For those of you who have never been to Cardiff before, this one’s for you! Just a 3-hour drive from London, the capital of Wales is whole different world from its rugby rival, England. Before we go any further, I’ll just set things into perspective: I have lived in this relatively small yet uniquely diverse city for the last four years, and I most certainly call it my home away from home. As with any city, I have developed my love-hate relationship with Cardiff, but 99% of my time here has been absolutely awesome. Yes, a lot of it has to do with the fact that I was a student for most of the time, and yes, it rains a lot here (like seriously, don’t bother with an umbrella because rain comes down, up and sideways here), but it is still a pretty cool place to live in. That is probably why in 2016, it was voted the third best capital city in Europe to live in. But it’s also great for a short visit, especially in the summertime. In case you have been living under the rock, Cardiff hosted the 2017 Champions League Final, and many other major events in the past, so its popularity will surely only grow in the next few years. And just to be clear, none of my comments are backed by any paying brands wishing to promote the city and its businesses – everything you read here is as honest as an Eastern European could put it (which, if you haven’t met one before, can be brutally honest).
I’m not going to copy-paste facts from Wikipedia, about the number people that live in Cardiff or the size of the city – we all have Google 🙂 I’ll skip to the good part.
1. It is significantly cheaper than London
I know, I know. I can’t just compare the two. But if you actually want to keep your arm and leg, as well as a bit of energy at the end of the day, then Cardiff is almost like a mini metropolitan with better prices: not just in terms of lower apartment rates, but better value for money in general. Being a student teaches you to live on a budget, and I have never struggled finding good deals in this city. At the same time however, I haven’t felt secluded from everything I get in a city: shopping, culture, parks, nightlife, restaurants… it’s all here.
2. You can literally go on a global food journey in this city
With so many different cultural backgrounds packed into one city, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from. While the city center is loaded with well-known restaurant brands, the real taste of the cultural Cardiff begins when you turn to City Road in Cathays – literally a 15-minute walk from the city center. Don’t be discouraged by the seemingly chaotic nature of traffic and an initial waft of greasy food in your face. This part of Cardiff has the best Turkish, Lebanese, Moroccan, Indian, Caribbean… basically whatever you crave, it’s most likely there. Not to mention the amazing dessert restaurants (little hint: you will want to go to Kaspa’s regardless of if you feel like having dessert or not). Scroll below for some of the best restaurants and cafes in the city.
3. You won’t find many cities in the UK with friendlier people
This goes for the whole of Wales in general, and those with an Irish or Scottish background would argue against it, but overall Cardiff is a pretty friendly city. Depending on where you are coming from, it can be an unusually friendly transition from the cold and prompt treatment of the likes of people in London into the warm hospitality of the Welsh people. Just don’t make the mistake (which I did) of putting Wales and England into the same category – although both are a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Wales has its own government and is considered (only by the Welsh themselves) to be a separate country. I mean, they have their own football team, so why not… So as long as you don’t mention the word ‘England’ too much, you can expect smiles all around.
4. Cardiff has the best nightlife
It’s been four years and I’ve never had a dull night in this city. Although there can be many students out in the weekdays during university term times, weekends are when students save money on expensive cocktails or see their families, and the night scene has a (slightly) more mature atmosphere. There are bars and clubs for every taste, and although they can get very busy (understand the words ‘rugby’ and ‘match day’ can be a dangerous and sweaty combination for the nightlife scenery), you’re guaranteed a good time regardless. I’ve listed some great bars (and clubs) below.
5. There is a castle in the middle of the city
And it’s right next to a huge park. Castles are the one thing you won’t miss in Wales, as there are quite a few of them and they certainly tell a story. It may sound a bit touristy, but it adds a nice medieval touch to an otherwise modernizing capital and is certainly worth a visit.
6. Cardiff is a relatively safe city to live in / visit
I say relatively, because these days nothing is 100% safe, really. But Cardiff has taken great measures to ensure safety for its residents and tourists. With major sport events happening more often than ever, and students from all over the world divided into three large universities, the city can’t afford budgeting on safety measures. And who doesn’t love being able to walk to the nearest kebab shop at 4am after a night out, without having to worry too much. Coming from a 23-year old girl, I think you can trust me on this one. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be alert however, there are exceptions in every case and you should still keep some change in your pocket for a taxi home.
Whenever you search for ‘shopping in Cardiff’, you will come across St.Davids’s shopping center, and that’s pretty much where the magic happens. It may not seem huge, but you’ll find what you’re looking for. And if that’s not enough, Queen St (right outside the same center) has all the major names, too. I’m not going to focus on the shopping part too much, as it’s never unique to any city, but if it is your thing, you won’t be disappointed.
8. Nature is in and around the city
You never really feel too far from the valleys and forests that surround Cardiff, but if you need to recharge your batteries on a hot day, then Bute Park is the way to go (the one right next to that castle I was telling you about). You can even get a boat ride to Cardiff Bay, another place worth going to. Cardiff Bay, as you may have guessed, is a waterfront with several restaurants and pubs, and the beautiful Millennium Center – in case you fancy going to see a musical or a concert. Roath Park is another great park, and it even has a lake in the middle of it.
