Cardiff

Cardiff (Welsh: Caerdydd) is the capital of Wales in the United Kingdom and is on the south coast of the country. Though it had a reputation of being an industrial city, Cardiff has changed dramatically in recent decades. It is now a lively and modern capital city, gaining popularity with tourists interested in its history and Welsh culture. It is quickly becoming one of the United Kingdom's tourism hot spots. Summer is by far the best time to visit as the city hosts large festivals with al fresco dining and drinking becoming ever more popular due to large areas of pedestrianisation. The city centre has seen huge development over the last decade and is now considered to be one of the top ten shopping destinations in the United Kingdom. Cardiff is a very green city, having the most green space per person in the UK, and this is complimented by Bute Park which sits in the heart of the city. It has a reputation as a city of castles, having 5 different castles within its surroundings. The city's core population stands at roughly 341,000, with 861,000 living in the larger urban area.

Understand

Cardiff is on the south coast of the south Wales plain, with a shoreline on the Bristol Channel. It lies at the mouth of three rivers: the Taff, the Ely and the Rhymney, with the Taff flowing through the city centre and all three reaching the sea at Cardiff Bay. Cardiff is quite a flat city, a characteristic that helped it become one of the world's leading ports for the transport of coal from the rugged south Wales Valleys.

Around 12% of the residents of Cardiff speak Welsh, and all public signs in the city are in both Welsh and English. However, as elsewhere in Wales, English is universally understood.

City

Cardiff's city centre is in the southern portion of the city just north of Cardiff Bay. It is traditionally centred at the castle, bounded to the north by the historic civic centre, large Bute park arboretum and university buildings, by the River Taff to the west, and by the Valleys and National rail lines to the east and south respectively. Growth in recent years, however, is pushing the city centre beyond these boundaries, especially in regards to commercial office and residential provision. In particular, the area south of the original city centre towards and including Cardiff Bay has been almost completely redeveloped.

History

Cardiff's history follows its castle which has been occupied for over 2,000 years when the Romans created a fort on the river Taff (where the name may have come from 'Caer' = fort, on the 'Taff'); the fort's original walls can still be seen highlighted around the base of Cardiff Castle's walls. In Medieval times the castle grew, and a small town spread from its south gate, the medieval street pattern can still be seen around High Street. In the 15th century the town was destroyed by the last great Welsh Prince Owain Glyndwr. Successive owners fortified the castle and the town timidly grew, until the industrial revolution when the 2nd Marquess of Bute built the Glamorganshire canal to transport coal from the Welsh valleys through Cardiff's docks. Combined with the later arrival of the railways, Cardiff's population exploded and the docks grew to become the largest coal exporting port in the world. At its peak, the price of the world's coal was determined at Cardiff's Coal Exchange and the first ever £1,000,000 cheque was written here in 1901 (equivalent to £77,837,000 today). Cardiff was the 3rd largest port of the British Empire resulting in Edward VII granting Cardiff city status in 1905. With the rise of the city's fortunes the Marquis of Bute transformed Cardiff castle into a fairytale gothic palace, donating land to build the truly impressive civic centre which contains the City Hall, National Museum, university and government buildings, all built in elaborate neo-classical Baroque styles out of expensive white Portland stone. The Marquis also commissioned the architect William Burges to design very many public and residential buildings in a distinctive Gothic style - many are still visible in the city centre and the inner suburbs. Cardiff was lucky not to have its city centre heavily bombed like other industrial cities during WWII, and was spared the worst excesses of the post war rebuilding, so a stroll around throws up many contrasts in eras and designs. It may surprise people that Wales (Cymru) did not have a de jure capital until 1955, when Cardiff was chosen as the outstanding candidate as largest city. However, with the post-War decline of coal, the city's docks became increasingly abandoned, and in the 90's the citys transformation began with the building of a barrage to stop the worlds second largest tidal range from revealing dirty mud flats, and creating what is today Europe's largest waterfront regeneration project. The Bay today is a mixture of apartments, sport, leisure and culture and its success has also seen a rejuvenation of the city centre, where large scale pedestrianisation and the recent massive St David's redevelopment have created a vibrant city, combining the best of the old, sitting close to modern architecture and amenities. As for the Castle, it was handed over to the people of Cardiff, and is now a major tourist, corporate and cultural attraction, an indication of where the city's future lies.

