How to See Cardiff in One Day: 24 Hours in the Welsh Capital

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Make the most of one day in Cardiff with this 24 hour itinerary, written by locals.

Roath Park Memorial Lighthouse in Cardiff on a sunny day

How To See Cardiff in One Day

This is the article I’ve been meaning to write for years. Why? Because with only one day in Cardiff, you can unlock a perfectly pocket-sized adventure. And also, it’s the city I fell in love with so much I decided to make it home.

The Welsh capital is perhaps famous for not being famous at all. It’s sized at number eleven in terms of city size in the UK, making it much easier to travel around than London, but much less well known on the international tourist trail.

And perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. You won’t find queues of ticket touts and congested cobbled streets.

But with one day in Cardiff, you can begin your morning steeped in history at a formidable Norman castle, browse Victorian markets brimming with cockles, laverbread and neon wigs and then cap it all off with a scenic boat trip past the opera house. 

The story of Cardiff is the story of the industrial revolution, of community spirit, rugby, music and Roald Dahl.

It fits perfectly into a larger road trip itinerary through Wales or as a city break destination on its own.

After ten years living in Wales, let me walk you through the best 24 hour itinerary for Cardiff.

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Map of One Day in Cardiff

Morning in Cardiff 

Assuming you arrived the night before, let’s start this 24 hour Cardiff itinerary right in the centre of town.

A Hearty Welsh Breakfast

You may have heard of the F.E.B or Full English Breakfast, but Wales has its own version, too (as do Ireland and Scotland.)

A typical Welsh breakfast is a hearty affair, designed to keep you fuelled for a day of ploughing the fields or heading down the mines. Expect a plate piled high with sizzling sausages, crispy bacon, and perfectly cooked eggs. 

Laverbread, a unique spread made from seaweed, adds a salty, umami kick, while baked beans and fried tomato complete the spread. At really traditional establishments, you may find cockles too.

Don’t forget to pair it with a strong pot of Welsh tea or freshly brewed coffee – the perfect way to begin your Cardiff adventure.

Exterior facade of entrance to Cardiff Castle

Visit Cardiff Castle 

After a great breakfast, it’s time to delve deeper into Cardiff’s history. Your next stop is the magnificent Cardiff Castle, located in the heart of the city centre.

While the Norman Keep, built in the 11th century, stands proudly at the centre, the rest of the place turns out to be not all that old after all. The elaborate Victorian Gothic apartments, for example, give a clue as to just how recent this castle is.

Take a guided tour to learn about the castle’s past, from its Roman origins to its role in the Welsh coal industry, throughout World War Two and the education of Sir Anthony Hopkins (true story.)

Check Cardiff Castle website for current opening hours and castle ticket prices (adult tickets are around £12.50) before your visit. 

Two girls walk past a painting in the National Museum of Wales Cardiff

Explore the National Museum of Cardiff 

Next, take a short walk to the National Museum of Cardiff. Located just a stone’s throw away in the heart of the city, it houses a lovely collection of art, natural history, and archaeology.

One of the museum’s highlights is its impressive collection of Impressionist art, including works by Monet, Renoir, and Pissarro. You’ll also find a diverse array of Welsh art, from medieval sculptures to contemporary paintings. 

The museum’s natural history section is equally impressive, featuring dinosaur skeletons, fossils, and exhibits that explore the diverse wildlife of Wales. It’s a fun place for kids and eye-opening for adults.

As ever, the gift shop tells a story, too. Load up on Welsh-themed gifts and trinkets, from smiling sheep to intricately crafted jewellery inspired by Welsh heritage and craftsmanship. 

A Taste of Wales: Cardiff Market

For lunch, head to Cardiff Market in the heart of the city. This bustling Victorian market is a feast for the senses, with stalls overflowing with fresh fish, mountains of cockles, pyramids of olives, baklava and artisanal crafts.

It’s fair to say that gentrification is not a concern here.

Don’t miss the Welsh cakes, a traditional sweet treat made with butter, flour, sugar, and dried fruit. You can find them warm and fresh at several stalls.

Cardiff Market is also a great place to pick up souvenirs. You’ll find everything from hand-knitted scarves and Welsh love spoons, to locally made pottery and artwork. And you’ll find seating upstairs if, like me, you find standing to eat something of a hassle.

Afternoon in Cardiff

People walking through the Victorian Arcades in Cardiff

The Victorian Shopping Arcades

After lunch, take a walk through the “City of Arcades,” a beautiful and quirky collection of shops and character.

