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Situated on the southern coast of Wales, one of the four nations that make up the United Kingdom, Cardiff is very much a capital city on the up-and-up.
And if you’re looking for the best things to do in Cardiff, you’ve come to the right place!
Recently ranked the number one city in the U.K. to live in, based on quality of life versus cost of living, the grandiose architecture of Tudor-era townhouses and castle walls are quite the spectacle.
Combined with the luscious scenery, historical sites of interest, and vibrant nightlife, Cardiff is a thriving, energetic city, that offers something for everyone.
So, let’s dive in, and take a closer look at 30 of Cardiff’s best things to do, see, and experience.
How to get to Cardiff
Cardiff international airport is accessible from many mainland European cities. From there, you’re a twenty-minute bus ride, or fifteen-minute train ride, from the city center.
Best Things to Do in Cardiff
1 – See a show at the Wales Millennium Center
Situated in front of the Roald Dahl Plass, this uniquely designed center of arts and culture plays host to a wide range of exhibitions, cultural activities, and concerts.
The likes of The Lion King and Grease have all played shows in the grand concert hall, and the ground floor regularly hosts live music and local art exhibitions.
2 – Explore art exhibitions at the National Museum of Wales
The museum itself is an architectural sight to behold. Inside, you can stroll between two floors of largely free exhibitions, showcasing fine art, sculpture, and modern art, from all over the world.
If you’re willing to pay a little extra, there’s often a resident artist’s work on show in the upstairs gallery.
3 – Immerse within Welsh history at the Museum of Cardiff
Situated on the Hayes, the Museum of Cardiff is a quiet, well-designed little museum.
It’s perfect for finding out about the history of the city, and its progression from a humble trading port, through to its emergence as one of the U.K.’s youngest, most vibrant cities.
4 – Take a stroll through Alexandra Gardens
Formerly part of the Castle grounds, Alexandra Gardens is a place you can stroll through, relax, and enjoy the beauty.
At the center stands tall the Welsh National War Memorial, in honor of those who lost their lives during the World Wars.
5 – Take a tour of the Principality Stadium
If rugby is religion in Wales, then the Principality Stadium is its cathedral. Formerly the Millennium Stadium, the stadium plays host to all of Wales’ home games and holds a capacity of 74,500.
Also, it has hosted a range of sporting events and concerts. The likes of Rihanna, Bruce Springstein, and Beyonce, have all played at the stadium.
Welsh international matches, however, only happen a handful of times a year, and getting tickets is notoriously difficult.
The stadium tour, bookable online, is a wonderful way to see the awe of the stadium and learn about its colorful and grand history.
6 – Reach the top of the keep, and see the Arab Room, inside Cardiff Castle
Few cities on the planet can claim a castle in amongst their hallmark features!
Cardiff Castle, a medieval castle and Victorian Gothic revival mansion watches on peacefully over the main pedestrianized area, St. Mary’s, of the city.
Inside, you can wander between the walls of a grand structure that dates back to the 11th century.
The gardens, moat, and keep all provide excellent photography opportunities, while the mansion, elaborate in its decoration, gives plenty of insight into Britain during the Victorian era.
The Arab Room in particular, with its patterned golden ceiling, is a must-see Cardiff experience.
7 – Enjoy local art exhibitions at the Norwegian Church
A beautiful little slice of Norway in the middle of Cardiff Bay, the church was once a meeting place for Norwegians who settled in Cardiff during the industrial revolution; one of whom was Roald Dahl’s father.
Now, you can enjoy a variety of art exhibitions, book launches, and craft fayres in the church, as well as enjoy a soothing cup of coffee in the cafe on the ground floor.
8 – Walk the Cardiff Bay Barrage
This is a pleasant, vibrant walk from the now-closed Dr. Who Experience building, all the way to the retractable bridge at the other end of the marina.
Along the way, you’ll see plenty of yachts on the water, as well as lots of pop-up events and activities during the summer.
A children’s playground, summer water inflatables, a skate park, and a cycle lane, all occupy the strip.
For a great place to stay in the Bay, we like St. David’s Hotel.
9 – Powerboat around the Cardiff Bay Marina
If you fancy heading out onto the water, be sure to book a trip from one of the boats off the jetty in front and to the left of the Roald Dahl Pass.
From powerboating for the thrill-seekers to guided tours at a more leisurely pace, there are plenty of choices.
10 – Cardiff City Sightseeing 24hr hop-on hop-off bus tour
The hop-on, hop-off bus tour, with 11 stops in total, will give you a great feel for the city and its most famous attractions.
Translated into seven languages, the ticket, which costs around $20, is valid for 24 hours, and you can jump on and off as you please.
Cardiff is a small city, so you’ll never find yourself wandering too far into the wilderness.
