Cardiff is the perfect place for a day trip, it’s affordable and there are plenty of activities to do in this beautiful city.
The city is home to plenty of historic attractions, and its vibrant nightlife scene means there’s always something to do. Whether you’re interested in enjoying a pint at a local pub or checking out some of Cardiff’s famous castles, there’s something for everyone in this charming Welsh city.
Don’t forget sampling some Welsh delicacies like Welsh rarebit at Gwdihw or Welsh cakes!
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Here are the best things to do in Cardiff in one day.
Let’s start with its magnificent castle surrounded by The Animal Wall on the west of the entrance of the castle (Castle Street wall of Bute Park). Designed by William Burges in 1866, which started off with nine animal figures:
- Baboons, Hyena, Bear, Wolf, Ape, Seal, Bear, Lioness, Lynx and two Lions (facing left or right)
In 1931, six additional figures were designed by Alexander Carrick and added. These include:
- Pelican, Ant-eater, Racoons, Leopard, Beaver and Vulture
Fun fact: it inspired Dorothy Howard Rowlands, a local writer, to turn them into characters and imagined what antics the various animals on the wall got up to. She called them:
- William the seal, Priscilla the pelican, Martha and Oscar the monkeys, Larry the lynx and Romulus and Remus the two lions
As you enter the gates the colours of Capability Brown’s grounds are enough to make it worth seeing let alone the 900 years of history of the castle itself. Cardiff Castle was originally a Roman fort established at the end of the 50s AD.
Following the Norman Conquest, the Castle’s keep was built, re-using the site of the Roman fort. The Castle passed through the hands of many noble families until 1766 when it became the home of the Bute family by marriage.
The 2nd Marquis of Bute was responsible for turning Cardiff into the world’s greatest coal exporting port and erecting the incredible house that now stands on the grounds. The Bute family retained the castle until 1947 when it was passed to the people of Cardiff, if you live, work or study in the city you are then lucky enough to receive the key to the castle, sadly that doesn’t mean you can move in.
Unseen from the outside the whole of the battlement walls contains a passageway running from one end to the other which had been used as air raid shelters during the second world war for the residents of the city.
If you’re looking for a real experience then head on into the dark and wet interior where Churchill’s voice booms out as the sounds of bombs are dropping overhead, you expect the ground to tremble. Equipped with the benches and bunk beds that would have accommodated families during the destruction of the city during the second world war it had provided for the thousands but now leaves a stark reminder of what it had been like during the war.
The castle café holds another delight with its original Roman wall discovered in 1888 when the Bute’s took on some further refurbishments, once sated by the traditional Welsh tea bread, Bara Brith served with lashings of butter and Welsh tea then it’s into the museum commemorating over 300 years of the proud and distinguished history of the 1st Queens Dragoon Guards and The Royal Welsh Guards including the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, Rorke’s Drift against the Zulus in 1879 and recent service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As if that wasn’t enough make time to view the Bute family home with its incredible Arab room, main dining room, library and collection of artworks, the ceilings alone are worth the neck strain with their gold leaf decor.
The clock tower, one of the most recognisable buildings on the Cardiff landscape with its beautiful heraldic artwork. Look out for the elaborate drain covers which have obviously been taken from the idea of the animal wall outside.
Trying Welsh delicacies is a must and across the road from the castle is Fabulous Welshcakes.
The Welsh Cakes are a traditional sweet bread. The cakes are made of flour, butter, eggs, sugar, salt and raisins. Then cook on bakestone. A bakestone is a cast iron griddle that were placed on a fire or stovetop. Sometimes they are nicknamed bakestones for this reason.
Personally, I am not a fan of dried fruit in my food and they have come out with none traditional versions like apple and chocolate.
Take time to wander to the Edwardian Baroque styled City Hall a place that anyone would enjoy working in let alone the Welsh government before they were moved to the much more modern quarters of the Welsh Assembly down on the bay. Built of Portland stone it was opened in October 1906 and remains one of the cities most iconic buildings.
Heading towards the many shopping areas take a moment to consider the statue of Aneurin Bevan (1897 –1960), often known as Nye Bevan who was a Welsh Labour Party politician and founder of the modern National Health system which still runs today.
If you have a thirst for shopping then take a stroll through the Royal Arcade the oldest arcade in Cardiff or one of the other five Victorian arcades all within an easy stroll of each other, filled with independent shops as well as the usual high street stores you can always pause for a coffee in the chic surroundings.
