Things to do in Cardiff

Page author

by Hertz AU - 06 September 2018

Rich in history, with a vibrant port area and fantastic shopping, the capital of Wales is an exciting destination to visit. Situated in the valleys in the south of Wales, Cardiff is within driving distance of beautiful beaches, thriving national parks and exciting and enriching sights aplenty, making it the perfect place to visit and an ideal base for further exploration of Wales.

Whether on a trip with your family, travelling here for work, or embarking on an adventurous break away, Cardiff is perfect for immersing yourself in Welsh culture. With plenty to see and enough things to do in Cardiff to span two trips, here’s some inspiration for the best attractions and sights to explore in Cardiff and beyond.

Learn about Welsh history

Curiously plonked right in the heart of the city centre, Cardiff Castle brings to life the proud heritage of Wales. With over 2,000 years of history sitting snugly within its walls, the castle is eager to share stories of its past with visitors.

A castle has stood here since the Romans arrived in Wales, and the ancient fort, rich with preserved archaeological findings, takes you on a fascinating journey through the millennia. Its lofty hillside position immediately gives you a sense of its importance and it doesn’t disappoint, hosting a chunk of authentic Welsh history in this truly stunning setting.

Established around 60 AD, the original foundations of the castle were rebuilt during the Norman conquest, but you can still see the remains today. The castle has been owned by a series of governors and wealthy Cardiff residents down the centuries, but it wasn’t until 1866 that architect William Burges transformed the keep into the castle we know today.

Emulating the grandeur of Gothic architecture, the castle towers were constructed to create an opulent effect. It’s even more spectacular inside, with each dark wooden room incorporating lavish designs. Look out for golden religious murals, Italian and Arabian decor and plenty of marble and stained glass. Be sure take a guided tour of the castle to experience the rooms in all their splendour.

When visiting the castle, take time to uncover its fascinating secret – the wartime shelters that are hidden below. In fact, the castle walls themselves conceal tunnels which lead to underground air-raid shelters that were used during the Second World War. More than 1,800 people could take refuge inside the castle walls with dormitories, first aid points, kitchens and toilets all installed for those sheltering within.

If you want to find out more about the country’s wartime heritage, pay a visit to the Firing Line: Museum of The Welsh Soldier, just outside the castle walls. This interactive experience follows over 300 years of service by The Queen’s Dragoon Guards and The Royal Welsh soldiers in historic battles all over the world. Just along from the museum, check out one of Cardiff’s most photographed spots, the Animal Wall. Dating back to the 1880s, several animals were carved out of stone to depict the strong characters of the natural world, an impressive sight to behold.

Things to see and do in Cardiff

With a tempting shopping district, an enviable music scene, sporting glory, historical heritage and to top it off, a buzzing nightlife, the lively capital of Wales has lots to offer. Whether you’re bringing your family, here on a short break or you’re in the city for business, there’s so much to see and do in Cardiff. 

If you’re travelling with the family, Cardiff’s National Museum is something you can all enjoy, thanks to its fantastic interactive exhibits which bring the history of the capital to life in a captivating way. Situated in the civic centre, enjoy international collections of art, geology and natural history, including mind-blowing, life-size skeletons of dinosaurs.

Sport plays a significant part in the culture of Wales, bringing communities together and instilling a sense of national pride. In the capital, the obsession with sport is taken to a whole new level. Pay a visit to the home of Welsh rugby at the Principality Stadium. If you’re lucky enough to visit on a match day, you’ll be in awe of the harmonious din of over 70,000 dedicated Welsh rugby fans singing the national anthem as one. Embrace the roar of the crowd whenever Wales close in on another try.

Plan ahead and book tickets before you arrive in Cardiff. If you have the chance to witness the magic of an international fixture, seize it. If you don’t manage to see a match in the flesh, you can still enjoy soaking up the match day atmosphere in the city centre. When there isn’t a game on, you can still indulge in the sport with a tour of the 74,000 capacity stadium which includes access to the team dressing room – known as the Dragon’s Lair – before walking onto the pitch via the players’ tunnel. Picture yourself in that iconic red jersey and imagine what it must be like to walk out in front of a capacity crowd.

Visit the cultural hub of the city down by Cardiff Bay. Here you’ll be welcomed by picturesque views across the glistening harbour. But, it’s not just the striking setting you can enjoy, there are plenty of things to do in Cardiff Bay. Explore the planetarium at Techniquest and the Imax theatre. There’s also a good range of restaurants with outdoor terraces and entertainment to enjoy in the evening along the waterfront at Mermaid Quay.

Best beaches near Cardiff

Cardiff’s location in South Wales means it not only provides you with some fantastic city access, but it’s also a great base for visiting the plentiful supply of beautiful beaches nearby.

Just a 20-minute drive from the city centre, you’ll come across Penarth Beach. A pebble beach, it’s blessed with some great fishing spots and the chance to find real fossils that have been washed ashore.

Drive a little further along the coast and you’ll find Whitmore Bay, in the quintessential British seaside town of Barry. Here you’ll be able to enjoy the perfect seaside atmosphere. Grab an ice cream, sit back on the sand, or get digging and see who can build the biggest sandcastle.  

