Welcome back to my Day Trips from London series! Previously I’ve covered St. Albans, Salisbury & Stonehenge, and Cambridge and I’m excited to write a bit about another lovely location now: Cardiff, Wales.
My family and I decided to go to Cardiff for the day after learning that our family ancestry traces back to the area. I’d been obsessed with Wales for awhile after visiting different parts of southern Wales earlier that year and was so excited to go back.
Cardiff is a fairly large city, and can surely be tackled in a couple of days if you have the time or if you want to see everything. However, if you only have a day, you can definitely see plenty of sights and enjoy the Welsh atmosphere!
A little history
Cardiff was settled by the Romans in 55AD and not much is known about what happened in the city until the Normans occupied it from 1091-1216. After its founding, it experienced many centuries of battle and changes of power. By the 19th century, it was the largest coal exporting port in the world. Because of its prominence in the industrial sector, Cardiff saw the world’s first £1 million deal in its Coal Exchange in 1907.
Today, Cardiff has more green space per person than any other city in the UK. It is a thriving city filled with a mix of modern developments like Millennium Stadium and charming streets, markets, and attractions. It has experienced a revitalisation of national pride and culture and the number of people who speak Welsh is actually increasing (just try and have a crack at pronouncing the Welsh signs!).
Getting to Cardiff
Trains from London Paddington to Cardiff Central station leave several times a day and cost anywhere from £20-40 depending on when you wish to travel. Most train rides are only two hours long so if you leave early in the morning you can get there and have a nice long day in Cardiff!
What to see in Cardiff
There is plenty to do in Cardiff and I really think you can cater your day trip to your specific interests. History lover? Visit Cardiff Castle. Culture lover, visit the Millennium Centre. Whatever you decide to do, take some time to wander around the streets of Cardiff, enjoy some delicious food, and try to decipher the Welsh signs.
Much of the history of Cardiff Castle coincides with the history of Cardiff itself. Cardiff Castle began its history as a Roman fort in 55 AD. It was occupied by the Normans, who built the motte, or giant mound, surrounded by a moat that you see in the photo. If you want to read a more detailed history of Cardiff Castle, check out this post.
Entry to the castle is a reasonable £12 for adults, £9 for children, and £10.50 for students and seniors. As my family and I are obsessed with castles and history, we spent about two hours wandering around the castle grounds. Climb the to the top of the tower for views of Cardiff and the surrounding countryside and be sure to visit the tunnels of the castle wall, which were used as bunkers during the Second World War. If you’re interested, the castle grounds also have a historically accurate replica of a 13th-century trebuchet.
The castle you see below houses the castle apartments and was originally built in the 15th century. It was transformed in the late 1800s into the structure we see today. The library inside is magical. Be sure to stop by the Arab room—the ceiling is beautiful!
The Millennium Stadium opened in 1999 and has since welcomed over 1.3 million visitors each year. If you’re a fan of rugby or football (soccer), you should definitely book tickets for a tour. Another option: check their events page and see if there’s a match or show you’d like to see while you’re in Cardiff! You can even see the stadium from different vantage points in Cardiff Castle.
Doctor Who Experience
Obviously, you must stop here if you are a Doctor Who fan. But beware: it will be closing in summer 2017!!
Cardiff Central Market
Cardiff Central Market is in the city centre and opened in 1891. It’s two storeys and houses hundreds of stalls whose vendors sell fresh produce, meat, fish, pastries, flowers, and clothing. My family and I stopped by for a quick wander and my dad even bought a nice little hat.
There are six Victorian arcades hidden throughout the city centre and I definitely recommend seeking them out. Morgan Arcade houses Spillers Records, the oldest record store in the world (from 1894).
If you’re not into sports, check out the Millennium Centre, named Wales’ #1 visitor attraction. Check their website for what’s on.
If the weather in Cardiff behaves, go to Bute Park, adjacent to Cardiff Castle. We visited Cardiff in the dead of winter and it was FREEZING so we didn’t venture in, but I really wanted to (I just couldn’t convince my parents and brother…)!
Bonus Excursion from Cardiff:
Llandaff Cathedral is just a few miles north of Cardiff and is one of the oldest Christian sites in Britain. We visited because my family ancestors are buried there, but if you love history and a good church, it’s definitely worth a visit.
The cathedral has a long history, dating back to 1120. It has been remodelled, damaged by bombs in World War II, re-remodeled many times, and used as a post office by Oliver Cromwell. It also houses the tomb of St. Teilo, a cousin of St. David and founder of the first church at Llandaff Cathedral in the 500s. I won’t go into the specifics of the whole history as it’s very long and complex, but the cathedral is a mix of both medieval and contemporary which was new to me!
If you want to learn a bit more about my family history, check out this post—it includes pictures of me laying down next to the effigy of the first person in my family, buried in 1484 ;)
Where to eat
The Goat Major
You MUST have lunch at this pub if it’s the only thing you do in Cardiff. My brother, probably the pickiest eater in the world, was obsessed with this place after our delicious meal. The Goat Major is a cozy pub on High Street only serving delicious, award-winning pie and chips. Hands down one of the best meals I had during my ten months in Europe!
Stuff to buy and try
Love Spoons are carved wooden spoons that Welsh peasantry would give to their loved ones. Certain designs have certain meanings. So, for example, a spoon with carved leaves represents growing love. They think that the English term “spooning” comes from this tradition! So cool. No one knows exactly what was meant by the giving of a love spoon: some believe it was a sign of the beginning of a courtship while others believe it was a sign of an engagement.
Bara brith is a Welsh fruit loaf made with tea. It is delicious, in my opinion! Give it a try.
Welsh rarebit is basically cheese on toast, with the cheese mixed with butter, mustard, beer or wine. The cheese can either be melted and then poured on the toast or the cheese can be grilled on the toast. There are many varieties but all are delicious.
As I said before, Cardiff does make a great day trip from London. There’s so much to do that you can easily pick and choose your favourites. However, depending on your interests, you might need to budget more than a day there. I’m looking forward to returning one day so I can explore more of Wales’ capital city.
Looking to spend longer in Wales? Check out some other sights in South Wales!