INTO THE DRAGON’S DEN: Cardiff in 48 hours
Europe’s youngest capital city, Cardiff is also one of the easiest to enjoy. The old docks are now a striking waterfront, and the compact city centre is packed with museums and concert halls, energetic nightlife, great food, some of the best shopping in western Britain, and a vibrant cultural scene.
The centre of the Land of Dragons, a city of castles, and of arcades, Cardiff is also home to the expansive Millennium Centre for the arts, and a world-class sports stadium, home to Cardiff City FC and Wales’ national rugby team.
Ideal for a weekend visit or a couple of days while touring Britain, here’s a suggested guide for 48 hours in Cardiff:
With the rapid expansion of tourism in recent years, Cardiff offers plenty of choice for places to crash, but few are as impressive as The Exchange. Housed in one of Cardiff’s most significant historical buildings, this 200-room luxury hotel was once the headquarters of the global coaling industry and where the first £1 million business deal was made in 1904.
Another luxury option is the glass-fronted voco St. David’s Hotel, located on Cardiff Bay. However, if boutique is more your style, The Pontcanna Inn offer just 10 wholly Instagrammable rooms, whilst Hotel Indigo has expanded into the city with the addition of an impressive roof terrace that offers spectacular views of Cardiff Castle and the surrounds.
10:30 – Arguably the best way to plunge straight into the vibrant life of Cardiff – and get talking to its people – is to take a culinary tour of the capital’s thriving food scene with a local guide from Loving Welsh Food. Cardiff Tasting Tour will take you all over the city centre, calling in at specialist food producers, retailers and the famous indoor market. Six delicious food and drink tastings include continental meats, cheeses, cockles, laverbread and Welsh beers and ciders, plus along the way you’ll pass beautiful parks, majestic buildings and landmarks including Cardiff Castle and the Principality Stadium.
14:00 – Whilst Cardiff City FC may be the prominent sports team, if you want to really understand the soul of the Welsh people, backtrack to the Principality Stadium and take a tour of perhaps one of the world’s most enjoyable sporting arenas, home to the fierce Welsh Rugby Team – and host stadium for the UEFA Champions League Final 2017. Experience the build-up before the match in the Dragon’s Lair, Wales’ team dressing room and hear the spine-tingling roar of 74,500 fans as you walk down the players’ tunnel towards the hallowed turf.
14:00 – Wales has no shortage of rapids on its rivers, but the Olympic-standard ones at Cardiff International White Water roar and tumble through this man-made white water course right in the heart Cardiff Bay. Two-hour coached sessions of exhilarating white-water rafting are suitable for complete beginners and seasoned experts, and if rafting’s not your bag, you can opt for canoeing, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, “hotdogging” in inflatable kayaks or bodyboarding. If you still want more once you’ve finished on the waves, you can strap on a harness and cross the high ropes timber structure towering above the white-water course – before tackling the Burma Bridge, Monkey Swing, Barrel Crawl and Zip Wire.
16:00 – It’s 160 years since the first of seven Cardiff arcades – The Royal Arcade – opened, and there has been a recent push to celebrate the collective glory of the city’s “crown jewels.” With over 100 local eateries and independent retailers, the arcades allow for a shopping experience peppered with character, eclecticism, stories, and history; all brought together under a roof of classic Victorian and Edwardian architecture. Don’t miss Gin and Juice, the only cocktail-come-salad bar in the city; tattoo and barber shop Sleep When your Dead; and the world’s oldest record store, Spiller Records.
19:30 – Home to a mind-boggling array of independent eateries, the long stretch from Victoria Park to the River Taff is the perfect place to take evening stroll and decide on where to eat. From pizza at The Dough Thrower to nouvelle Indian cuisine at Purple Poppadom, build-your-own burgers at Time and Beef or delicious Lebanese takeaway at Falafel Wales; this is authentic foodie heaven. If you prefer your dinner with a local flavour, make a beeline for Pontcanna bistro Milkwood, where you can chow down on dishes like Sewin (Welsh sea trout) with leeks and brown shrimp.
