13 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Cardiff
The capital of Wales, the beautiful city of Cardiff is the perfect place to begin exploring this amazing country. An easy drive over the Severn from the English city of Bristol, Cardiff (Caerdydd) is where you'll find some of the country's top tourist attractions and points of interest. The city has long been of historic significance, as evidenced by splendid Cardiff Castle, widely regarded as one of the best preserved and most attractive of the many dozens of castles still to be found in Wales.
This rich history can also be enjoyed elsewhere in the city. From the castle, it's a short and extremely pleasant walk through the city's Victorian-era arcades down to Cardiff Bay, one of the largest port revitalization projects in all of Europe. Here, you can learn more about the port's important role in both the history of Wales and the UK as a whole, wander through the old warehouses and wharves, and even enjoy a spot of dining or shopping.
Cardiff also makes for a great jumping-off spot to explore other important attractions in Wales such as the magnificent Brecon Beacons and the spectacular Snowdonia National Park. For more ideas on the best places to visit, read our list of the top attractions in Cardiff.
1. Cardiff Castle
Built atop a nearly 2,000-year-old Roman fortification, Cardiff Castle is one of the most visited tourist attractions in all of Wales. It's also one of the most romantic-and best preserved-of the country's many historic castles, with some of the oldest sections dating back as far as the 10th century.
One of the most notable features that make it such an attractive place to visit are the State Apartments. Each room is chock-full of fascinating displays and useful information relating to the people that once lived and worked here, as well as key events in the castle's history. Other highlights include the picturesque chapel; the clock tower; along with the elegant Banqueting Hall, famous for its rich artworks and murals, as well as its impressive centerpiece, the room's large and elaborately decorated fireplace.
If you're pressed for time and want to be sure you're able to see the best parts of this magnificent historic site, consider joining an organized tour or, alternatively, purchase a Cardiff Castle Admission in advance of your visit. Allowing you to jump the line when entering the site, the admission also gives you access to the key points of interest noted above, as well as the Victorian apartments and library (audio guide included).
Address: Castle Street, Cardiff, Wales
Official site: www.cardiffcastle.com
2. The "City of Arcades"
After visiting its magnificent castle, be sure to head to Cardiff's well-preserved and still bustling Victorian shopping arcades. Dissecting the city center, these fascinating, old covered pedestrian thoroughfares were built to allow residents and visitors to enjoy shopping indoors without having to concern themselves with the weather or the poor conditions of roads and sidewalks.
A good place to begin your exploration of the more than 2,600 feet of arcades to explore is the oldest of them, the Royal Arcade, built in 1858. Many of the original shopfronts exist unchanged to this day, though the wares sold may have evolved over the decades-nowadays, you'll be faced with limitless choices of Welsh crafts and woolen goods.
If your Cardiff travel itinerary allows, be sure to take in one or two more arcades. Favorites include the High Street Arcade, built in 1886 and well-known as a place to shop for clothing, and the Castle Arcade, which opened a year later and connects the downtown area to the castle and is well-worth visiting for its art galleries, boutiques, and eateries. The Cardiff Market is another landmark shopping area to visit and has been serving up fresh produce from local growers since the 1890s.
3. Cardiff Bay
So large it could easily take the best part of a day to explore properly-it occupies some 2,700 acres of waterfront land-Cardiff Bay is well worth the expenditure of time and energy. Covering pretty much the entire former dockyards, the Cardiff Bay redevelopment-one of the largest in Europe-is home to plenty of fun things to do, particularly if you're traveling with kids.
Highlights for families include visiting attractions such as Techniquest, an interactive, kid-friendly science center. In addition to plenty of hands-on fun and learning experiences, parents can entertain their kids with educational displays in the facility's first-rate planetarium, too.
Those with kids who enjoy reading books such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Big Friendly Giant should also pop into the historic Norwegian Church, where the author of these classic tales, Roald Dahl, once worshipped (there's even a public square, Roald Dahl Plass, dedicated to the author's memory). Also notable here is one of Cardiff Bays' newest structures, the Senedd, which houses the country's government offices.
For those who enjoy walking, you won't be disappointed. You could spend hours walking the many parks and paths here, some of which lead through a wetlands preserve with plenty of wildlife spotting opportunities.