11 – Watch live comedy at the Glee Club
Some of the U.K.’s most successful comedians, including Eddie Izzard and Michael McIntyre, have all, earlier in their careers, spent their weekends entertaining an intimate and lively audience of around 400 at Cardiff’s Glee Club.
If you enjoy comedy at the grassroots level, Friday nights, in particular, are a hoot and a half.
12 – Enjoy a summer festival at the Roald Dahl Plass
Named after the beloved children’s author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, and many other classics, Cardiff Bay’s Roald Dahl Plass plays host to a wide selection of festivals throughout summer.
Cardiff Food Festival, a man-made beach, a Ferris wheel, and the circus, are just a few of the delights you’ll find occupying the space at different times.
13 – Spend an afternoon at St Fagan’s National History Museum of Wales
One of the world’s leading open-air museums, St Fagan’s will make you feel as though you’ve traveled back in time.
On the grounds of a beautiful 16th-century manor house, splendor at fifty buildings that have been rebuilt from different historical periods, all set amid the jaw-dropping beauty of a 100-acre parkland on the outskirts of Cardiff.
Whether you’re a lover of history, a keen nature enthusiast, or just looking for a fascinating day out, St Fagan’s will not disappoint.
14 – Have lunch at the Cardiff Central Market
A place for the senses, the bustle, and bartering of the central market is an unmissable experience. Some of the freshest, finest produce, meat, and fish, the city has to offer can be found here.
The market also offers a range of other services, from phone repair to key cutting, at a fraction of the price you’d pay at large retailers.
Upstairs, you can enjoy watching the energy fizz below from the balcony of one of several local cafes. All of them serve a menu of hearty British food and classic Welsh dishes.
15 – Go shopping in the Victorian-era Arcades
Weaving their way between the high streets of St. Mary’s and Hayes, are Cardiff’s eccentric Arcades (Royal, Morgan, High Street, and Castle).
You’ll feel as though you’ve stepped through to Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, with their narrow, cobbled streets, grand, overhanging Victorian architecture, and quirky shops.
Very few chain or corporate entities operate in the Arcades. Instead, you’ll find unique, local-based clothing, food, coffee, and services.
Vegetarian cafe Crumbs and hot baguette shop Fresh are two of my personal favorites.
Also, Christmas is a particularly wonderful time to walk through the Arcades, as the Christmas lights lining the beams and rafters sparkle and rain moody blue down on the cobbles. It’s truly a sight to behold.
16 – Enjoy the tranquility of Bute Park
Named after the wealthy Bute family, who inherited the land and developed it throughout the 1800s, Bute Park spreads far and wide behind the walls of the castle.
There are many trails that weave between the beautiful parkland and green fields.
Whether you’re interested in the wildlife, the history, or just want to relax on the grass beneath the shade of the trees, you can spend hours amid the peace and tranquility of the beautiful gardens.
17 – Go white water rafting at Cardiff White Water Centre
Located across from the Cardiff Bay Marina via the link road, the International White Water Centre is the perfect place to stoke the fire of the daredevil in you.
In this state of the art center, you can try your hand, or entire body in this case, at both white water rafting and paddle-boarding.
At £40-55 per person for 2 hours, it’s a more than worthwhile way to spend a morning or afternoon; particularly if you’re with a party of multiple people.
18 – Watch the Devils play ice hockey at the Viola Centre
If you’re a fan of fast-paced, full-throttle sports, then an evening watching the Devils will be right up your street.
Take your seat amongst 3000 roaring fans at the Viola Centre in the Cardiff International Sports Village, and be sure to brace yourself for huge hits and goals galore.
19 – Watch the Blues play rugby at Cardiff Arms Park
As mentioned before, Cardiff’s obsession with rugby is deep-rooted in its proud history.
Adjacent to the Principality Stadium you’ll find the Cardiff Arms Park, home to the Cardiff Blues, the city’s domestic rugby team.
If you’re visiting between the months of September and May, there’s a fair chance you’ll be able to catch the team play on a Friday night, or the weekend.
20 – Watch Cardiff City play football at the Cardiff City Stadium
Our activities continue through to football and the fiery passion inside the Cardiff City Stadium.
Cardiff City, the domestic football team, plays on weekends, and sometimes weeknights, from August through to May.
This 33,000 seater stadium is often packed to the rafters, with Cardiffians supporting their beloved Bluebirds.
21 – Watch Glamorgan play cricket at Sophia Gardens
And our final stop on the sports tour takes us to the Sophia Gardens cricket ground, home of Glamorgan Cricket.
If you’re visiting during the summer months, you’ll be able to catch the team playing T20, one day, and country cricket on Friday evenings and weekends.
Cricket is always a fun day out, with plenty of drinking, cheering, and good-willed banter.