22:00 – Cardiff is one of the best places in the UK to sample the taste bud-teasing pleasures of craft beer. At Porter’s, which contains Wales’ first pub theatre (and has no sign over the door) they serve a honey beer called Hiver and a seaweed ale that goes by the name of Kelpie. It’s also one of many venues offering jazz night’s – albeit more dancing than placid – across the city which also includes industrial-styled Tiny Rebel, Americana speakeasy Bootlegger and the aptly named Café Jazz. Visit in October for Sŵn festival which transforms the city into a musical adventure playground.
LATE – When the night is done you might be tempted to grab some late-night grub, and where better to visit than Chippy Lane, technically Caroline Street, which is considered to be first place that the eponymous fish and chips were sold in Cardiff in the 19th century.
10:30 –Anna Loka roughly translates to ‘Earth Food’ in Sanskrit, and at this restaurant you’ll find exactly that: a plant-based menu where you can load up on a full vegan breakfast with peanut butter and coffee pancakes on the side. If you’re hankering for a more traditional brunch menu, try The Early Bird for must-have French toast or proper café Garlands for a “Good Morning Mumbles” breakfast, which includes Welsh Rarebit, laverbread and cockles.
12:00 – Explore the art, science, and culture of brewing over the course of three to four hours at Crafty Devil Brewery before hitting three or four stops – from trendy taprooms to marvellous micropubs – all within about a 15-minute walk around the hip Canton area of the city.
12:00 – Few places define Welsh identity as profoundly as St. Fagans, which opened in 1948 in the grounds of a 16th-century manor house as the very first national open-air museum in the UK. Since then, more than 40 original Welsh buildings from different historic periods have been rebuilt piece by piece in the 40-hectare park including houses, a farm, a school and a splendid workmen’s institute. Get out of town to visit this glorious architectural treasure house which is deservedly the most popular heritage attraction in Wales.
15:00 – Extraordinary cakes and pastries are worth making the journey north to the Maindy area of the city where Cocorico Patisserie can be found. This is Instagram heaven featuring creative creations including the Banana in Pyjama (banana mousse, pineapple cremeux, mango jelly and coconut dacquoise), Praline Spinner (vanilla dipomate, Gianduju crumbs, salted caramel with Dulcey and Gianduju whipped ganache), and a spectacular array of colourful macarons!
16:00 – Besides the grand splendour of Cardiff Castle, one odd quirk to take note of while enjoying a stroll around its exterior is The Animal Wall. Designed by architect William Burges for the 3rd Marquess of Bute, the much-loved wall features models of animals including moneys and lions, a seal, pelican and many more, poking out ready to be snapped.
18:00 – Based at Prison Cardiff, The Clink is a fine-dining venue run by prison inmates serving organic Welsh produce has been voted one of the best restaurants in the UK. Taste the very best of Wales while giving a helping hand to those who deserve a second chance in life.
19:30 – Finish your weekend by taking in a show at the incredible Wales Millennium Centre on Cardiff Bay. This architectural marvel is also a globally significant cultural landmark – a performing arts centre with a mission to “inspire our nation and impress the world.” Home of the Welsh National Opera and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, it also stages musicals, stand-up comedy, and art exhibitions.
Extra time or different interests? There’s plenty more:
ICONS WITH A TWIST
Ghost Tours & film tours at Cardiff Castle: Cardiff Castle stands proudly in the heart of the Capital, home to hundreds of years of history and many notable families. Visitors can join a spooky tour to explore this majestic castle at night. The tour visits areas of the castle where stories have abounded over the years of various ghostly phenomena. Tales of strange sounds, phantom figures and legends of a ghostly horse and carriage can be enjoyed. Film tours share the locations used for hit shows such as Sherlock, Torchwood, Doctor Who, and The Sarah Jane Adventures.
The Champion’s Lap of Honour at the Principality Stadium: Visitors can feel like a champion and experience what it feels like to step out onto the hallowed turf as a celebrated music artist or sports champ. The tour takes in the first ever full pitch side lap of the stadium bowl to experience the scale of the stadium 74,500 seats from an eye level view of the pitch. An insight into past events and future possibilities can be gained – concerts have included music titans such as the Rolling Stones, U2, Beyoncé and Jay-Z as well as world class boxing, football and motor sport.
The Rules of Art?: The Rules of Art brings together modern, contemporary and historic artworks highlighting some of the contemporary social issues faced today. Works of art will be displayed in a way that questions social and political power and show how artists have pursued a shared purpose: to push, subvert, question and re-imagine what art can be.