Start with Castle Arcade, with its beautiful clock tower, and High Street Arcade, a great spot to browse unique gifts, visit coffee shops, or simply soak in the atmosphere.

I need to write a more detailed guide to these arcades soon…Watch this space!

Take a Boat Ride to Cardiff Bay 

It’s time to leave central Cardiff and head out to the Bay. You can do this by Uber or by train, but it’s more fun to do it by boat.

Wales - Cardiff - Mermaid Quay Armadillo in Cardiff

Walk Around Cardiff Bay

Once rougher than a prop forward’s table manners, Cardiff Bay has undergone considerable gentrification and now stands as a beautiful and cultural place to visit.

Look out for the armadillo, properly known as the Wales Millennium Centre, with the words In these stones, horizons sing illuminated in the stone. It’s home to the Welsh National Opera, and hosts musicals and theatre performances throughout the year.

Other landmarks include the red brick Pierhead building and the glassy home of the Welsh politicians, the Senedd.

Roald Dahl and The Norwegian Church 

It’s only a short walk along the water to the Norwegian Church, a landmark in the Bay. It’s a replica of a traditional Norwegian church and represents those who came from Norway to Cardiff during its industrial heyday in search of a better life.

Norway’s most famous Welsh descendant is, of course, Roald Dahl, who was born here and spend his childhood days in the city.

Having served as a place of worship for Norwegian sailors in the 19th century, today the church is a cultural centre and café. It’s a lovely landmark to aim for when taking a stroll along the Bay.

Girl looks out the window at the Cardiff Townhouse by Coppa Club
The Cardiff Townhouse by Coppa Club: a lovely place to spend the evening

Evening in Cardiff 

The evening brings a spirited energy to the streets, with a diverse range of options for dining, entertainment, and nightlife. That’s a polite way of saying it can be mayhem at the weekends or on sports nights, when the Principality Stadium pours out drunken fans into the city centre. Always check the events schedule before planning a night out.

But there’s no need to fear, either, you can still have a good time and there are plenty of sophisticated, lovely places to hang out

Let’s focus on a newcomer, the Cardiff Townhouse, housed in what used to be the iconic David Morgan Department Store.

Little girl in the Cardiff Townhouse by Coppa Club
Cardiff Townhouse: an all-day destination but with only one day, head here for dinner

The Cardiff Townhouse by Coppa Club

The Cardiff Townhouse invites people in throughout the day but if you only have one day in Cardiff, it makes sense to spent the day out and about and to then come here to relax for diner.

Right in the centre of town in The Hayes, but mercifully away from the pinch points, this all-day destination with two distinct atmospheres across its two floors. The ground floor, featuring its own bar and a dog-friendly area, transitions from a morning coffee spot to a lively evening venue.

Enjoy the atrium beneath the historic skylight

Upstairs, the Atrium Bar offers expertly crafted cocktails beneath a historic skylight, accompanied by a brasserie and private event spaces, including a snug and a private dining room.

Sticky toffee pudding at the Cardiff Townhouse by Coppa Club.

There’s an instagrammable couch, a family friendly menu and a great chance to people watch.

A word of warning, though. Portion sizes are huge, especially for the flatbread starters. Pace yourself! You’ll want to save room for the succulent sticky toffee pudding…

Mermad Quay Facade Cardiff

Another evening option: Mermaid Quay 

If you don’t want to rush back from the Bay, you’ll find a number of decent restaurants in Mermaid Quay. While, sadly, most of them are chains, many do come with stunning views of Cardiff Bay out to Penarth.

For a taste of Wales, try The Dock, a modern restaurant that showcases the best of Welsh produce, with dishes like Welsh lamb and locally caught seafood. You’ll also find a lineup of local artists playing.

Going Out Out

After dinner, the night is still young, and Cardiff’s nightlife scene is beckoning. Or, as locals say, do you want to go out out? (Dear Reader, after motherhood, I rarely do!)

Some popular choices include the City Arms, a historic pub with a cosy interior, and the Goat Major (now back to its original name of The Blue Bell.)

You can sip cocktails at The Coppa Club or go wild by wandering along St Mary Street all night and then, following tradition, picking up a snack on Chip Alley before heading home.

Live music venues like Clwb Ifor Bach or The Globe offer a diverse range of genres, from indie rock to electronic music, ensuring there’s something for every musical taste.

