The Welsh capital of Cardiff is the eleventh-largest city in the UK and has long been the cultural and commercial heartland of Wales. Although the nation of Wales often conjures up images of expansive sheep-filled valleys and lonely castles on uninhabited peaks, the bustling capital of Cardiff is anything but quiet and remote. Though there is no shortage of green spaces in the city itself, Cardiff is mainly a metropolis of energy, modernity and life.
From its fantastic museums, iconic historic landmarks and bounty of Welsh culture to its modern restaurant scene, busy waterfront developments and everything in between – the city of Cardiff makes for one of the best alternative city destinations in all of Europe.
1. Cardiff Castle
Towering over the city is one of Cardiff’s most recognisable sites, Cardiff Castle. Although constructed by the Normans during the 11th century, there has been a fortification on this site since Roman times. A visit to the castle today can include a walk around the settlement walls, the elaborate grounds and the interior rooms that are still elegantly decorated.
The castle is also home to a number of exhibitions, each one taking you through the long thousand-year history of the building. During the year, Cardiff Castle plays host to several gigs and shows, so be sure to check ahead to see who’s playing at the castle during your visit to the city.
2. Wales Millenium Centre
Speaking of gigs and shows, there is arguably nowhere better to see a grand concert than at Cardiff’s premier venue, the Wales Millennium Centre. Officially opened in 2004, the Wales Millennium Centre was born out of a failed project to build a Welsh opera house. The centre now is home to a variety of shows, from rock bands, operas, stand up comedians and many more.
Made entirely of slate, metal and wood sourced from the local area, there are few buildings that ooze Welshness more than the Wales Millenium Centre. The story behind its conception and its near-failure also show the hardiness of the Cardiff and Welsh spirit.
3. Spillers Records
Having opened in 1894, Spillers Records claims the likely title of being the oldest record shop in the world. Perusing this treasure trove of a record shop is must-do for any record fanatic or music buff. Since opening in the late 19th century, Cardiff’s Spillers Records have seen over a hundred years of music and genres come and go.
This change of music taste is reflected in the record store’s huge collection and time spent sifting through the LPs and EPs is an excellent way to while away a rainy Cardiff day. Notable bands have been known to play at the record shop, so keep an eye for an impromptu gig.
4. Cardiff Bay
As Europe’s most expansive waterfront development, Cardiff Bay is a fantastic place to get a real sense of the Welsh capital. Standing along the bay, you can see a cityscape of all the city’s iconic buildings, complete with the sea breeze flowing through your hair. To truly experience Cardiff Bay, take a boat tour from either Mermaid Quay or Penarth Barrage.
Usually lasting around 45 minutes, these boat tours are another great way to see the epic skyline that Cardiff offers. Boat tours from here are also great ways to catch sight of the allusive dolphins that venture into Cardiff Bay.
5. Cardiff International White Water Centre
If that Welsh chill is in the air and you can’t brave the beach and sea, fear not! Cardiff International White Water Centre is the place for watersport, indoors. The centre is home to Olympic standard white water rafting pools, canoeing sections and a flat-water pond for a warm-up and initial training.
This is the perfect adrenaline-inducing way for you and the whole family to spend a day in Cardiff. Battle through the artificial waves and prove yourself against the white waters for an entirely new sporting activity you never knew you needed. This internationally recognised centre is one of the best in all of the UK, so if you are going to start it anywhere, choose Cardiff.
6. Cardiff Central Market
The Cardiff Central Market has been going since the 1700s and in its current location for at least 200 years. This longevity is key to the strength and uniqueness of the markets ethos and atmosphere, one you should not pass over when visiting the city. The impressive dual-structured Victorian building that houses the market only adds to the grandeur of the place.
Hundreds of stalls set up shop in the Cardiff Central Market, from clothes, fresh fruit, cobblers, records and tools, there is very little that can’t be bought here. So, if you fancy a change from the ultra-modern shopping centres, head to the Cardiff Central Market.
7. The Bute Park Sculpture Trail
Bute Park is a vast open green space that serves as a fantastic antidote to the hustle and bustle of the modern Welsh city. While you are enjoying the fresh air and green area of Bute Park, keep an eye out the extraordinary sculptures that dot themselves around every corner of the park.