My two recommendations for coffee places are:
- Uncommon Ground Coffee Roastery
- Corner Coffee
Passing through the busy city streets if you’re feeling peckish there is a huge range of eateries from the street foods of Thailand, La Pantera Taco’s, or the big names of Café Rouge through to McDonalds.
Although, the best pick is local contemporary Welsh food that can be found at Milkwood. For those who have a bit more to spend the elegance of the Park Restaurant.
Welsh food you need to try!
- Welsh rarebit – my sister thought this was rabbit! It’s fancy cheese on toast and so delicious
- Glamorgan sausage – potato and cheese shaped sausage, yes please!
- Anything with leeks – it became one of the emblems of Wales and you can find it on the coat of arms
Cardiff Museum of Life and Spillers
Small but giving a great overview of how Cardiff had prospered through the export of coal and wool and the arrival of modern technology and business.
Keep your eyes peeled for Spillers when you leave, apparently the oldest record shop in the world. Founded in 1894 by Henry Spiller at its original location in the Queen’s Arcade, the shop specialised in the sale of phonographs, wax phonograph cylinders and shellac phonograph discs. In the early 1920s, Henry’s son Edward took over the running of the business and, with the aid of the popular accordionist and band leader, Joe Gregory, sold musical instruments alongside the pre-recorded music.
Heading to the Bay
As you get closer to the waterfront the modern buildings give a view of how the city is changing and keeping up with modern life, the subways alone are worth pausing to view for a moment with their colourful artwork.
Cardiff bay also known as Tiger Bay is Wales’s oldest multi-ethnic community. Sailors and workers from over 50 countries settled here in the early centuries including the Somalis, the Yeminis and Greeks, the incredible Shirley Bassey was also born there.
Following the decline of shipping from the area, the ’90s saw the re-birth of the region as a leisure and business hot-spot and the founding of the National Assembly for Wales with a huge barrage balloon that impounds the Rivers Taff and the Ely to create a massive fresh-water lake.
Take a rest at one of the many cafes by the Roald Dahl Plass named after the Cardiff-born author Roald Dahl, where the shape and space has made it a popular amphitheatre for hosting open-air concerts and productions in the summer months including some of the authors most famous works and admire the Wales Millennium Centre with its large timbered frontage looking out across the bay.
Science and Water
Looking for more shops, then the Mermaid Quay will be worth a visit or if you’re feeling in a scientific mood then enjoy the two floors of interactive displays at Techniquest, Cardiff’s science museum.
A walk along the bay will take you to the lone building of the beautiful Norwegian church, founded in 1868 by Herman Lunde of Oslo, the Church was originally located at the entrance of Bute West Dock on land donated by the Marquis of Bute and acted as a Seaman’s mission with Scandinavian newspapers, magazines and facilities for writing letters home for Norwegian Sailors, particularly during World War II. The wonderful white structure looks as new today as it did when first built.
Nearby are the BBC studios where the delights of Torchwood, Dr Who and Casualty have been filmed, studio tours can be arranged with prior booking.
Cardiff Bay Wetlands Reserve
If you have time and feel the need for somewhere quiet and tranquil to commune with nature then a short walk away is the Cardiff Bay Wetlands Reserve home to hundreds of birds and animals with its 8 hectares (19.8 acres) of wildlife don’t forget the binoculars.
Evenings in the City
As evening falls there is so much on offer from Tiger Tiger and its circus acts to Cardiff Arms Park which hosts concerts and is home to the Welsh National sport, Rugby, or maybe just enjoy wandering through the city’s streets with its lights and illuminations stopping for a drink as you pass by the large number of bars or dancing the night away in the many nightclubs on offer.
Worth a Visit if you have Longer
If you’re lucky enough to visit for New Year then don’t miss the impressive firework display over the castle on New Years eve when the cities residents gather to bring in the start of the next year.
If you have time then drive the half an hour journey to Barry home of the much-loved TV show Gavin and Stacey to see ‘what’s occurring’ or if you’re still looking for the ancient and love your castles take time to view Caerphilly Castle a short drive away from the city.
A city that offers something for everyone regardless of age or walking ability and for every pocket whether you want luxury or cheap, Cardiff has it all.
Hi, I'm Kat, an Australian that moved to London in 2013 to start a new adventure. What a roller-coaster that was! I love helping others move to the UK and people explore the world! I’d be honoured if you’d say, “Thanks!” with a £3 coffee on Ko-fi.