Taking a bold step out of lockdown, Craig and I went on a 3 day staycation to spend the weekend in Cardiff. We got a nice leisurely 11am train down on Friday and the 5.30pm train back on Sunday. It was our first time leaving London since we went to Marrakech for my birthday. That was a few weeks before the UK entered lockdown back in March. It was exciting.
Fortunately it turns out it was really worth being excited for. We picked Cardiff for our staycation for a multitude of reasons. The main ones were that I had never been to Wales, and it was just a 2 hour train from London. So why not book our staycation for a weekend in Cardiff?
Wales was still slightly in lockdown on our visit, with only outdoor eateries, bars and activities allowed to open. However most of our plans were outdoors focused anyway. And we like sitting outside for food and drink, so not a problem.
I will let you in on our experience of a semi-lockdown weekend in Cardiff and also our trip to Barry Island – the beach made famous by BBC’s ‘Gavin and Stacey’. There will also be a second post on our weekend in Cardiff about our road trip adventure to Tintern and the Brecon Beacons, which will be coming your way soon.
Getting to Cardiff
From London, it is pretty simple to get to Cardiff. The trains run quite regularly from London Paddington to Cardiff Central. We booked our tickets about 2-3 weeks ahead for £70 (£50 with a railcard), but you can get them cheaper if you book even earlier. The journey only lasts 2 hours so isn’t too bad.
However, a little Covid times ‘to note’ – very little was open in the station – Sainsburys, Cafe Nero, Mcdonalds, Pret. That was it. So if you want food or drink prepare to be limited or bring something from elsewhere. Also, you need to be wearing your face covering in the station and for the duration of the train journey.
We had a slight hold up on the way but the train made up time and we were there around 1 as intended. It was finally time to begin our long awaited staycation weekend in Cardiff!
Cardiff Bay Wetlands Reserve
As soon as we got off the train we headed for the bay area. We wanted to go and check out the nature reserve first. Since we were out of London we wanted as much nature as possible! This was about a 1km walk from the station in almost a straight line.
The wetlands reserve is a smallish area with walking paths and a jetty out into the water to observe wildlife. I love seeing water birds (think it is because I grew up in very close proximity to 2 duck ponds) so this was ideal.
There were scores of ducks and a family of swans with 4 almost fully grown, but still grey and downy cygnets. Plus geese and other wildlife. One woman on the jetty claimed to have seen an otter but we couldn’t find it. We took some pictures and headed up to Cardiff bay.
Usually, the bay is a bustling area of restaurants, bars and cafes, surrounded by bayside apartments. However, a lot of these establishments do not have outdoor seating and have therefore been forced to remain closed for the time being.
We managed to find a cafe that was serving drinks that you could have on the public bench area, so we ordered some through their app (of course) and sat down to enjoy the sunny afternoon. There was a lovely looking gin and cake place but sadly that was full. As we couldn’t check in to our AirBnB for a bit, we hung around for an hour or so until it was time to walk over that way. We even saw some more swans here swimming in the bay as well as a few boat tours going out.
Our accommodation for our weekend in Cardiff was at an Airbnb located between the bay and the city centre. This was completely ideal for the weekend we had planned, especially as it was about a 10 minute walk from the car hire place.
Funnily enough, the bar that I had found for Friday afternoon’s activity was on the same industrial bit of road as the car hire place, so we knew exactly where it was the next day! Handy!
This bar was called Depot, and was doing 3 hour slots for food and drink in the afternoon for £5.50 per person reservations. This may seem inconvenient for just a ticket, but given the very limited availability of outdoor drinking spaces we decided to go for it and book the 4-7 slot.
Upon arrival we had our temperatures checked and there was an abundance of hand sanitiser which you were encouraged to use. Then we were taken to our seating area. The seating consisted of two gigantic marquees – one at the front which we had passed on the queue in, and one at the back. In between this was a huge warehouse space, which usually serves as the venue in non-coved times.
We were in the back marquee right in the middle which was great for the atmosphere. There were colourful umbrellas and bunting hung up and you could tell they had put in an effort to make it good. The tables were well distanced and the orders were done via an app.
The drinks menu was quite varied with a cocktail bar plus wines and spirits. For draft drinks you could have 2 pint steins and 4 pint pitchers. Naturally we each got a stein. Apparently they do Oktoberfest celebrations here, which I bet are great fun with the steins and bench style seating!
The food on offer was various types of street food. They had burgers, pulled pork, greek, tacos, loaded fries, all sorts! We both tried to order smallish things having had food on the train and knowing we had pizza to go to that evening. I went for a halloumi souvlaki, and Craig had some chicken wings and tacos. These came out to us really quickly and were very tasty.