Alternatively, catch a show at the Wales Millennium Centre or the New Theatre, both of which host world-class performances throughout the year.

More than one day in Cardiff

There is, of course, so much more that you can do if you have more than one day in Cardiff. But in case you don’t fancy any of the options above, or you have been here before, let me walk you through some alternatives.

And you can find a much longer list of cool and unusual things to do in Cardiff here.

Child running through Bute Park in Cardiff

Explore Bute Park: A Green Space in the City 

Extending away from Cardiff Castle, Bute Park is the perfect place for easy access to a breath of fresh air. Stroll along the tree-lined paths, admire the colourful flower beds, or simply relax on a bench and soak in the calm.

Explore the Victorian-era Animal Wall, a whimsical collection of animal sculptures, or visit the Bute Park Education Centre to learn about the park’s history and ecology. 

It’s a good spot for a run, an evening stroll or a romantic picnic or somewhere to take the kids to let off steam.

Plus, you can find one of my favourite coffee shops in Cardiff: The Secret Garden.

Beautiful Penarth in Cardiff via @insidetravellab
Penarth Pier is gorgeous to visit at sunset…


Penarth is the well-heeled part of Cardiff, with a small beach but lovely little pier. You can catch the train from Cardiff Central and walk along the pier for great views of the Bay and some traditional fish and chips.

Children climbing the stairs in the tropical garden in Roath Park

Roath Park

Oooh. Roath Park is one of those places I almost don’t want to tell you about, since I love it so much.

Established in 1894, Roath Park is a prominent Victorian-era public park known for its picturesque 30-acre lake, which is home to various waterfowl and offers boating opportunities.

You’ll find the locally famous Scott Memorial Lighthouse, commemorating Captain Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition which left from Cardiff.

There’s also, the lovely tropical Botanic Gardens and a huge playground, perfect for days out with kids.

Red house in St Fagan's Cardiff

St. Fagan’s National Museum of History  (Open Air)

If you have half a day to spend, then head to the city outskirts to St Fagans National Museum of History

This open-air museum offers an interesting glimpse into Welsh life through the ages through reconstructed houses, from medieval to 20th century, and interactive exhibits.

The museum also features traditional craftspeople demonstrating their skills, from blacksmithing to weaving. There’s a traditional sweet shop and summer sees food festivals arrive, too.

It’s great for a first time visitor to Cardiff but as it’s slightly out of town, and because there is so much to see, it’s hard to squeeze into a one day Cardiff itinerary.

Looking for more suggestions? Don’t miss our guide to unusual things to do in Cardiff.

Snowy street scene in Cardiff

The Practicalities

The Best Time To Visit Cardiff

Cardiff is a year-round destination, but for pleasant weather and outdoor activities, spring (March-May) and autumn (September-November) are ideal.

Summer (June-August) is peak season, with warmer temperatures and various festivals and major events taking place. However, it’s also the busiest time, so expect larger crowds and higher prices.

If you prefer a quieter experience and don’t mind cooler temperatures, winter (December-February) can be a good option.

How To Get To Cardiff

Cardiff is easily accessible by various modes of transport. If you’re flying, Cardiff Airport (CWL) is located about 12 miles southwest of the city centre.

If you’re travelling from other parts of the UK, Cardiff is well-connected by train, with regular services from major cities like London, Bristol, and Birmingham. National Express and Megabus also offer coach services to Cardiff from various locations across the UK.

To give you a rough idea, it’s around two hours from London Paddington to Cardiff Central by train and only a little longer by car along the M4 Motorway.

How To Get Around Cardiff

Cardiff’s compact city centre is easily navigable on foot, allowing you to soak in the sights and sounds at a leisurely pace. However, if you’re short on time or want to venture further afield, you can get buy through using public transport or Uber. 

For a scenic journey, hop on the Aquabus, a waterbus service that operates between Cardiff Bay and the city centre.

Prefer to travel on your own four wheels? Consider adding Cardiff to your Welsh road trip itinerary.  

Wales - Caerphilly Castle Landscape View
Caerphilly Castle – a great stop from Cardiff on a road trip through Wales

Beyond Cardiff

If you have more than a day to explore, Cardiff is an excellent base for day trips to other parts of Wales. Brecon Beacons National Park, with its rolling hills, cascading waterfalls, and ancient castles, is just a short drive away. 

You can also visit Caerphilly Castle, a magnificent medieval fortress that easily surpasses Cardiff Castle in grandeur, or stop by Castell Coch, a more fairytale version.

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