Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a perfect one day in Cardiff Itinerary. Regular readers of this blog know that I love to wander into controversy. Which Scandinavian tasting menu is the most delicious? Which Picasso is the cubiest? These are the burning questions my loyal fans expect me to answer.
But today, I wander into the actual hot topic of gentrification. If you have at least a one day in Cardiff itinerary, you can’t miss seeing Cardiff Bay.
Cardiff Bay, which used to be Cardiff’s red-light district, has either become renewed and revitalized or soulless and corporate, depending on your POV. On this One Day in Cardiff Itinerary, let’s dig deeper into Cardiff’s history and we will learn about its immigrant communities, independent shops, and dragon attacks. As they say in Wales, “As long as we beat the English, we don’t care!”
A Perfect One Day in Cardiff Itinerary
Where to Stay?
Hotels in Cardiff were surprisingly expensive. I mean, I’m not 100 percent sure what I was expecting the prices to be, but I didn’t expect Cardiff hotels to be pricier than Edinburgh or London. If you’re looking for a clean and affordable option for your One Day in Cardiff Itinerary, try the hostel chain YHA Cardiff Central. They have both private and shared rooms, depending on your budget. And it’s easy to get to Cardiff Bay from the hotel.
The hotel also has breakfast in the morning, and you can order a satisfactory pizza in the evening if, like me, you are stuck on a train disaster coming from Cornwall and roll into town much later than you expected.
A Perfect One Day in Cardiff Itinerary
What to Pack?
The United Kingdom, as you may have heard, is on the rainy side. So the two most important things you’ll need to bring are an umbrella and some rain boots. My favorite travel umbrella is the Repel Teflon Waterproof Umbrella. It is strong enough to stand up to the sometimes-quite-strong winds of Wales.
For rain boots, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them to tea without feeling like some gauche American with gross feet.
Finally, if you’re not from the UK, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. UK electrical outlets don’t work with either American or European plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
A Perfect One Day in Cardiff Itinerary
Morning: Cardiff Story Museum
24 Hour Treat: Breakfast at Coffee Barker
As a New Yorker, I couldn’t resist stopping at Coffee Barker, a place that promises it is inspired by the cafes of New York’s West Village. I’m from the West Village! So technically, this coffee shop is inspired by me! I feasted on a flavorful latte and a peanut butter flapjack. Flapjacks in the UK are oatcakes, not the pancakes of the United States. This flapjack was so sticky and sweet, I forgot that there were oats in it, and therefore it’s good for me. That’s just science.
Also because Coffee Barker is located in the lovely Castle Arcade, you’ll be able to explore and see the pretty shops and artwork in the area. I’m not sure whose idea it was to put flowerpots in teapots and then make them walk up the stairs, but it definitely makes a cute Instagram photo! And now that our tummies and Instagrams are fed, it’s time for the museum!
What better place at which to learn about Cardiff’s rich history than at a museum entirely dedicated to the subject? At the Cardiff Story Museum, you’ll discover that Cardiff has only been the capital of Wales since 1955. (Before then, Wales doesn’t seem to have had an official capital. After all, England annexed Wales back in the 16th century.
The Cardiff Story Museum is organized around objects that the community donated. Each object has its own fascinating story. I mean that figuratively because teapots and sheep shearing tools can’t talk. By examining the objects, you’ll learn more than…
three fun facts about cardiff
1) These Go to Eleven
For all you music nerds out there, have I got a treat for you. Did you know that Cardiff is home to the oldest record store in the world? (And for those of you under thirty, do you know what a record is?) It’s called Spiller’s Records, and it started by selling phonograph records in Queen’s Arcade in Cardiff. I assume they did big business by selling smash hits of the turn of the century like A Bird in a Gilded Cage and After the Ball. (If this blog manages to make 100 year old pop songs popular again, I will consider it a smashing set.)
2) Cardiff Bay Immigration
Cardiff Bay has long been home to many immigrant communities. This is only logical because Cardiff Bay is where the docks are, and most immigrants would have been coming through on ships. Some of the communities that have thrived in Cardiff Bay include Greek, Yemeni, and Somalian immigrants.
However, earlier in the 20th century, back when Cardiff Bay was called Tiger Bay, Norwegians were the prominent immigrant community there. That’s why there’s an adorable Norwegian church still present in Cardiff Bay. (We’ll see it later today.) Author Roald Dahl’s parents came from Norway to be part of this Norwegian-Welsh community. So I suppose that means we can thank Cardiff Bay for everlasting gobstoppers.