At the end of our slot they were pretty swift at moving everyone out so they could clean thoroughly before the next wave of guests arrived. It was a good experience, and I imagine it is as much fun if not more in the evenings. I believe they do a regular bingo event – if you want to know more you can check it out here: Depot Cardiff. I would suggest coming here if you fancy a bit of a different bar experience on your weekend in Cardiff for sure.
Cardiff town centre
After our afternoon of fun, we headed into the town in search of a drink before our 8.30 dinner reservation. There were a few places with outdoor seating but they seemed quite full. We found an Italian bar/restaurant which looked quite promising, which I think was called SantaMaria, but I could be wrong. They were doing drinks to have out front so we spent some time out there chatting to another couple who were also on a weekend break in Cardiff who were across a table from us.
We wandered past Turtle Bay, which was very busy, we had booked a table there for Saturday as it was one of the open restaurants. There were a couple of independent places open more than chain places which was interesting to see and all of them were full of people looking to enjoy Friday night despite the drizzle.
Sadly on our walk to the restaurant, that drizzle turned into full on rain, which we were not prepared for. I was very wet and cold and not happy when we made the restaurant after our 20 minute walk past the castle and many other landmarks I was too annoyed to observe at the time (we went back that way on the Sunday).
Eating out during lockdown in Cardiff
The restaurant, Calabrisella Cardiff, had been recommended by our AirBnB host. He hadn’t actually been there himself but said that everyone always raved about it. When we got there the only table left was basically still in the rain, which did nothing for my mood. Fortunately another pair left and we could move to a table that was actually under the shelter to order our pizzas. It was an old school Italian place, and the pizzas were really good, although they were pretty oily it has to be said. Nevertheless it is good to eat locally where possible and I am glad we tried it out.
Not much was open beyond 10/11 due to the outdoor constraints, and we had a big day ahead of us exploring and in my case driving. So after the meal we headed back for some chill time and a night cap.
The next evening, after surviving my first drive in a manual car for about 4 years we headed back to town for more drinks and dinner. Side note: for anyone who knows me you probably know I hate driving especially manual cars and in unfamiliar places, so I was really ready for those drinks!
We found a table at an Indian place that was doing beers and other drinks, although they seemed to have run out of nearly everything else and were somewhat understaffed, so we made life easy and just had some Cobras, whilst watching the world go by. It was really interesting being back in a big but not London type city. Reminded me a bit of Leeds.
On to turtle bay! We missed the early 4-7 happy hour sadly, but were told they would be open until 11 so we could catch the 10-11 part. It was much warmer here sat in next to a building – we had been quite exposed at the other bar and it was getting a bit chilly! We ordered a few cocktails and Craig got some spicy wings to start whilst I got a garlic flatbread. He then had a goat curry whilst I opted for a jerk halloumi and avocado smash salad which was very tasty and surprisingly spicy. The service was decent considering how busy they were and we got our delicious rum cocktail fill.
By the end of that though it was actually pretty cold, and we had had a pretty long and tiring day of hiking and driving so we called it a night. There wasn’t much else open at that point, everyone was packing away their chairs and tables back inside. But that was fine as our weekend in Cardiff wasn’t going on a big night. It was to get away, have an explore and see what another place was like under slightly different lockdown rules.
Cardiff castle and stone circle
Cardiff castle visitor centre and keep are currently closed due to Covid, which was a shame as we love a good castle. However, fortunately for all of us the grounds remain open. They have even painted white social distancing circles on the grass, to ensure that you maintain distance from others which is a smart idea. The cafe was also open and had some outdoor tables, as well as the open grassy space to sit on.
According to Craig, who is the historian of the two of us, the keep dates back to Norman times. Apparently it used to be a Roman fort, which they took the site of and built their own on top of. Having checked their website this is indeed true. It is like having my own personal tour guide! The keep remains mostly intact which is pretty impressive. There are also castle apartments, a clock tower, roman walls and other things to discover in usual times.
After this we headed to the next door Bute park, so named for the former family who owned the land. I enjoyed all the stone animal gargoyles along the wall. There is a very random selection, including monkeys, a jaguar, a pelican and a pangolin.
This was to search for a stone circle. Now we thought this circle was pretty old which was why we went to investigate. But when we read the sign turns out it was placed here in the 70s as a commemoration of something – we were too disappointed to register. It still looked pretty cool so we will just pretend that it is thousands of years old shall we?
After all that walking we decided we deserved some final cocktails of the trip before getting the train back to London. We went to the bar called Old Havana that we had wanted to check out and had a few cocktails with the castle in the background. It is only a 10 minute walk from the castle back to the train station – ideal location. It was a lovely relaxing way to end our staycation weekend in Cardiff.