Gin Making Experience at Hensol Castle: Gin lovers can create a bespoke bottle of gin at the historic Hensol Castle at South Wales’ first full scale gin distillery. The visitor experience includes a gin school, tour and bottling plant. A fun experience in a historic location situated in the atmospheric cellars of 17th century Hensol Castle.
Craft in the Bay: Visitors can join a workshop, visit the gallery and shop for Welsh crafts and handmade gifts exclusively made by 89 Welsh Makers. All events are housed in a Grade II listed heritage building in Cardiff Bay just steps away from the water. The guild organizes workshops and tailor-made art and craft parties with a range of activities including pottery, willow and tiara decorations, screen printing, pewter casting and print making.
Arcade Vaults: The Arcade Vaults is an exciting venue in the centre of Cardiff for all things gaming, with a free to play area, consoles of classic games, co-working spaces and a bar. The venue has a thriving community of players which welcomes all visitors and hosts regular events on and off the premises.
Nook: Nook is a passionate, cozy Michelin-recommended small plates restaurant which prides itself on showcasing the best of seasonal, local produce with a wide selection of natural and low intervention wines. Everything is curated with a focus on authenticity and a passion for the raw product.
Loving Welsh Food Tours: Loving Welsh Food offers a variety of food & drink tours, cooking workshops and presentations for a welcoming and delicious day out. Multilingual tours can be booked in French, Italian, Spanish and German as well as English and Welsh. The best of traditional and modern Welsh dishes and drinks can be experienced at independently owned shops, cafés, pubs, and restaurants. Along the way the producers share their stories about Welsh life and culture and visitors will learn a few words of Welsh.
The Sorting Room: A new chic and elegant dining experience adds a touch of glamour to Cardiff’s culinary scene in the site of the Post Office – now home to glittering chandeliers and plush leather sofas. The Sorting Room is a chic new spot to meet and enjoy a British-inspired brasserie menu set in the city’s most luxurious new destination, The Parkgate Hotel.
Cardiff Castle Banquet: For a quirky informal evening of Welsh hospitality, fabulous music, Welsh dishes and great entertainment, the Castle’s Welsh Banquet is a must. Including Mead tasting on arrival, a Master of Ceremonies to guide guests through the evening who will be joining in all the hwyl of the night situated in the atmospheric 15th century Undercroft.
Cardiff Distillery: Cardiff’s award-winning distillery offers experiences including a gin school where visitors choose their own botanicals to create their own bespoke gin and design their own labels. There are also engaging gin tasting sessions led by the experts and a wide range of products available to taste and buy.
OUTDOORS IN THE CITY
Aqualand Obstacle Course: The inflatable Aqua Park obstacle course has climbing walls, trampolines, balance bars, slides, blast bags and monkey bars making it a great fun experience in and out of the water. The park is the largest in Wales with over 20 obstacles to slip, slide, climb and splash over.
Cardiff White Water Centre: Visitors can experience the excitement of surfing on an indoor wave simulator machine, white water rafting, kayaking and canoeing on the man-made course and SUP Yoga classes at this specialist centre which offers fun and expert tuition. The centre also runs a social SUP paddle session on Cardiff Bay every Wednesday evening and SUP adventures in South Wales paddling on rivers and on coastal sea trips. There is also the option to try Gorge Walking in the Neath Valley where adventurers follow the line of the river, scramble along the gorge and slide down waterfalls.
Big Retreat Festival: One of the top boutique well-being festivals in Britain, the Big Retreat Festival is a weekend of discovery and wonder to leave the stresses of the life behind. Experiences to choose from include fire walking, cool gins, cookery demos, comedy, music, meditation, gym sessions, chilled out yoga, wild swimming and gong baths. There is a panel of speakers and experts on hand to inspire positive future action, to use the power of the outdoors to enhance people’s physical and mental well-being, to celebrate Welsh culture in all its forms and celebrate connection, diversity, and community.
Bay Island Voyages: Cardiff can be seen from a different angle with a trip on a RIB, blasting the way around Cardiff Bay, along the coast and to Holm Island. Trips include a 15-minute whizz around Cardiff Bay, an hour coastal voyage out to sea taking visitors through the barrage locks and out into the Bristol Channel or a full day out to visit Holm Island. There is also the opportunity to spend the night on the island with a power boat transfer back and forth.
First published at Travel Industry Today