Is there any better city in the world to watch rugby than the Welsh capital? Cardiff has all the core components for a match day that’ll live long in the memory: a world-class stadium located slap bang in the centre of the city; fervent, red-face-painted, daffodil-hat-sporting fans; and an array of characterful drinking and dining restaurants within stumbling distance of the stands.
Whether you’re a sports fan or not, to visit the city when the men or women’s national rugby team are in town is to see Cardiff at its most lively, colourful and chaotic. But with the large crowds can come confusion. For travelling fans squabbles can arise over where to eat, sleep, and – often of vital importance to rugby fans – drink after the game. Let us take the strain out of your visit with a guide to the perfect match day in Cardiff, so all you have to worry about is the score at the final whistle.
Where to eat in Cardiff
Cardiff rises early on international match days; during the World Cup or latter stages of the annual Six Nations tournament, expect to see queues forming outside some of the city’s more popular drinking dens before midday – make that 11am if Wales are doing well.
But, with so many great dining spots in the city, you’d be wise to forgo a liquid lunch in favour of a traditional Welsh breakfast – arguably the most important meal of any match day.
For a taste of local flavour, there’s really nowhere better than the Bull Terrier. Located on the second floor of the impressively grand yet endearingly ramshackle Cardiff Market (dating back to the 1700s), this cafe is one of the only spots in the city where you can still get a dollop of laverbread with your bacon and eggs – a mixture of seaweed and oats known as ‘Welshman’s caviar’ that is much less revolting than it sounds. Grab a table on the balcony outside and dig in.
Other notable breakfast mentions include glass-walled coffeehouse The Plan, in the Victorian-era, boutique-lined Morgan Arcade, the quaint Pettigrew Tea Rooms in the old gatehouse to sprawling Bute Park (with decor reminiscent of a Welsh grannies living room), or, for cheap, greasy-spoon glory, head to recently refurbished Black and White Cafe in Grangetown.
For grub on the go, New York Deli is renowned for its hulking hoagie sandwiches, while the Grazing Shed offers up burgers befitting its tagline of ‘super tidy’ (Welsh slang for ‘rather agreeable’). For a traditional – albeit no longer particularly common – Welsh snack, buy a small tub of cockles from Ashton Fishmongers in Cardiff Market, seasoned like chips with salt and vinegar – delicious!
For dinner after the game, book a table at tiny family-owned Italian Cafe Citta, beloved veggie curry house Vegetarian Food Studio or the culinary-school-cum-fine-dining spot (with good prices!) The Classroom. For something really memorable, try Chapel – a top-class restaurant housed in a renovated 1877 church.
You might also like: The best cities in the world to watch rugby
Where to drink in Cardiff
The beating heart of Cardiff on game day is The Prince of Wales; a cavernous Wetherspoons pub inhabiting – some might say like a parasite – a space that was once The Prince of Wales Theatre, and graced by the great actors Laurence Olivier and Richard Burton. It’s certainly a tad less classy these days, but if it’s atmosphere, Tom Jones-singalongs and cheap drinks you’re after, this is the place to go – especially before the game.
Other great pre-game spots for a quick snifter include Tiny Rebel and City Arms. The two venues are opposite one another in the shadow of the Principality Stadium, with the latter one of the city’s classic boozers with real ale on tap and beer mats on the wall. The other is a newer addition, drawing younger drinkers who sup craft ales from breweries around the country.
A word of warning; after the game it’s going to be hard to get to the bar. If you’re not one of the first out of the stadium after the final whistle has blown, then a top tip is to head to The Moon bar, on Womanby Street (Cardiff’s ‘hipster quarter’ if it were to have one). The venue is an unassuming rock bar – with live performances on the weekends – that is overlooked by the crowds spilling from the stadium; you’ll usually be able to get straight to the bar.