22 – Dr. Who walking tour of Cardiff
If you’re a self-confessed Whovian, then rejoice. Since the revival of the show in 2005 courtesy of the BBC, much of the filming of the show has taken place in Wales and, in particular, Cardiff.
One Cardiffian conducts his very own tour, taking fans of the show around all of the popular areas used for filming the series.
He also offers plenty of insight about the show, and a few memorable stories along the way. Plus, it’s also a great way to see the city, as you go.
23 – Have fun with science at Techniquest
Behind the bustle and energy of Mermaid Quay, you’ll find a place full of fun, science-themed activities; a great day out for the whole family.
Techniquest also hosts ‘after-hours’ parties, where under 30s can go enjoy the hall of mirrors, ball pits, and other activities, with their own drinks.
24 – Watch live music on Womanby Street
Over the years, plenty of bands and artists have cut their teeth on the street that was famously saved from redevelopment by a city-wide campaign in 2016.
Full Moon, Fuel, Elevens, and the famous Clwb Ifor Bach, regularly host rock, acoustic, soul, and electronic-themed nights and artists.
25 – Eat ice cream on the Penarth Pavillion
Penarth, one of the most affluent areas in South Wales, sits peacefully on the coast just over from Cardiff Bay.
While the town itself is a cozy little settlement of local shops and bars, its promenade and pavilion are very much its defining feature.
Backdropped with glorious views of the Bristol Channel, there are plenty of great bars, food, and events going on in the area.
But if you’re keen just to enjoy the scenery, get yourself a creamy dollop of vanilla in a cone and plant yourself down on one of the benches.
Penarth is accessible via train from Cardiff Central, bus from the city center, or on foot from the end of the Cardiff Bay barrage, via Penarth Marina.
26 – Take a boat out on the lake at Roath Park
North of the city center, via bus or train, sits Roath, a quiet, residential area of Cardiff. Sitting gloriously at the center is the beautiful Roath Lake and its surrounding park.
You can spend a lovely afternoon wandering around the lake, feeding the ducks and swans, and enjoying the view.
There’s also a boat hire center at the top of the lake. Just try not to recreate that famous moment from The Notebook!
27 – Book dinner at The Clink
Believe it or not, Cardiff’s number one ranked restaurant is based in its prison.
Courtesy of an excellent rehabilitation program at the prison, convicts-turned-chefs will serve up a mouth-watering array of gourmet dishes.
The restaurant has won many awards, and the waiting list notoriously can run for months. If you have the chance to book in, this is a treat not to be missed.
28 – Take a tour of Brains Brewery
Overlooking the train station and city center lays Brains Brewery, home of Wales’ most famous alcoholic brew.
Established in 1882, the rich taste of this locally brewed beer has been filling the bellies and soothing the souls of Welshmen and women for over 130 years.
The tour of the brewery is a warm, enjoyable experience. From the process, through to the marketing, you’ll learn a great deal about how Wales’ most famous beer has stood the test of time.
29 – Visit Castle Coch
From the streets of Tongwynlais, north of Cardiff, you can see the towers of Castle Coch, nestled snugly amid a sprawling green woodland. It’s a picturesque setting straight out of a children’s book.
This Gothic Revival castle was the grand vision of famous architect William Burges and was completed in 1891.
The setting is beautiful, and the castle itself is a joy to wander through and splendor at the glamorous interior.
30 – Take a trip to the beach at Barry Island
And finally, no trip to a U.K. port city is complete without a trip to the beach! Around a twenty-minute drive or train, from Cardiff, you’ll find the lively, fun-filled Barry Island.
With its sandy beach, sweeping promenade, and entertainment by the bucket load, it’s a great place to be on a sunny day.
Activities in the area include a theme park, laser tag, mini-golf, water sports, and an old-school arcade.
There are plenty of places to get a cold pint and some classic British fish and chips, too, if you’re feeling parched or peckish.
Best Things to Do in Cardiff Summary
Cardiff is a beautiful little city, alive with a renewed sense of energy and innovation after some dark, difficult days following the decline of the coal industry.
However you visit the UK, I would highly recommend taking a day or weekend trip to Cardiff.
There’s so much to see and do in Wales’ capital city, not to mention the surrounding valleys and scenic landscape if you go further afield.
Whether you’re a Dr. Who fanatic, an artisan beer drinker, or love watching new sports, there’s something in this brilliant city for everyone.
You Might Also Like to Read
- Amazing Things to Do in London
- Top Things to Do in Bristol
- Most Beautiful Cities in the UK
- Traditional Welsh Foods You Have to Try
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Author: Dale Johnson is a content writer, creator, and strategist, who has been a full-time digital nomad since 2016. He grew up in South Wales, and has spent many years living, studying, and working in Cardiff.