Just a 40-minute drive away, the seven sandy shores of Porthcawl await you, the perfect place for watersports enthusiasts. Don your wetsuit and head to Rest Bay to join the other surfers making waves along the shoreline. Near to Porthcawl lie the rolling sand dunes of Ogmore-by-Sea, a stunning landscape that’s drenched in a beautiful light as the sun sets over the horizon – the perfect place for a serene evening stroll.

Where to stay and eat in Cardiff

Cardiff hotels

Despite being one of the UK’s smaller cities, Cardiff is no stranger to visitors, and as such, it offers a fantastic variety of hotels for any budget and taste. Wake up to a beautiful view overlooking the shimmering waters of Cardiff Bay at the lavish St David’s Hotel & Spa. The rooms and suites here provide a luxurious space to rest your head after a day exploring this enthralling city. If you’d like to unwind further, visit the award-winning Marina Spa within the hotel grounds for a revitalising treatment. 

At the heart of the city centre, Hotel Indigo boasts a fantastic location, just a short walk from Cardiff Castle. Each room is spacious, boasting a modern, artistic design, while some even have additional seating. Enjoy dining in the hotel’s restaurant or sipping a drink out on the terrace with expansive views across the city’s skyline.

Near to the Principality Stadium, The Royal Hotel is a great boutique option that offers an attentive service with comfortable rooms. Make it a special evening and book into one of its quirky themed suites. Rooms here include cinema-themed stays, with film set furnishings, a 75-inch HD smart television with Netflix, online streaming and a PS4. For the perfect night in, settle down with a movie of your choice along with popcorn and refreshments. 

Cardiff’s best restaurants

Whether you’d like to feast on Indian, Chinese, Mexican or American cuisine, Cardiff is home to a whole host of delicious offerings. When you’re in the capital of Wales, make sure you sample the local delicacy, a sweet-tasting scone-like Welsh Cake. On chilly afternoons, warm up with a hearty cawl, which is similar to a stew. Or tuck into Welsh rarebit, the country’s signature version of cheese on toast, with a creamy cheese topping melted into eggs and milk.

Sample authentic Indian street food at Chai Street with aromatic flavours, rich curries and coconut rice dishes. You’ll be tempted by fresh Moroccan dishes at Mezza Luna, where you can enjoy the traditional entertainment in a temple-like setting while you feast on slow-cooked tagine specials. 

Head to Hogwurst for a taste of something a little different in a laid-back, cool setting. Feast on gourmet hot dogs with toppings ranging from grilled pepperoni to jerk seasoning and pulled pork.

Hiking in South Wales

Rolling hills, pretty woodland and majestic mountains; Wales is well known for its beautiful landscape, and Cardiff is the perfect place to explore it from, diving into the stunning surroundings of the Welsh valleys. Take the opportunity to explore the countryside by hiking through the hills, which are just a short drive from Cardiff.

Hike through the changing landscape of the mountainous Brecon Beacons which can be found just over an hour’s drive away. Park up and set off on a journey of discovery. Walk along rocky terrain, through shaded woodland and by the side of babbling brooks, and discover photo opportunities, ripe for Instagram, waiting over every hill. With hundreds of trails to enjoy, you can be as active as you like. Take to the slopes of the Sugarloaf peak in the Black Mountains – the highest part of the Brecon Beacons National Park – to enjoy the semi-ancient oak and beech tree woodland. Spot the many species of wildlife and make your way to the summit, where you’ll be rewarded with stunning views across the Severn Estuary.

Head to the western edge of the Brecon Beacons for fairy tale waterfalls and secluded pools that look as if they’ve been pulled from the pages of fiction. Start at Henrhyd, less than an hour’s drive from Cardiff and venture into the woodland gorge to discover this natural phenomenon. Plunging almost 30 metres from a jagged rock formation, marvel at the amazing sight of Henrhyd Falls.

Day trips from Cardiff

Cardiff’s fantastic location close to the M4 motorway and the plentiful supply of coastal routes means there are a number of stunning day trips you can head out on. Weave through the quaint valley villages, take time to stop off at the lively towns and stumble over secluded seaside resorts, all within driving distance from the capital.

For a day trip away from the hustle and bustle of Cardiff, hit the M4 and head for Newport, just 25 minutes away. The 14th-century Newport Castle is a perfectly preserved Norman castle that allows you to build on the story of empires you started to explore back in the capital. Overlooking the striking River Usk, you can tour the castle to hear tales of how the Normans conquered this part of the UK hundreds of years ago. Afterwards, make sure to stop off at the Chartist Graves to delve into another part of Welsh history, and pay your respects to the miners and ironworkers who fought and died for political rights here back in the 19th century.

Visiting Newport also gives you access to the picturesque River Usk. See the river in all its glory from the wetlands reserve, where wildlife and the idyllic West Usk Lighthouse can be found.

If you’re visiting Cardiff with the family, it would be a shame not to spend a day visiting the fun-filled resort of Barry Island, an iconic part of Welsh seaside culture. Let the kids head for the funfair, hit the amusements and head onto the beach to partake in a spot of sunbathing and sandcastle building. After a day enjoying the beach and the rides, finish off with another seaside staple – fish and chips on the promenade as you watch the sun set off the shore.

With exciting attractions, a stunning landscape and a location to die for, Cardiff is a great destination to visit. Explore it all with car hire from Hertz in Cardiff.