Welcome to the capital of Wales and the youngest capital city in Europe. As a local, let me share with you the best unusual and unique things to do in Cardiff.
Finding Secret & Unusual Things To Do in Cardiff
Let me let you in on a few secrets and tell you about some of my favourite unusual and unique things to do in Cardiff. But first, let’s quickly run through the classics, the things you simply can’t miss.
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Classic Sights in Cardiff
These unique things to do in Cardiff should be on every itinerary. And they are…
- Cardiff Castle – with its central location, crumbling walls, stately rooms, war bunkers and celebrity status (Sir Anthony Hopkins trained here & Obama visited) it’s definitely a Cardiff highlight.
- The National Museum of Wales – a gorgeous building with Monet and dinosaurs in equal measure.
- Cardiff Bay – renovated dockyards now full of quirky new buildings, restaurants and open art spaces.
- The Arcades – characterful Victorian shopping lanes with a quirky mix of boutiques and boho vibes. Morgan Arcade, built in 1896, is probably the best.It’s also home to Spiller Records, the oldest record shop in the world.
- The Millennium Stadium (now officially Principality Stadium.) It lives right by the train station and offers great tours, as well as hosting concerts and, oh yes. Major rugby internationals.
Now let’s move on to the more unusual things to do in the Welsh capital…
Cycle from castle to castle
Cardiff is a cyclist’s paradise, with pathways running through forested riverbanks, past rugby fields and into the stone reaches of castles themselves. Pick up a cycle map and head out from Bute Park all the way along to Castell Coch. The path is easy to follow and suitable for beginners and those with pretty functional but unimpressive levels of fitness!
Taste the flavours of Wales (new and old)
Chalk up a taste of the Welsh classics like cawl (a meat and vegetable broth,) cockles, laverbread (seaweed) and lamb and then look for something more unusual.
Cardiff Market lives beneath a beautiful Victorian roof and you’ll find everything from fresh fish to Asian-inspired fushion samosas.
Head to Penylan Pantry near leafy Waterloo Gardens to stock up on local Welsh produce in a pretty, gentrified setting.
Buy a hamper full of sustainable, local and tasty produce for a picnic in the nearby park and gardens or pull up a chair and settle in for a strong coffee.
Note – not great for toddlers as it’s a small space with plenty on the shelves!
And for standard British staples? I can’t fault The Empire and the Albany Fish Bar, both found on Albany Road. Park House is the splash out restaurant near the city centre and the best sushi lives at Tenkaichi on City Road.
For a see-it-to-believe-it experience, head to Chip Alley late on a Friday or Saturday night and ask for chips with curry sauce. A gourmet experience this is not but this street is definitely part of the “real” Cardiff City Centre. You have been warned.
For a more distinguished experience, try the cocktails at the Dead Canary instead.
Get Crafty in Cardiff
One of the best things about Cardiff is the overall creative vibe. Fancy having a go at making ceramics? Sewing? Knitting? Singing? There’s a club for you. Interested in design? Plenty of handmade events and boutiques.
My favourties: Made in Roath in Roath, Home by Kirsty in the Arcades and Oriel Makers off Wellfield Road. Plus, there’s the Larger Craft in the Bay down by the waterfront. LOADS of fun things to do in Cardiff.
Find Arty Things to Do in Cardiff
Wales is keen on its rugby and keener on its arts. Sir Anthony Hopkins trained in Cardiff (in the castle, no less) and Christian Bale, Charlotte Church, Richard Burton, Tom Jones and even Shirley Bassey hail from this neck of the woods.
Author Roald Dahl of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was baptised at the Norwegian Church, which now lives on as an Arts Centre and Cafe.
Catch the big guns at the Armadillo, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff Arena, New Theatre and the Sherman. Watch surprisingly good student productions at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.
Enjoy these green hidden gems in Cardiff
The Brecon Beacons and Gower Peninsula dazzle as nearby outdoor playgrounds but even within the city, you’ll find green spaces aplenty.
Watch the daffodils flutter across Roath Park in spring and share rosebud scents in summer. Take a boat onto the lake, feed the swans by the Clocktower or terrapins in Cardiff’s answer to the Eden Project. Just, ahem, be warned that it’s somewhat smaller than the one down in Cornwall.
