Top things to see and do in Cardiff Bay
Cardiff bay offers heaps to do – eateries, boat trips and cultural attractions. Enough to keep you occupied all day… and into the night. Here are Cardiff-based writer and local resident Helia Phoenix’s favourites.
Tour the seat of Welsh democracy
Wales has its own devolved legislature and executive, which means a parliament and government of our own. The National Assembly for Wales makes laws and scrutinises the Welsh Government to make sure they’re doing an effective job of providing services and safeguarding the interests of the people of Wales. If you’re a political nut, or just interested in learning more about how Wales is run, you can visit the Senedd and take a tour of the sustainable building, designed by renowned architect Richard Rogers.
Catch a show at the Millennium Centre
The Wales Millennium Centre is the national arts centre for Wales, where you can find the best shows that are touring nationally; it has hosted Les Mis, Wicked, Footloose and Cats, amongst others. It’s also home to Welsh companies like the National Dance Company of Wales, Hijinx Theatre and the BBC National Orchestra. Make sure to stop in for a free show on the Glanfa Stage, or to grab dinner or a cocktail at award-winning Ffresh.
Step out around Cardiff Bay Barrage
It’s an easy, breezy stroll around the bay across the sea barrage to Penarth Marina. There’s a flat tarmac pathway so it’s ideal for pushchairs or bikes. Just before the barrage there’s a great kids’ playground featuring pretend shipwrecks buried in sand. The barrage has several locks, offering lots to keep curious kids happy. Taxi boats run at least hourly back to Mermaid Quay from just across the locks next to Penarth Marina. If you’ve got your four-legged friend with you, make sure to visit the various Coffi Co stop offs around the Bay – they’re all dog friendly and serve food into the evenings.
Go twitching in the Cardiff Bay Wetlands Reserve
When the bay was flooded, Cardiff Bay Wetlands Reserve was created on the site of a former salt marsh. It features reedy marshland and floating timber structures offering sheltered breeding areas for birds. Stroll along the gravel walkway which starts at the car park next to the St David’s Hotel, through to the west end of the reserve. Here you’ll find a long boardwalk with a viewing area, which is a great spot for bird watching. Best of all, it’s free.
Enjoy a maritime-themed tour and the best views of the Bay
A great family friendly (and quirky) attraction on the waterside, the World of Boats offers over 40 rare boats from around the world, plus video, touchscreen, hands-on exhibits and some working boat restoration projects. Plus the bar has the best view of the Bay – head over there for sunset to get a really special bayside experience.
Step back in time in the Pierhead
The Pierhead is a Grade One listed building, originally built as offices for the Bute Docks Company (later renamed the Cardiff Railway Company). In 1922, the Great Western Railway (GWR) took over and the Pierhead became its head office. Following the decline in the coal industry the Pierhead became disused – it was eventually revived as part of the National Assembly for Wales’ estate in 2010. Today it is an event and conference venue, which hosts art exhibitions and has historical displays for visitors to enjoy.
On a boat, on a boat...
If you want to explore Cardiff’s coastline, there’s no better way than by boat. Cardiff Bay is where all the boat trips head out from. There’s everything from water taxis that take leisurely journeys into town to exhilarating rib rides, that will take you out into the River Severn for a higher speed tour. One of our favourite boat rides around the bay is run by Ben (aka “Captain Gorgeous”) – look for signs for The Open Boat.
The Norwegian Church and cafe
Although we don’t seem to make much of it, Cardiff played a huge role in the Industrial Revolution – coal from the South Wales valleys was shipped to the world from the port of Cardiff. This made Cardiff a rich city, attracting sailors and seamen from across the world, a legacy that perseveres in the diversity of Cardiff’s docklands communities today. The Norwegian Church was built to serve the Norwegian sailors who docked in the city. Today the restored church – with its attractive white clapboard cladding and pointy spire – features an interesting gallery and friendly café with a patio offering views across the bay. Interesting fact – this is the church that Roald Dahl was christened in.
Explore the past
The Exchange Hotel is one of Cardiff’s newest places to lay your head, and the building also represents a significant part of Cardiff’s industrial history. Towards the end of the 1800s Cardiff was the biggest coal port in the world with up to 10,000 coal owners, ship owners and their agents using the Coal Exchange every day; doing business, and making their fortunes. After the decline of the coal industry, the building has been used as everything from a gig venue to the proposed home of the Welsh Assembly in the 1970s (the vote did not pass, and so the building remained empty). Many of the building’s original features still remain on show – if you don’t need a place to stay, you can still pop in for coffee or a cocktail, and to have a nose around.