Travel Bites – how to spend 24 hours in Cardiff
Why did I spend 24 hours in Cardiff?
Believe me, I did have a very valid reason. Despite my age, a young child, a dog and a husband, I followed my favourite band since 1985 to 4 of their 40+ european 2022 tour. First I saw them in Basel, then I attended 2 of their 3 final leg in Wembley but – a year go, when I booked the tickets – I thought, what the heck, why don’t I also do another UK date? After the pandemic, I have revised my approach to things and carpe diem has never been more relevant.
So I picked Cardiff for a number of reasons: the arena and the train station are bang in the centre, I had never been, the gig was on a thursday (and I don’t work fridays) and there’s a medieval castle. Many boxes ticked!
Apart from the actual gig, I throuroughly enjoyed my 24h in Cardiff and left with a massive smile on my face. Sometime a solo trip is so satisfying! So here’s what I did and some tips on how to make the most of a short time in the Welsh city.
The logistics: train and stay
I booked the GWR from Paddington about two months ahead of my trip, which was probably too late for any advance fare, and I paid around £70 return. All good and train spot on time, with under two hours from London to Cardiff Central; the really disappointing thing was the wifi connection which was non existent and made logging onto work tricky.
Once arrived at Cardif Central, I looked at my iphone map and made my way to my chosen hotel, cheap and cheerful Travelodge Central… and this is when I patted my own back as the hotel was a whole 2 minutes walk from the station! Check in was easy and quick, the room was a decent size and clean and had private bathroom; what was disappointing – and what became a fil rouge to my Cardiff trip – was that the wifi was not free, and even the 30m complimentary didn’t work while my room was also a blind spot for 4G. Nevermind!
The venue: Motorpoint Arena
The Cure were playing at Motorpoint Arena, also a whole 3 minutes walk from the hotel. What a nice venue this is, smaller than other arenas I have seen the band in, with a semi circular shape which (I guess) makes even watching from the sides great. I went to the venue before doors opened for a short wait in the queue with other fans and watched the gig in the standing area which was fantastic even if – sorry Cardiff – out of 4 dates, this was the night with the most amount of dodgy crowd.
Once the gig was over, I walked back to the hotel, and took no time – the night was freezing cold but was a weekend and the centre of the city was absolutely heaving: bars packed, restaurant buzzing… so it also felt very safe to walk the short distance back to the my room.
The area: city centre
Of course, train station, hotel and venue are bang in the city centre; the evening was busy and loud, and in fact the hotel has a warning when booking that peace and quiet aren’t an option in this area. I slept with earplugs and frankly the boom boom from the downstairs disco wasn’t much of a bother.
Cardiff is known as the City of Arcades due to the seven Victorian and Edwardian arcades
The next morning I woke up pretty early as I couldn’t wait to go exploring as the afternoon before I had only had a short walk. It was a bright, crisp and freezing morning and around 9am the centre was still very quiet.
Cardiff is known as the ‘city of arcades‘ thanks to the Victorian arcades the city has; I started with those, again all pretty much accessible within a minute or two from the hotel. I can only describe them as a mix of old and new, the original structures very much evident and well preserved. The shops inside are both quirky mix of vintage clothing, second hand records and empty venues to let as well as skating shops, health foods and classic delis. Very enjoyble browsing for sure.
I had a pastry and flat white for breakfast at Uncommon Ground coffee, which I had shortlisted as one of the city’s independent roasters and then made my way to the Castle and its grounds for a bit of history. I walked past the rugby Stadium and the river which was really interesting too (a modern side to the city).
The history: Cardiff Castle
I arrived just as they had opened, so had the site almost to myself; I headed for the Victorian building first, marvelling at its interior which looked glorious bathed in the morning sunlight. My favourite room was the library, where names of famous authors from the past are part of the walls’ decor.
From here, I walked the frosty ground to explore the walls, the imposing keep and the tunnels used as a bomb refuge during WWII.
The Castle has also a small museum on site, mostly dedicated to the Welsh Guards which is surely worth a visit too.
After the castle tour, I made my way back for more arcades and a second flat white (I was frozen by this point) at Corner Coffee in Castle Arcade.
Finally, after popping into the St John The Baptist church (where I perused a very interesting photographich exhibition on the city’s HIV history) I entered the wonderful world of Cardiff Market.
The shopping: Cardiff Market
Honestly I loved this place. It is so vintage yet so contemporary and full of life. There are similar indoor markets all over Italy and of course, in Asia yet London seems to have lost this type of aggregator. Perhaps Smithfield’s has some of this historic background yet it’s meat only and sadly moving away and out of town before the structure is turned into, how original, a shopping centre. Cardiff’s hopefully is here to stay and judging by the crowds (both locals and tourists) I think it will.
It’s a large, Victorian shopping arcade, with two entrances and a large ground floor as well as an all around balcony floor overlooking the central area below. Like the arcades, it has a feel of new and old, classic and contemporary, hipster and vintage. I loved it and lingered as much as I could, buying lunch from the Pierogi ladies (they were absolutely delicious and steaming hot for the cold day); there were so many options however, from pizza to vegan cakes. Upstairs there are also a record store, a mod clothing shop and toys and haberdashery amongst others.
Downstairs, fishmongers, butchers, fruit and veg and many more bakeries. I had to pick up some welsh cakes so I queued religiously for 10m at Cardiff Bakestones to pick up some ‘made in front of me’ cakes for very reasonable prices.
And with this, my 24h in Cardiff were over. I made my walk back to the station to board my train back to London.
Cardiff, you were great!