An insider's guide to Cardiff
See paintings by Monet and Van Gogh, discover Wales' fascinating history and travel back to a time of knights and kings with Neave Cunningham's city guide to Cardiff.
You’d be forgiven for immediately thinking of rugby, pints and hen weekends when a weekend in Cardiff is in question, but I am here to show you the actually-quite-nuanced cultural hub that this city truly is.
I’ve been studying here for two years now, and I've narrowed down the best sources of inspiration and culture within reasonable distance from the city centre – so if you find yourself in Cardiff with a Student Art Pass (or a National Art Pass) and a day to kill, here is my hitlist of things to see.
Impressionists at National Museum Cardiff
The first item on my list is National Museum Cardiff. The museum is free to everyone, but with your pass you’ll get 10% off in the gift shop, café and restaurant.
In the entrance hall there are statues and busts of the Welsh historical figures who helped to make Cardiff the bustling capital city that it is today, while the high ceilings, polished floors, timeless domed windows – and the way it echoes even when filled with year fours on a school trip – all add to the grandeur of this building.
The art collection is nothing short of amazing; you must see the Post-Impressionism exhibition on permanent display, which houses pieces by Monet and Van Gogh, alongside a celebration of Welsh Impressionist artists.
If art history isn’t your thing, the museum has natural history galleries downstairs, which house taxidermy models of prehistoric animals, dinosaur skeletons and some really impressive graphics on the origins of the universe.
If you’re going to exercise your 10% café discount, they do very good Welsh cakes, for a good dose of authentic Welsh culture.
Breathtaking views from Cardiff Castle
A quick walk through the subway and across a couple of roads will take you back in time to an ancient world of kings and dragons and to our second location, Cardiff Castle to see the many attractions within the castle walls.
Across the green and up some steep steps leads you to the Norman Keep, a defensive building which transports the imagination to a time of knights and bloody battles.
If you can hack more stairs up to the viewing platform, you’ll see a breathtaking view of the modern city Cardiff is today. The Welsh are a proud people, who hold on to their traditions and heritage, but they are not afraid of change and the future of their greatest city.
You’re probably about ready to put your feet up for a short while, and the best place I can recommend for this activity is my favourite independent café (and I say this as an avid café-goer), Barker Tea House.
The heavy Chesterfield armchairs are the perfect place to take the weight off your feet. I recommend a hot scone with jam and cream too, it’s lush.
A journey through Welsh history at St Fagans
The final cultural hub on our whistlestop tour of Cardiff is a little way out of the city, but well worth the trek.
St Fagans National Museum of History was recently shortlisted for Art Fund Museum of the Year 2019 – very fitting. You can get to the museum by catching the 32A bus, a short walk from the castle, and I can’t tell you how welcome the fresh country air will be to your lungs.
The museum is free to all, but once again your pass gets you a sweet 10% saving in the gift shop and café. St Fagans is an open-air museum, so you’re less protected from the Welsh weather here. However, I suppose it wouldn’t be an authentic experience of Welsh history without a heavy downpour.
This museum’s charm is its interactive nature; actors demonstrate Welsh history in live-action, which captures the imaginations of all ages. This, alongside the authentically-kept merchant’s house, chapel and old school, is an entirely different way to explore history from your typical museum.
What I love about St Fagans is that it refuses to be stagnant. One look at their website shows you upcoming craft weekends and workshops, and wildlife walks alongside their exhibitions that last all year round.
Finishing up with a brew...
If you find yourself back in the city centre for the night, may I recommend one of my favourite bars? Tiny Rebel is a Welsh brewery company with a bar on Cardiff’s Westgate Street. Treat yourself to a craft beer among the raw brick walls and low lighting which give this place its effortlessly cool vibe.
The bar also regularly holds live music events, which for me is a really good indicator of the kind of city Cardiff is – it’s relaxed, and has plenty of time for live music, a bit of culture, and a lot of fun.
Neave Cunningham was a winner of our 2019 student writing competition.
The more you see, the more we do.
The National Art Pass lets you enjoy free entry to hundreds of museums, galleries and historic places across the UK, while raising money to support them.