Once the largest port in the world, Cardiff has evolved from an industrial powerhouse to a cultural hub of Welsh culture. Though the city has redefined itself as a vibrant, bustling capital, it still has maintained its humble Welsh routes. Cardiff is easy to get from London, so we’ve complied an itinerary to help you see as much as possible in 48 hours, including the biggest attractions and the best of the city's food and entertainment.
Day 1: Morning
10:30 a.m.: Head straight to The Exchange Hotel. Built in 1888 and once the center of the global coal trade, The Exchange played a fundamental role in Cardiff’s prosperity and growth. With a trade floor-turned-live music dancehall, this fascinating building has recently been refurbished after a petition by locals to save the iconic venue. Paying homage to its routes, The Exchange is now every bit as grand as you’d expect from the place where the first £1 million trade deal was made. Drop off your bags and head back out, grabbing a coffee and snack from Coffi Co on your way.
11:30 a.m.: Dating back to 50 AD, Cardiff Castle has been the heart of Cardiff for more than 2,000 thousand years. The site was transformed into a rich man’s fantasy palace in the Victorian era, its walls were utilized as air-raid shelters in WW2, and it still boasts a Norman "shell" keep today. We could talk about the rich history of the castle for hours, but instead we recommend booking a guided tour for the best experience. The tours will take you to parts of the castle that aren’t always open to the public. Keep an eye out for the "Arab room;" intricately carved and with a ceiling gilded in gold, this is one of the most opulent rooms we’ve ever seen.
Day 1: Afternoon
1:30 p.m.: Grab lunch from Cardiff Market, a Grade II listed Victorian Market that has been trading since the 1700s. Although you won’t find chickens and pigs for sale anymore, you will get the chance to sample some of the best, locally-sourced food the city has to offer; from baked goods to Thai cuisine, there’s something for everyone in the market. Locals love Franks’ hotdogs, which are loaded with various toppings and dipped in cheese. Or check out Holy Yolks for the best Scotch eggs (Clancy's offers a veggie version). Before you go, it’s worth wandering up to the top floor to get a good view of this impressive building and its huge glass roof.
2 p.m.: Jump on the 32A bus to St Fagans National Museum of History. Set just 4 miles outside of the town center on the grounds of a manor house, this "people’s museum" will transport you to a whole new world with its hands-on approach to learning. During your visit, walk through more than 40 buildings from different periods of Welsh history that have been lovingly restored in their entirety. Celebrate the culture and language of Wales, meet local breeds of livestock, and see how people really used to live. You can watch craftsmen demonstrate traditional skills, but keep an eye out for regularly run workshops to learn trades such as blacksmithing and basket weaving. Many items that are made on-site are available for purchase, including custom-fit traditional clogs.
Day 1: Evening
7 p.m.: Tonight you’re dining at a more unusual location, The Clink in HMP Cardiff. Started as a social initiative to reduce reoffending, the restaurant is run by rehabilitating prisoners. Menus are seasonal, but you can expect high-quality, fresh food, with most of the produce grown on the Prescod prison farm. Regularly voted one of the best restaurants in Cardiff, this is fine dining at its best; booking ahead is advised.
9 p.m.: End your night by letting your hair down in Womanby St, the bohemian heart of the Welsh music scene. Clwb Ifor Bach (lovingly known as "Welsh Club") offers three floors of different music genres, and regularly showcases local bands as well as bigger names (Super Furry Animals, Stereophonics, and Gwenno all started off playing here before finding international fame). Fuel, just across the road, is a dedicated rock bar.
For a more casual evening, Tiny Rebel's Urban Tap House offers a range of locally brewed craft beers, retro arcade games, and regular board game and pub quiz nights. Around the corner at Fly By Night, you can sip wine by candlelight.
Feeling brave? Head back to Cardiff Castle and book one of their ghost tours to hear more about how the 3rd Marquis of Bute tried to summon the dead with strange experiments.
Day 2: Morning
10 a.m.: If you’re not too tired and you're here on a Sunday, take a stroll alongside the River Taff and head over to the Riverside Market. Browse the local produce before grabbing a pastry from Pettigrew Bakeries; enjoy breakfast al fresco, looking at views across the river to the Principality Stadium, the heart of the Welsh rugby scene.
11:30 a.m.: Now that you’ve recovered from the night before, spend the morning getting lost in the "City of Arcades." Built in the Victorian era, Cardiff's seven winding walkways boast more than 100 independent shops today. The arcades are a bit maze-like, so enjoy the journey while browsing vintage clothes, boutique homeware, art, and bookshops. Music lovers should visit Spillers Records, the oldest record shop in the world.
And if all that shopping makes you peckish, take a break and grab a Welsh cake (a traditional, current-laden delicacy, resembling something between a scone and a pancake) and fresh coffee from The Plan, or Welsh rarebit from Madame Fromage. If you’re really feeling indulgent, Gin & Juice offers a menu of more than 400 different types of gin.
Day 2: Afternoon
1:30 p.m.: When you've had your fill of shopping, wander over to Bute Park, a 13-acre green haven with the picturesque Taff river in the backdrop. Boasting several nature trails, 21 sculptures, landscaped gardens and wildflower meadows, it's easy to forget you're in the middle of the city.
While you're here, you can also view the beehives that make the local "Nature’s Little Helpers" honey from the Bute Park Plant Shop. And be on the lookout for the glass eyes of 19th century stone animals watching you from the castle wall; there are 15 to spot in total (with a seal being a personal favorite).
3 p.m.: Head back towards the entrance to the park and take an aqua-bus over to Cardiff Bay to enjoy the unique views of the city from the water. Cardiff Bay is Europe’s largest waterfront development, and on a clear day, you can see the north coast of Devon. It's stunning all year round, but Cardiff Bay especially glistens under blue skies; in the summer months, you'll find a man-made beach as well as food and market festivals.
Even when it's gray and cloudy, there’s plenty to do here. Wander around the historic Pierhead building; known as the Big Ben of Wales (albeit smaller and redder), it serves as a museum on the history of Cardiff and its industrial past. Next, look around the sustainably-built Senedd, the center of Welsh Parliament.
The black and white Norwegian Church is testimony to Cardiff’s diversity, and prides itself as the place where children’s author Roald Dahl was baptized; you can find several nods to his success around the Bay, including a life-size model of the "Enormous Crocodile" on the walk out to the barrage.
On the waterfront, you will notice a patch of wall laden with notes, pictures, and flowers in memorial to Ianto Jones—a man who never existed. Begun in outrage after the death of the TV character from Dr Who spin-off "Torchwood," the monument amused locals and was never taken down.
Day 2: Evening
6 p.m.: Dinner tonight is Ffresh. Tucked inside the Wales Millenium Centre, the cultural hub of the city, Ffresh fits every appetite with "big" and ‘"small" plates made with the finest Welsh ingredients. But Ffresh isn’t just about the food: They regularly host cabaret, music, and comedy events while you eat.
7:30 p.m.: The Wales Millenium Centre showcases everything from local theatre productions rooted in Welsh culture to West End shows. This venue highlights the best of Welsh culture and talent and is home to nine national art institutions, including the Welsh National Opera, BBC National Orchestra, and National Dance Company Wales. There’s something for everyone, so it's the perfect way to end your trip.