Beautiful civic centre fronted by city hall (left), National Museum of Wales (right) and the law courts, Cardiff

Profile

Cardiff has a strong sporting and cultural presence given that it is the capital city, and therefore plays host to most Welsh sporting events, especially since the opening of the Millennium Stadium in the city centre. In fact one of the city's charms is when it plays host to matches, the city centre atmosphere can be extraordinary, being swelled by 75,000 attendees and thousands of revellers.

In the past it was quite a gritty city with the port and industry playing a huge role, Cardiff's ports were once among the most important in the world. Notable milestones were when Cardiff Bay (sometimes called Tiger Bay) was the first area of modern Britain to be thought of as a multicultural area given the huge part immigrants played in the city's ports. The area is still home to one of the oldest and largest expatriate Somali communities in the world. The world's first 'million pound' deal was also signed at the Bay's own Coal Exchange building.

In the past few decades however, the city has moved away from its industrial past and has been transformed by developments such as Cardiff Bay, which now hosts famous and striking landmarks such as the National Assembly for Wales and the spectacular Wales Millennium Centre. Massive investments have also been made throughout other parts of the city, such as the opening of the Millennium Stadium and massive Saint David's shopping centre.

When to go

Cardiff is best to visit during late spring to early autumn as the warm weather adds to the city's pleasures and allows maximum experience of all the sites and areas of the city, although the city usually benefits from mild weather all year round, with notable exceptions.

Get in

By plane

The main airport is Cardiff International Airport. This is the only major airport in Wales and is situated some 12 miles to the south-west of the city in the Vale of Glamorgan. The airport is served by a number of airlines including Flybe , KLM , Thomsonfly and Skybus . KLM provide worldwide links to Cardiff via Schiphol (Amsterdam, NL). Domestic services operate daily to Anglesey, Belfast, Newcastle, Newquay, Jersey, Glasgow and Edinburgh. As for European routes, Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid, Dublin, and many other holiday routes such as Faro, Palma de Mallorca and Alicante, operate daily.

Car parks serving Cardiff Airport
Address On/Off Airport Distance / Transfer Time Security Park Mark
Award
Additional Information Clients Retain Car Keys
Airparks Days Inn Cardiff, Port Road, Rhoose, Vale of Glamorgan, CF62 3BT Off 1 mile / 5 minutes CCTV, security fencing, floodlighting and 24-hour security patrols. Yes No minibuses or high-sided vehicles are accepted. No
Highwayman Parking Highwayman Security Park, Fonman Rhoose, Barry, South Glamorgan, CF62 3BH Off 0.3 miles / 7 minutes 24-hour CCTV coverage, floodlighting, razor-wire security fencing, guard dogs and airport security patrols every 15 minutes. Yes Trailers are permitted, but will be charged for an extra space. No
NCP Long Stay Car Park Cardiff International Airport, Cardiff, CF62 3BD On 0.4 miles / walking distance CCTV, perimeter fencing, automated entry/exit barriers and security patrols. No Trailers are not permitted. Yes
Cardiff Short Stay Cardiff International Airport, Cardiff, CF62 3BD On N/A CCTV, perimeter fencing, automated entry/exit barriers and security patrols and disabled access No Trailers are not permitted. Yes
Cardiff Long Stay Cardiff International Airport, Cardiff, CF62 3BD On N/A CCTV, perimeter fencing, automated entry/exit barriers and security patrols and disabled access No Trailers are not permitted. Yes

Increasingly, Bristol International Airport is used as well by residents and visitors of Cardiff. Prices can be lower, and it can be easily reached by car or public transport.

By train

Wikivoyage has a guide to Rail travel in the United Kingdom.