Llandaff Fields has a great playground and green space, while Bute Park spills green fields and flowery walkways from the city centre right out of town. Then there is the hard to find Howardian Nature Reserve, a hidden playground of bridges and narrow walkways amid meadows, ponds and reedbeds.
Waterloo Gardens is lovely for a stroll, with the aptly named Waterloo Tea cafe nearby.
Closer to Penarth, Cosmeston Lakes provides a huge outdoor playground as well as boardwalks around the lakes where you can spot mallards, coots and the occasional waxwing.
Enjoy scenic unique things to do in Cardiff
With the caveat, that you have to search for your beauty in Cardiff (it is a rugby rather than fashion nation, after all) I still find stillness in my heart when I gaze at these views:
The purple-grey slates near the Armadillo during the rain and the glistening words that proclaim “In These Stones, Horizons Sing.” (Technically, it’s the Wales Millennium Centre but the word Armadillo is far more memorable.) In fact, the whole of the Cardiff Bay area is a joy to walk around early on a Sunday morning or at sunset.
Festive Things to Do in Cardiff
Just as Ireland has St Patrick’s Day, so Wales has St David’s Day (although, did you know that St Patrick himself was Welsh?! It came as a shock discovery to me!)
Each year on 1st March, school children dress up in traditional costumes and the rest of us brandish the emblems of daffodils and leeks.
Eistedfodds (cultural festivals) appear across the country with plenty of music, poetry and dance. Male voice choirs have become as much a cliche as lederhosen and sausages, onions and berets, but for me, they make one of the most hauntingly beautiful sounds in the world.
More Unusual and Fun Things to do in Cardiff!
When I first wrote this article on unusual and fun things to do in Cardiff, I stopped too soon! Here are some more great ideas!
Take to the High Ropes
It’s another place with an iffy name, but St Fagans National Museum of History is a great place for a day out of all ages. Set in expansive grounds, it functions as an open air museum with reconstructed Welsh farmhouses and terraces from different points in time, including a post office and sweet shop. And yes, it does still sell sweets.
They also have a high ropes course suitable for older children.
Smell the Money, Honey
On the outskirts of Cardiff is the Royal Mint, a place responsible not only for many of the coins in circulation in the UK today but also for the currency of 60 other countries.
The Best Day Trips from Cardiff
- Hike the Brecon Beacons – a simple 40 minute drive away.
- Head to Barry Island for clifftop walks, a sandy beach and an amusement park. It’s also right by Cardiff International Airport.
- Drive to Caerphilly Mountain for easygoing walks that give incredible views of the crumbling Caerphiilly Castle in one direction and the coast in the other.
- Young children will enjoy a trip to Cefn Mably farm, an interactive sweet place with common farmyard animals and even the odd reindeer.
- If the sun is shining, head to Porthcawl and explore the rockpools that fill with sea creatures every time the tide comes in and out.
- Drive the 40 minutes or so to Ogmore and either laze on the sandy beach or stride along the coast. Southern Down, just nearby, is also a good idea for this. Stop off at Forage Farm Shop & Kitchen on the way back for some wholesome sustenance.
Weekend Trips from Cardiff
As much as I do love Cardiff, don’t let that be the only place you see in Wales. Try out…
- Glamping on the overlooked yet stunning west coast near Newcastle Emlyn.
- Driving up through the Brecon Beacons to sleep in a treehouse in Redwood Valley
- This three day itinerary through northeast Wales. Sandy beaches, UNESCO World Heritage Aqueducts and the bible that saved the Welsh language.
- Explore the many things to do in Pembrokeshire, the most famous part of this small country.
- Find Things to do Near Fishguard, the Hollywood Cove in West Wales.
- Head to the Cotswolds, an Area of Natural Beauty with thatched cottages galore.
Travel Tips for Wales
- Be ready for four seasons in one day and always carry a waterproof with you
- If you’re just staying in Cardiff, you don’t need a car. Further afield, though, having your own wheels gives you a lot more freedom.
- Always check what’s on at the Principality Stadium before making travel plans. Arriving at the same time as a huge rugby crowd is, well, an experience.
- Remember, Cardiff is closer than you think. It’s only two hours by train from London right to the city centre.