Cardiff is the capital and largest city in Wales, located about 150 miles from London. It is a major tourist destination, known for its castle, museums, shops, restaurants, and nightlife. So here is an epic one day in Cardiff itinerary to make the most of your visit!
We have included sightseeing attractions and travel tips, including visiting the city from London on a day trip.
One Day in Cardiff Itinerary: Visit Cardiff in one day
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
The harbor city of Cardiff, (called Caerdydd in Welsh), is the capital of Wales and an excellent destination for one day getaway from the chaos of London, especially when you are short of time.
A good contender for some cultural diversity, Cardiff is easily accessible by train and allows the visitor to explore not only a new part of the United Kingdom but a different country as well.
Cardiff one day itinerary: Things to do in Cardiff in one day
- Breakfast at Fabulous Welshcakes
- Explore the Cardiff Castle
- Wander the Cardiff Arcades
- Stroll along St Mary’s Street
- Visit the National Museum Cardiff
- Head to the Mermaid Quay
- Dinner at The Potted Pig
This lively city really comes alive on big sporting days, when the entire nation comes out to cheer their teams in the famous red jersey.
So even if you have lived all your life here or the city is new to you, there is something to enjoy all the time in Cardiff.
A day trip to Cardiff will give you the perfect opportunity to explore the main attractions of the city. It will also provide an insight as to what to prepare for, should you decide to return for an extended period of time in the future.
Getting to Cardiff from London UK: Trip planning
The easiest way to travel from London to Cardiff is by train. Trains depart from the Paddington Station in London to Cardiff Central frequently, and the trip takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes, or even more, to reach the Welsh capital.
As this can significantly decrease the limited time available in Cardiff, it is suggested to arrive a day in advance in order to make this itinerary workable. The Great Western Railway is the excellent non-stop option on the Swansea line (tickets available from £49.90 to £84.60 one way at peak times).
If you’re driving from London, the drive will take about 3 hours. Cardiff is not a congested place so if you are driving into the city center you can easily find a parking slot at either John Lewis or St Davids Shopping Car Park.
Cardiff airport is situated in the Vale of Glamorgan and is only a 12 minute bus ride from the center of the city. Buses depart every 20 minutes from the airport for Cardiff Central and Cardiff Bay. A single ticket costs £5.
Best time to visit Cardiff
Summer, from May to the end of August is the ideal time to spend one day in Cardiff, especially if you want warm weather. This also happens to be the time when open air events are held in Cardiff Bay and Cardiff Castle.
If you are scheduled to travel in winter, then December is the month when the Cardiff Christmas Festival takes place with a number of dazzling events. March, April, September, and October months are best to take advantage of lower accommodation rates.
One of the most popular areas for hotels in Cardiff is around Cardiff Central station. The district covers the southern part of the city, including Cardiff Castle and the region bounded by the River Taff in the west.
- voco-St. David’s Cardiff: If money is no object, then voco-St David’s Cardiff will give you the bang for every buck spent. Not only are the rooms ultra luxe, they also have a great spa on-site. And the views of Cardiff Bay from the rooms are absolutely stunning. The hotel is located at Havannah Street, Cardiff Bay. Click to check availability and current rates here
- Clayton Hotel: Another great place to stay on St Mary Street is the Clayton Hotel. As it is located near the main train station, it is immensely popular with those visiting Cardiff for business purposes or short stay travelers. The rooms are bright and cheerful and so is the staff. No wonder a majority of their clients are return visitors. Book your stay here
- Coal Exchange Hotel: Don’t be fooled by the name because the Coal Exchange Hotel in Cardiff Bay has a lot to offer to its guests. Located on Mount Stuart Square, the property lies very close to Cardiff Bay. Additionally, the rooms are great, the service is excellent and the staff is warm and welcoming. Check reviews and photos here
Now, let’s kickstart this one day Cardiff itinerary, shall we?
Cardiff is compact. And there is plenty to see around the city centre within walking distance of each other, so you won’t have to spend a lot of money on transportation, which is good for a short trip.
If you don’t fancy walking, you can always take the hop-on and hop-off bus and create your own itinerary to visit the landmark of your choice. The ticket costs £20 and is valid for 24 hours from the time of purchase and covers eleven places of interest.
Breakfast at Fabulous Welshcakes
No better place to begin your one day Cardiff itinerary than at the famous Fabulous Welshcakes bakery right opposite Cardiff Castle.
All the Welsh cakes are homemade, using locally sourced ingredients, and made in batches in the traditional manner on a cast iron grill.
Remember to carry extra ones for the day, or even some for taking back home.
Pro Tip: You will find a lot of bakeries including Portuguese cafes right in front of the next stop, Cardiff Castle.
Explore the Cardiff Castle
Nestled in the heart of the city, Cardiff Castle was built by the Romans nearly 2000 years ago and is deeply steeped in Welsh history.
The grounds of this Victorian Gothic building are huge and two hours will barely allow you to scratch the surface and see the important features like the Arab Room, The Norman Keep, and the labyrinth of tunnels that served as air raid shelters during WWII.
The Clock Tower is the most recognizable landmark here and can be easily seen from a distance.
Stunning views can be had from the top, but personally, we feel that climbing the steep and uneven stairs is not easy, and you have to shell out an additional £4.50 to access it. If you wish to get to the top, remember to wear comfortable walking shoes!
Though the best part of visiting the Castle is that entry to the grounds is free and one can see a lot from outside.
- Address: Castle St, Cardiff
- Hours: Summer hours are from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm on weekdays. Weekends from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. Winter season hours are from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm on weekdays, and 9:00 am to 5:00 pm on the weekends. (closed on 25, 26th December, and 1st January)
- Admission: Adults: £14.50 | Child: £10.00 | Senior/Student: £12.00 (Currently tickets are open for online booking on a monthly basis)
Wander the Cardiff Arcades
This maze of covered shopping outlets begins just across the road from Cardiff Castle and gives the city a feeling of independent shopping which is not evident in the high street chains.
These charming street arcades house quaint cafes, clothing shops, and jewelry outlets.
Cardiff has the highest concentration of such indoor shops which has earned the Welsh capital the nickname of the “City of Arcades”.
Stroll along St Mary’s Street
From global brands to local flashy stores you will find everything in the back streets and markets of St Mary’s Street.
As you stroll along just dive into any alley or side street which catches your eye. Here you will come across Wally’s Deli, a local food institution, and jaw-dropping exhibits of Indian handicrafts at the Ganesha.
From St Mary’s Street, you can access the Cardiff Indoor Market with its interesting stalls like Kelly Records, a must for music fans.
All the walking must have made you hungry by now, but do not fear as there are plenty of food joints in the city centre.
When it comes to an authentic Italian eating experience there is none better than La Citta on 4, Church Street. Seating is limited and the atmosphere is very cozy and nicely decorated. From all kinds of pasta to pizzas, everything is homemade using fresh dough and cooked in wood-fired ovens.
If you prefer to sit down for a drink or a quick bite, then Pasture Restaurant in Cardiff is a good option. It is only a 3 minute walk away from the Castle grounds.
Visit the National Museum Cardiff
Brush up your knowledge of Welsh history during your visit to Cardiff with a trip to the National Museum.
Here you will find exhibits from all parts of the world, ranging from the ice age to the present day while bringing you face to face with woolly mammoths and dinosaurs along the way.
Situated in the middle of the city’s civic centre the National Museum in Cardiff has something for all interests.
- Address: Cathy’s Park
- Hours: Open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm (Mondays closed)
- Admission: Free
Head to the Mermaid Quay
Once you are done with the city centre it is time to hit the waterfront at Cardiff Bay. You can either do a 15-minute walk along Lloyd George Avenue or take the bus to access the bay area.
Once you have arrived, we recommend you stop at Mermaid Quay where there are a number of good bars and eateries.
If you are into nature, you must visit the Cardiff Bay Wetlands Reserve or else head to the Norwegian Church Arts Centre, home to a thriving art and cultural scene where there is a gallery dedicated to the famous author Roald Dahl.
There are many restaurant options at Cardiff Bay like Wagamama for Asian food, however, our personal favorite is Bill’s because they make great halloumi and avocado burger.
Dinner at The Potted Pig
There are a plethora of places to dine in on the high street but our firm favorite is The Potted Pig.
Located in the environs of a former bank vault, well below the city, this restaurant and gin lounge is known for its passion for serving some of the best British food and the odd suckling pig with wonderful concoctions of gin.
If you are looking for Asian fare, head to the most refined south Indian food restaurant, Purple Poppadom, a 2021 award winner of the best restaurant in Wales voted by British Curry.
- Address: 27, High Street
More things to do in Cardiff in a day: Ideas for 2 days in Cardiff itinerary
There is so much to do in Cardiff, that one day may not be enough. We are sharing additional attractions and activities that you can swap for any of the sites listed above.
Or extend the trip by another day 🙂
Cardiff food tasting tour
There are scores of bars and restaurants to choose from and the best part is that most of them are within walking distance from Cardiff Castle.
However, if you can’t make up your mind about all these amazing eateries, then you can opt for a food-tasting walking tour around the city.
On this tour, you will get to sample six local Welsh dishes at different restaurants from upscale to street food stalls. Plus you get to see the sights of the city as well (prices are approx £30 per person for 4 hours).
Alexandra Gardens is a public park located in Cardiff, Wales. The park was opened in 1910 and is named after Princess Alexandra of Denmark.
The gardens feature many beautiful flowers, trees, and sculptures including a beautiful Welsh War Memorial.
You can enjoy a lovely stroll in the fall or spring months here through the park.
Visit Bute Park
Located near Cardiff Castle, the 130 acres Bute Park comprises gardens and parklands which were once considered to be within the castle boundaries.
Home of a former Dominican Friary, a 3D representation depicts how the site would have looked like in the medieval times.
A popular feature of the park is the Animal Wall, which showcases sculptures of fifteen different animals.
Cardiff Walking Tour
A Cardiff walking tour, and that too free, is a sure-shot way to ensure that you don’t miss out on any of the important sites and at the same time learn about the history behind each landmark visited.
If you are not comfortable traveling with a group, there is a paid private walking tour available which covers the city centre and Cardiff Bay in around four hours.
Cardiff Bay Trail
If you have extra time or wish to spend the day in some outdoor activity, one of the top activities in Cardiff is hiking the 10 km (6.2 miles) long circular Cardiff Bay Trail.
The route is extremely well-marked and there is no danger of getting lost.
Along the way, you can experience the rich heritage of Cardiff through its iconic buildings like the world famous Wales Millennium Centre, the Welsh Assembly Building, Roald Dahl Plass, and the vibrant cafes which give this place its unique vibe.
One day in Cardiff Itinerary: Sightseeing Map
Day trips from Cardiff Wales + Road trips
If you have some more time on hand there are some fantastic places within a short distance from Cardiff which are a must during your visit to this corner of Wales.
Brecon Beacons National Park: 90 minutes from Cardiff
A day trip from Cardiff to Brecon Beacons is an absolute must on a Wales road trip even if you are not into nature.
The park is 30 miles away and is best accessed by bus T4 from the Castle Stop KA (opposite Cardiff Castle).
Tickets are £11 for adults and £7 for a child. (Carry the exact amount of money as drivers don’t keep change). There are a number of activities to be enjoyed at the reserve:
- Try faggots, a traditional Welsh dish with aromatic tea while enjoying the views
- Shop for souvenirs
- There are many hiking/cycling trails you can follow. The friendly people at the visitor center will provide all the information
- Your bus ticket includes a stopover at Merthyr Tydfil, famous for the 19th-century Cyfarthfa Castle
Keep track of the weather beforehand as rains can ruin your trip. If you want to climb Pen y Fan, the highest peak in South Wales, make sure you wear dark, comfortable waterproof walking shoes.
Carew: 90 minutes from Cardiff
A ninety-minute drive to the west of Cardiff will bring you to the tiny village of Carew which will showcase the country’s image prior to becoming industrial.
Here you can explore the pretty ruins of the 13th-century Carew Castle, which is also known to be haunted.
Today it has been colonized by bats and birds who have made nests there. There is a 23-acre mill pond, the only one it is kind in use today, from where one can take good photographs.
Swansea: An hour away from Cardiff
An hour west of Cardiff, by road or rail, lies Swansea, the second largest city in Wales, located on the picturesque Gower Peninsula.
Being the birthplace of the poet Dylan Thomas, the town boasts a vibrant university theme. Cultural highlights here include the Swansea Festival of Music and Arts held each October.
Swansea is a fun and walkable city and boasts of several parks and a 47-acre botanical garden. Other things worth a visit are the National Waterfront Museum and the famous area of Mumbles.
Additional Cardiff travel tips
When traveling to Cardiff, all the tourist visas and currency apply the same as it is for London or any other UK destination.
But we have some additional tips for Wales, so take a moment and consider the following:
- The weather in Cardiff is very fickle, though the temperatures don’t reach extremes.
- Hotels in Cardiff will allow you to leave your luggage for a few hours, even after you have checked out. Alternatively, there are plenty of lockers available, particularly in the St David’s area.
- Learn a few Welsh phrases like Diolch for Thank you, Iechyd Da for cheers, and Esqusodwch fi for excuse me. This will bring you immediately much closer to the locals who appreciate someone trying to speak Welsh.
- Buy a Cardiff visitor card to save money on attractions, tours as well as restaurants. The best investment for a one day trip. It is available from the Tourist Info Office at the Wales Millennium Centre
- Carry only a lightweight travel backpack that will allow you to move with ease on your short trip. Plus a passport holder to ensure that your travel documents are safe all the time.
Not a travel tip, but….we found a Tim Hortons at the Cardiff centre – in case you want a Canadian coffee fix (Salil was delighted lol).
People consider Cardiff safe and unsafe both. This means that it is like everywhere else in the world. That said, Cardiff has good and bad neighborhoods where isolated incidents do take place.
However, the main tourist spots like the city center and Cardiff Bay are safe and well-lit, so there should not be any safety concerns.
Cardiff is one of the cheapest cities in the UK, much more affordable than London or Edinburgh.
If you are a couple the average hotel price is £145, meals £34, local transport £17.
The average daily cost, which will include entry to the major attractions also, will be about £122 for your one day vacation in Cardiff.
Was one day in Cardiff enough?
Cardiff is fairly small so you can see a lot of it in one day, (though you can fill an entire weekend if time permits). This includes Cardiff Castle, The Cardiff Arcades, Cardiff Bay, and the city centre. However, we suggest you come back in the future and visit it at a slower pace to see a bit more of Wales.
So there you have it! We hope this post was useful in crafting your Cardiff one day itinerary. We personally enjoyed this beautiful capital city.
We always thought of visiting Cardiff as a lot of our friends have studied here at the University, and it didn’t disappoint.
Visiting Cardiff is a great way to experience the culture and history of Wales.
There are many things to see and do in the city, from exploring Cardiff Castle, and strolling the beautiful parks to enjoying a traditional Welsh dinner. Whether you’re visiting for a day or staying for a longer holiday, you’re sure to have a great time in Cardiff City!