How to live like a Local in Cardiff

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Amy Pay has been living in Cardiff for seven years. The high concentration of cultural venues and the close proximity to epic beaches and vast green countryside drew her to the capital of Wales. While she never takes those aspects for granted, the ever-increasing array of quality independent cafes, unique boutiques and cheap living have since led to her loving the inner city, too.

Cardiff Castle is at the heart of the cityCardiff Castle sits at the heart of the Welsh capital © Billy Stock / Shutterstock

When I have friends in town… we walk to Roath Park. It has a huge lake that you can row on, plenty of grassy picnic spots and an arboretum with exotic plants, ducks and terrapins. Cardiff Castle always goes down well; it’s hard not to be impressed by the incredibly ornate Gothic interior. I also love taking people to Rules of Play, a board game shop that’s full-to-bursting with unusual yet accessible games. We’ll buy something then take it to Tiny Rebel, a local brewery bar, to play.

The live music scene is thriving in Cardiff… with a venue to suit every taste. I tend to hang around Womanby Street, which is home to alternative venues. The Moon Club is great if you want to check out local bands, while Clwb Ifor Bach opposite and The Globe in Roath get bigger names in the rock, indie and alt scene. Up from that, there’s the Motorpoint Arena, which hosts chart-topping bands and household names.

Lonely Planet’s Cardiff Local Amy Pay in Bute Park © Amy Pay / Lonely Planet

A typical weekend involves… plenty of relaxing, which is easy to do as Cardiff has many outdoor spaces and friendly eateries. Nothing beats a walk in Bute Park. At over 50 hectares in size, there are lots of routes through expanses of lush grass, some 3000 tree varieties and an abundance of flowers and wildlife. There’s something so special about being surrounded by nature while in the heart of the city centre; I’ll never get bored of it.

On a Sunday, I love going to Riverside Market. It sits on a street that runs parallel to the River Taff and opposite the Principality Stadium. Locals and visitors come by every week to wander stalls, eye up local produce, gorge on fresh pastries and enjoy the community buzz.

Riverside Market in CardiffRiverside Market is a good spot for picking up some local goodies © Amy Pay / Lonely Planet

For cheap eats… it’s worth leaving the pedestrianised centre, which is dominated by chains. City Road has some affordable, authentic international restaurants, including Mezza Luna, a Lebanese restaurant with fragrant tagines and the occasional belly dancer. Vegetarian Food Studio in Grangetown is my favourite spot for quality Indian food, plus it’s an absolute bargain. The delicious three-course thali (set meal) is little over £5.

If you want an unforgettable date for all the right reasons… take the boat from Cardiff Bay to Penarth, having booked the six-course tasting menu at Restaurant James Sommerin. It earned a Michelin star for its locally sourced, flavourful and elegant take on fine dining. Alternatively, test whether your date has a fun side by taking them to see Cardiff Devils play ice hockey. Watch the pros for a few loud, action-packed hours then hit the rink for post-match skating.

Penarth PierStroll along Penarth Pier to work up an appetite for dinner at Restaurant James Sommerin © Amy Pay / Lonely Planet

One thing I don’t like so much about living in Cardiff is… how busy it gets when there is a rugby match on. That said, I’m in a tiny minority of people here who aren’t fussed about the sport. The Welsh love any opportunity to be patriotic while nursing a pint of Brains’ SA (from Cardiff’s oldest brewery), and the fact that our huge sports venue, Principality Stadium, is less than 400 metres from the main train station is a huge draw for visiting fans.

Visitors should try some Welsh produce… starting at Cardiff Market. I reckon Bakestones’ Welsh cakes are the best in the city, hot off the griddle, packed with sweet sultanas and accompanied by a flat white from Hard Lines’ coffee kiosk nearby. Ashton’s Fishmongers sells cockles and fresh laverbread (raw, hand-gathered seaweed), both of which are Welsh delicacies. Across the way in Castle Arcade, Madame Fromage serves a top Welsh Rarebit – a gooey mix of Welsh cheddar, ale, mustard and béchamel sauce grilled on doorstep toast.

Madame Fromage in Cardiff MarketMadame Fromage and her cheeses are one of many favourite stops in Cardiff Market © Amy Pay / Lonely Planet

When I just want to treat myself… I visit Cathays and Roath for a mix of low-cost and splash-out shopping. I could easily spend a week’s earnings in Home by Kirsty, a beautiful independent homeware, stationery and jewellery shop that stocks handmade lights, cute trinkets and niche magazines. It’s hard to walk out without buying a pin badge, at the very least. In contrast, the nearby Albany Road has lots of well-stocked charity shops to rummage through.

When I want to get out of the city… I walk over to Canton, the nearest suburb to the west of the city centre. It’s home to Chapter Arts Centre and some great eateries, my favourite being Brød – The Danish Bakery. I can never resist an æble snegl, a swirl of soft dough filled with apple, cinnamon sugar and icing. There’s usually a queue for a table in this peak-hygge spot, but it’s always worth the wait.

Chapter Arts Centre in CardiffPop in for a show and a pint at Chapter Arts Centre © Lonely Planet

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