Most of you who read this page from the UK will probably be familiar with the BBC hit comedy ‘Gavin and Stacey’. And if you are, no doubt you will remember that much of the story takes place in Barry, particularly Barry Island. As fans of the show and seeing as we have really been missing the beach whilst stuck in London for 4 months, we thought it would be rude not to visit. So we paid our £5.50 day return from Cardiff on the train to Barry Island.
Barry Island is a small beach town with a traditional British seaside town feel. There are fish and chip vendors and ice cream sellers, an amusement park and mini golf. Everything you expect from the quintessential seaside town. The whole place smells of frying chips and vinegar and candy floss.
Pirate Mini Golf
We got there around 11am, having had to return our hire car for 10am. Not everything was open at that time, the fun fair hadn’t opened yet, however there were still a good few people on the beach.
We were caught by the idea of the pirate mini golf course, which already had some people on it. It was cheesy as they come pirate theme, with Pirates of the Caribbean music playing and it was excellent. Who doesn’t love pirate themed stuff?
It was a pretty epic soundtrack and we had a lot of fun taking silly pictures and getting competitive. Sadly, due to a flower bed incident on hole 7, I lost quite spectacularly.
I clearly need more practice. But for £5.50 per person it was a great fun hour and it gave us a 10% discount on their food hut, which we later utilised for seaside ice creams.
Beach and coastline
We bought ourselves a box of chips with salt and vinegar to go eat down on the beach. We found a rocky out crop to sit down on by the end of the beach so as not to get too sandy or be surrounded by children running around. It was so nice to sit and watch the waves and feel the salty air again after so long.
I grew up by the coast and always go back when I go to see my parents, I had really missed it over the lockdown period. So I was very happy to eat some chips (not as good as the ones from Aldeburgh), and soak in the beach atmosphere.
When we had eaten we decided to take a walk up to the edge of the bay. The hill wasn’t the funnest after having climbed Pen Y Fan the day before but it was worth it for the views. The rocky edges of the bay made for a great photo spot with the looming storm clouds. Though we had to fight the wind with every step it was a valuable part of the coastal experience. It even spotted with rain a little on the way back to the main beach area.
Having grabbed our ice creams, we wandered along to the colourful beach huts to take some photos too. We found a climbing wall built in next to them too with fun shaped foot holds meant for kids. I wanted to climb it but I didn’t think my legs would thank me given their state plus I was wearing a short denim skirt so thought it was wise all in all to not. Maybe next time.
Barry Island funfair
Next we wandered into the funfair just to see what they had there and to go looking for the famous Ghost Train, which has an honourable mention in Gavin and Stacey. They have all the usual bits, waltzers, a big wheel, hook a duck. There was loud music It was everything you expect from a British fairground. I wasn’t allowed to win a stuffed animal as I have too many from Winter Wonderland already…
But since we were there we thought it would be funny to go on the ghost train. £5 for two of us. And 100% the worst ride I have ever been on in my life. But worth it for the banter. I won’t spoil it for you, but prepare to be seriously underwhelmed haha.
After this thrilling experience it was time for a bite to eat. We sat down at Marco’s cafe, without initially realising it was the one Stacey works at in the final series. Did not think it would be a real place but turns out it is! I had a panini and then we headed to the O’Shea’s fish and chips, which also features in the series, to get Craig a battered sausage and curry sauce.
It was a fun little outing for a few hours, but we chose to head back in to the city so we would have time to see the castle. Had the indoor amusements been open I definitely would have had a nostalgic go on the 2p machine like we used to when we were younger on Felixstowe pier!
Thoughts on our lockdown weekend in Cardiff
I had such a fun weekend in Cardiff on this trip. Can you believe despite living in the UK my entire life I had never been to Wales before this trip? I know, ridiculous. I thought it was time to correct that and now I wish I had visited sooner. Like everyone else, this pandemic has forced us to look closer to home for adventure. And in this case I am glad we did, and I even got to tick a new country off the Been map app so that was fun! 37 and counting!
It was a great weekend getaway with a real variety of activities on offer despite the constraints of Wales still being partially locked down. It wasn’t too expensive either which was nice – we did book the accommodation about 6 weeks in advance which was a smart move I think as a lot seems to be filled up. However this is one of the reasons we chose to base in the city and drive/get the train out again, as people are trying to stay in the countryside, so that can be hard to find unless you are able to pay lots.
I would recommend going and spending a weekend in Cardiff to anyone. It is a fun city with a rich history, and the countryside and beach really close by. Totally ideal for a city break. Plus it is starting to open indoor attractions and restaurants from the beginning of August!