Whether you’re a budding first year, eager to explore your new home, or a long term resident of our glorious city. Here is a run-down of the best day trips in and around Cardiff!
St Fagans is a pretty village in the west of Cardiff, a humble 5 miles from student domain Cathays. If you’re living in Cardiff (and you probably are if you’re reading this), where better to get to grips with real Welsh culture? The castle and open-air museum are charming and truly embody the lifestyle, heritage and architecture of Welsh people throughout the generations. Basically, it’s an Instagram-hotspot and history lesson rolled into one – and learning about the past in the authentic outdoors, away from the confines of the lecture-theatre, is definitely a winner. Backing up my belief that St Fagans is unmissable for a day out, in 2011 Which? magazine rated the museum the UK’s favourite visitor attraction. To test this theory for yourself, pop on the train – the nearest station is Waungron Park, which is just 7 minutes from Cardiff Central. Easy peasy! Otherwise, the bus is 20 mins from the city centre to the Museum. You could also incorporate your day here into when an event is hosted – for example, September brings St Fagans Food Festival – because exploring the area shouldn’t be reserved for just tourists, and you’re bound to work up an appetite.
The perfect reason to head 7 miles south of Cardiff is to experience Swanbridge, a small settlement where, if tidal conditions comply, you can make the brief but pretty walk to Sully Island, an old smuggler’s haunt. Favoured by Vikings, it’s a magical little place with a shipwreck still in viewing distance, and a mass of overgrown, authentic island treasures. Despite dating b
ack to the Bronze Age, Sully Island remains quite unheard of around the area, so it’s the perfect place to hide away and enjoy a contrast to the hustle and bustle of city life. It’s beautifully unspoilt and really transports you back to the age it was in its prime. Take a picnic, camera and yourselves to soak up the scenery before dragging yourself back to reality – and you know it must be good, because I don’t think Cardiff is too difficult to want to return to!
Slightly more popular now – I can’t miss out Barry Island, the gem of our south coast! If deep down your true motivations behind applying to Cardiff were to immerse yourself within the Welsh comforts of ice-cream, fish and chips, windswept walks and, er, the ear-breaking screams of ‘What’s occurin’?’, you’ll feel right at home here at the island that’s not really an island. Gavin and Stacey fans have amusement arcades and little associations of the show dotted around to enjoy, while if you’re into something a bit more uncommercialised, luckily the beach and cliffs are pretty huge so you won’t be surrounded by fans of the show absolutely constantly. Come rain or shine, Barry, just a few stops from Cathays Station, is a real delight – and evidently not nicknamed Barry Bados for nothing!
As Cardiff students, you’re probably already acquainted to the music scene; clubbing culture and whole host of city amenities South Wales has to offer. But if you
head a bit further afield, the area expands to a whole rural world as well. Get yourself on a regular 19 minute train ride to Caerphilly, a town at the tip of the infamous Valleys, and unleash your inner castle nerd. Because although we walk past a castle every day in the city centre, Welsh castles are too beautiful to just take for granted and accept as part of the cityscape furniture – because newsflash, they’re actually pretty rare within the whole UK. Caerphilly’s Medieval fortification was formed in the 13th century and to this day remains a beautiful location for special events; to explore on a day out; or even gaze from afar. There’s no denying Cardiff’s beauty, but don’t ignore the other towns in South Wales, as they’re all rich in history, culture, and general adorableness.
Slightly closer to home now – because Cardiff has its fair share of delights as well! Not just
because it’s pretty much slap bang in the heart of the city, you can’t have not noticed the Millennium Stadium – its massive white architecture also plays a vital role within this! If you’re into – ahem – edgier music, we’ll gloss over the fact that here recently played host to multiple nights of One Direction to kick-start their UK tour, but overall Millennium Stadium is a pretty cool place. Even if you’re not into sport, it’s worth taking an organised tour of their famed rugby match grounds, which run daily. Then when Wales’ amazing team do take to the field, you’ll already know the place when you’re amid the 74,500 supporting the boys.
Again just outside of Cardiff, but this time more walkable than some, is Penarth. Travel 5 miles west of the city and you’ll reach this quaint little seaside town. To make more of a day of it, walk the barrage between Penarth and the Bay, of which it’s slotted at the southern end. Here you’ll find olde English (yes, I thought they should be Welsh too) sweet shoppes, fish and chips, cafes, a beautiful marina, a picturesque seafront complete with cliff walks and a pebbled beach, and, perhaps most noticeably, Penarth Pier. There are also Italian Gardens which pay homage to the town’s Victorian roots, different style music performances and just a mile away are Cosmeston Medieval Village and Lakes Country Park, ‘living history’ areas which often stage re-enactments from various eras, confirming that more sedate performances than what goes down in Cardiff clubs aren’t just reserved for the older generations!
You may now be noticing a theme emerging around Cardiff and its neighbouring areas – one that centres on dazzling castles. Whether you’re studying Architecture or History or something the polar opposite, by living here you kind of have no choice but to appreciate them. Which is hardly a hardship, because they are pretty majestic. Castell Coch – which defiantly, and, rightly so, won’t be completely Anglicised – nestles in the traditional village of Tongwynlais, a few miles within the North of Cardiff. Although only 1946 lucky people call this area home – there are Cardiff Uni halls with higher populations! – the area attracts a deserved amount of visitors, because Castell Coch’s views are not to be missed. If you want to feel like a fairytale extra; actual healthy hiking person who don’t just solely exist within Instagram (the castle is set between rolling hills); or just enjoy an unusual day out courtesy of eccentric genius William Burges, who readapted it in the 1870s, then look no further for the perfect place to bring to life the Gothicism that’s currently seeing a surge in modern culture.
It may be a well-known fact that many a Cardiff student flocks to the Bay come the slightest glimmer of afternoon sunshine, but that doesn’t mean you should write it off for a potential whole day out. It’s obviously not far from any Cardiff district, and is probably the city’s biggest hub for activity away from the actual city centre. Stroll around the boat-lined marina and fool yourself you’re in the Mediterranean while realising Cardiff isn’t a bad substitute; indulge without the guilt at one of the local health food cafes with their sea views part and parcel; then indulge with a bit of guilt this time at Valentino’s or Cadwallader’s Ice Cream among other foodie delights. You can even elongate your day into a night, as the Bay often hosts comedy evenings or gigs, such as at Portland House. Not far from the old dock suburb of Butetown either, the Bay floods with culture and history, reinforced again via The Norwegian Church, cafe and Arts Centre, although through very contrasting ways. I think the Bay accurately concludes how lucky we are to be Cardiff students – we have the bustle of the city, as well as gentler water views – not too many others can say the same!