The old former warehouses and wharves are now home to everything from luxury homes and hotels, as well as some of the best dining experiences in Cardiff. In addition to its theaters, it's here you'll find the Wales Millennium Centre performance arts facility (see below for more on this top Cardiff attraction), numerous art studios and galleries, and excellent shopping.
Address: Queen Alexandra House, Cargo Road, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff, Wales
Official site: www.cardiffharbour.com
4. Wales Millennium Centre
Those interest in arts and culture would do well to try to grab a performance at the very modern Wales Millennium Centre. A leader in performances as diverse as classical music and opera, ballet, and modern dance, as well as literary events and musical shows, this sprawling five-acre venue has been dubbed one of the top performing arts centers on the planet. If you are looking for things to do at night in Cardiff, this is the place.
Even if you can't make a show or performance, be sure to visit to explore the grounds-it is after all located in Cardiff Bay-as well as the other fun things to do here. Related activities include educational events, lectures, and workshops, as well as dining and shopping experiences. The facility also offers a series of informative guided tours and behind-the-scenes activities.
Address: Bute Place, Cardiff Bay, Wales
Official site: www.wmc.org.uk
5. National Museum Cardiff
Those wanting to learn more about the rich history of Wales would do well to visit the National Museum Cardiff. Housed in the city's architecturally pleasing Civic Center building, this large and fascinating museum features numerous displays depicting the country's history all the way back to the time of dinosaurs. Among its collections relating to archaeology, a standout are the many fascinating displays of Bronze Age weaponry, while art lovers will want to visit the large art gallery.
Notable among its extensive catalogue of important paintings are works by Impressionists including Monet and Picasso, along with sculptures by Rodin, one of the later works in a collection that dates all the way back to the 1500s.
Address: Cathays Park, Cardiff, Wales
Official site: www.museumwales.ac.uk/cardiff/
6. Principality Stadium
If you're interested in sports, try to take in a rugby match at the nearby Principality Stadium at Cardiff Arms Park. And if that's not possible-the Welsh take their rugby seriously, so matches often sell out (especially international matches)-at least opt for a tour of this state-of-the-art stadium. Highlights of an informative organized tour include behind-the-scenes peeks into the national rugby team's change rooms and the tunnels that lead to the pitch, as well as the VIP and press facilities.
When not hosting rugby games, the venue is often used for major music artists passing through Cardiff while on tour.
Address: Westgate Street, Cardiff, Wales
Official site: http://www.principalitystadium.wales/tours
7. Llandaff Cathedral
Perhaps the best-known of Cardiff's many pretty churches-and certainly one worth visiting-the attractive Llandaff Cathedral was built in the 1300s on the ruins of the original structure built some 200 years earlier. It's a delight to tour, rewarding the adventurous traveler with a pleasant look at a landmark that has drawn worshippers from across the country since the times of Bishop Urban, the cathedral's founder.
Exterior highlights include the impressive 15th-century tower, while a tour of the interior-either self-guided or arranged through church staff-will expose you to such features as an exquisite and fully-restored 18th-century Italian Temple, notable for its rare religious sculptures and artifacts.
Address: Cathedral Road, Cardiff, Wales
Official site: www.llandaffcathedral.org.uk
8. St. Fagans National Museum of History
If your yearning for learning wasn't fully sated at the National Museum of Wales, make the short journey west of the city center to St. Fagans National Museum of History. This fascinating open-air attraction is very much a living museum, with costumed characters demonstrating the kind of traditional skills and crafts that helped shape the country.
Highlights include the opportunity to explore a variety of original and reproduction buildings, including quaint farmhouses and cottages, well-kept gardens, along with workshops and mills where you can enjoy demonstrations of old machinery. Good times to visit, if you can, include spring, summer, and at Christmas, with each season marked by a number of special events and festivals.
Location: Cathays Park, Cardiff
Official site: https://museum.wales/stfagans/
9. Caerphilly Castle
Although equally as attractive as its counterpart in Cardiff, stunning Caerphilly Castle-an easy 15-minute drive north of the city-is a much more recent construction. Built in 1628 and the largest castle in the country ever since, it served as part of the network of castles built by the English to keep control over the much-coveted Welsh countryside. Given its size and the scale of its defenses and battlements, it's a lot of fun to explore, and can easily take the best part of a day to see it all.
