Capital of Wales since 1955, Cardiff is unrecognisable from a few years ago. With an exhilarating mix of heavyweight cultural sights, exciting regeneration projects – not least the revitalized Cardiff Bay – world-class sport, a prolific music scene and some seriously banging nightlife, it’s easy to see why Cardiff now ranks alongside London and Edinburgh as one of the UK’s most compelling destinations. So if you were in any doubt, here are ten great reasons to visit…
1. Cardiff cuisine is on the up
Pick of the city centre restaurants is The Potted Pig, which occupies the vaults of an old bank, and where – yep, you guessed it – pork reigns supreme. It’s worth making the short trip out to well-heeled Pontcanna, where Fish at 85 is doing great things – pick your fish from the counter and the chef will prepare it just as you like it.
If you want to shop like a local, head to the banks of the Taff, opposite the Principality Stadium, on Sunday mornings. You’ll find the tastiest local produce at the Riverside Food Market. Farmers from the surrounding countryside bring traditional Welsh meats and cheeses, while local chefs, bakers and makers share their artisan wares.
2. It’s an unrivalled place to watch world-class sport
Quite simply, rugby is king here, and the natives love nothing more than shouting themselves hoarse at an international inside the magnificent Principality Stadium.
After launching in the Welsh capital in 2001, the annual FIM British SpeedwayGP celebrates its 20th visit to Cardiff in 2022. The Principality Stadium is transformed by way of a central circular dirt track measuring over 270 metres. This year's event takes place on 13 August 2022 in the Principality Stadium.
Sophia Gardens is a world class cricket ground in the heart of Cardiff city centre. The stadium seats 16,000 and has been the home of Glamorgan Cricket Club since 1967. It's an established venue that's used for international cricket too. It's held lots of international test matches, including sold-out Ashes Test matches in 2009 and 2015. On 28 July 2022, it will host England v South Africa in the IT20.
3. Cardiff Bay is one of Europe’s best regeneration projects
Once one of the world’s busiest docks – when it was rather more romantically known as Tiger Bay – Cardiff Bay has been utterly transformed over the past decade, and the results are dazzling. From the spectacular, super-sized Wales Millennium Centre and the Welsh Assembly, to more venerable buildings like the Neo-Gothic Pierhead and the sublime little Norwegian church – which is where Roald Dahl was christened – this sparkling waterside area is an unmissable part of any Cardiff itinerary.
The Cardiff Bay Wetland Reserve makes up a huge part of the regeneration of the area and is testament to the fact that Wales’ wildlife can be enjoyed in the capital city as well as rural locations.
Craft in the Bay Gallery is an exhibition and craft shopping area located at the south end of Lloyd George Avenue – it champions Welsh crafts and supports local talent, and is well worth a visit.
4. Great bands were born here
Any city that spawns such great bands as the Super Furry Animals and the Manic Street Preachers (ok, technically the latter are from Blackwood just up the road in the Valleys) commands respect – and Cardiff certainly takes its music seriously. For live music, The Moon Cardiff is currently the venue of choice amongst more discerning gig-goers, while Clwb Ifor Bach has a firmly Welsh orientation.
If you’re looking to buy, make a pilgrimage to Spiller’s Records, which is generally acknowledged to be the oldest record shop in the UK; there’s not much you won’t find here.
Other great music and arts venues in the city include Chapter Arts Centre in Canton, Tramshed in Riverside and Spillers Records, which was established in 1894 and is the oldest record shop in the world.
5. It has nightlife to rival – if not beat – any city in the UK
Whether you’re out for a few beers before a big game at the Millennium Stadium, or gearing up for a more full-on Friday night experience, an evening out in Cardiff is not for the feint-hearted. Cardiffians have a reputation – fully justified – for partying hard. Away from the ubiquitous chain pubs, try Buffalo, which takes on a clubby feel as the evening wears on.
For a more local experience, make for Y Mochyn Du – a former gatekeeper’s lodge popular with Welsh speakers. Or if you fancy one more for the road, enjoy a pint in one of Cardiff's oldest city centre pubs, the City Arms, located opposite the stadium.
6. Cardiff Castle is fascinating
Plonked right in the heart of the city centre, Cardiff Castle’s most sustained period of development coincided with the arrival of the Bute family, who ruled the roost (and indeed most of Cardiff) during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There are various aspects to visiting the castle, first and foremost the apartments, occasionally kitsch but always fascinating. On a warm summer’s day, however, a stroll along the battlements and around the beautifully manicured lawns is reason enough to visit. But what really makes this place cool are the various concerts and festivals held within its grounds.
7. It is one of the UK’s most exciting TV and film locations
Unbeknown to many, Cardiff is one of the UK’s most important locations for television and film shoots, as the recent openings of the BBC Drama Village and Pinewood Studios would testify. The big-hitter was Doctor Who.
His Dark Materials (2019–2022), produced by Cardiff-based Bad Wolf Studios features many locations throughout Wales, including Cardiff. The filming for live-action canine comedy Show Dogs (2018) saw Hollywood stars Will Arnett and Natasha Lyonne descend on Cardiff Bay, where the city’s historic Bute Street doubled up as a setting for a New York police station for some exterior scenes.
8. You can shop in some of the UK’s most beautiful arcades
No, not the slot machine variety, but a series of beautifully renovated Edwardian-era arcades that you’ll rarely find anywhere in the UK. Each arcade – and there are half a dozen – variously conceals a host of wonderfully diverse emporia, including clothes shops, art galleries, and antique and second-hand bookshops.
Among the seven unique arcades are Castle Arcade, famous for the impressive balconies that split the shops across two floors, Duke Street Arcade, with its striking Gothic design, and the city's oldest, Royal Arcade. Together, these independent businesses are at the heart of the city.
These are also great places to refuel, with two establishments in particular worth seeking out: The Plan (for the best coffee in town) and Madame Fromage (the best deli in town).
9. Cool places to stay for all tastes and budgets
It might be a travel cliche, but Cardiff really does offer accommodation to suit every type of traveller. For those who enjoy the finer things in life, The Parkgate Hotel is the city's finest new luxury hotel. Its design echoses the glamour of the hotel's historic setting and its tantilisingly close to the Principality Stadium too. If you prefer to be ensconsed in the beautiful Welsh counryside (and who could blame you?) The Vale Resort – with rooms from £89 per night – is just 15 minutes from Cardiff and is firmly established as one of the UKs most desirable spa and golf hotels. Another affordable countryside spot is Llanerch, a stylish farmhouse with rooms, restaurant, cookery school and vineyard – rooms start at £85 per night.
There are hundreds more accommodation options to choose from – from the sleek and stylish to the fun and quirky – find your perfect place to stay in Cardiff.
10. There’s a great beach on the doorstep
Just a short train ride from the city centre, Barry Island is often much maligned, yet this is a tad unfair. Sure, it has it’s tacky amusement arcades and obligatory funfair with rickety rides – but it also boasts a neat promenade and a lovely Blue Flag beach in Whitmore Bay. And if you’re a fan of Gavin & Stacey, then you can hunt down some of the locations used during the filming of the series, including the arcade that the endearingly formidable Nessie worked in.
Top image: Cardiff Bay © Crown Copyright 2022 Visit Wales