Top 12 Things to Do in Cardiff, Wales

Cardiff Waterfront with the Victorian Pierhead Building and the 21st century Millennium Centre and Welsh Senedd/
Cardiff Bay Waterfront.

 Matthew Horwood / Getty Images

Cardiff, the capital of Wales, is often overlooked on a visit to the UK, as travelers opt for more popular destinations, like London and Edinburgh. A city steeped in rich history, Cardiff's castles and museums are worth a stop for those wanting a glimpse into this Victorian-era town. Active visitors will enjoy the miles of trails, complete with sweeping natural vistas and gardens, in the Cardiff Bay area or behind Cardiff Castle along The River Taff. Then, round out your stay with an action-packed traditional rugby match to truly immerse yourself in the culture of this Welch capital city.

01 of 12

Explore Cardiff Castle

Cardiff Castle Arab Room Ceiling, Wales

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Castle, Cardiff, UK

Visitors to Cardiff Castle, located in the center of the city, may feel like they've stepped into a Neo-Gothic dreamscape from the Victorian era. Rightfully so, as the castle's foundation is about 2,000 years old, and it stands on the site of a Roman fortress that dates back to the reign of Emperor Nero. The Normans used this strategic site to build a castle in 1091, and, since then, it has been occupied by different noble families who added to its comfort and grandeur. But it was Victorian-era's 3rd Marquess of Bute who spent his unlimited fortune creating the incredible fantasy residence you can visit today. Take a 50-minute house tour through opulent rooms, including the astonishing Arab Room, complete with its intricate ceiling made of wood and decorated in gold leaf. You can also visit the underground World War II shelters, where hundreds lived and worked in the 1940s.

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Go Shopping at Castle Quarter Arcades

Shopping at Castle Quarter Arcades, Cardiff, Wales

Massimo Borchi / Atlantide Phototravel / Getty Images

Castle Street, Cardiff CF10 1BU, UK

Just a short walk from Cardiff Castle lies Castle Quarter Arcades, a historical shopping district that dates back to 1885. Wander through the narrow streets, taking in the Victorian and Edwardian architecture, while you pop into specialty shops, including drapery shops, apothecaries, tailors, jewelers, and fortunetellers. This district consists of three arcades: Castle Arcade, High Street Arcade, and Duke Street Arcade, and contains over 80 independently-owned businesses set in atrium-style halls. You can buy some fine art, handmade cards, and locally-made trinkets, and then relax in a coffee shop, tea house, or eatery with a snack or a meal with a view.

03 of 12

Walk or Bike the Cardiff Bay Trail

Walking paths on Cardiff Bay, Wales

itsabreeze photography / Gett Images

Bute Street, Cardiff CF10 5LE, UK

The 6.2-mile (10-kilometer) trail that skirts the banks of Cardiff Bay makes a perfect recreational outlet for hikers and bikers. It runs around the bay and connects Cardiff to the seaside town of Penarth. Walkers and bikers can also traverse the 459-foot (140-meter) bridge that connects Penarth to the International Sports Village, which houses an Olympic-size swimming pool, an ice rink, and a whitewater canoeing and kayaking center. Sights along the trail include the Water Tower, the Merchant Seafarers War Memorial, the Age of Coal Exhibition, and the historical Custom House, which now contains a popular restaurant.  

04 of 12

Catch a Show at the Wales Millennium Centre

Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay

 Joe Daniel Price / Getty Images

Bute Place, Cardiff CF10 5AL, UK

The Wales Millennium Centre, in the Cardiff Bay waterfront area, is the national arts center for Wales. It hosts eight resident companies, including the Welsh National Opera, the BBC Orchestra and Chorus of Wales, a dance company, and a touring theater company. All of the programs hosted by the center are bilingual—performed in Welsh and English—in an effort to preserve the Welsh language and culture. This center hosts concerts, musicals, touring international performances, cabaret dance and theater performances, and stand-up comedy events.

Visitors will want to take in the words on the front of the building, written by Welsh writer, Gwyneth Lewison. Contrary to popular belief, they are not English and Welsh translations of the same phrase. Rather, the words make up complimentary phrases. The English, "In these stones horizons sing" is paired with the Welsh "Creu Gwir fel Gwydr o Ffwrnais Awen," which means, "Creating truth like glass from inspiration's furnace."

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05 of 12

Watch a Rugby Game at Principality Stadium

Wales vs England in the Guinness Six Nations Cup. Rugby Union, at Principality Stadium in Cardiff

 Dan Mullan / Getty Images

Westgate Street, Cardiff CF10 1NS, UK
Phone +44 844 249 1999

Ask the locals for directions to Principality Stadium and they might refer to it as the "Millennium Stadium." Confusingly, the home of Welsh rugby was renamed temporarily during a 10-year sponsorship deal with a local bank. Still, if you are curious about the difference between rugby union and rugby league (the game rules are quite different), this is the best place to go, as the Welsh are rugby crazed. Attend a national event, like Wales versus South Africa or Wales versus Fiji. Then, in the off-season, take a stadium tour or buy a ticket to other events, like the motorsports MonsterJam.