Cardiff Central railway station is a major hub for many services and is in an ideal location being very close to the main city centre attractions and is in close proximity to Cardiff Bay. Arriva Trains Wales operate the vast majority of intra-Wales services with regular departures from Cardiff Central to the South Wales Valleys, Swansea, and a frequent service to North Wales. They also operate regularly to Manchester and Birmingham making Cardiff ideal to visit via rail. All inter-city travel is via Cardiff Central while Cardiff Queen Street station near the eastern end of the city centre is the hub for Cardiff's Valley Lines services, connecting the centre of the city with the suburbs and commuter towns. Both stations are controlled by ticket barriers, so you will need a ticket to enter or leave the platforms. Ticket machines are in the entrance of both stations and in Central station there are many maps that will help you plan your journey.

Cardiff Central is two hours from London Paddington by train, however some may take longer with more stops. Trains depart half hourly during the day and are operated by First Great Western . These services also continue hourly to Swansea. First Great Western run a service from Cardiff to Portsmouth Harbour via Newport, Bristol, Bath and Southampton.

Rail service provides quick and easy links to other interesting areas (such as the Vale of Glamorgan and West Wales), making Cardiff a pleasant and cheaper place to use as a home base while exploring the surrounding areas.

The city itself has around 22 train stations within its boundaries, with travel to North Cardiff especially accessible, Travel to tourist attractions such as Cardiff Bay, Castell Coch and Barry Island can be easily and cost effectively reached by train or bus.

By car

From London and the South East of England, Cardiff is most swiftly reached by taking the M4 motorway west across the Severn Bridge and into Wales. Journey times from Central London to Cardiff are usually 3 hours, although visitors from Heathrow could shave up to an hour off this time. Don't forget the bridge charges a toll to cross, although after years of accepting cash only, the bridge operators now accept major credit and debit cards. See for up-to-date information on toll charges. The M4 is also the main artery linking Cardiff with West Wales including Swansea, while the A470 road mainly links Cardiff with the South Wales Valleys, Mid Wales and North Wales. Travelling from North or Central England and Scotland the M50 links the M5 motorway with Wales and continues down to south Wales eventually linking with the M4. Cardiff's junctions are 29 - 34 inclusive.

Within Cardiff, it is cheaper to find a train station and continue onto the city centre via train, as car parking within the city although plentiful, can be expensive. Getting around the city by car is straightforward, even within the city centre, it is quite easy moving around; although, it's best to restrict entering the city centre area during off-peak times as congestion can occur at rush hour like any city. Generally though, the city centre is pretty compact and its much easier and cheaper to move around on foot. Note that when major events (in particular international rugby matches) take place at the Millennium Stadium, most streets in the city centre are closed to vehicles.

See for a list of Cardiff City Council operated car parks.

By bus

National Express operate regular services to and from most other major cities in Britain with Cardiff Central bus station, which is in the forecourt of Central railway station, making it quite easy to switch between train and bus. In addition, MegaBus offer a regular and very cheap service to London and departs from near Cardiff Castle. Cardiff is about 3 hours, depending on traffic, from London.

Get around

On foot

The Hayes and massive new extension to the St Davids shopping arcade, Cardiff

Cardiff, especially the central area, is pretty compact with the main attractions being quite close to each other making getting around on foot quite easy. Most sights are signposted to help you guide your way around the city centre and the bay.

By bike

The city's flatness makes cycling fairly painless, especially around the Bay and City Centre (including Bute Park). The Taff Trail and Ely Trail provide mainly off-road paths through the city and beyond, although on days with good weather these paths can be almost inaccessible for cyclists due to inconsiderate pedestrians filling up the paths. Most parts of the city provide pleasant cycling, although some areas are more difficult due to heavy traffic or no-cycling pedestrianised roads (such as Queen Street). The 'Oy Bike' scheme has now been cancelled but bike hire is available from 'Pedal Power' in the Pontcanna Fields Campsite and from 'Cardiff Cycle Tours' at NosDa backpackers hostel.

By bus

Cardiff Bus offer a comprehensive network of services across the city, to the nearby City of Newport and to destinations in the Vale of Glamorgan. Fares are a straightforward £1.70 for any adult journey across the city, whereas £3.40 buys an all day 'Day to Go' pass to travel across the network (including Penarth, Dinas Powys, Llandough, Sully and Wenvoe) all. Another option is the 'Network Dayrider' ticket. This costs £7.00 for an adult ticket, but gives unlimited access to any bus travel in South East Wales.

