No-one quite enjoys the summer like the dwellers of the UK. Because here we know the sun can a fleeting thing, gone after just a few precious months, weeks, sometimes days. With this in mind, however, we really make the most out of it. In droves, we flock to the beaches, the parks, and the other hot weather destinations our island has to offer. It may have been said that Cardiff is not exactly the sunniest place in the world (understatement of the year), and for the colder months this may be true. However, when summer rolls around it is transformed. The trees that line many of the city streets explode into glorious green, the flower beds in Roath and Bute Park are suddenly a beautiful cacophony of colours. The hot concrete of the city centre brings drinkers and eaters out onto pavement seating to eat, drink, and bask.
In this little list, I’ll share a few of my favourite locations around Cardiff to enjoy the sun. I hope to inspire you to explore more, and I encourage you to go out and walk, cycle, or drive around. This city is full to the brim with gorgeous places waiting to be explored and discovered.
1 – Taff Riverbank
(somewhere with a friend)
The River Taff runs straight through Cardiff on it’s way to the ocean. From Llandaff all the way to The Bay. On its path it runs from the tip to the tail of Bute Park, creating a multitude of picturesque spots and landmarks that anyone familiar with the park will know. Between the Secret Garden Cafe and the Blackweir, there is a long patch of woodland through which winds the Blackweir Woodland Trail and the Bute Woodland Trail. Nature lovers will appreciate the large selection of wildflowers and birds that can be seen in this area. The Blackweir trail runs closest to the river bank, following its curves. Here the river trips along, shallow and gleaming, filling the air with the sound of running water. As you wander along it you will find dozens of smaller paths leading down to the water’s edge, and to individual spots to sit in.
Some of the spots are small pebble beaches, appropriately sized for a group of people to enjoy a barbeque and some beers on. In other places, it is simply a patch of grass where you can sit, hidden from sight, and enjoy a book.
I love this section of riverbank because you really can find your own personal little spot and inhabit it. Most of these patches of peace and quiet go unnoticed by the larger crowds of the public, and you’re unlikely to be disturbed, other than by the occasional inquisitive dog.
2 – Roath Park Botanical Gardens
(somewhere to be quiet)
In Roath Park sits The Conservatory, a small botanical garden that boasts a huge array of flora and fauna. Inside a stone path winds its way around the large pond, which teams with fish of all
shapes, sizes, and colours. Not to mention turtles, which was a moment for me, because I’d never seen a real-life turtle before. In this huge warm space, surrounded by unusual and exotic plants it’s like walking through another world. The path takes you up stone steps to a vantage point on which a bench is placed so you can sit and look out over the fish-pond. This bench has to be one of my favourite places in Cardiff. People tend to forget themselves when they are presented with the unusual and unfamiliar. It’s a joy to watch people examining the plants and interacting with the animals, with childlike curiosity.
This is one of those places that feels bigger on the inside that it is on the outside. There’s so much to take in, even from simply sitting on one of the benches and watching, and for £2 entry, you really do get your money’s worth.
3 – The Top of High Street
(a slightly louder option)
High Street is the top half of what people usually refer to completely as St Mary’s Street. This stretch of the pedestrian-only pathway was originally only made up of shops and indoor restaurants. Now, with the opening of Gin & Juice, Corner Coffee, The Libertine, Pennyroyal, and other funky new venues, this usually overlooked corner of the city center is becoming quite the destination. When the weather favours it, dozens of seats and tables are set out for people to bask in the sun and enjoy the plethora of colourful cocktails and coffees available.
There is something to be said for peace and quiet, but also for being right in the action. Sitting amongst the buzz of conversation, listening to the clatter of plates and glasses, watching people wander past or sit and enjoy each other’s company, it’s a beautiful thing. It gives you a strong sense of being part of everyone’s enjoyment of the summer’s hot days and warm evenings. My personal favourite spot would be at the end of Barker’s, to the left of the Castle Arcade entrance. There’s some comfortable wicker furniture and you can tuck yourself out of the action and watch the world pass by with a coffee.
4 – Alexandra Gardens
(somewhere for a book)
Most people will have walked past Alexandra Gardens at some point in their time in Cardiff, especially if you’ve studied as a student and lived on the far end of North Road, or in the outer
areas of Cathays. This small park sits behind City Hall (not to be confused with County Hall, in The Bay) amongst the huge buildings of Cardiff University that line Museum Avenue and King Edward VII Avenue. It is blocked from the view of the main roads on all sides and within it, you can find a quietness amongst the chaos.
Take a second out of your walk home to do a circuit of this quiet, colourful space. The pathways will crisscross you among vibrant flower beds, stone memorials, and patches of trees. Alexandra Gardens is the perfect place to gather your thoughts and find a little peace, while still essentially remaining in the city centre. It has the allure of a lush green park space while avoiding the sometimes more loud and vibrant sounds and smells of Bute Park. With Brodies Coffee just around the corner, perhaps it’s time to get yourself a brew and take five minutes to enjoy it somewhere new.
5 – The Secret Garden Cafe
(something for a treat)
The Secret Garden Cafe is a new coffee and food spot in Bute Park from the same folks who run Pen Y Lan Pantry and Cheese Pantry. It is comfortably within walking distance of the city centre but far enough out for you to not be subject to the noise of the ring-road traffic. They have numerous benches and tables set out in the sunshine of the park, and comfortable seating within the walls (under a large awning, if you’re less disposed to direct sunlight). Secret Garden’s beauty comes in its honesty and simplicity. In a location like this, especially in the summer, they could quite easily choose to sell average quality food and coffee, at marked up prices so as to take advantage of the park-goers looking for refreshments. Instead, they source all their food and coffee locally. Their menu offers a selection of delicious sandwiches, salads, and breakfast/lunch items, all of which are well worth treating yourself to. For me, this is my treat. If someone special is coming into town or it’s been a bad week and I’m in need of some TLC, I’ll wander through the park, find myself a bench by the river and enjoy a sourdough chorizo salad sandwich (it’s as banging as it sounds). Just like with the other spots on this list, I believe everyone should go there at least once, just to try it out.
So there you have it. A VERY small selection of just what Cardiff has to offer during these warm months. I encourage people with all my heart to get out and explore. There are so many places out there waiting to be discovered. Make sure you enjoy the sunshine while we have it. If you have any comments, corrections, or would like to chat, please feel free to drop me an email.