Exchange Hotel: A guide to Cardiff's Oldest Pubs

Exchange Hotel: A guide to Cardiff’s Oldest Pubs

During your visit to Exchange Hotel take some time to check out the rich and interesting history of Cardiff. Exchange Hotel itself is considered a landmark of the city, as are the numerous public houses that have been a part of the city for as long as 100 years or more.

Some have ghosts, other have ancient rules still enforced today and some were at the centre of passionate campaigns to commemorate Cardiff’s vibrant past.

Using our guide to Cardiff’s oldest pubs explore the city by visiting public houses that have served residents and visitors for well over a century.

The Rummer Tavern 1713

Rummer Tavern - one of Cardiff's oldest pubs

Tudor style pastiche, the name means glass or cup for wine from 16th century Europe. Landlord served Marquis of Bute by arranging his wedding.

Hauntings reported including seeing spectres in the loo and cellars, also recorded that a sailor’s ghost haunts the premises after he died shortly after finding his wife in bed with another man.

Elevens Bar and Grill – 1731

Elevens Bar and Grill - one of Cardiff's oldest pubs
source: Beers Today

Started out life as The Globe in 1731, very little information exists about the Globe’s origins only that it was popular and central to where people socialised as far back as the 16th century.

In the late seventies, The Globe became a popular jazz club called Four Bars founded by the director of Brecon Jazz Festival Jed Williams. Williams also formed part of the house band The Root Doctors who performed as the house band here during its peak.

Four Bars was recognised in 2009 as being a major contributor to the UK jazz scene and has proudly welcomed jazz greats like Nappy Brown through its doors.

Dempsey’s was the next name to take over this ancient drinking ground, providing patrons with a popular Irish drinking and music venue.

In March of this year, Dempsey’s closed and Eleven’s Bar and Grill, a football themed affair with Bale Ale being served and footy shirts hanging in wall displays.

It seems Dempsey’s was to be sorely missed and the music acts who played there over the decades came together to say goodbye to a well-loved establishment.

The Goat Major – 1813

The Goat Major - one of Cardiff's oldest pubs
source: Pinterest

Originally named the Bluebell when business was first recorded in 1813 but became the Goat Major in 1995.

The pub now bears the name in honour of the mascot for the Royal 41st Regiment North Wales.

It is understood that the first goat of the regiment was bestowed by Queen Victoria herself from her own flock of Kashmir goats. The rest of the flock was adopted by a family living on Great Orme who still to this day supply the regiment with a replacement goat when the last one retires.

Both the Goat and Major are pictured and hanging on the walls of the pub and there’s even a beer served under the name Goat Major recognised in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide.

The Goat Major is one of Cardiff’s oldest pubs and still popular among locals and visitors alike.

Owain Glyndwr – 1731

Owain Glyndwr - one of Cardiff's oldest pubs
source: Trip Advisor

Originally named the Mabley Arms in 1731, the Owain Glyndwr has undergone at least four name changes.

It sits on a corner plot next to a brewery owned and operated by successful local brewers Nells.

Now the Owain Glyndwr pub is a dedication to the last native Prince of Wales.

Glyndwr is famed for staging an unsuccessful revolt against Henry IV and even though he was eventually forced from his homeland, Glyndwr never succumbed to English rule and remained hidden until his death by his countrymen, a patriotic Welshman to the end.

Sandringham 1792

Sandringham Hotel - one of Cardiff's oldest pubs

First named the Black Lion in 1792, then renamed the Sandringham in 1903, the ancient venue was a popular drinking spot for local farmers in Cardiff who came to the centre on market days.

It’s easy to see why the venue got its original name from, with the huge stone black lion lounging across the roof to this day.

The Sandringham became a top spot for local celebrities in the sixties and shortly after Four Bars closed its doors as a live jazz venue the Sandringham took over as Cardiff’s leading live jazz location.

Today the Sandringham is a central hotel, restaurant and bar still offering live music to its patrons.

City Arms 1793

City Arms - one of Cardiff's oldest pubs
source: Cool Places

The building which houses the City Arms was at the hub of incoming river traffic to Cardiff since 1610. There is no indication if the building served as an in but given its location, we can assume so.

There are records of the pub being known as the “Van of Flesh Tavern” in 1850, a name given to the pub due to it being directly opposite the cities slaughterhouse and cattle market during that time. By 1858 the name “The Cattle Market Tavern” had been bestowed upon the popular drinking hole and even after the markets and slaughterhouses moved, the pub served as a reminder of the trades original location.

In 1905 Cardiff was officially named a city and to celebrate the most popular local drinking venue adopted the title “City Arms” to mark the occasion. A title it has kept since then. The Cambrian Trap

The Cambrian Tap 1830

The Cambrian Tap - one of Cardiff's oldest pubs
source: Pinterest

Going way back to its roots The Cambrian Tap is a relatively recent addition to Cardiff’s pub scene, albeit in a historic venue.

