Cardiff is a fantastic place to visit. It’s got a little of everything- beautiful Victorian buildings, gorgeous parks, wonderful museums and galleries (almost all of which offer free entry to all), and a recently revamped and expanded shopping district. Then there are a handful of well-known attractions- Millennium Stadium, Cardiff Castle, and the lively bay area.
However, some of Cardiff’s best attractions are local secrets. Here are a handful of hidden gems in or near the capital:
5. The Taff Trail. Although most people who aim to cycle or walk the complete 55 length of the Taff Trail start at the northern end in Brecon, it’s equally enjoyable as a relaxed day out the other way around. The last few miles coming into Cardiff Bay are amongst the best on the whole Trail and take in the views of Millenium Stadium, Cardiff Castle, the weirs at Blackwater and Radyr, and Castell Coch (the second most famous castle in South Wales). Most of the path is right by the River Taff and it makes a great family cycle. Bike hire is easily available near the starting point.
Dyffryn Gardens. Just a few miles from the city centre, Dyffryn might as well be in another world. The Grade I registered Edwardian garden is thought to be one of the finest in Britain, with immaculate croquet lawns and yew hedges shading into beautiful open parkland. It’s best visit in autumn when the leaves in the arboretum are falling or in spring when the daffodils and snowdrops come out.
Cardiff Bay from the water. The Bay is not just the home of the Welsh Assembly and the Millennium Centre. It’s also a nightlife hotspot, a shopping destination, and the starting point for local boat tours. Those who like a gentle and sedate experience can take a sea tour out to Flat Holm Island and those who would rather some adrenaline can jump on a high-speed RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) and tear their way through the water. The RIB rides provide life jackets and waterproof clothing- all you have to do is hang on!
Barry Island. A short train ride from Cardiff Central, Barry Island has all the elements of the classic British seaside experience- the long sandy beach with a Victorian promenade, amusement arcades, beachside fish and chip shops, even a whelk stall. It’s known as the best place to watch the sun go down in South East Wales- the sunsets are often spectacular and the high ground on the end of Whitmore Bay is the perfect viewpoint.
More recently Barry has become famous as the location for Gavin and Stacey, the BBC television series. Popular filming spots easily recognisable all over the island and special Gavin & Stacey tours are available. A number of other popular TV shows have been shot in Barry too- fans of Being Human might also catch familiar sights.
St Fagan’s Museum of Welsh Life. Every culture should have something like St Fagan’s. When an important historical building is in danger of destruction through neglect or development anywhere in Wales and it can’t practically be saved in situ, the stones are numbered and transported to St Fagan’s for reconstruction. There are conical pigsties from the medieval period, farmhouses built during the Civil War years, an entire high street from the middle of the 20th Century, a flour mill, a beautifully decorated pre-reformation church, and a recreated bronze age Celtic settlement, all in the grounds of old St Fagan’s Castle in the suburbs of Cardiff.
Each building is in a setting that mimics its original environment and filled with period furniture and household items or tools. Visitors can see how potters used to work and have a go themselves, taste bread made the old fashioned way with the mill’s flour, or wander through the Italianate garden that belonged to the Earl of Plymouth. It takes at least one full day to experience everything St Fagan’s has to offer. Incredibly, entry is free.
Jess Spate lives in Cardiff and loves it, from the Sunday farmer’s market to the local parks and gardens. After six years she’s still finding new things to do around South Wales.