December 4-5, 2021
After a busy couple of months, a variety of factors suddenly left us with several weekends in a row with nothing planned. We rectified the situation by booking a last-minute trip to Cardiff, the capital of Wales, which is only ~2.5 hours away from London by train. I knew almost nothing about Cardiff (or Wales, for that matter), but some light research suggested that it was a nice place to visit at Christmastime because of its lively Christmas market and that it was dog-friendly — and therefore we decided to bring Lily, our Labrador, so that we didn’t have to leave her with a pet sitter (although she honestly loves staying with other people) and because she seems to really enjoy train rides.
After getting into town on Saturday afternoon and having a nice lunch at a cafe in Morgan Arcade, the best-preserved of Cardiff’s Victorian and Edwardian shopping arcades, we dropped Lily off at our hotel and set off for the Christmas market. We immediately realized how unprepared we were for the cold Welsh weather: despite not being any farther north than London is, Cardiff was easily 20 degrees (Fahrenheit) colder and extremely windy. Luckily, we quickly found a decent department store and were able to get fully kitted out with scarves, gloves, and hats that were essential for surviving the weekend.
The Cardiff Christmas Market was lovely, and its central location in the heart of the Castle Quarter made it easy to see most of the notable landmarks and historic areas while getting in the Christmas spirit. Cardiff itself, however, was…interesting. It felt so different from England, let alone London, that it was easy to forget we were still in the United Kingdom. In particular, we were surprised by how prevalent the Welsh language was in Cardiff — nearly all the signs are written in Welsh first and English second, and we heard a lot of people speaking Welsh (which sounds about as foreign as Hungarian does) throughout the weekend. The city certainly felt grittier and less cultured than we would have expected from the capital.
Nonetheless, we really did have a nice weekend in Cardiff. Everyone was very friendly and, once we got past the blustery weather, we thoroughly enjoyed walking around the city and its medieval castle grounds. I’m not sure that we’ll go back to Cardiff, but we are hoping to return to Wales at some point next summer or the summer following so that we can explore the beautiful Welsh countryside.
If you’re planning a trip to Cardiff, click here to access and download my Google Maps list of saved locations in the UK.
Food & Drink
- Brød: An absolutely charming (and tiny) Danish bakery located across the river in Pontcanna. The service was wonderful and we got several delicious pastries for breakfast, as well as some festive Pebernødder biscuits to bring back to London.
- Owain Glyndwr: Gigantic and extremely popular gastropub/sports bar on the site of an 18th-century alehouse near Cardiff Castle. We initially stopped in for a quick drink to escape the cold while we were at the Christmas Market, but one of the friendly bartenders offered to play the SEC Championship football game for us so we ended up coming back after dinner, too.
- Asador 44: I tried to find an authentic, upscale Welsh restaurant for dinner…and didn’t come up with anything. Instead, we had a lovely meal at this warm, vibey Spanish grill house with an amazing wine selection and a menu featuring traditional Spanish dishes with high-quality fish, meat, cheese, and vegetables.
- The Plan Café: Extremely popular cafe and artisan coffee shop in Morgan Arcade with a focus on high-quality, local ingredients.
Activities & Attractions
- Castell Caerdydd (Cardiff Castle): 12th-century stone castle and Victorian Gothic revival mansion in the heart of the city, and one of the most notable landmarks in Cardiff. The museum required a ticket, but it was free to walk around the grounds and the castle’s exterior alone was really quite beautiful.
- Bute Park: 30 acres of landscaped gardens and green space that originally formed the grounds of Cardiff Castle along the east bank of the River Taff are now a beautiful city park. The entrance next to Cardiff Castle is home to the Grade I listed Animal Wall, a sculptured wall built in the 19th century that depicts an eclectic mix of 15 animals.
- St. John the Baptist Church: This beautiful, Grade I listed parish church in the city center is the only medieval building in Cardiff aside from the castle, and the intricately pinnacled west tower is visible throughout most of the Castle Quarter.
- Cardiff Christmas Market: The charming Christmas Market in Cardiff City Centre had a lovely mix of dozens of local artisans and food vendors, as well as a very lively, Alpine-style beer garden. It was in the heart of the city and very easy to casually browse the vendor stalls in addition to the permanent stores and boutiques in the area.
- Cardiff Central Market: Victorian indoor market in the Castle Quarter with two stories of shops and a traditional market with stalls offering a variety of produce, food, and homeware.
- Morgan Arcade: The best-preserved of Cardiff’s Victorian and Edwardian shopping arcades, it still has its original wooden storefronts and contains some great cafes and restaurants.
- Royal Arcade: The oldest shopping arcade in Cardiff, with a good mix of traditional and contemporary vendors.