I write a lot about traveling as a family but last weekend I was just a little excited to be heading off for a child free weekend. I had two whole days of luxury, grown up fun and wedding planning with my recently engaged sister in Cardiff. The Welsh capital (one of The Guardian’s Top 10 British Cities) is a great option for a weekend away with something for everyone, history, shopping, food, nightlife, within easy walking distance.
Travel to Cardiff
If you only have a couple of days then speedy travel routes are key and Cardiff certainly ticks that box with regular trains coming into Central station and easy access from the M4 (but don’t get caught out by the toll on the Severn Bridge – £6.50 at the time of writing). My preferred route is down the M50 as it’s a much prettier drive in the sunshine and if you’re not in a rush you can stop off somewhere like Monmouth or Ross on Wye for a cup of tea and a picturesque stroll.
Once I’d picked up my sister, our first stop was Park Plaza on Greyfriars Road for a sophisticated afternoon tea. After selecting Earl Grey from a very comprehensive tea list we were quickly presented with a traditional three tiered cake stand brimming with goodies, generously sized sandwiches, both scones and welsh cakes (a personal favourite of mine), fresh fruit tarts, macarons, chocolate fondant squares with a crunchy base and cute little icecream cones filled with a rich, flavoured cream cheese.
It was a glorious spread (apologies that the lighting means my photos don’t do it justice at all) and we thoroughly enjoyed working our way through it with a further pot of tea along the way. The service was particularly good, helpful and attentive without being intrusive. It was the perfect environment to chat about the upcoming wedding and start making plans for the catering.
[The traditional Park Plaza Afternoon Tea is a very reasonable £17.50 per person. They also serve a rather innovative Gentleman’s Afternoon Tea including things like mini venison burgers and chorizo scotch eggs or a Hendrick’s G and Tea which combines afternoon tea staples with a gin and cucumber cocktail and mini lime jelly. Click here for details and to book.]
For great access to everything the city had to offer I decided to stay in the centrally located Cardiff Hilton Hotel and with waistbands eased a little I headed over to check in. Cardiff was pretty busy due to the cricket being on over the weekend but I was quickly set up with a room on the 6th floor by the helpful reception staff and went up to drop off my bag. It was just what you look for in a city center hotel, a decent size, modern decor, well appointed and clean with a surprising spacious bathroom with separate walk in shower and air con already combating the July heat. The only down side was a rather uninspiring view of a car park although I’m told rooms at the front of the hotel look out on the castle. In fairness I wouldn’t have had much of a chance to enjoy a view anyway, or indeed their rather smart pool and gym, as I was quickly on my way out again to hit the shops.
[Standard Doubles at the Hilton usually start from £189 per night although you can sometimes get great last minute deals. Click here for details and to book.]
Cardiff has always been great for shopping but with the St Davids Center now extended you have even more choice. There’s the whole spectrum of shops from large department stores to little boutiques not to mention the market and there are plenty of coffee shops, cafes and food stalls to fuel your retail therapy.
We were focusing mainly on wedding dresses which narrowed the field significantly but still left plenty to keep us busy for the rest of the afternoon.
[St David’s Center has a huge car park open 24hrs which is one of the easiest places to park in central Cardiff. Click here for directions and visitor information.]
After a hard afternoon’s shopping the next step is obvious… cocktails! We got comfy in a booth in the Laguna Bar back at Park Plaza, voted ‘Cocktail Bar of the Year’ at the Cardiff Life Awards and sampled just a few of their fabulous concoctions, purely for research purposes of course. Their Espresso Martini was delicious or if you have a sweet tooth try the Razmapolitan, yum! The bar was quite quiet when we got there but quickly filled up resulting in just the right level of ‘buzz’ without it getting to frantic. The staff really showed their expertise with the cocktails and we enjoyed it so much we ended up being very late for dinner. Highly recommended!
[Cocktails at Laguna Bar start from £8 and they also do a range of non-alcoholic ‘mocktails’ if you’re feeling virtuous. We didn’t eat there but I did like the look of their menu and will pencil their Sunday brunch in for my next visit, check it out here.]
Having got a little distracted by tasty cocktails we found ourselves looking for dinner pretty late but thanks to the lovely host at the Miller & Carter Steakhouse we were still able to enjoy a great meal. Steak (obviously), sirloin for me and Australian rib eye for my sister along with some wonderfully indulgent lobster mac & cheese as a side. How have I got to 36 without ever trying lobster mac & cheese? Delicious and perfect for soaking up the cocktails too in time for a short walk back to my hotel.
[Steaks start from £17.95 and Miller & Carter also have a fixed price lunch menu starting at £7.95. Check out the menu here.]
Cardiff on a summer evening really can be rather lovely, can’t it?
Sunday Morning Lie-in
Sunday morning started with my ultimate mum treat, the combination of a lie in, breakfast in bed and some time to flick through a magazine and watch the news in peace. Full marks to the Cardiff Hilton for a very tasty breakfast.
We spent the rest of Sunday at Spa Naturel at the Holland House Hotel on Newport Road. They offer an array of treatments and packages and we went for the ‘Time for Me’ package which included a choice from a number of treatments, access to the spa facilities, robe, slippers and refreshments. The hotel was having some work done when we were there so the lobby was a bit chaotic but once we entered the spa itself it was like another world. The staff were very friendly and welcoming, quickly setting us up with robes and slippers and explaining where everything was. Once we had changed we headed in to the relaxation room for a while from where we were collected by our therapists and taken over to our treatment rooms. I had a super neck and back massage that left me feeling practically comatose and then spent the rest of the afternoon bobbing around in the pool, sat with my feet up reading a magazine and having more wedding chat over refreshments looking out at the city. The pool area was looking a little tired but the rest of the spa was very smart and the changing facilities were spacious and clean. It was a perfect end to the weekend and good value at only £49 I thought. I think it would be a great venue for a hen do.
[Spa Packages at Holland House start from £39 per person. You can find the details here.]
We had a fab weekend and packed in lots to just two days so if you’re thinking about a grown up city break you should definitely check out Cardiff. If you have some recommendations for other places to visit in Cardiff do share them in the comments.