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Eat Dinner on the Bay at Mermaid Quay

Cafes and bars on Mermaid Quay in Cardiff

 P A Thompson / Getty Images

Bay, Mermaid Quay, Cardiff CF10 5BZ, UK
Phone +44 29 2048 0077

Mermaid Quay is one of the main dining and shopping areas on Cardiff Bay. Here, you can choose from Italian, Japanese, and Mexican food, or sample dishes fresh from the sea. The lively street scene entertains both visitors and locals on a weekend night, and you can take the Aquabus, a water taxi service, between Mermaid Quay and Cardiff Castle. The Senedd, home of the Welsh parliament and designed by renowned British architect, Richard Rogers, is connected to the Quay, and features a dramatic sloping canopy roof. Take a tour of this building before or after dinner, or attend an art exhibition or event there.

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Step into the Past at St. Fagans National Museum of History

St Fagans National History Museum

Eurasia Press / Getty Images 

St Fagans, Cardiff CF5 6XB, UK
Phone +44 300 111 2333

St. Fagans National Museum of History was the UK's first open-air museum, and today, it remains one of the most popular attractions in Wales. Located on the grounds of St . Fagans Castle, this museum complex includes 40 historical buildings, a 100-acre parkland, a farm with animals, a church, and a Workmen's Institute. Here, you can learn about the social and cultural history of Wales, including native costumes and dress, farm life, crafts and skills, ancient fossils, and folklore. It's a great family attraction, complete with outdoor activities for children, including a high rope walk, farm activities, and craft demonstrations. Bring the family dog along, and enjoy free admission. The museum is open every day, including most bank holidays,

08 of 12

Admire Historical Art in Llandaff Cathedral

Jacob Epstein's Majestas at Llandaff Cathedral
 Graham Bell
Cathedral Close, Cardiff CF5 2LA, UK
Phone +44 29 2056 4554

Cardiff's Llandaff Cathedral was badly damaged by the explosion of a German landmine during World War II (infamously called the "Cardiff Blitz"). Despite this major upheaval, the Cathedral still retains much of its original Victorian-era stonework. On the building's exterior, certain Norman features date back to 1120, while others date back to the sixth century. A look inside reveals the cathedral's great art treasures. The cathedral houses the Rossetti Triptych, completed by the great Pre-Raphaelite artist, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, between 1855 and 1864. The Epstein Majestas, by British sculptor Jacob Epstein, depicts a monumental figure of Christ cast in aluminum and suspended from an arch in the center of the nave. The original sculpture, from which this figure was replicated, was sent to the Riverside Church in New York City, where it can still be seen today.

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09 of 12

Take a Riverside Stroll in Bute Park

Taff River runs through Bute Park in Cardiff city center

 Hilda Weges / Getty Images

North Road, Cardiff CF10 3ER, UK
Phone +44 29 2087 2730

Bute Park is located in the heart of the city and used to be the landscaped grounds of Cardiff Castle. Today, this 130-acre riverside park, designed by legendary landscape architect, Lancelot Capability Brown, boasts established woodland walks, an arboretum, Victorian gardens, and a cafe. The park is named after the Bute family, the last private owners of Cardiff Castle, who developed the port of Cardiff, turning it into the most important coal shipping port in the world for its day. The trails, themselves, take you on a historical walk, as you hunt for sculptures or engage in a fitness activity of your choice.

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Engage in Science Activities at Techniquest

Family fun at Techniquest

 Visit Britain / Britain on View / Getty Images

Stuart Street, Cardiff CF10 5BW, UK
Phone +44 29 2047 5475

Techniquest, a hands-on science activity and discovery center, hosts experiences for both children and adults. Exhibitions are organized around a changing series of themes. Programs include science theater shows, planetarium shows, "Don't Do This at Home" workshops, and toddler days. The center is open every day except Monday, including school holiday breaks. Additionally, the science center hosts school field trips, provides digital outreach programs, and houses a cafe that serves coffee, ice cream, and beer. Rotating events change on the regular, so check out the calendar of activities before you go.

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Shop at a Victorian Covered Market

Cardiff Market

 Joe Daniel Price / Getty Images

5-7 Saint Mary Street, Cardiff CF10 1AU, UK
Phone +44 29 2087 1214

Cardiff Market became a centralized trading market in the 1700s. And, today, a huge glass and cast-iron canopy shelters hundreds of stalls and thousands of shoppers. Here, you can shop for shoes, clothing, household gadgets, kitchen essentials, toys, books, and musical instruments. You can also grab a bite to eat and engage in some banter with market traders while you browse the stalls. Sometimes called the "Central Market," the Cardiff Market is located in the city's center, with entrances on St. Mary Street and Trinity Street. It's open Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

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Take a City Tour

Aerial view of Cardiff Bay

steved_np3 / Getty Images 

Bay, Foreshore Road, Cardiff CF10 4LZ, UK
Phone +44 29 2046 5880

Visit Cardiff—the city's official tourism organization—hosts walking tours, open-top bus tours, cruises, and helicopter tours. During a walking tour, you'll learn insider knowledge from entertaining locals. Beer tours will introduce you to the area's finest craft breweries and pubs. Boat tours travel between the city and the bay via water taxi, and include recorded commentary, giving you fascinating information about the area's history, the buildings, and the wildlife on the bay and river. Adventure seekers can get an overview of Cardiff and Cardiff Bay from the sky during a helicopter tour with Hover Helicopters (tours depart from Cardiff Heliport). Flights range from 15 to 30 minutes and fly across Cardiff Bay and up the coast toward Tintern Abbey, giving you a bird's eye view from 1,500 feet. 

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Top 12 Things to Do in Cardiff, Wales