When walking the sculpture trail, you’ll be immersed in a world of make-believe and animals crafted from wood. These impressive works of art lend themselves perfectly into the shades of green and brown the park naturally provides and makes an average walk in the park that all more special.
8. National Museum Cardiff
One of Wales’ most impressive museums, the National Museum of Cardiff is must-see for any history buff. Although the museum is free, they do ask for donations throughout the museum, and you will be more than willing after you see what’s inside. With exhibitions covering everything from palaeontology and dinosaur skeletons, right up to the industrial era with examples of Welsh industry, it truly is a historians paradise.
Also housed here is the Cardiff national gallery, home to a myriad of paintings, many done by old masters of the French impressionist era. The National Museum Cardiff is the ideal rainy day escape for the whole family, and you are sure to leave the building with far more knowledge than when you entered.
9. Millennium Stadium
There is no greater sport in Wales than Rugby, so visiting the home of Welsh Rugby seems a fitting way to spend an afternoon in the Welsh capital. Built in 1999, the stadium has seen its fair share of highs and lows and is now considered to be the premier stadium in all of Wales.
Take a tour of this iconic stadium and soak up the atmosphere and history of Welsh Rugby. Step behind the scenes of the sport by touring the dressing rooms, viewing the Welsh rugby hall of fame and maybe even stepping out onto the famous pitch itself.
10. St Fagans National Museum of History
A couple of miles west of Cardiff is St Fagans National Museum of History, more commonly known as St Fagans. Named after the village in which it is built, St Fagans is an open-air museum depicting the long history of the Celtic and Welsh people. Taking visitors through ancient times right up the modern-day, it is a wholly immersive experience.
Containing over 40 re-erected buildings from various locations in Wales, the museum is a true microcosmic of Welsh history from all over the nation. Set in the grounds of a Grade I Elizabethan house, St Fagans National Museum of History is like nowhere else in the UK.
11. Llandaff Cathedral
One of the most significant modern religious sites in all of Wales, Cardiff’s Llandaff Cathedral is a must-see for those who appreciate religious architecture and history. First constructed by Normans in the 12th century, the cathedral has stood here as the head of the Church in Wales for hundreds of years.
When visiting Llandaff Cathedral, you will notice the grandeur of the architecture and the numerous tombs containing consecrated saints. You may even come across the soothing sounds of a practising choir, as Llandaff Cathedral is home to the only dedicated choir school in the Church in Wales.
12. Castle Quarter Arcades
Those looking a for little retail therapy when in the Welsh capital should look no further than the Castle Quarter Arcades. First opening in 1885, the Castle Quarter comprises of three stunning Victorian and Edwardian arcades. This old-world architecture is now mixed perfectly with all the modern brands and amenities a shopper could wish for.
With mirrored walls on both sides of the arcade and an iconic balcony overlooking it all, Castle Quarter Arcades are not only a fantastic place for a day out for a shopping trip but also a feast for the senses.
13. Norwegian Church Arts Centre
Cardiff was once a port regularly frequented by sailors from Norway. This Norwegian footprint can be seen clearly at the city’s Norwegian Church Arts Centre. Located in the bay area of the city, the Norwegian Church Arts Centre is home to cultural artefacts depicting the long relationship it has had with the people of Norway.
The famous Welsh author Roald Dahl was born in Cardiff to Norwegian parents and was baptised in this church. As such, the church is home to a room dedicated to the author, including silver christening bowl used to baptise Dahl and his siblings and other artefacts.
Home of the Welsh parliament, Cardiff’s Senedd building, is the very heart of Welsh democracy and Welsh devolution. Taking a tour of the iconic debating chambers, public galleries and governmental rooms. Tours of the Senedd are free and take place every weekday. As the Senedd is also publicly used building, there are a variety of events held here alongside the Welsh parliament, check ahead to see what is on.
15. Martin Tinney Gallery
First opened in the early 1990s, the Martin Tinney Gallery is considered one of the premier private commercial art galleries in all of Wales. Often overlooked, the Martin Tinney Gallery is home to a huge collection of pieces from across Wales and depicts the talent of Welsh art. The inclusive atmosphere in the gallery is friendly and informal, making it welcome to both art newbies and art enthusiasts alike.