Croeso i Gymru! It’s time to leave London behind and explore an entirely different world… without leaving the British Isles. While it might seem that the United Kingdom is a homogenous place, especially when you’re spending most of your time in London, but there are a number of unique cultures across Great Britain and you can easily experience some of them as part of your London itinerary.
One good contender for some cultural diversity is Cardiff, the capital of Wales. Cardiff is one of my favorite day trips from London, and for good reason: it’s an easy trip by train that allows you to explore an entirely different part of the U.K. – an entirely different country! They even speak another language there, Welsh, which appears on almost all public signs and is still spoken by many people.
If you’re considering whether to plan a Cardiff day trip, this post will help you make it happen. While they look far apart on the map, Cardiff is a great day trip destination from London, and you can easily see the city’s highlights in a one-day itinerary. Read on to plan the perfect day trip to Cardiff from London.
This post was originally published in November 2021, and was updated most recently in August 2023.
How to Get from London to Cardiff
There are plenty of ways to get to Cardiff. However, getting by train is the best and easiest one. If you’re leaving London, the trains depart from London Paddington and arrive in Cardiff Central Train Station, which is right in the city center. It takes about 2 hours to travel from London to Cardiff by train; Great Western Railway (GWR) is an excellent company to buy your tickets from since it operates direct trains between the two cities on their Swansea line. Tickets start from £49.90 one way up to £84.60 one way at peak times.
You can also get to Cardiff by bus. Getting to Cardiff by bus has a considerable advantage: cheaper tickets. The average cost for a one-way trip is only £6.90. While it is incredibly affordable, the journey takes longer, about 3.5 hours. If you’re organizing a day trip to Cardiff, catching a bus might not be the most time-conscious decision. Buses depart from Victoria Coach Station in London and drop you off at North Road, Friary Gardens. You can browse bus tickets on Megabus, one of the UK’s low-cost bus companies.
The 9 Best Things to Do for One Day in Cardiff
Unlike other cities in the United Kingdom, Cardiff makes an excellent destination for getting away from London. Being a small city (about 365,000 people, compared to London’s 9 million), one day in Cardiff is more than enough time to explore the highlights, but you can easily fill an entire weekend on a city break if you have the time.
1. Visit Cardiff Castle
Cardiff Castle is an essential stop on your Cardiff day trip. The Victorian Gothic castle has over two thousand years of history, dating back to the 1st Century AD. Cardiff Castle is one of Wales’s leading heritage attractions. Even locals consider it a symbol of the capital city and the entire country. While today it is a reconstruction from the 1800s, the building is still stunning, and its architecture is purely medieval. You’ll definitely get some King Arthur vibes in here!
You can explore the outside and admire the castle’s facade if you don’t want to buy a ticket. However, you shouldn’t miss the inside, full of gold, artwork, and statues. All rooms are impressive, but the Arab Room is the castle’s crowning jewel with a ceiling design that will leave you speechless.
2. Explore the Castle Quarter
Roaming down Castle Quarter streets is an excellent way to discover the city’s ethos. Castle Quarter has always been Cardiff’s downtown. Before, it was home to apothecaries, drapers, fortune tellers, and tailors. Not much has changed over the years as Castle Quarter remains a shopping hub within Cardiff.
Today, Castle Quarter has around eighty independent businesses, including authentic cafe bars, restaurants, and unique retailers. Despite its modernization, Castle Quarter retains its old charm and is still home to principal shopping streets and some of Cardiff’s Victorian and Edwardian arcades.
3. Shop the City Centre’s High Street Arcade
While you carelessly walk around Castle Quarter, you’ll find another must-see of your Cardiff day trip: High Street Arcade. Cardiff has the highest concentration of Victorian, Edwardian, and contemporary indoor shopping arcades in any British city, which has earned the Welsh capital its nickname as the “City of Arcades.”
High Street Arcade has been part of the city’s landscape for 136 years. Opened in 1885, High Street Arcade is a Grade II Listed building with entrances on High Street and St John Street in the Castle Quarter. It comprises six stunning Victorian arcades, each overflowing with fashionable boutiques, lively bars, trendy coffee shops, and bakeries.
4. Grab a Bite at Cardiff Market
We all love exploring the culinary scene of the places we visit. Cardiff Market, or Marchnad Ganolog Caerdydd, is the ideal spot to indulge in local delicacies. Cardiff Market is a Victorian indoor market in the Castle Quarter, a two-floor market dating back to the 1700s. There is a fantastic variety of sellers with something for everyone. It is a feast for all senses!
Both floors burst with delicious fresh produce and everything from a fancy hat to traditional Welsh delicacies. There are a ton of Welsh dishes worth trying, but you can’t end your Cardiff day trip without a taste of the Welsh Cake. Head to Cardiff Bakestones– many locals agree they make the best Welsh cakes– and order one to fuel up for your day trip isn’t over yet!
