who Tour, which takes you on a journey through the best filming locations in Cardiff.
Hop on Hop off Bus Tour
If walking or public transport aren’t your thing, then join a Hop on Hop off Bus Tour of the Welsh capital to see the best that Cardiff has to offer from the comfort of a tour bus.
You can jump on and off at the best sights and attractions, and along the way, you’ll be able to learn all about the city’s rich culture and history.
Day trips from Cardiff
The Wye Valley is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and it’s located just an hours drive away from Cardiff. This spectacular valley follows the River Wye as it crosses from Wales into England, and there are great opportunities for hiking, and visiting rural villages.
The most iconic sight in the valley is Tintern Abbey, the crumbling romantic abbey that inspired the poet William Wordsworth.
Brecon Beacons National Park
Another great day tour from Cardiff will bring you to the Brecon Beacons. This is where you’ll find the true Welsh wilderness, in one of the UK’s best national parks.
The Brecon Beacons is home to Pen y Fan, which at 886 metres tall is one of the highest mountain peaks in Wales.
Follow the coast west, past Swansea, and you’ll soon be standing on the Gower Peninsula. This is an area of dramatic coastline and windswept cliffs, that makes for a scenic escape from the city.
It’s just one and a half hours outside of Cardiff, but it’s a world away from the Welsh capital. You can hike along cliff tops, visit beaches, and watch the surf crashing into the coastline.
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
- Cardiff 1-day tour Brecon Beacons
- Walk the iconic 4 waterfalls valley
- South Wales Photography Group Experience