The Cardiff Bay community donated many of the objects in the museum. The objects above came from the Norwegian-Welsh citizens. My favorite artifact is the tiny Norwegian waffle iron. I wonder if the Norwegians adapted to life in Wales by topping their waffles with Caerphilly cheese instead of the traditional Norwegian brown cheese. Allow me to pause this blog for just a moment while I go test out that recipe.
3) Life is Like a box of chocolates
I’m back! And now that I’ve talked about waffles and cheese, it’s time for my other favorite subject: chocolate. Back in 1907, King Edward VII kindly opened the Queen Alexandra Dock. He named it in honor of his wife, who was also named Queen Alexandra. Some of you might think that was sweet. But keep in mind that Edward VII was so unfaithful to his wife, he really needed to go in for bigger gifts than just a bouquet of flowers and some chocolate.
Speaking of chocolate, the opening of the Queen Alexandra Dock was such a big deal in Cardiff that the city made commemorative chocolate boxes with Alexandra’s face on them. They filled them with chocolate, and gave them out to the schoolchildren of the city.
This is a highly excellent tradition! For example, in New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo should have celebrated the opening of the Mario Cuomo Bridge by having chocolate models of his dad’s head passed out to all the schoolchildren of the state. It would have made the bridge much more popular.
One Day in Cardiff Itinerary
Afternoon: Cardiff National Museum
Now that we are experts on Cardiff, it’s time to know more about its country. Since Cardiff is the capital of Wales, it is also home to the Cardiff National Museum. Though Wales is a tiny country, it is fierce. The Welsh are justly proud of their cultural heritage, whether you’re speaking of their language, their cakes, or their pet dragons. (If you don’t believe me about the dragons, take a closer look at the National Museum building pictured above.) But once again, before we get to the learning, it’s time on our one day in Cardiff itinerary for lunch!
24 Hour Treat: Pettigrew Tea Rooms
There are so many things to love about the Pettigrew Tea Rooms. The first is that it is located right next to the walls of Bute Park, which will give you an opportunity to admire the animal sculptures on the park walls. (How on earth do they get the bear’s eyes to look like that?)
When you’ve ascertained that the bear is not likely to come to life and eat you, step inside for tea. You get a scone, two sandwiches (with your choice of filling), tea, and your choice of cake. Almost all of the ingredients are local.
I chose hearty sandwich fillings: Welsh cheddar and tomato and Welsh ham with mustard. Welsh cheddar is so much more flavorful than the sad stuff passing for Cheddar in many American supermarkets. But though the ham was tasty, I couldn’t quite figure out what made it especially Welsh. Did the chef make it from dragon meat?
For cake, I insist that you try the famous Welsh treat, bara brith. Bara brith is a spice cake dotted with dried fruit. You are meant to eat it with butter spread on top. I’ve never eaten anything that wasn’t improved with a healthy schmear of butter on the top!
If you want bara brith, be sure to stop by early in the day. I heard the waitress telling a customer as I was leaving that they were all out of bara brith for the day. This is probably not a sentiment that’s heard often outside of Wales! Now that you’re a good Internet Stranger and ate your bara brith, we can go to the museum! It’s time for…
three fun facts: National museum cardiff
1) Welsh Volcanoes
The National Museum begins with an exhibit on Wales’s prehistory. Apparently there were many volcanic eruptions in Wales thousands of years ago when its landmass was still being formed. These volcanic eruptions helped create the Snowdon Mountain that Wales is so famous for.
Wales was also home to ancient marine life and dinosaurs back in the days before Merlin and his followers settled the country. Over time, the marine fossils turned into the coal that has helped support Wales for centuries. Thanks, dinosaurs! But while I understood why there were dinosaur bones and fossils on display in the prehistory exhibit, I didn’t understand this little house cat hiding on the prehistoric rocks in my photo above. Is it a museum worker’s cat who escaped? Was it Merlin’s familiar? Please email me more info at [email protected]
2) Katheryn of Berain
What would a national museum be without some national portraits? This woman is Katheryn of Berain, and she’s sometimes called “The Mother of Wales”. Adriaen van Cronenburgh painted it in the 16th century. I gather they call her The Mother of Wales in part because she had so many children. Some of her descendants include an explorer named John Salusbury and Hester Thrale, a famous 18th century female writer.
But my favorite facts about Katheryn of Berain is that someone probably poisoned one of her four husbands because he was a spy for Elizabeth I. That sounds upsetting, but I guess when you have four husbands, losing one of them to spy poison isn’t such a big deal.
3) Tragic Silver
Cardiff has frequently attracted wealthy families. After all, the coal and iron industries made many people rich off of Wales. (Sadly, many of the people who got rich from Welsh goods were not actually Welsh.) Remember at one time the richest baby in the world was a Welsh baby (the 3rd Marquess of Bute). One of those rich families made this fancy-schmancy silver toilette set for their daughter in law. Sadly she died three months after the wedding. I suspect spy poison. It’s always spy poison.
