Noon had just gone by when I arrived in Cardiff Central. I’d spend a day in the Welsh capital, the UK before driving on to Pembrokeshire, where I’d walk the Pembrokeshire Coastal path and visit some quaint little towns like St. Davids.
But what are the things to do in Cardiff?
Things to do in Cardiff
You could say that Cardiff city has two centers: one near the train station, and one by the bay. Near the train station, you have the Brewery Quarter and the Cafe Quarter where there are, indeed, lots of pubs.
Shopping in Cardiff
Adjacent is the shopping area. Cardiff is a shopper’s paradise. I had no idea of this before I visited, but there are so many shops! And the fun thing is that besides the big chain stores, there are also lots of nice little boutiques.
The two main shopping streets are The Hayes (nice mix of cool stores) and Queen street (bit more budget shopping). From these two streets, you have access to several small and super cute shopping arcades, like Royal Arcade, Morgan Arcade and Queens Arcade, but also to the big St. David’s Hall shopping center.
And then behind the shopping madness lies the peaceful Bute Park with Cardiff Castle and, across the street, City Hall, the National Museum of Cardiff and the Alexandra Gardens.
But wait, didn’t I say I walked towards the bay area first? I did! The sun was out so I figured it would be silly not to head to the water. After about a 20-minute walk, I arrived at the Wales Millennium Centre.
The Millennium Centre
The Millennium Centre is a culture and arts venue that hosts dance, ballet, theater, comedy and musical performances. You can also find a Tourist Information Office there, as well as some shops, bars and restaurants. It’s air-conditioned, so a great place to cool down if it’s hot outside! I admittedly had a snack there to keep me going until I found some lunch.
From Parliament to Mermaid Quay
Close to the Millennium Centre is the Welsh Parliament Building or Y Senedd, but I opted for the lighter sight of the Roald Dahl Pass. There was some kind of summer carnival stationed at the large square between the Millennium Centre and Mermaid Quay and it was a great place to do some people-watching.
But I still hadn’t had lunch, so I walked on toward Mermaid Quay, where you can find several bars and restaurants. I opted for a takeaway falafel wrap so that I could eat that sitting on a bench overlooking the water.
It was quite busy at Mermaid Quay. At one place, a group of people were even herding together. I asked them what was going on. “They’re filming Dr. Who in there. We’re waiting to see if anyone comes out.”, a lady said.
Now I know “Dr. Who” is a thing, but I’ve never seen the show and don’t think it’s ever been aired in Belgium. It appears to be big in the UK, though, and there’s even a Dr. Who Experience at Cardiff Bay, close to the BBC studios where the show is filmed.
Walk along the water's edge
I decided to leave Mermaid Quay and walk toward the Cardiff Yacht Club. It wasn’t as much the boats that I was interested in, but the nature reserve located in between the club and Mermaid Quay. I’d spotted that on the free map I got from the nice gentleman at the Tourist Information Center.
As I walked around the St. David’s hotel, long green grass appeared in front of me. There was indeed a small nature reserve with waterbirds and a walking path running alongside it. Lots of other people seemed to appreciate this place as well, as I saw some walking their dog, a couple overlooking the scene and a young guy reading a book on one of the benches.
I pondered if I’d keep on walking, but there was still a lot of the city I hadn’t seen yet and so I returned to Mermaid Quay to see if there were any more water buses running to Bute Park. I’d missed the last one and so I decided to just walk the way pack to the city center but if you can taking the water bus is one of the fun things to do in Cardiff.
Back to the center
Once I got there I took it upon me to explore the shopping streets and arcades I told you about earlier, but I also went for a walk in the Civic Centre neighborhood. There was an Indian wedding going on by the town hall and I would have loved to take photos of all those beautifully dressed people, but I contained myself.
As the sun started to go down I noticed a familiar feeling popping up. Hunger. I’d seen some nice places at The Hayes and ended up having dinner at Wahaca, a Mexican chain that uses, funny enough, only produce from the UK. The food was delicious and I decided to go back there for lunch the next day.
Oh yes, I spent two days in Cardiff. Well, more like 24 hours as I arrived after noon and left again at noon the next day (after my lunch, that is) to drive further into Wales where I'd walk the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path and spend some time in St Davids. I hadn’t visited Cardiff Castle yet, so that was a must before driving on to Pembrokeshire.
Cardiff Castle is quite special as it’s officially property of the citizens of Cardiff. That means that they can visit it for free all-year-round. It’s great for people who don’t have a large garden as the grass courtyard is big enough to play a bit of football or have a picnic.
The original Roman fort dates back to around 60 A.D., but another wooden castle was built on the scene in the 11th century and “turned into stone” in the 12th century. After that, parts were added to it throughout the centuries. A huge “renovation” was done in the 19th century by architect William Burges, ordered by Marquess John Crichton-Stuart, who had each of the rooms decorated according to a certain theme.
The men’s smoking room, for example, is dedicated to time. There are depictions of the sun, the moon, the different days of the week and so on. There’s also a large chimney that’s cut entirely out of one piece of stone. Oh, and it only took three years to finish this room.
Another room worth seeing is the Arab Room. This is where the ladies gathered. The walls are of Italian marble to keep them cool during the summer and cedar wood niches gave off a pleasant scent when it was warm.
And then there was the Banquet Hall. This hall is actually still being used when “important people” visit Cardiff. But you can also rent it yourself for a wedding dinner. It only costs £600/hour. Yes, I know.
Be aware that you can only visit the interior of the castle with a guided tour. Tours run throughout the day, but they do cost £3 on top of your entry ticket. It’s well worth it, though. The guide I had was very knowledgeable and the rooms are very interesting.
The inside of the walls is freely accessible, though. The long hall inside the walls was used to protect the citizens of Cardiff against the bombs during WWII and now holds an exhibition remembering that time.
Lastly, you can also walk around on the castle walls and climb the tower overlooking the courtyard.
If you want to know what else I did in Wales, check out this video!
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I made this trip on behalf of VisitBritain, who took care of my accommodation, transportation, food and activity costs. The choice to enjoy Cardiff was entirely my own.