Cardiff is so compact, and practically sodden with watering holes, that you won’t have to wander too far (once the initial final-whistle crowds have dispersed) to find something to your liking, try the Goat Major, Queens Vaults or – if you want a real local experience – the Borough... though approach with caution. Hardcore sports fans should make an effort to check out Elevens, a sports bar part-owned by local-boy-done-good Gareth Bale, and filled with sporting memorabilia.
Where to go late
If the sun has set and you’re still keen (and physically able) to party, then Cardiff has a solid – though admittedly fairly unimaginative – selection of nightlife options on offer.
Aside from big UK chain clubs like Revs and – never-a-good-idea – Tiger Tiger, the two nightlife stalwarts are Live Lounge and Cardiff institution Clwb Ifor Bach. The first is basically a giant dancefloor – which miraculously manages to feel uncomfortably crowded at all times – playing a mashup of top 40 crowd-pleasers and cheesy pop hits. This, mixed with the well-priced drinks, has ensured its enduring popularity. Clwb Ifor Bach (known as ‘Clwb’ or simply ‘Welsh Club’) is a more alternative affair, with three floors of music (ranging from indie to drum and bass) and a greater sense of angst prevalent in the air.
Other notable venues that open into the wee hours include Brewhouse, with live bands and a more mixed crowd, Metros, a notorious underground spot playing early 2000s emo bangers with sweat dripping from the ceiling, Bootlegger, with swing music and swanky cocktails, and New Zealand-themed Kiwis, which is a hit with older night owls. The assortment of bars along Mill Lane are also open late.
Once you’ve had your fill of hedonism, end your night out in the Welsh capital the right way, by wandering down Caroline Street, known more commonly as Chippy Lane or Chippy Alley (depending on which part of Cardiff you’re from). Every local has their preferred chip shop here, but Dorothy’s formerly ‘world famous’ (now just ‘famous’ for unknown reasons) chicken curry off the bone (served on chips) is perhaps the best thing you can eat at 2am anywhere in the world. Another establishment worth noting here is Charlestons, a second-floor steakhouse that’s open 24 hours – you’re certain to meet a few characters in here.
Where to sleep in Cardiff
Cardiff has a vast array of hotels to accommodate all budgets. Mrs Potts and NosDa Hostel – the latter with lovely cross-river views of the Principality Stadium – are great for those on a tight budget, with both boasting dormitory-style accommodation and enviable city-centre locations.
Those with a little more cash to splash can stay at characterful B&Bs, such as Lincoln House, and small boutique hotels such as Cathedral 73, which also houses a tea room and piano bar. There’s also the expected offering of multinational outfits, including Travelodge, Ibis and Hilton. For a full list of options, check out our Cardiff accommodation page.
It’s not essential to stay in central Cardiff either. Accommodation in Pontcanna, Cathays, Canton, Grangetown and Cardiff Bay will largely be within walking distance (or a very speedy cab ride) of the stadium, while the commuter towns of Penarth and, a little further still, Barry, are well-connected by regular trains (until around 11pm) and offer a different experience to a stay in the heart of the city.
Other things to do in the city
Cardiff may be a relatively small capital but it has much to offer visitors. A visit to the castle – again uniquely located in the city centre – is a must and will capture the imagination of younger travellers. But, for culture, it’s hard to top St Fagans National History Museum on the outskirts of the city. Crowned Britain’s Museum of the Year 2019, the open-air, 100-acre space is filled with traditional buildings and working farmsteads visitors can explore on their own, bringing Wales’ history and traditions to life.
Elsewhere, the Cardiff Bay Barrage is great for a blustery walk (with a stop at the excellent Norweigan Church Arts Centre, where writer Roald Dahl was christened), while the New Theatre puts on plays and musicals throughout the year – especially handy if the weather isn’t playing ball. Those who haven’t quite had their fill of rugby can also get tickets to see local team Cardiff Blues play at the Cardiff Arms Park; an intimate ground in the shadow of the national stadium. Adult tickets are available for £26 on the club’s website.