Of its many notable features, none impress as much as the two huge drawbridges which, along with the deep moat they cross when down, present an imposing portrait of the castle's daunting purpose-to keep out the enemy. An exploration of the interior provides a close-up look at a variety of displays of old weaponry and armor-much of it actually used in war-as well as interesting displays relating to everyday life for those who ruled, and those they ruled over.
Address: Castle Street, Caerphilly, Wales
Official site: http://cadw.gov.wales/daysout/caerphilly-castle/?lang=en
10. The Red Castle: Castell Coch
OK, so we're not done with castles yet-Wales does, after all, have the highest concentration of castles in the UK. Castell Coch, also known as the Red Castle, is, however, quite different altogether. Only 200 years old, this Cinderella-like castle, with its attractive turrets and towers, looks like it popped right out of a book of fairy-tales. This was indeed the intent of its creator, the third Marquess of Bute.
The attention to detail, both inside and out, is remarkable, and makes the visit well worthwhile. Attractive flourishes include carvings of creatures and religious icons-including some from (you guessed it) famous fairy-tales-as well as accompanying displays that allow guests to enjoy a virtual exploration of the building's unique history.
Address: Tongwynlais, Cardiff, Wales
Official site: http://cadw.gov.wales/daysout/castell-coch/?lang=en
11. Cardiff International White Water
Fortunately for sports enthusiasts and adventure seekers, there are plenty more fun things to do in Cardiff beyond exploring its rich history. A favorite for those into water sports, Cardiff International White Water offers a wide variety of experiences and programs for professional and amateur adventurers alike. Part of the larger sports village development in Cardiff Bay, which was constructed for the 2012 Olympics, this unique facility consists of a man-made white water environment whose 250-meter course can be adjusted to suit the experience, whether it's a gentle family rafting trip or a full-on hardcore canoe or kayak heart-stopper.
A good choice for families with younger kids is to start things off with lessons at the Paddle School before heading out for fun on some of the easier obstacles to tackle. Other extreme sports fun here includes surfing, canyoning, and bodyboarding.
Address: Watkiss Way, Cardiff, Wales
Official site: www.ciww.com/activities/white-water-rafting/
12. Cardiff City Hall
Another venue worth popping into if you're nearby-it's located in the city center, so is easy to find-is the old Cardiff City Hall. A handsome old building that was constructed in 1906, Cardiff City Hall, though largely used for events and functions, is open for the public to visit. And it's around 30 minutes of your time that's well-spent (especially as it's free!).
Notable features you'll see during your visit consist of immaculately restored interiors that date back to Edwardian times, in particular the famous Marble Hall, a large space decorated with a series of impressive marble statues and columns. Also worth noting is the Assembly Room, once used to hold ceremonies and where local dignitaries would mix with visiting royalty. The old council chambers, too, are worth a peek, as is the facility's art collection.
Address: Cathays Park, Cardiff, Wales
Official site: www.cardiffcityhall.com
13. The Cardiff Story Museum
The excellent Cardiff Story Museum is another must-see for visitors wanting to learn more about this still-important city's long and rich history. Using informative displays and original artifacts dating from various periods, visitors are led through the centuries, from the city's humble beginnings as a market and agricultural center to its rise as one of the UK's most important (and largest) ports.
In addition to its permanent displays, many interesting temporary exhibits are featured each year, along with fun educational workshops and events. Admission to this attraction is also free.
Address: The Old Library, The Hayes, Cardiff, Wales
Official site: www.cardiffstory.com
Where to Stay in Cardiff for Sightseeing
Thanks to its many fine attractions and coastal location, Cardiff makes for a wonderful vacation destination. To help ensure you get the best from your time there, we've pulled together the following list of our recommendations of excellent hotels in convenient locations near Cardiff's top attractions.
- Luxury Hotels: Located on the city's waterfront overlooking Cardiff Bay, voco St. David's Cardiff offers a luxurious stay with superb views through the tall floor-to-ceiling windows in each if its rooms. On-site amenities of note include a wonderful spa with whirlpool tubs and a heated pool. Just a short walk away from Cardiff Castle is the elegant Park Plaza Hotel Cardiff, a popular luxury choice for its spacious rooms and suites, a world-class spa, and fine-dining restaurant (be sure to try the afternoon tea). Also worth considering in this category is the Hilton Cardiff, close to the castle and the city's top shopping arcades and offering chic rooms, separate bathrooms with walk-in showers, a restaurant, and spa.
