So you’re visiting the capital city of Wales, Cardiff on a weekend visit and want to make the best of what this cosmopolitan Welsh city has to offer. Cardiff requires way more than a weekend to see everything it has to offer, but having lived in the city all my life, I’ve got a lot of experience and am recommending things I really think are worth your time. Since we’re on a tight time schedule here I’m focusing on what’s available for you to see and do in the city centre on day one, then venturing to three locations that can be done in a single day on day two.
Civic Buildings and Welsh National Museum
I recommend starting at the National Museum, which is located next to Cardiff City Hall as well as many impressive civic buildings. Note the museum is closed on Mondays. You can simply stroll around looking at the architecture and snapping a few photos, or you can head inside the National Museum. Entry is free, so this is great for a budget visit. It has many art galleries as well as national history and then rotating special galleries that have an entry fee. It’s worth checking what’s on before you visit to see if there’s something special that appeals. You will need a minimum of an hour or two here and could easily spend the entire day, if you have time!
If you’ve driven to Cardiff the parking around the civic buildings is council run rather than privatized which makes them some of the cheapest parking in Cardiff city centre and it might be worth leaving your car parked here for the duration as the city centre is very accessible on foot.
Walk towards Cardiff Castle which will take you past Gorsedd Gardens, City Hall Lawn, in front of Cardiff City Hall, the South African War Memorial and past Cardiff Crown Court. If those shops to the south are tempting you, now’s the perfect time for a detour and some retail therapy – but Cardiff has a LOT of shops so if you’ve only got one day here you may not be able to do everything.
Walking route from Cardiff National Museum to Cardiff Castle
Cardiff Castle is an amazing building and you can see quite a lot of it by walking around the walls. If you want to go in and explore, I’d allow at least one to two hours to get your moneys worth, as it is £13.50 for an adult ticket + £3.75 for the house tour (30 minutes or so, which is well worth doing once). If you’re short on time you can just do a walk-by visit, snapping a few photos before continuing on to Bute Park.
Bute Park and Historic Wall Animals
If you input Cardiff Water Taxi into your google maps, you’ll get walking directions that take you along the Animal Wall and into Bute Park to the Water Taxi.
Walking Route: Cardiff Castle to Bute Park and the Water Taxi
The animals are really interesting to see – they’re historic stone carvings built into the wall that surrounded the castle grounds and there are 15 total to find if you’ve got time to explore! By walking this route to the water taxi you’ll pass directly past Pettigrew Tearooms where you can stop for a coffee, tea and an amazing slice of cake as a pick me up as well as see a small amount of Bute Park. If the weather is nice you might want to spend some time strolling around Bute Park, perhaps visiting Summerhouse Cafe, before hopping on the water taxi, because I’m recommending you head to Cardiff Bay next.
Alternatives to the Water Taxi include driving, there are several large pay and display car parks in Cardiff Bay, taking the bus, which runs regular from opposite Bute Park entrance, or walking, but this would take up a good amount of your free time.
If you take the Water Taxi you’ll get to see the River Taff, including the Millenium Centre and Cardiff Bay Barrage. I highly recommend it!
Cardiff Bay Barrage
If you have the time, the weather is nice and you want a walk then get off the water taxi at Cardiff Bay Barrage, which stops at the Penarth end of the barrage. If you drove into Cardiff Bay you can also walk this from Cardiff Bay to the Barrage and back. It’s about a 45 minute walk along the barrage which is a really nice walk past the mechanisms (very interesting), and along the harbour, populated with yachts and pleasure boats. You’ll pass by Cafe Hafren if you need a snack or cup of coffee and the Norwegian Church which is a very unique building.
If you decide to skip this walk, then get out at Cardiff Bay itself and you will be on the main boardwalk which gives you access to many pubs and eateries, Opera House, the Senydd and more.
There are lots of food options at Cardiff Bay depending on your tastes. We have had some great food at The Dock, but my favourite restaurant so far there is Bill’s, which is in a building with lots of history! I’ve written a post about the food at Cardiff Bay.
Welsh National Opera House
Go in the big wheel for amazing views!
Get the boat, bus or drive back to Cardiff city centre and do a bit of shopping as the city starts preparing for the night shift if you have the energy, or if you need a break and are staying overnight, now is a good time to check into your hotel, have a rest and get changed for dinner.
Where to Stay in Cardiff
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Cardiff, it’s worth getting in touch with SITU Serviced Apartments. SITU Serviced apartments offers a range of hand-picked serviced apartments which give you home-away-from-home options such as a functioning kitchen. I highly recommend staying in the city centre, on Cathedral Road, which is just past Bute Park and an easy walk in, or in the several options available for Cardiff Bay. If you’re staying in Cardiff Bay then this makes an excellent finish to the above itinerary as you don’t need to head back to the city centre in the evening. After you’ve checked in to your apartment, head out for a few drinks of cocktails, as Cardiff has amazing nightlife both in the city centre and in the Cardiff Bay area.
For day two of your weekend trip, I’m going to recommend three historical and cultural sites outside the city centre, but still within the city limits. These are easily accessible by bus or car and you’ll be passing each one to get to the other, so will maximise the amount of time you need.
The first stop is approximately 10-15 minutes drive from the city centre and is Llandaff Cathedral.
Llandaff Cathedral is open every day to visitors, and there’s a welcomer on site who can provide information sheets and offer you a self-guided walk around the Cathedral and grounds. The present building dates from around 1120, with extensive additions, upheavals and modifications. It is beautiful both inside and out and you can spend as little as 10-15 minutes walking around the outside taking a few photos, or as much as an hour admiring the interiors.
Just a few minutes walk from Llandaff Cathedral, I recommend Jasper’s Tea Room for a cup of tea or coffee, cake, or a decadent afternoon tea, which I reviewed previously.
Insole Court and Gardens
Insole Court and Gardens is a 5 minute drive or a 15 minute walk from Llandaff Cathedral. I’ve mentioned it because it is so close to the other stops, and has a large free car park. It has a wonderful cafe and is a great place to have a spot of breakfast. The house is available to walk around for free, and often has events and galleries on the top floors. The grounds will only take about twenty to thirty minutes to walk around, but if you’re already passing on you way from Llandaff Cathedral to St Ffagans Museum of Welsh life, this is well worth a brief stop to take in the culture and history of a magnificent Welsh house.
St Ffagans National Museum of History
St Ffagans National Museum of History is an amazing museum that brings together Welsh history, culture and life in a way that you can really feel part of – by putting together an outside museum with houses, farm buildings, crafts buildings, farming and more. It also has indoor galleries filled with Welsh history, an amazing gift shop where you can buy many locally crafted goods as well as Welsh food and drink, and a small restaurant too. There is a river to walk across, beautiful gardens and many historic buildings. This museum is completely free entry, with regular bus services. The large car park is a £6 fee per car.
You can easily spend a full day here; which is why I’ve suggested it alongside the two close, short visits of Llandaff Cathedral and Insole Court (approximately 10-15 minute drive away).
Photos supplied by St Ffagans National Museum of History Press Office.
I hope that this guide to spending a weekend in Cardiff has given you some suggestions for what to do, and helped you find the best way to make the most of a weekend visit.
If you’ve found this helpful I would love it if you could share this guide with others and leave a comment below. If you have any questions about Cardiff whatsoever and want suggestions or help from someone who’s lived in Cardiff their whole life, just drop a comment and I’ll do my best to respond.