Cardiff in Wales is an ideal city to visit for a side trip from London. First, the train from London’s Paddington station to Cardiff clocks in at just under two hours. I took an early train from London and made it to Cardiff for a late breakfast.
Cardiff is also a manageable city for a short trip– small and compact enough that you can easily walk most everywhere, but diverse enough that you’ll have plenty to do. And it’s only a fifteen minute drive outside the city to that glorious Welsh countryside, complete with sheep and stone beaches.
I only spent two nights in Cardiff, but managed to have amazing experiences and brought home some very unique souvenirs. Here are some of my favorite experiences souvenirs from Wales:
Quick Content Guide
- Wales Experience: Hit the Markets and Shopping Arcades
- Wales Experience: Watch Welsh Cakes Made in Front of You
- Wales Experience: Watch a Rugby Game
- Wales Experience: Have a Nicholas Sparks Moment on a Stone Beach
- Wales Experience: See Cardiff Bay
- Wales Experience: Cuddle Baby Lambs
- Wales Experience: Tour Cardiff Castle
- Wales Experience: Visit a Welsh Vineyard
Wales Experience: Hit the Markets and Shopping Arcades
For a smallish city, Cardiff has an extraordinary number of historic covered marketplaces and shopping arcades.
Central Market was my favorite– this market dates back to 1891 and its stalls range from traditional British food to one of a kind goods. You can find entire stalls dedicated to things like trophies, vintage records or top hats.
Top Wales souvenir: Top hats and Vintage records
I can’t even begin to list all the random items you might find here– think rummage sale meets specialty shops you never knew you needed meets cool vintage. As I browsed the Dandy stall selling top hats, I pointed to the hat and asked “what do you do with one?” The vendor looked at me like I was insane and replied “you put it on your head.”
Castle Quarter Arcade
The Castle Quarter Arcade, directly across the street from Cardiff Castle, is another great market for souvenir finds (and a perfect spot to warm up with some tea on a chilly day).
Top Wales Souvenir: Welsh cheese
The best shop in the Castle Quarter Arcade is Madame Fromage, a cheese emporium that specializes in delicious only-in-Wales cheeses you won’t find anywhere else. Crumbly Caerphilly cheese is probably the most popular Welsh cheese, but don’t miss the sharp and tangy cheddars.
Wales Experience: Watch Welsh Cakes Made in Front of You
Welsh cakes are a Wales tradition. Sweet and almost biscuit-like with tiny bits of fruit, Welsh cakes are made by rolling out the dough, cutting them into disks and cooking them on a hot griddle. Watch them made in front of you in Cardiff market, then enjoy a piping hot cake on the spot.
Top Wales Souvenir: Welsh Cakes
After sampling these addictive little cakes, you’ll definitely want to bring some home. The fresh Welsh cakes made at the market won’t last as long, but are great to pick up if you’re on your way home the same day. Packaged cakes will last longer, and even the supermarket version was pretty tasty.
Wales Experience: Watch a Rugby Game
While all of the United Kingdom is steeped in rugby culture, it seems to be even more true in Wales. It’s easy to feel the rush of rugby cameraderie and excitement when watching a match with the locals. If you can time it right, see a live rugby match at the spectacular Millennium Stadium.
Or, do what I did and just join in the fun at a local pub in Wales. You can check out the Old Arcade pub for the fascinating display of rugby memorabilia tacked to the walls– but pretty much every pub with a tv screen will show matches. Rugby watchers aren’t terribly rowdy– the viewing atmosphere will be jovial (sometimes with spontaneous singing) and welcoming.
Top Wales Souvenir: a Kit or Scarf
A Wales kit (team shirt) or scarf is a great way to root on the Welsh rugby team back home. You can find kits in most of the shops in the central shopping areas or in the markets.
Wales Experience: Have a Nicholas Sparks Moment on a Stone Beach
When I think of Wales, I imagine waves crashing on misty grey stone beaches. You know, like a scene straight out of a Nicholas Sparks movie. Fortunately, you can find the perfect straight-out-of-a-movie beach a quick twenty minutes away from Cardiff. Bring sneakers because those giant stones are slippery.
