Five people, one capital city, eight hours.

We recently took a trip to Cardiff. It turned out to be a whistle stop, flying by the seat of our pants day. It wasn’t supposed to be, we had best laid plans but they went astray. I won’t bore with the details, let me just say this; it was our first overnight family trip since lockdown and I think we were a bit rusty. Some things just didn’t come together. But that’s OK. These things happen. We rescued it.

Anyway… Cardiff. By the time we arrived we worked out we had about eight hours to get the city under our belts, and in that we needed to get an evening meal. Not easy- especially not on a Saturday, and the first weekend the pubs were open at that- but not impossible. Oh, and throw in some changing weather to keep it interesting. See below, how it started to how it went.

So, exploring the Welsh capital meant carving it up a bit like this…

The History Bit

Arcades. Not the flashing, bleeping video game type ( although there is a place in my heart for a bit of retro gaming) but the gorgeous Victorian or Edwardian architectural type. I love them. Partly because I’m an old soul and I love the feeling of a bygone era that these places conjure up. And partly because , where ever you find them, historic arcades create a haven for independent stores and eateries.

For the shoppers, wanderers and daydreamers they are beautiful places to browse, full of period features and pretty details. The shopfronts, the hanging lamps, the glass ceilings…be still my beating heart. They also make a good place to get out of the rain. When it rains in Cardiff, it really does come down.

Out of the arcades and down a shopping street we came across another historical gem. A vintage carousel. Gorgeous, isn’t it? When we settle down somewhere, I’d love a vintage carousel horse as a home decor statement piece. For now, I’ll just be found gazing adoringly at them where ever I find them on my travels.

Not the best shot…trying to catch a snap when it was still & empty!

Arcades wandered and carousel gazed at, our wanderings brought us out at the edge of the Castle Quarter. Cardiff Castle looks beautiful inside and out but was covid closed. Next time. We did stop here for coffee and donuts though. Pit stop with a view.

Things Helen Loves castle tower Cardiff

The Outdoorsy Bit

I love a city break, but I’m an outdoorsy girl at heart. I can only take so much of the pavements and people. Hence every city break involves a diversion to a park or green space. Cardiff is no exception in that and it delivered a beautiful park.

Bute Park earned its title from the family of the same name who, upon inheriting the castle, set about turning the grounds into parkland that would eventually be gifted to the people of the city. The 130 acre park is now home to wildlife, a sculpture trail, ruins, cafes, a river… I could go on and on. Being tight on time, we only saw a fraction of it. We could definitely re-visit and find new paths, new views.

Bute Park is beautiful and I’d highly recommend it to any Cardiff visitor, but its most unique feature is actually one of its boundaries. The Animal Wall was originally part of the castle gardens and designed with nine animals to sit guard upon it. The wall was moved in the 1930s and now features fifteen animals. Including a wolf with a passing resemblance to my own Little Wolf. Nice touch.

The Where It All Began Bit

Couldn’t visit Cardiff without visiting Cardiff Bay. This is where it all began. The Industrial Revolution was a catalyst for the building of the docks and trade through the port propelled Cardiff from a small Welsh town into a maritime giant and capital city in waiting.

After a few rises and falls in its fortunes, the Bay area is now a place to be. It’s home to Mermaid Quays, a vibrant area with plenty of places to eat, drink and people watch. There’s a bit of an old-new blend here, with the gothic Pierhead building standing beside modern and colourful venues. One of those venues happened to be Nandos, meaning I got my first ovepriced chicken peri peri fix in over a year. It was delicious.

With limited seating available, we were looking at an hour long wait for a table. It’s hard getting used to the idea you need to book everything. Didn’t fancy that so we ordered takeaway and used the wait time to wander down the bay and see the Norwegian Church. After the buzz of the bars and cafes at one end of the bay, the pretty little church stuns you with simplicity.

Now an arts centre and cafe, the church was built to serve Norwegian sailors who laid down roots in Cardiff in the 1900s. In WW2 it opened the doors to Norwegians who couldn’t return home due to Nazi occupation. Sadly, as the docks declined the church fell out of use and it entered the 1980’s de-consecrated, vandalised and at threat of being swept away by redevelopment.

Amazingly, the church was saved. A joint effort between the local community and supporters in Norway saw the whole thing dismantled and stored. When the dockland area was redeveloped, the port donated a plot of land to enable the church to be rebuilt. Strange but true: when the church was first built, that was on a plot of land donated by the Marquess of Bute. It has come full circle and I’m glad it did.

Happy ending for the church, happy ending for us. We finished our day where the city began, with a take out Nandos eaten by the bay before heading off to our Airbnb. Perfect end to an imperfect day.

I’d recommend Cardiff if you’re looking for staycation inspiration this Summer. I’d love to know which UK destinations you recommend, particularly in Wales and South West England. Lets chat in the comments.

Helen x

14 thoughts

  1. A really interesting introduction to Cardiff Helen. I love wandering through those Victorian arcades too but I’ve still not been to Cardiff or South Wakes apart from short visits to Monmouth and Abergavenny. Hopefully we’ll get to Cardiff before too long as it’s somewhere I’d like to visit. Marion

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Cardiff was a last minute trip for us , but we really enjoyed it. Hopefully you’ll make a visit there.

  2. Love your opening image. It’s great. You did a lot in one day – I think I waste a lot of time and I’m a bit of a slouch when I’m walking. Do you know, I’ve never had a Nando’s! How’s that for lacking street cred. Mind you, I live on the Isle of Wight where Victorian times still linger although we do have supermarkets and we did have ne store with an escalator (but they’ve gone now)! I don’t know much about Wales (but I would recommend The Mumbles which I’ve visited a lot). I love Harrogate for a city break as it gives me an elegant city and the lovely Yorkshire countryside all around, otherwise I head to N. Ireland to any of the little towns at the foot of the Mournes and then Belfast for the fun, late nights and the craic.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      I’ve been looking at Belfast, I think it looks great. Plus the fact we’ll fly or sail will make it feel more like a holiday. Mr THL isn’t convinced though, I’ll be working on him.

  3. I’ve only been once, and that was a long time ago, but I’d like to go back some day. I love the animal wall – such expressions on their faces!

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      They were very charming. Being the first weekend the pubs were open, there was some interesting sights on the streets. I think some of the expressions were very apt!

  4. Thanks for all of the great ideas that you shared. I love seeing the world through other people’s eyes.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Thank you so much. Cardiff is a great city!

  5. The nearest I’ve been to Cardiff is to visit St Fagan’s National Museum of History – wonderful place well worth experiencing. I tend to bypass the city on my way to the Gower. I love the look of the animal wall and the Norwegian Church. Lovely post!

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Thank you so much! It was a great day.

  6. I’ve been to Cardiff three times and loved it but still haven’t gotten a proper look around. Love this, so going to bookmark it for future reference 🙂

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      I need to back and see the place properly but I was definitely charmed by what we did manage to see. Thanks for popping by and taking the time to comment.

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