5. Visit Bute Park
Escape the city bustle and get some fresh air in Bute Park. You’ll find the park near Cardiff Castle, as it comprises 130 acres of gardens and parkland that were once part of the castle’s grounds. Bute Park also used to be the home of a former Dominican Friary that the Parliament dissolved in 1538. While the Friary isn’t there anymore, you can find a 3D model reconstruction to show you how the site looked during the medieval age and two panels explaining the history of the place.
The Animal Wall, a sculptured wall depicting fifteen animals, is one of the most popular attractions within the park. Architect William Frame undertook the building of the Animal Wall in the 1890s based on William Burges’ sketches, with whom he had worked on other architectural projects.
6. Take a Free Cardiff Walking Tour
Taking a free Cardiff walking tour is an excellent way to ensure you don’t miss any important spots in the city. It’s also a convenient option if you want to learn about the history behind each landmark.
This Cardiff Walking Tour gives you all the highlights while exploring the city center, or there’s a private walking tour option if you don’t want to travel in a group right now. Also, for pop culture fans – and Whovians specifically – this Doctor Who Cardiff walking tour is a must-do, visiting some of the top sights from different eras of the Whoniverse.
7. Visit the National Museum Cardiff
Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd, or The National Museum Cardiff, is another of the city’s iconic buildings. Located right next to Cathays Park, the museum offers an extensive collection of contemporary art.
Their collection traverses five hundred years of history. Each exhibition showcases the finest paintings, drawings, sculptures, silver, and ceramics from Wales and across the world. They also hold a fascinating collection of wild, ancient animals, with a woolly mammoth and the skeletons of dinosaurs as the main stars.
Due to COVID measures, you have to book a ticket in advance. The museum releases tickets weekly every Wednesday for visits. Admission is free; however, we advise you to donate.
8. See a Show at Millennium Centre…
Walking down Cardiff Bay, you might wonder about the colossal building making up the backdrop. It’s the Millennium Centre. A newer landmark in Cardiff, Millennium Centre, opened in 2004 and is the national arts center of Wales. Despite its few years, Millennium Centre has become a world-class venue with world-class entertainment. The building boasts impressive architecture and is arguably Cardiff’s most Instagrammable spot, providing lots of opportunities for that perfect shot.
The Millennium Centre has an extensive cultural offer, from acclaimed plays to live concerts. They also have ballet, opera, musicals, workshops, and even behind-the-scenes backstage tours! Make sure you check out their website.
9. …or Watch a Match at Principality Stadium
Don’t write off watching a match, thinking only sports enthusiasts can enjoy it. The matches at Principality Stadium (formerly called Millennium Stadium) attract thousands of locals and tourists every year who are keen to experience the folklore surrounding football and rugby games. Most British have an unshakable passion for both sports, with rugby being Wales’ national sport.
The beautiful Stadium stands between the old town and the seaside. Its architecture is also worth seeing, with the staff organizing informative tours to explore the Stadium, the dressing rooms, and the special dining areas.
The Perfect Cardiff Day Trip Itinerary
Time to draw up your Cardiff day trip itinerary! Now that you know all the stunning activities this city offers, it’s time to fit each spot in your day. If you don’t know where to start, you can check out our suggestion for how to spend a day in Cardiff. The good news is that you can fit almost all the activities in one day!
- Start your day early. Grab a hearty English breakfast, and catch an early train from London to Cardiff.
- You’ll arrive at Cardiff Central Train Station. Step off the train and head out to Cardiff Market, where you’ll sample delicious Welsh Cakes.
- Walk south of High Street to Cardiff Castle. Explore Cardiff Castle; the gardens are lovely on a nice day and either way, you should a ticket to admire the castle’s interior.
- If hunger hasn’t hit you yet, head out to the Castle Quarter and wander around its lovely streets.
- Depending on where you are in Castle Quarter, look for High Street or St John Street and find the entrance to High Street Arcade (it runs roughly west-east between both streets.) You can stop here to grab a bite as there are plenty of food bars and cafés with delicious lunch menus.
- Once you’ve recovered some energy, continue to the National Museum Cardiff to explore the fascinating artwork. It takes ten minutes to arrive by walking.
- After the museum, you’ll still have some time to fill with a new adventure. You can either join a free walking tour or take a tour of the Millennium Stadium.
- Time to catch the train back to London!
You can relax on the train to London, knowing you’ve managed to have an incredible day trip from London, and explore a totally different part of the U.K.
Other London Day Trips to Plan
Looking for other incredible places to visit outside London? Here are some other great day trip ideas:
- How to Plan the Perfect Greenwich Day Trip
- How to Plan the Perfect Brighton Day Trip
- How to Plan the Perfect Bath Day Trip
- How to Plan the Perfect Oxford Day Trip
- How to Plan the Perfect Cambridge Day Trip
I also have a list of other day trips from London that you may want to browse too.
Do you have any questions about planning a Cardiff day trip? Let me know in the comments or join my London Travel Tips Facebook group!