Top Wales souvenir: a love spoon
Those empty stone beaches just scream romance, so why not bring a romantic souvenir home– the Welsh love spoon. A love spoon is a traditional gift in Wales, dating back to the 1700’s when young suitors would carve a spoon for their love interest.
These days Welsh love spoons have symbolic meanings beyond just love (you can find spoons for good luck, health and faith, among other things). And there is no need for a paramour to gift you a spoon– these days people buy them for family, friends or for themselves. The best place to buy a love spoon in Cardiff is at Castle Welsh Crafts, right across the street from Cardiff Castle.
Wales Experience: See Cardiff Bay
While most of Cardiff is easy walking distance from the city center,you’ll want to hop a quick uber ride a few miles to Cardiff’s bay. Cardiff bay is one of the most successful regeneration projections in the United Kingdom. What used to be derelict docklands is now a bustling area filled with attractions, art, shops and restaurants.
My favorite thing to see in Cardiff bay was this sculpture. As you approach the sculpture from behind, it looks like a shipwreck. Walk your way around and it turns into the face of a grieving mother (guaranteed to give you chills).
Top Wales Souvenir: Laverbread
Since Cardiff Bay is on the sea, the souvenir I chose is also from the sea– laverbread. Laverbread is a bit of a misnomer as it isn’t really bread at all, it’s actually a kind of seaweed that has been boiled and minced into a gelatinous paste. It can be fried or incorporated into a sauce or even melded into cheese. Laverbread is known as the “poor man’s caviar” and is considered a delicacy– I recommend trying before buying.
Wales Experience: Cuddle Baby Lambs
When taking the train through Wales, as expected I saw lots of adorable sheep dotting the countryside. But while seeing them was lovely, what I really wanted to do was pick them and cuddle them. But even if I was on foot, it’s still not advisable to approach strange sheep out in the wild. Fortunately, there is a place in Wales where you can not only learn more about lambs, but even cuddle them, and if you time it right, watch newborns emerge during lambing season.
At Slade farm organics, I took a free tour of the farm and battled three year olds for my chance to hold a baby lamb.
Top Wales Souvenir: Wool blanket
What better way to remember cuddling baby lambs than cuddling up with a souvenir soft wool blanket. Although Slade farm doesn’t yet sell wool items, Welsh Castle Crafts had a beautiful selection.
Wales Experience: Tour Cardiff Castle
Of all the “things to do” in Cardiff, the attraction you absolutely can’t miss is Cardiff castle. The original castle was built in the late 11th century by Norman invaders on top of a 3rd-century Roman fort. There is so much to explore here– I loved the medieval keep and moat, the clock tower, and the spectacularly decorated rooms in the Victorian mansion.
Top Wales Souvenir: A Medieval Sword
Perfect for children or those who act like them, a toy sword so you can recreate your own sword fights back home.
Wales Experience: Visit a Welsh Vineyard
Were you aware that vineyards even existed in Wales? I certainly wasn’t, so I was surprised when we drove out to a Llanerch Vineyard, fully functioning vineyard just fifteen minutes outside of Cardiff (also reachable by train). I checked out the vines out back (tours are also available) and had my best meal in Wales at their spectacular restaurant onsite.
Wales Souvenir: a Bottle of Welsh Wine
Can you think of anything more unique to serve at your next dinner party than a bottle of Welsh wine? The vineyard is too tiny to export, so you won’t find these wines anywhere else. I loved the crisp white I enjoyed with lunch.
My excellent local guide who took me out to the lamb farm, vineyard and beach was Dai Phillips, reach him at [email protected]
Booking the Train
The easiest way to book any train from London is via thetrainline.
Where to stay
You couldn’t get more convenient than the Hilton Cardiff, directly across the street from the Castle. Comfy beds with spectacular castle views and top-notch service.
Disclosure: On this trip I was a guest of Visit Britain but all souvenir picks are my own.