Cardiff, the capital of Wales, is a settlement steeped in history. It’s thought to have been inhabited for some 6,000 years – since the Neolithic period – and has since been home to Vikings, Roman settlers, Celtic clans, and many more besides.
For those keen to explore the city and county’s storied history, there are countless sites and attractions to discover, from the towering Cardiff Castle to the world-renowned St Fagans National History Museum.
Here are 10 of the best historic sites to visit in the city and county of Cardiff.
1. Cardiff Castle
Cardiff Castle is a medieval castle in Wales consisting of an 11th-century Norman keep and a lavish collection of Victorian state rooms. In the 18th century, the wealthy Bute family came into the possession of Cardiff Castle, undertaking an ambitious redesign and rebuild programme.
Today, visitors can tour Cardiff Castle’s opulent apartments, each complete with an array of elaborate murals, wood carvings, gilding, marble, and stained glass. The imposing shell of the Norman keep remains high upon its motte and provides stunning panoramic views of the city, whilst affording visitors a look into the site’s medieval past. Reconstructions of both Cardiff Castle’s old Roman walls and World War Two air raid shelters can also be explored.
2. National Museum Cardiff
The National Museum Cardiff is a museum and art gallery in Cardiff, Wales. It was founded in 1905, with its royal charter granted in 1907. Until 1893, the museum was a sub-department within the building of Cardiff Library. Construction of a new building within the civic of Cathays Park started in 1912, but was delayed in opening until 1922 due to World War I. The museum was officially opened in 1927.
Today, the museum has collections of botany, fine and applied art, geology, and zoology. The first floor of the museum is dedicated to Wales’ national art collections, from paintings and drawings to sculpture and ceramics. There are also extensive space and natural history collections, with the Evolution of Wales gallery presenting a collection of meteorites, moon rock, woolly mammoths, and dinosaurs.
3. Castell Coch
Castell Coch (Red Castle) is a Victorian-era folly that was built on top of the ruins of a 13th century castle thought to have been owned by Ifor Bach, a local Welsh ruler. Located in Tongwynlais in the north of Cardiff, Wales, it is a lavishly-decorated castle and as such is frequently voted as the Welsh’s favourite building in the country.
The castle is open to the public for tours year-round, and is frequently very busy. The woods above the castle are also popular, and are regularly used for walking, mountain biking and horse riding. A nine-hole golf course is now located on the site of the former vineyard.
4. St Fagans National History Museum
St Fagans National History Museum, also known as the Museum of Welsh Life (Amgueddfa Werin Cymru), is a unique open-air museum of the history of Wales. It stands in the grounds of the magnificent St Fagans Castle and gardens, a late 16th-century manor house (refurbished in the 19th century) – donated to the people of Wales by the Earl of Plymouth in 1948. The rooms in the castle have been restored to reflect its history.
One of Wales’ most popular heritage attractions, this distinctive museum tells the story of Welsh history through re-erected historic buildings, exploring the history of people’s everyday lives. In fact, the grounds of St Fagans National History Museum are home to over 40 original buildings from different historical periods which have been re-erected there.
5. The Royal Mint Experience
Based on the site of The Royal Mint in Llantrisant, just 20 minutes from Cardiff, The Royal Mint Experience was opened in 2016 to reveal the process behind the creation of the United Kingdom’s coins and to trace over 1,000 years of coin production.
The Royal Mint Experience is home to a Guided Factory Experience, where thousands of newly minted coins can be observed emerging from The Royal Mint’s coining presses, as well as an exhibition incorporating a range of rare coins and museum objects. The Royal Mint Experience also hosts a varied calendar of activities, including creative workshops and special guest speakers.
6. Welsh National War Memorial
In Cardiff’s Alexandra Gardens, Cathays Park, the Welsh National War Memorial was completed in 1928 as an ode to those killed during World War One. A commemorative plaque was later added in memory of those who died during World War Two.
The structure was designed by Sir Ninian Comper and features statues of a soldier, a sailor and an airman. It is topped with a depiction of the winged messenger of Victory. It is a grade II* listed monument.
7. Royal Arcade
The Royal Arcade in Cardiff is the city’s oldest arcade (covered walkway), completed in 1858. Though built int he Victorian era, the arcade was extensively renovated in 2007, with new Venetian windows installed.
Situated in the city’s Morgan Quarter, the Royal Arcade runs from St Mary Street through to The Hayes. Be sure to peruse the street’s many shops, delis, jewellers and antiques stores.
8. Castle Arcade
Another of the city’s cherished covered walkways is the Castle Arcade. Constructed during the 1890s, Castle Arcade isn’t as old as the Royal Arcade, but it’s every bit as pretty.
Renowned for its grand arches and balconies, the Castle Arcade is now home to an array of different shops and eateries. Why not grab a drink at one of the street’s bars and cafes or peruse the clothing stores?
9. Cardiff Bay
In the 1990s, a barrage was installed in the once tidal bay of Wales’ capital city, turning the estuary into a non-tidal lake. For centuries, the formerly tidal docklands had served as a world centre of coal shipping, before falling into decline in the 1960s.
Today, the Cardiff Bay is a beautiful place to visit. The surrounding area is home to countless historic structures such as the Pierhead building, the Senedd building and the converted dockland buildings and features.
10. Llandaff Cathedral
Situated in Llandaff, north Cardiff, the Llandaff Cathedral is an Anglican place of worship. Though first built in the 12 century, the structure has been damaged and rebuilt several times over, including during the English Civil War, during the Great Storm of 1703 and during the blitz of World War Two.
The Llandaff Cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Llandaff and remains a place of worship to this day.