Where to stay: Cardiff is a great city because it isn’t very touristy, but that also brings about its own challenges, as there aren’t a ton of hostels in the city. There are, however, a few decently priced Airbnb options in the city center, so you might be better of sticking to that. If you do choose to go the hostel route, I’ve had friends have good experiences at the Bunkhouse, and this one is in a really great location. No matter which option you choose, be sure to stay in the center of the city near Queen St. If you’re in this area, you won’t ever need to take the bus or a taxi anywhere, as almost everything you’ll ever want to see or do will be walkable.
Where to eat: There are so many great food options in Cardiff, despite the UK reputation for awful food. If you’re looking to have a traditional tea experience, you will definitely need to head to Pettigrew Tea Rooms located at the entrance to Bute Park near the Castle. It’s a seriously perfect little tea room with outdoor space in nice weather, amazing loose leaf teas, and fabulous homemade cakes, scones, sandwiches, and soups. Perfect for afternoon tea or lunch! If you’re more into the café experience, head over to the Castle Arcade for a trip to the Coffee Barker. They have awesome coffee beverages, but also good soups/sandwiches for lunch as well as non-traditional breakfasts. They have a sister shop called the Barker Tea House which is good (especially if Pettigrew’s is full!). If you’re interested in a nicer meal, check out The Potted Pig (be sure to make reservations!). This is a bit of a nicer restaurant that can be pricey for dinner (on a student budget), but has a good lunch menu which will give you a great taste of traditional Welsh and British food. They also have a delicious Sunday Roast, which is a must-try if you’re going for traditional (and this isn’t terribly pricey, especially considering how much food you’ll get). My last city center recommendation is Café Citta– an excellent Italian restaurant in the heart of the city. Café Citta is a very tiny restaurant, though, so be sure to book as far in advance as you can if you want a table! In the UK, food can get a bit pricey, so if you’re looking for just a sandwich shop that’s cheap and easy, take a 5 minute walk from Queen St. to go to Dough. It’s a little local sandwich shop with excellent breakfast and lunch sandwiches, and it’s totally worth the walk over. There’s a café across the street from Dough called Tucker Lounge, which is a great alternative if you don’t want to be in a busy café in the city center. They have great breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, but they also have alcoholic beverages, so it’s a good spot for a chill day or evening! And finally, what would a British city be without a good pub? The Pen and Wig is definitely the place to be! It has good food options which lean towards the fancier gastro-pub route, but it has a great selection of beers and ciders on tap, and a cozy atmosphere with a big outdoor patio for when it’s nice out! Cardiff Bay also has a good selection of restaurants, although many are chains that can be found all over the UK. If you’re already at the bay, though, there are some good spots with great views over the water (try Pizza Express for good and fairly cheap pizza, or Nando’s for an interesting British chain restaurant experience)!
What to do: Cardiff is a really interesting city because it’s both historic and modern-feeling at the same time. To understand the history of Cardiff, you should start by visiting Cardiff Castle. It’s in the middle of the city center, and provides you with a great history of the city, as well as good views over the city. Your entry to the castle comes with a free audioguide, and you also have the option of purchasing a guided tour of the Bute Mansion. I think the tour is worth taking, as it isn’t very expensive, and it brings you into rooms of the house that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to see. Be sure to climb to the very top of the castle in the center of the complex, as that’s where you’ll get those great views of Cardiff! If you’re interested in sports, particularly in rugby, you should also book a tour of Millennium Stadium. It’s the home of the Welsh Rugby Union, and the tour brings you into the press room, the locker rooms, to field level, the Royal Family’s seats, as well as some other spots in the stadium- it’s super impressive. While you’re in the area, I’d recommend taking a walk through Bute Park, especially if you have a nice day. You can even take a boat ride down the River Taff to Cardiff Bay, which will give you a good look at the park and the waterfront. Another park to check out is Roath Park- it’s a super beautiful garden and park that has a café and boat rentals, a great way to spend a sunny day! Cardiff Bay is great to check out, especially if you’re a Doctor Who fan, as this is where the Doctor Who Experience is located. The Millennium Center is down at the Bay as well, so if you’re seeing a show, that’s where you’ll find it! There’s some good restaurants and cafés down there, so it’s a great spot to grab a glass of wine or an ice cream on a nice day. Any trip to Cardiff wouldn’t be complete without a stroll down the city center streets to do some window shopping. Try wandering through the arcades spread throughout the city center, they each have special little shops or cafés, and are super charming. I don’t think it’s necessary to take a tour of Cardiff because it’s fairly small and easy to do on your own. There also aren’t any free tours of this city, so there especially isn’t a reason for you to purchase a walking tour ticket or the bus tour- enjoy walking this charming little city!
Overall Opinion: I truly love Cardiff, even though I never really thought that I’d fall in love with it. I spent a year living there while doing my Master’s degree, and had the best time. It has a great nightlife, good shopping, surprisingly great restaurant options, and the vibe of the city is just so special. The people in Cardiff are also incredibly friendly, especially considering that Cardiff is a capital city. Take some time to meet some local Welsh folks, and you won’t regret it. Cardiff is only a few hours from London by bus or train, and you can usually get a round-trip bus ticket for around £10, so if you have the time it is absolutely worth the trip for a weekend!