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Digging Deeper to Explore the Rich History of Cardiff, Wales

Learn more about things to do in and around Cardiff, Wales on a weekend city break. Discover the rich history of Cardiff in the UK.
This guest post was written by Scott of VacationCounts (also my husband and personal travel planner!) since I was unable to join him on this trip. Check out his blog to learn how to take more vacation time off and enjoy a healthy work-life balance.

Since Dr J and I already took a city break to Cardiff a few years ago, my goal for this trip was to go beyond the city streets to see what this town is made of. 

The answer is coal. Coal mining made Cardiff one of the richest trading ports on the planet and led to its status as the capital of Wales today. On this travel blogging trip to Cardiff to attend Traverse 2016, I explored the city a second time by heading to the mountains and mines of southern Wales. 

I'll also share with you my Welsh food finds and dig deeper into this enticing destination. I won't cover the conference specifically since you can easily find UK-based travel bloggers who attended and posted about Traverse.

Cardiff Weekend - Cardiff Castle 

Cardiff Stadiums and Beer (they go together, don't they?)

The first thing I noticed when walking from the train station (I arrived via the Cardiff Airport bus on a very bumpy ride – resurface that road!) to the welcoming Church Guesthouse in Cardiff is the giant stadium along the river. 

For a small city, Cardiff has lots of sports stadiums and arenas. Our travel blogger conference was held at City (football) Stadium and I learned there is a new ice hockey arena that recently opened on the bay.

Cardiff Weekend - Stadium

My trip was filled with numerous stops for liquid refreshment, namely coffee and beer. My first coffee stop upon arrival was at a cozy cafe called Lufkin Coffee Roasters; a few minutes walk from my lodging on Cathedral Road.
Cardiff Weekend - Lufkin

For beer I made it my job to sample a variety of excellent Welsh craft ales and stouts at local pubs including Y Mochyn Du where I stayed for a delicious lunch and the Urban Tap House which produces Tiny Rebel beers and cooks up tasty burgers.
Cardiff Weekend - Pint of Beer

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Looking for other places to visit in Wales? Why not spend a long weekend in North Wales with a home base in atmospheric Conwy. You might even squeeze in some time discovering things to do in Chester UK before heading home via Liverpool.

Cardiff Weekend - Beer Taps

I also grabbed this industrial snap of the Brains Brewery which is a Cardiff institution. You can try all their beer labels at the friendly Cardiff Cottage pub as well as most other pubs in town.
Cardiff Weekend - Brains Brewery

The Best Day Tour from Cardiff (caution: you'll need a hard hat)

The next day I embarked on the highly recommended Mines and Mountains tour run by See Wales. The same tour for conference attendees was full for Sunday, but I was kindly offered a complimentary space so I didn't miss out on this experience since I arrived early. 

 The highlight for me was the visit to the Big Pit National Coal Museum. Where else can you learn about the central role that coal mining played in the prosperity and decline in the context of Welsh history? 

The tours down into the actual mine are led by former coal miners who lost their job when the mines were shut down by the British government back in 1980. 

After donning a hard hat with torch affixed, we descended 90m down the lift (yes I'm using the British English terms for flashlight and elevator).
Cardiff Weekend - Big Pit National Coal Museum
Cardiff Weekend - Big Pit National Coal Museum
We walked through the old mine shafts and learned what it was like in the 1800's all the way up to recent times. In the early days women and children (and horses and canaries) worked in extremely harsh conditions for very little pay. 

Safety improved over the years as coal continued to be extracted and transported to Cardiff for worldwide export. No photos or electrical devices of any kind (that includes watches with a battery) were allowed into the mine due to spark risk, so I cannot share any photos of what we saw below the surface.
Cardiff Weekend - Scott of VacationCounts wearing a hard hat

Our tour continued to the town of Brecon where we visited the historic cathedral and stopped for lunch. This day tour includes a visit to the Brecon Beacons National Park and includes a short hike on a hill with 360 views. The area was green and stunning. A lot like Ireland!
Cardiff Weekend - Brecon Beacons National Park
Cardiff Weekend - Brecon Beacons National Park
Even the signs were in two languages, in this case both English and Welsh, which is a bit more intimidating looking than Irish.
Cardiff Weekend - Path Rocky and Prone to Flooding

If I had the time that weekend I would have loved to take another See Wales tour such as the Roman Ruins or Gower Peninsula as several people on the mini-bus had done. It pays to get beyond Cardiff and since public transportation is limited, the bus tour is easier than renting a car.

Don't Bake Those Welsh Cakes (learn how to make them)

Another highlight of my weekend was taking a food tour of Cardiff followed by a lesson on how to make Welsh cakes. For me, Welsh cakes are just like cookies that you cook on a stovetop griddle instead of baking. 

While the traditional recipe includes raisins (or is it sultanas?) and spice, I was fortunate to choose a prep station set up for the orange and chocolate variety.