- Mid-Range Hotels: A great choice in the mid-range hotel category is the Premier Inn Cardiff City Centre Hotel. In addition to its great-value rates and comfy beds, the hotel is in a fantastic location just a short stroll from Cardiff Castle. Other contenders in this category include the Clayton Hotel Cardiff, popular for its modern décor and amenities including a gym, and the Radisson Blu Hotel, Cardiff, a good choice for its handy proximity to the city's main train station and stylish amenities.
- Budget Hotels: A great option for those on a tighter budget is the Travelodge Cardiff Atlantic Wharf. In addition to its budget rates and excellent value, as well as comfortable rooms with contemporary décor, the hotel is just steps from the Wales Millennium Centre. Also worth considering are Sleeperz Hotel Cardiff, popular for its proximity to the train station and stadium, and Future Inn Cardiff Hotel, a good option for its comfortable, clean rooms and location near the city's top shopping areas.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Cardiff
- Hop on the Bus, Gus: Thanks to its many great attractions and points of interest, Cardiff is a great place to spend a day or more exploring. One of the best ways to get the most out of your time here is to participate in a City Sightseeing Cardiff Hop-On Hop-Off Tour. With the freedom to get on or off these classic double decker busses whenever and wherever it suits you, you'll find yourself able to get the most out of your time as you explore such popular attractions as the city's famous castle and the Millennium Stadium. Included with your 24-hour ticket is an informative audio commentary to help ensure you get the most from your Cardiff experience.
- Dr Who? Dr Who!: Thanks to the location here of the BBC studio responsible for the production of the famed British TV series, Cardiff has become something of a pilgrimage destination for fans of Dr Who. A great option for those on a tight schedule who want to cram in as much Dr Who-related fun as they can is the excellent Dr Who TV Locations Tour. This three-hour bus tour takes in the film locations related to the hit series, providing informative commentary and tidbits along the way from experienced guides (who are also fans). Highlights include a stop at Llandaff, the series' fictional village of Leadworth, along with other notable landmarks, including the National Museum of Cardiff and the Millennium Stadium.
- A Walk in the Park: Cardiff is a delightful city to explore on foot. In addition to its many historic sites and attractions, the city boasts numerous lovely parks worth exploring. Favorites include Bute Park, located close to the castle and popular for its nature walks and trails, as well as the ferry that can whisk you to Cardiff Bay. Roath Park is another pleasant diversion, and is notable for its large lake with fun boating activities, along with its many pleasant gardens.
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Make a Day of It: Cardiff serves as the perfect jumping-off point for adventures in and around southern Wales. For those seeking fun day trip ideas, look no further than nearby Brecon Beacons National Park, which offers numerous great hiking and biking trails. The city of Swansea is also worth visiting. Popular for its historic market, its parks, and revitalized waterfront, this coastal town is an easy one-hour car or rail journey from Cardiff. Another hour farther west, and you'll find yourself on the beautiful Pembrokeshire coastline, a magnificent area that includes the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and beautiful seaside towns and villages including Tenby, Laugharne, and Carmarthen.
Hills and Valleys: Picture Wales in your mind, and you'll no doubt conjure up images of gorgeous valleys surrounded by rugged mountains. The many beautiful valleys of South Wales are in fact home to no end of fun things to see and do, from visiting historic mines (Rhondda Heritage Park) to beautiful waterfalls (Brecon Beacons National Park). And as it's such a small country, it's relatively easy to explore northern parts of Wales from Cardiff, too. Highlights include some of the country's most beautiful castles (Caernarfon and Conwy), picturesque seaside towns (Llandudno and Porthmadog), and, of course, the must-visit Snowdonia National Park.
England's Glory: Wales is also just a hop, skip, and a jump from some of the top attractions in England. Liverpool is the closest major English city, and is famous the world over as the birthplace of the Beatles, with many points of interest related to the band. Farther south, and you'll find yourself in beautiful Bath, a popular travel destination for its well-preserved Roman baths.