“Join the navy and see the world”. An expression that has become the truth for me since I started as a sailor in 2023. Following the sunsets, you will arrive at the best destinations with your ship. Sometimes also places that you hadn't heard much about before. Cardiff was such a city for me. 

I had a weekend to explore the city center and Cardiff bay area, which is in my opinion a good amount of time for a trip to this city. But located in the beautiful Wales, it is also an idea to include Cardiff in your road trip or train itinerary.

This travel blog was written by Margot van der Linde, a member of the Traveltomtom Team.

open boat tour cardiff 2

About the city

cardiff bay 2

Cardiff was founded in 1093 around Cardiff Castle, which was a Norman castle and is still the most important highlight for tourists. Until the 19th century, Cardiff was a relatively small city. Thanks to industrialization and the coal mines, the city experienced a growth. But not only this made Cardiff the city it is today: A university was founded in Cardiff in 1883 and in 1905, Cardiff was granted city rights.

Fifty years later, Cardiff became the capital of Wales which previously had no official capital. What also struck me was that there were a lot of people with dogs in the city and that many restaurants and shops also had buckets of water and free dog treats at the door. A dog friendly destination for sure! 

What to do in Cardiff Bay

Cardiff Bay was once one of the busiest ports in the world, mainly used to ship coal from the valleys further north. Due to the decline in coal mining in the 1980s, the importance of the port also declined sharply. Today, the bay is a bustling area with nice restaurants, shops, a ferris wheel and nice walking/cycling paths along the water. 

1. Boat tour with The Open Boat

open boat tour cardiff 1

There are boat tours that let you admire Cardiff Bay from the water. I had the tour with The Open Boat. This is a 20 minutes tour with such an enthusiastic captain who can tell you everything about the area. It only costs £6 (€7, $8). Due to the changeable weather conditions in Wales, it is useful to check his Facebook Page whether the tours will take place that day. 

2. Admire the beautiful architecture

cardiff bay 1

The view over Cardiff Bay from the water shows you some beautiful architecture which makes the skyline very recognizable, such as the Pierhead building, Wales Millennium Center, the Ferris Wheel and the Norwegian Church. All buildings are open for visit.

3. Cardiff Bay Trail

Cardiff Bay trail

If you’re not really into boats, it is also possible to admire the skyline of Cardiff Bay by walking (or cycling) along the Cardiff Bay Trail. You can walk all the way to Penarth Head, which is a 30 minutes’ walk from the Norwegian Church, and enjoy the views over the bay on one side and the sea on the other side. This is the perfect place to watch the sunset or have a picnic. There are also play areas for children here.

4. Tiger Yard

Tiger yard cardiff

Visiting Cardiff during the spring/summer months for the weekend? Then be sure to visit Tiger Yard when you’re walking along the Cardiff Bay Trail. Tiger Yard is a food court with fun live music and delicious freshly made dishes. Especially the Greek is highly recommended on my behalf. Enjoy a meal by yourself or drink some beers with your friends on the sunny terrace. 

5. Mermaid Quay

mermaid quay 1

Mermaid Quay is the waterfront shopping and leisure district of Cardiff Bay. It includes restaurants, bars, cafes and shops with sunny terraces and even a ferris wheel.

What to do in Cardiff City Center

Built around the Cardiff Castle, the city center has a lot of shops, history, architecture, bars and restaurants to offer. 

1. Cardiff Castle

cardiff castle 1

Opened 7 days a week all year round (except for Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day), the Cardiff Castle is a must visit when in the capital city of Wales. There are several options for a visit. First option is for free: you can see the castle from the outside and walk through the grounds of the castle to Bute Park, which I will write more later.

cardiff castle 2

The other option is to buy a ticket to discover the Roman remains and Chariot Corner, to climb the Norman Keep and Battlement Walks, to marvel at the lavishly decorated Castle Apartments, to experience the Wartime Shelters and to visit the Firing Line military museum. This costs £15,50 per person (adult). Not very expensive for the activities you’ll get if you ask me. Due to time constraints, I only did the free option, so if you have been inside, be sure to tell us your experiences in the comment section below!

2. Bute Park (boat trip to Cardiff Bay)

bute park

Just behind the castle, you’ll find the green heart of Cardiff: Bute Park. The perfect place for a picnic, a run or as an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. The park is named after the 3rd Marquess of Bute, whose family owned the castle. I can highly recommend to have a lunch or coffee stop at the Secret Garden Cafe. This cute cafe serves delicious food with local, seasonal and organic ingredients.

To shorten the walking distances a bit, a nice option is to go from the park to Cardiff Bay by boat. Boat tours will bring you from the park entrance right to Cardiff Bay several times an hour. This is a nice way to get around, as it allows you to admire the city from a different point of view.

3. Seven Victorian and Edwardian shopping arcades

seven victorian arcade

Cardiff is known as the "City of Arcades", due to the highest concentration of Victorian, Edwardian and contemporary indoor shopping arcades in any British city. The arcades have become a hub for independent shops, cafes, bars and restaurants.

Arcade lunch restaurant 

Often referred to as the jewel in Cardiff’s crown, the arcades are filled with architectural wonders, fascinating history and delicious cuisine.

4. Cardiff city hall

cardiff city hall 1

This majestic building is beautiful and it’s just a walking distance away from the Bute Park and city center.

cardiff city hall 2

Next to the city hall is the South African War Memorial, Cardiff University and National Museumwith archaeological artifacts, art and natural history.

How to get to Cardiff

Cardiff has its own airport, but is also easy accessible by train or coach services from any other place in the United Kingdom on a daily base. Or rent a car and explore not just Cardiff but the beautiful landscapes that Wales has to offer.

I hope all the above travel tips for visiting Cardiff are helpful for your city trip to the lovely capital of Wales. Thank you so much for reading! If you have any questions or other recommendations, please leave us a comment below and help other people traveling to Cardiff.

Enjoy your trip to Wales!