Cardiff Weekend - Making Welsh Cakes

The free tour was organized by the visit Cardiff tourism council and expertly led by Sian of Loving Welsh Food who runs workshops and the Welsh Food and Drink Safari. 

Before grilling up those hot Welsh Cakes we hung out at the Sunday market along the river. After tasting a few of my creations and toasting with Welsh cider, I packaged up the rest of my homemade cakes for the trip home (and to share a few with Dr. J of course!).

A Tale of Two Cardiffs (mind the gap between the city and the coast)

My final few hours in Cardiff led me from the castle to the bay. I wish I had the time to go inside the castle grounds as I had a free ticket available, but Cardiff Bay was calling that afternoon. 

I also noticed a wetlands area on Google Maps and wanted to take a stroll along the water and relax before my Flybe direct flight back to Dublin.
Cardiff Weekend - Cardiff Castle
Cardiff Weekend - Cardiff Castle
Cardiff Weekend - Cardiff Bay
While the walk along the footpath (OK, sidewalk) and boardwalk was scenic, there were few birds to be seen during my visit in April. Still you can't visit Cardiff without taking a quick bus ride down to the bay with its many indoor and outdoor attractions.
Cardiff Weekend - Cardiff Bay Reeds
Cardiff Weekend - Cardiff Bay Boardwalk
My last stop was a modern Wetherspoon-branded pub that felt like a craft beer bar before heading back to catch my airport bus. Thanks Cardiff for the new memories and true Welsh experiences.


A Day Out in Bristol from Cardiff

Day out in Bristol: Temple Meads Train Station
Bristol, England is located just an hour away from Cardiff by bus. Bristol also has the advantage of having an airport that is better connected to other points in the UK, Ireland, and the rest of Europe thanks to low-cost carriers.

We spent a day out in Bristol at the tail end of our weekend in Cardiff. Much of Bristol was destroyed during World War II.  A church in the middle of the shopping district was just a hollow shell. We passed other buildings that seemed to be well preserved like The Old Fish Market which is now a combination pub and Thai restaurant. We encountered graffiti with contrasting themes on our walk around Bristol. Skulls and whimsical flower people make an edgy combination. Next up?  Sea-themed graffiti complete with pirates.
Days out in Bristol England: tall ships on the river

We sat along the river and enjoyed a coffee and sandwich at Caffe Gusto. We were intrigued by the scenery along the river which included a few tall ships. We even passed some industrial sized locks! I liked an old abandoned railway station carved into the side of a cliff near the river.
Days out in Bristol: Clifton Suspension Bridge viewed from below

We soon saw our target destination, the Clifton Suspension Bridge.  The bridge was much higher up than we expected.  We didn't realize that it spanned a large gorge.  We looked forward in trepidation hoping we wouldn't have to turn around and go back after walking for a good couple miles to get here. Fortunately, we found a path starting with a set of stairs carved into the cliff.  It was almost more daunting than turning around but we pushed ourselves onward and upward toward Clifton Bridge! The path switched back and forth several times through the woods. Huffing and puffing, we were glad to see that we were making good progress. Hooray!  We made it to the top at last after about a 10-15 minute climb.
Days out in Bristol: Clifton Suspension Bridge

We walked out onto the bridge and admired the views of the river below.  We were pleased with ourselves for making it this far. The Clifton Suspension Bridge got its start in 1754 with a competition to design a bridge across the gorge.  Work began in 1831 and was finally completed 1864 after the death of designer and inspiration Isambard Kingdom Brunel. There is a small museum on the far end of the bridge away from Clifton Village. The caretakers are knowledgeable and it's definitely worth a peek inside.

We made our way into Clifton Village to have a look around.  I chuckled when I saw Posh Spice Indian Restaurant -- tell me whatcha want, whatcha really, really want :-) We stopped for a well-deserved spot of tea at the Mall Deli Cafe. We continued on to the Coronation Tap (aka Cori Tap) for some live music and cider. Bristol is known for cider. There were five varieties of cider on tap and we tried them all.  They were quite refreshing and not nearly as sweet as the ciders we've encountered in the U.S.

Bluesy rock was the order of the day and the Sleepy Dogs kept us well entertained during our visit to Cori Tap. After the performance, we stopped at Thali Cafe for a bite of dinner. Our meal took the form of an assortment of Indian dishes. We walked down the hill back to the centre of town and admired Bristol's architecture. We had walked over 10 miles to make the most of our lone day in Bristol.  We still believe that every place is worth visiting at least once and Bristol certainly exceeded our expectations.

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: Digging Deeper to Explore the Rich History of Cardiff, Wales
Digging Deeper to Explore the Rich History of Cardiff, Wales
Learn more about things to do in and around Cardiff, Wales on a weekend city break. Discover the rich history of Cardiff in the UK.
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog