Cardiff is said to be the wettest city in the UK. I was shown around for the first time over a weekend recently and discovered that rain or shine, it’s the perfect city break.
We went Sunday to Tuesday over a bank holiday and luckily for us, Cardiff was experiencing a welcome heatwave. And when Cardiff basks in the sunshine, it glitters. The capital city of Wales has clearly had an injection of funding and the new architecture slots into the traditional red brick with real ease while people get to enjoy the new attractions and experiences. The thing is, Cardiff only seems to get the spotlight if there’s a huge sporting event (UEFA Champion’s League Final this weekend is a case in point… as is any time the rugby is played there), which is a shame because it’s a real gem of a city.
As with all cities full of history and culture, two or three days in Cardiff won’t get you round everything, but it’s a great start…
Check yourself into the Clayton Hotel, conveniently a stone’s throw away from Cardiff Central station. It’s modern, clean, affordable and the rooms are big. From Wednesday to Saturday, right next to the Clayton, is Jacob’s antique market, a vintage emporium with four floors of furniture, clothes and second hand gems.
With the sun shining, I’d recommend you head straight out to Cardiff Bay, which is ten minutes in a cab from the centre of town. Walk along the promenade towards the Doctor Who experience (we didn’t have time to do it, but hear it’s brilliant if you like the series and is £16 per adult on the door), pass the pretty Norwegian church and gaze across the water towards Penarth. If you’re a Torchwood fan – or even if you’re not – check out the shrine and strangely heartfelt messages to the much-loved character of Ianto Jones who lost his life tragically in the third series. The bay is full of reliable chain restaurants with good views; for something different, try the Turkish restaurant Bosporus. We opted for a pre-dinner cocktail at Salt (the bartenders lovingly took their time over making the drinks just-so) and then headed back into town.
Mill Lane is the place to head for drinks and people watching – the bank holiday Sunday had Saturday night vibes and I quickly felt way underdressed to fit into the crowd. Nevertheless, we had our second cocktail of the day at Soda and then headed to French seafood specialist Le Monde for dinner where we feasted on oysters, monkfish, steak and incredibly fat chips, washing it down with a crisp rose wine. There are plenty of bars and clubs to keep the party going, and the beauty of Cardiff is that it’s small enough to be able to find something to your taste by taking a short wander. Us, well, we are unashamedly karaoke fiends so snapped up a booth at Tiger Tiger’s Lucky Voice (£10 for an hour – bargain).
Time for a recovery breakfast at Coffee Barker, which is in the Castle Arcade. The coffee was deliciously strong while the choice of dishes included everything from smashed avocado on toast to a full Welsh breakfast. Top tip: the arcades in Cardiff are plentiful of independent shops and cafes, so definitely check them out before you end up in Starbucks.
Refuelled and ready for culture, we hopped across the street and into Cardiff Castle. The views from The Keep are worth the ascent, particularly to view the juxtaposition of the ancient castle and the colossally modern Millennium stadium. The castle’s tunnel system was full of history and artefacts from the Second World War, and the small military museum was informative and interactive – we indulged our inner twelve year olds and tried on all the military uniforms.
Next up we explored the arcades that link the main roads with the new shopping district. Check out Spillers in Morgan Arcade – it’s a music specialist and occasionally holds live music. The Moulettes were performing in store while we were there. Then there’s Wally’s Deli in Royal Arcade, which has all sorts of foodie treats and Welsh specialities. Next time I go back to Cardiff I’ll make a point of visiting Madame Fromage, a cheese monger in Castle Arcade, which has cheese tasting events.
For lunch we headed to the Corner House, which is just at the top of Caroline Street, affectionately known locally as Chip Alley, for its abundance of chip and kebab joints. The Corner House is a lovely pub with good menu options, and with the sun still shining, we were able to sit outside and bask. In the afternoon, we strolled along the river and about the gardens of Bute Park. The Secret Garden Café is a great spot for ice cream.
For something a bit different before dinner, we decided to play a round of crazy golf at Treetop Adventure Golf. Right next to John Lewis in the shiny St David’s shopping centre, Treetop is brilliantly themed like a rainforest complete with jungle noises and water features. Open until 11pm most nights, it’s a great alternative to the pub.
We headed to a more residential area across the river, opposite the stadium, for a meal at a locally renowned Chinese restaurant called The Riverside. Other places we were recommended in the centre were The Potted Pig and Steak of the Art. We rounded off our night at the Urban Tap House, which is a friendly craft beer venue with themed rooms and board games.
Before our train home the following day, we had just enough time to stop for a great breakfast at Garland’s in Duke Street Arcade. They have everything you’d expect on the menu, but also do gluten free pancakes, which were scrumptious.
If you’ve got any Cardiff tips, let us know in the comments!