The central bus station is in Central Square, in the forecourt of Central railway station, and maps are readily available that will help you plan your journey.

If you are sightseeing in Cardiff during the day and then going to Caerphilly and onto Newport, for example, this one ticket will cover all that travel.

Cardiff Bus also operate a frequent 'Baycar' service between the city centre and Cardiff Bay, which makes it easy to get between the main attractions and is good value if you don't want to walk. Stagecoach in South Wales, Veolia Transport Cymru and First Cymru also offer regular routes in and around Cardiff and South East Wales.

Open top sightseeing buses operate regularly during the summer season at a price of approximately £8.00/person.

There are also park and ride sites based at County Hall and Crown Way, see National Park and Ride Directory

By train

It can be quite cost-effective, quick, and easy to visit areas with a local train station, such as Llandaff Cathedral or Penarth Pier as services leave from both Cardiff Central or Queen St stations so check on maps for train services, if you'd rather this than the bus. The wider Cardiff metropolitan area (including Penarth, Taffs Well, Pontypridd and Dinas Powys) contains 26 stations, making train travel a viable alternative in many cases.

By taxi

Cardiff is not short of taxis. They can be flagged down on the street or booked in advance:

Although a lot of taxis in the city centre are black, they have no set colour. Licensed taxis have a yellow plate on the rear bumper of the vehicle.

By waterbus

For a different experience, the River Taff Waterbus runs regularly during the summer season between the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff Bay and Penarth. Tickets cost around £4 and are available to buy online.

See

Landmarks

Cardiff Castle at the heart of the city
Major buildings of Cardiff Bay. From left: Pierhead Building, Wales Millennium Centre, Senedd

Museums and galleries

Re-erected buildings in St Fagans National History Museum
San Giorgio Maggiore in the Dusk by Claude Monet, part of the Davies sisters' collection in National Museum Cardiff

Do

Mermaid Quay in Cardiff Bay
Penarth pier, Flat Holm and Steep Holm islands

Festivals and events

Cardiff's festivals are increasingly contributing to its development as a major tourist attraction. As most of them are concentrated in the summer months, it is ideal to visit then to make sure that you experience all the attractions and the festivals as an added bonus. Unlike Edinburgh, Cardiff is still pretty cost effective during the summer months so its ideal for those who don't want to go all out!

Cinemas and theatres

Cardiff has some of the best theatre and cinema in Wales and even across the UK, covering huge range including mainstream films, foreign and theatre.

Concerts

The Motorpoint Arena Cardiff, host to major bands and artists throughout the year..

Look out for events at the Millennium Stadium too.

Smaller gigs can be seen at many venues across the city including Callaghans, Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff Students Union, and Buffalo Bar.

More 'sedate' concerts are frequently held at St Davids Hall and The Welsh Millennium Centre.

Cardiff has a great number of Show and Gig Venues throughout the City Cardiff Shows .

Buy

Royal Arcade, one of 8 unique Victorian arcades in the centre, popular for independent shops, cafes and souvenirs

Nicknamed the City of Arcades, Cardiff is great place for shopping in style and the Victorian arcades are worth a visit in themselves. They have lots of little shops, food markets, etc. Up-market home stores include Melin Tregwynt (now closed), and Banana Custard (for kids).

Queen St, St Marys Street and The Hayes are the major pedestrianised shopping streets which all branch off the castle, so it is easy to walk from shop to shop without fear of traffic. Queen street has most of the usual lineup of Marks and Spencer, Top Shop and River Island. The Hayes has recently been refurbished along with the massive St Davids shopping centre that has drawn in a few big names such as Hugo Boss and the biggest John Lewis outside of London. St Marys street, the original shopping street of Cardiff has gradually declined, firstly after Queen street was pedestrianised when the street saw a shift towards restaurants, bars and clubs, and then during the councils year long trial of closing the street to traffic. Thankfully St Marys street is now pedestrianised for most of its length, with work still ongoing but its worth a look as most of the citys grandest buildings are along its length with the large and oldest department store in Wales (Howells by House of Frasier), imposing entrance to the Central Market and elaborate entrances to the arcades particular high points.

