If you’re heading to Wales for one of our four amazing Welsh horse riding holidays, there’s a fair chance you’ll find yourself in Cardiff either before or after your ride. And if not, it’s well worth a detour to experience this thriving coastal city, the capital of Wales since 1955. With plenty on offer for people of all tastes and walks of life, Cardiff is also a perfect base for day-trips along the Welsh coastline and the nearby valleys. Read on for our recommendations on getting around, things to do and see, the best spots to eat and drink, and where to get a good night’s sleep.
If you’ve flown into Cardiff Airport, you have several transport options available. If you’re hiring a car at the airport, the drive to the city centre will take around 25 minutes. A taxi will take the same time, costing around £30, depending on your exact destination.
As for public transport, the T9 bus will take you directly to the city centre for £5, and you can buy your ticket from the driver – you can even pay in Euros if you haven’t yet procured Pounds (although we do recommend withdrawing British Pounds at the airport!). The bus runs every half hour most of the day – you can check the schedule here. Alternatively, for £1, you can catch the airport shuttle bus to Rhoose railway station (the trip takes 10 minutes). The train runs from Rhoose station to Cardiff Central once every hour, costs £4.40, and gets you there in 30 minutes.
Sights and activities
Top of your list has to be Cardiff Castle, which is a goldmine of history and blurs the lines between centuries with its architecture, ranging from medieval to Victorian, with some epic faux-Gothic flourishes thrown in for good measure. Cardiff Castle was donated to the city of Cardiff in 1947, along with Bute Park, which is just a short walk down the hill. Flanked by the Castle on one side and the River Taff on the other, it’s a gorgeous blend of landscaped gardens, sculptures, nationally important trees, historical buildings and ruins, wildlife, and cute little cafes (more on that later). Take a picnic, learn more about Welsh history, sip a coffee and watch the world go by or just hug a tree – whatever floats your boat!
For an even more immersive lesson in Welsh history, head to the outskirts of town and visit St Fagans National Museum. More than 40 buildings of historical significance from all around Wales have been meticulously disassembled and reassembled at St Fagans to create a village spanning many centuries. Oh, and there’s a castle too, of course. Give yourself at least half a day to wander around – there’s something to discover around every corner here, from the church that was moved to St Fagans stone by stone over 15 years to the actors in period costume who show you how to brew cider and weave blankets. And if you want to see things from a different angle, have a crack at the high ropes course, where you’ll wobble from tree to tree to catch a glimpse of St Fagans from above. Entry to the museum is free, and it’s one of the best ways to experience ‘Wales in a nutshell’!
By night, make sure you check out Cardiff’s thriving music scene. No matter what your taste in music and no matter which night of the week, you’re guaranteed to find something that tickles your fancy. To get you started, check out this list of Cardiff’s top 10 live music venues.
Places to eat
If you’re feeling peckish during your wanders around Cardiff Castle and Bute Park, head to Pettigrew Tea Rooms. You can’t miss it – it’s in the huge stone gatehouse that forms the main entrance to Bute Park. Think 20s jazz tunes, careworn vintage furniture, delicious sandwiches, hearty plougman’s platters, and everything afternoon tea dreams are made of.
Also right next to the Castle is the Goat Major, a cosy, wood-panelled pub with a menu consisting of nothing but pies! If you’re going to specialise, you’d better be good – and the Goat Major’s pies certainly are. Come here for a great atmosphere, hearty food, a crackling fire and local beers on tap.
If you’re heading to a performance or event at Glanfa, the darling of the Cardiff performing arts scene, you won’t have to go far to find spectacular food and a tasty cocktail. Ffresh bar and restaurant is on-site, offering Sunday lunch with live jazz, pre-show dining, and the occasional in-house cabaret show. The menu features local, seasonal, fresh produce and includes both Welsh classics and bold new creations.
Places to stay
For budget accommodation, try The River House, a locally-owned and operated hostel with a fully-appointed kitchen and a fantastic free breakfast. Or if you’re into architecture, try the beautiful Mrs Potts, which is housed within a building designed by Alfred Waterhouse, designer of the Natural History Museum in London! Both of these hostels are very highly rated and centrally located, so you can’t go wrong.
Cardiff has some amazing options for a mid-level budget, including the Victorian B&B Cathedral 73, which combines elegance and old-world charm with modern amenities and a plethora of optional luxuries. A delicious breakfast is included in your stay, with rooms from £71 per night. In the city centre there’s Mercure Cardiff Holland House, which boasts modern rooms, a restaurant and bar, swimming pool, jacuzzi, steam room and gym. Rooms are available from £63 per night.
If you prefer something more personal, Airbnb has lots of well-appointed townhouses and apartments on offer, including The Studio, a single-storey cottage that was once part of a farm that supplied food for the Marquess of Bute at Cardiff Castle!
So there you have it – a first timer’s guide to Cardiff, capital of Wales.
Have we whet your appetite? Find out more about our horse riding holidays in Wales here.
Image credits: Cardiff University, Aerial Photography Wales, TripAdvisor, Visit Cardiff, Wales Millennium Centre.