I know this sounds callous, but I wonder what they did with the toilette after she died. Obviously they didn’t melt it down and resell it. Did they regift it to their son’s next wife and never tell her that it had previously belonged his first wife who died tragically young from spy poison? That’s what I would do.
One Day in Cardiff Itinerary
Late Afternoon: Cardiff Bay
Finally, it’s time on our one day in Cardiff itinerary to visit Cardiff Bay! We can get there fairly easily from Bute Park near the National Museum. The Cardiff Boat goes directly from the park to Cardiff Bay. The last boat of the day officially leaves at 4:30 PM. However, sometimes in the summer there are later boats. On the day I visited Cardiff Bay, they had an extra boat leaving at 5PM. This just allowed me to spend more time hiding from the giant dragon at the National Museum! Make sure to have four pounds ready to pay for your ticket and away we go!
In just a few short minutes, you’ll be admiring the “Cardiff Eye”, which is that Ferris wheel you see in the distance on Cardiff Bay. I thought I was being ironic by calling it the Cardiff Eye in comparison with the much larger London Eye. But apparently…that is actually what people call this Ferris Wheel. The lesson here is to never try to out-ironic the British. They invented irony!
24 Hour Treasure: Norwegian Church
Some might prefer the flashier sights of Cardiff Bay. There’s everything from the “”Cardiff” “Eye”” to the Millennium Centre. But I prefer the Cardiff Bay Norwegian Church, which serves as a cultural center for the Norwegian immigrants to Wales. (Roald Dahl was baptized in this church. I assume by his grandmother before a witch turned him into a mouse.)
Another highlight of Cardiff Bay is this statue of Ivor Novello, famous Welsh songwriter from the early half of the 20th century. He was Cardiff born and raised. My favorite Novello song is “Land of Might Have Been”. Jeremy Northam played Novello in the movie Gosford Park and performed it at the end of the film. (I can’t imagine there weren’t riots in Wales over an Englishman like Northam playing this famous Welshman, no matter how handsome his chin is.)
One Day in Cardiff Itinerary
Evening: Dinner at Chai Street
High Street is one of the main drags of the Cardiff city center. So I was tickled to find that there’s a well-regarded Indian restaurant on High Street called Chai Street. I just love a good bad pun! Two doctors named Ajit & Latheesh started Chai Street. They wanted a place to serve healthy Indian food.
I must pay them a compliment because I had no idea the food I ate here was healthy. That’s how tasty it was! I mean, I’m not sure how my cocktail, which is the size of a baby’s head and contains Jack Daniels, Amaretto, vodka, and juice, is healthy. But that’s why I’m not a doctor!
24 Hour Treat: Thali
If a thali is on the menu at an Indian restaurant, I always get it. You get six or seven dishes for the price of one! Obviously this is the best possible deal. You can choose from a veggie, meat, or fish thali. I have long declared vengeance on the birds of the air, so I ordered the chicken. (The chickens know what they did to me.)
My chicken tikka came with papadum, naan, cucumber raita, rice, dal, and a medium spicy potato dish. I need to appreciate any culture that would serve rice, lentils, potatoes, fluffy naan bread, and crispy papadum crackers at the same meal. It’s like the All-Carb Diet. The menu says the raita is healthy because it has probiotics in the yogurt. I believe you, Doctor Chefs! I also believe that five servings of carbs in one meal is very necessary for health and happiness.
Now I never leave a restaurant without ordering dessert. After all, my Internet Strangers need my complete restaurant reviews! Everything I do, I do it for you. Of course on the menu, desserts are listed as puddings because Wales is in the United Kingdom. Only mere American colonials like yours truly say dessert.
This pudding is carrot halwa. I grew up eating halvah, which is a Middle Eastern candy made from tahini. But Indian halwa is more like a pudding than a candy and made from carrots instead of sesame. So basically it’s nothing alike except the sound of the name. I definitely see why this dessert is healthy because it has carrots in it. Fortunately there was so much sugar and cream that I could barely taste the carrots. That’s what I call a healthy dessert! And it was a perfect end to the One day in Cardiff itinerary!
That’s a Perfect One Day in Cardiff Itinerary
What would you do with a One Day in Cardiff Itinerary? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Cardiff right now? Do you know someone who has been murdered by spy poison? And is the dragon who lives in the National Museum going to eat that dinosaur cat? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend a one day in Cardiff itinerary. If you have another one day in Cardiff, try this itinerary.