The Hayes has recently undergone a massive transformation, seeing the construction of the £675 million St Davids shopping centre extension, along with the largest John Lewis department store outsie of London and a new public library well situated at the opposite end of the street to the original Library, now known as the 'old library', soon to open as the Cardiff museum. Here modern architecture contrasts beautifully with the historic shops and arcades on the opposite side of the street, which has quickly become the cities higher end of the market shopping street.

The Central market is a must for anyone looking for a find whether it be arts, crafts, food, souvenirs or even pets.

Eat

Things are getting better in Cardiff for eating. It can be very difficult to book a table in the better restaurants on a Friday or Saturday evening. As a rule of thumb Mermaid Quay and the city centre are jam packed full with a varied contrast of eateries allowing you to experience many different tastes within a small area.

In the centre see Cafe Minuet (Marcello's) in Castle Arcade, The Potted Pig on High Street. In Riverside try Madhav's for unusual vegetarian Indian food. In the Bay avoid all the chains at Mermaid Quay and look at Mr G's Soul Kitchen for Caribbean. In Canton try La Cuina (Catalan food) on Kings Road. Head to City Road for a massive variety of world cuisines and don't miss .cn - an authentic Chinese restaurant very popular with the local Chinese community and Chinese students.

Budget

There are lots of little Mom and Pop eateries with reasonable, plentiful and quite tasty takes on the Full English breakfast, sandwiches, fish and chips, etc.

Also, there is the Brewery Quarter, which contains a few well known and different restaurants.

Vegetarians and vegans should head to Crumbs in Morgan Arcade for a great range of veggie and vegan food.

Also there are small cafes in the Indoor Market offering typical cafe food from toast to full roast dinners. prices typically range from .50p to £4.00. good deal for a quick fix.

Mid-range

Splurge

Cafés

Drink

Cardiff is one of top nights out in Britain having the most pubs per square foot than anywhere else in Britain it has many late night pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants. In the city centre, St Mary street, Greyfriars road and Mill Lane are especially lively and offer a variety of establishments to suit all tastes. Mermaid Quay is a lively, albeit smaller option to spend a warm summer night.

Cardiff is a place to drink, favoured by Stag and Hen Parties from all over the UK. St Mary St contains many pubs and clubs and becomes wild and exciting on Friday and Saturday nights. There are numerous clubs only a block short walk from Central Station that are bumping into the wee hours. An extensive venue and events list, including gigs and live bands can be found at What's on in Cardiff guide.

For a quieter drink, seek out:

Sleep

Bear in mind it can be very difficult to find rooms available or within a sensible price when the Millennium Stadium is hosting events, especially when Wales play in rugby or football, so plan around the dates or plan early as it will be much cheaper.

Camping

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Learn

Cardiff is home to around 30,000 students studying in various colleges and universities across the city.

Alexandra Gardens which the civic centre surrounds

Stay safe

Cardiff is quite a safe city, and certainly safer than most other major cities in the UK, with the centre having less overall crime than much smaller cities like Gloucester, Northampton and Derby, and far less than in the centre of London, Birmingham, Liverpool or Leeds. However, Cardiff has a relatively high rate of car theft crime rates . Make sure you remove all valuables from your vehicle, especially from show; and don't park at night in badly-lit streets in inner-city neighbourhoods such as Adamsdown, Splott, Riverside or Butetown. If you do need to leave a car overnight, several of the city-centre car parks offer cheap rates for all-night parking and are completely safe. Cardiff seems not to be plagued with a prominent red light district akin to many of the similarly-sized cities in England. However, areas such as Ocean Way in Adamsdown may be wise to avoid in the nights and early evenings in winter, as the area is known for prostitution. Anyone caught curb crawling is likely to be stopped and questioned by police, although more often than not, you will just be told to move on.

Alcohol-related violence is common in parts of Cardiff, especially on the weekends in the clubs and bars concentrated around St Mary Street and Greyfriars Road, so take extra caution to avoid offending anyone. (Cardiff Bay is usually less raucous at these times and attracts much less trouble.) In addition, as in any city, there are areas to avoid after dark: again, these include Adamsdown, Splott, Butetown, and Riverside. Bute Park is largely unlit at night so also best avoided.

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