Check into boutique hotel Cathedral 73, on a tree-lined street an easy walk into the city centre. This Victorian townhouse has been converted into a stylish hotel, with rooms ranging from small doubles to a two-bedroom suite with its own kitchen. There are lots of luxury extras too, like a private chef and butler service, and you can even get chauffeured into town in their vintage Rolls Royce. Rooms from £150 a night.
Or if you’re on a budget, try the Sleeperz Hotel Cardiff. One of a small chain of hotels with compact, contemporary style rooms in city centre locations, this one is right next to the train station. Rooms from £48 a night. Head into town to start the weekend off at the Urban Tap House. This former fire station is now a bar run by Tiny Rebel, a cult craft brewery from nearby Newport. As well as 15 of their own beers on tap they also have a kitchen which claims to serve the best burgers in the city.
Cardiff’s Castle is right at the heart of the city. Over its long history it’s been a Roman Fort, Norman Castle, Victorian Gothic mansion and Second World War bomb shelter. Take a walk around the castle battlements and grounds, and make sure to climb up to the top of the keep for a panoramic view across the city. Entry to the castle costs £12 (£10.50 for seniors/students and £9 for children) but it’s worth paying the extra £3 for a 50-minute guided tour that takes you around the Castle Apartments with their ornate interiors. Tours run every hour from 10am–5pm (until 4pm from November to February).
When you’ve finished clambering around the castle, cross the street to the Castle Arcade. It’s one of a series of Victorian shopping arcades around the city centre. It’s also home to Madame Fromage, a great lunch spot where you can try a traditional cawl – a soup made with lamb and root vegetables – or one of their local cheese platters (they have 150 varieties on sale in the attached deli). But leave room for dessert at nearby Science Cream, where they use liquid nitrogen to make the smoothest ice cream.
Take the short walk over to the National Museum of Cardiff next. Entry’s free and you get two museums in one. The ground floor is all about natural history, telling the story of the evolution of Wales from the Big Bang to the end of the last Ice Age, with everything from meteorites to wooly mammoths. Then the upper floor is an art gallery with paintings, sculpture and ceramics from Wales and around the world.
Stop off for a drink at Y Mochyn Du, a traditional-style pub with a good range of Welsh ciders and ales, before dinner at the Potted Pig. This former bank vault in the city centre is now a restaurant which specialises in Italian-inspired food using local Welsh ingredients. It’s also got an impressively huge range of gins and, to go with the name, your drinks come with a side of crispy pork scratchings.
Head over to Cardiff Bay, where a huge urban regeneration project has transformed the city’s old docklands. They were originally used to ship coal out from the Welsh Valleys but are now a mixture of modern architecture and renovated historic buildings. Start at the Senedd – the Welsh Assembly’s parliament building – where you can take a free tour to find out more about the building and the Welsh political system. You can also look around the red-brick Pierhead Building and the white wooden Norwegian Church where author Roald Dahl was christened, which is now an arts centre and café.
The bay’s most recognisable building though is the Millennium Centre, where you can see opera, music and theatre performances. The copper-coloured frontage has a poem by Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis built into it which is lit up by night. Translated it means “Creating truth like glass from the furnace of inspiration”. Stop off at the Centre’s restaurant and bar, ffresh, which has an open kitchen where you can watch chefs prepare modern Welsh dishes from a spot with a great view across the bay.
If you’re a Doctor Who fan, you might recognise a few Cardiff Bay locations as backdrops from the show. Since it restarted in 2005, most of the series’ filming has taken place in and around the bay. So it’s only fitting that it should be the home of the Doctor Who Experience. It’s part interactive adventure and part exhibition, with props, sets and costumes from all eras of the series, whether your favourite Doctor is William Hartnell or Peter Capaldi. Entry costs £16 for adults or £11.75 for children 5–16 (save £2 if you book in advance) and you can add on a studio tour of the current TARDIS set when it’s not being used for filming.
Heading back across the bay, pass through Roald Dahl Plass – site of ‘The Rift’ in Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood. Under a bridge by the waterside you’ll find ‘Ianto’s Shrine’. When Torchwood character Ianto Jones was killed off in the series, fans started leaving letters, gifts and flowers here as an impromptu shrine. Finish the weekend off with a hot dog and milkshake at Eddie’s Diner, a 50s-style American diner complete with real Cadillac that featured in the Doctor Who episode The Impossible Astronaut.