A guide to discovering Cardiff's history, nature and culture

Although Cardiff certainly doesn’t scrimp on bars, clubs and the like, it’s also a considerate city which caters for a whole realm of other interests. Whether you don’t drink at all; need a well-deserved day off; or just want to learn about the culture and heritage of your new home, here’s where should be on your list.

Most capital cities have their own take on ‘culture.’ We can’t all live in London, and that means we don’t all look up to be confronted with the glamorously looming sights of Big Ben or the Eye. However, here in the Diff we don’t think you need globally recognisable landmarks to present our collective personality. While buildings like City Hall and the Millennium Stadium instantly command attention (and plenty of Instagram snaps), Cardiff also gets its quirks across in a more subtle way.

To start, the heart of all things Welsh has a geographical advantage. It’s perched in a prime location for easy access to head out of town to explore for yourself, often via the medium of nature. Take a ramble round the Brecon Beacons, a national park with stunning mountains and waterfalls only an hour from the city centre. The views from the peak, Pen Y Fan, showcase South Wales in all its unindustrialised glory.

Meanwhile, overlooking the northern village of Tongwynlais is the spectacular Castell Coch, a 19th Century Gothic Revival which makes for a fascinating day out and perhaps newfound appreciation of Welsh history.

The nearby seaside town Penarth is charming in its own right, but its pier jutting off the beach is definitely its focal point. When the essay stress is building, you know it’s time to pop on the train and make the most of living so close to sea air. Fish and chips are essential, of course…

While we’re on the topic of beaches, Barry Island plays a monumental role in any Cardiff student’s to-do list. Gavin and Stacey isn’t all it has going for it – the Knap is beautiful, and features some quirky beach huts which you won’t be able to resist photographing. 

We could go on and on about the surplus of natural beauty around South Wales, but your student loan may begin to dwindle even more rapidly if you travel to every single one of them… Fortunately, then, Cardiff itself doesn’t neglect things to do that are both free and beautiful.

The Bay is frequented by Cardiff students and residents, but you don’t need to spend a fortune in one of the many restaurants – why not stroll down the Barrage or get your dose of Nordic knowledge at the Norwegian Church and Arts Centre? The cultural hub is also not only set on a gorgeous waterfront spot, but was a haunt of Cardiff native Roald Dahl during his youth.

The majority of students will call the energetic suburb of Cathays home, which means it’s not too far to walk to Roath Park when you’re craving some quiet you might not otherwise get in the UK’s most student-saturated suburb! Roath proudly houses Roath Lake and Botanical Gardens, which satisfy everyone from ornithologists to nature novices.

Cardiff is a green city, and Bute Park offers a reliable sanctuary right in the centre. Think 130 acres of landscaped arboretums slotting under the castle – it spans all the way towards Llandaff (technically a city in its own right!) and follows the Taff Trail, along the River Taff.

And of course, we can hardly forget our landmark castle – not many cities have one right at their core. Handy hint – Cardiff residents can pay just £5 for unlimited access for three years – not only worth it because otherwise visits are £12 a pop, but because the heritage and architecture of the rooms themselves and surrounding grounds prove History isn’t just for those actually studying it.

Museums have been around for a long time and, even in this digital age, still offer something you can’t quite get on Instagram. Reflecting the area’s diverse past, Cardiff has many.

St Fagans in the picturesque village of, well, St Fagans, provides a real insight to bygone Wales, while National Museum is handily in the city centre. Free of charge, it’s brimming with everything from ancient sculptures to palaeontology, so at least something is bound to catch your eye. Further into town in the Hayes, you’ll stumble across Cardiff Story Museum, a much more recent addition which features pop-ups, interactive galleries and film.

We won’t drag on with the details, as that’ll only take time away from exploring them for yourself, but other Cardiff cultural centres to look out for are Chapter, one of Europe’s biggest hubs for independent art and film; Sherman Theatre, bringing plenty of quirky plays to Cathays; Spillers Records, the world’s oldest record shop; inventive pub-theatre The Other Room at the unique Porter’s Bar; Made in Roath festival in which Roath’s array of homes and businesses showcase their creativity; and the Welsh National Opera based at the Bay’s inspiring Millennium Centre.

With a thriving street food industry; projects like Creative Cardiff; trail of Victorian Arcades snaking through the city and providing a welcome change from the chains; and plenty of local dance, choir, volunteering and theatre groups, ‘bored’ will be banished from your vocabulary in no time.  

Keep exploring



Written by Ellie Philpotts, 1 year ago

All images taken by Ellie Philpotts.