Top Tip: if you’re into running, head to Bute Park every Saturday at 9am for a free Park Run (just register online)!
9. Free WiFi
The city center provides free internet for all visitors. I thought this deserves a separate mention, since it can be pretty handy when your service provider does not include roaming abroad in your plan, and you want to Snap a selfie with a famous rugby player, should you run into one 🙂
10. Everything is within walking distance
Okay, when I say everything, I mean everything you need for a short visit in the city. Yes, the city center is relatively small, but it’s very compact and has managed to include everything you would need. You don’t really need to get a train anywhere, apart from if it is really, really hot and you need a beach, in which case Barry Island is 20 minutes from the city center on the train. Other than that, the trains are in desperate need of replacement as you will hear their breaks from 3 miles away, so it’s probably a good thing.
Where to eat & what to do
As promised, here are some of the best places to go to in Cardiff. (Side note: there are many, many more than what’s listed here, but these are – in my humble opinion – so worth going to).
Technically it’s not a restaurant, but I had to put it to the very top. It has the most amazing atmosphere, best coffee and cakes to die for. Although the prices may seem a bit much for the average in Wales, I can assure you it’s certainly way beyond average. Their absolute best however: milkshakes! You can thank me later.
Whether you want the perfect Eggs Benedict or a nice evening meal in a chilled atmosphere, you can’t go wrong with this place. It is literally what it says in the name. Don’t be surprised if you don’t get a table, though, even for brunch. This place fills up fast!
Their breakfasts are certainly worth it. If you’ve been to a Bill’s before, you’ll know their crafty interior and homey food keep you coming back for more.
I think I love breakfast/brunch too much, that’s why I’ve added another place to visit on a Saturday morning. It’s tiny, and last I remember takes only cash, but their food is really good.
You’ll see this name appear again below, as it is mostly famous for its nightclub side, but Revolution in Cardiff has just relaunched its whole design and menu, and it’s awesome. Top Tip: Head there on Tuesdays for 2-4-1 burgers and cocktails, they are ridiculously good.
This quirky, authentic Portuguese restaurant is a sure win. The food is delicious and portions are quite big, so you’ll probably stay there for a few hours. And you’ll probably hear the staff sing ‘Happy Birthday’ with a Portuguese twist to someone at least once during your meal.
As Italian and superb as it gets. No words needed!
Although a part of the bigger and more known brands, you can’t ignore this Mexican street food giant. It only gets better with the cocktails (Wahaca Colada is the one) and with three floors of tables, you’ll most definitely get a table.
Remember when I said you need to go on City Road in Cathays to get a real taste of other cultures? This is it. Mezza Luna serves amazing Moroccan and Lebanese cuisine, and you’ll feel like you’re in a different country as soon as you walk in.
By far the best Caribbean food I’ve had, and while I admit I haven’t been to the Caribbeans, so my taste standards may be a bit low for this type of cuisine, but regardless – the food is great, the service is awesome and it doesn’t cost you a fortune. Tucked away from the tourist scene, you won’t have to wait forever to get a table, either.
Without a doubt my favorite. There is just something about this place (other than the cocktails). Great vibes downstairs, and a dance floor upstairs in case you feel like it.
Ten Feet Tall
While I’ll admit this place probably isn’t for everyone, it does have a rather quirky vibe and can be a little crowded at peak times, but it’s still worth a visit.
Can’t go wrong with this one. Major bonus: outside seating area in the daytime/evening, and an intimate (but still classy!) dance floor upstairs.
As mentioned above, it’s great for whatever you are looking for: whether it be dinner, a few quiet drinks or a night out.
THINGS TO DO
This list is not exhaustive, of course. But these are just a few sightseeing options that Cardiff has to offer:
- Visit the (free) Cardiff National Museum
- Head to Cardiff Bay for the Doctor Who Experience
- Spend the evening tasting street food and enjoying live music at Depot
- Take a tour at the Principality Stadium, which has hosted all the major sporting events in Cardiff – including Champions League Final 2017
- Enjoy a play/concert/musical at the Millennium Center in Cardiff Bay
- If you’re there in the summer, Cardiff Bay has an artificial beach and a pool, as well as a funfair – perfect for families
- Play rooftop golf at Treetop Adventure Golf in St.David’s shopping center
- If you want to get out of the city, head to Oakwood for a day at the theme park
- Or visit Caerphilly Castle, the second biggest castle in Britain
There’s certainly a lot more I could include in this post, because to be honest Cardiff is very versatile and you pretty much find whatever you need in this city. The great thing is that it offers something for all ages from all backgrounds, without draining your budget too much! It may not be the biggest city in the UK (thank God), but it’s definitely one of the good ones. One last thing before you go: Wales has its own language in addition to English, so don’t be surprised to see bilingual signs everywhere. Oh, and don’t forget to try Welsh cakes when you’re there, they are so good!