Originally known as simply the Cambrian Hotel when built in 1830 on the site of the old tap brewery, the venue first served as an inn but later became established as a drinking venue with no accommodation. In 1991 the Cambrian Hotel closed its door for good.

It was then the venue was renamed Kitty Flynn’s, named after a real land lady who ran the bar down the road oddly enough!


Kitty Flynn’s quickly became well-loved Irish bar for many years at the social heart of Cardiff’s residents and visitors.

Now one of the oldest pubs in Cardiff has been revamped by the Brains brewery co. as Cardiff’s leading craft ale bar.

Named the Cambrian Tap a mash up of the Tap Brewery and The Cambrian Hotel, the owners have taken the fundamentals back to basics and visitors can enjoy a huge selection of craft ales and a good pork pie as well.

The Old Market Tavern 1844

The Old Market Tavern - one of Cardiff's oldest pubs
source: Yelp

Once known as the New Market Tavern or the New Market Inn, due to its proximity to Cardiff’s “New” market this delightful pub has a spectacular outdoor space with views of St John’s church yard gardens.

Since that time the Victorian venue became part of the popular Irish bar chain O’Neil’s and is said to be the birth place of Olivia Newton Johns father.

Rather nostalgic the venue has taken up the name The Old Market Tavern, a clever play on the original name and a nod to the buildings past.

Old Arcade 1844

The Old Arcade - one of Cardiff's oldest pubs
source: We Are Cardiff

Originally named The Birdcage Inn in 1844 because the landlord had a hobby of selling his handcrafted wooden bird cages from behind the bar, the Old Arcade is one of the least spoiled of Cardiff’s oldest pubs.

Located close to St John’s church down the quaint and narrow street, The Old Arcade is a traditional pub that serves ales from Brains and independent guest ales as well.

There is an originally covered walkway that passes through from Church street into the central market which has been running since the 18th century.

The convenient locations of The Old Arcade put it among Cardiff’s most frequented pubs over the last 170 years with people visiting the pub after church or on their way to and from market.

The building that The Old Arcade occupies does indeed show up on maps of the area from as early as 1610 although it is not labelled as an inn.

Golden Cross 1849

The Golden Cross - one of Cardiff's oldest pubs
source: The Golden Cross

This striking building is one of the oldest pubs in Cardiff to have Grade II listed status.

Having always been a pub as far back as 1849 when the name of the venue was Shields and Newcastle, eventually being renamed in 1863 as The Golden Cross, the building has seen its fair share of booze fuelled folly.

From the early years when it was known as “the best brothel in town” sailors coming into the busy port would have a great night in the Golden Cross.

Perhaps the most notable story from within The Golden Cross is the fight between Rock Marciano and a regiment of visiting Americans.

Legend tells that Marciano knocked out 100 Welshmen after he overheard one of them bad mouthing yanks. The offending Welshman apparently swung for Marciano leading to his eventual knockout and a massive pub brawl.

Now the Golden Cross is recognised as Cardiff’s favourite gay-friendly venue hosting regular drag acts, karaoke and strippers. During the day, it’s a homey pub but by night it’s the campest hot spot in town.

The Vulcan 1853

The Vulcan - one of Cardiff's oldest pubs
source: BBC

The Vulcan Hotel is currently in pieces stored in museum archive but, much to the pleasure of residents, it is due to be recreated in 2019 under a restoration programme put together by St Fagan’s National Museum of History.

The name, The Vulcan, referred to the iron works located nearby and referenced the Roman God of Fire and metalworking.

Due to its close location to the busy railway into Cardiff and being central in the working-class suburbs of the area, The Vulcan was frequently busy. The venue held onto its original name, withstood neighbouring buildings being demolished and kept some of its traditional and original interiors throughout its existence as a working pub.

After Brains Brewery announced their plans to discontinue the lease on the pub there was a campaign put together to protect what had become one of the oldest pubs in Cardiff to operate under its original name.

Despite best efforts, the venue officially closed in 2012 and was donated to St Fagan’s National Museum of History. It is from here that an interesting turn event has begun to take place.

The Vulcan is set to be preserved in Cardiff’s memory for all time after being carefully dismantled brick by brick by preservationists with plans to recreate the venue as a working establishment by 2019 if planning permission is granted.

The Vulcan will be fully restored to resemble its appearance in 1915, one year after it was revamped. The museum has asked for as much information as possible on The Vulcan including anecdotes images and recollections of how The Vulcan would have been around that time.

Cardiff Cottage or The Cottage 1863

The Cottage - one of Cardiff's oldest pubs
source: Beer Lens

On the popular stretch of pubs, St Mary’s sits small yet aesthetically pleasing Cottage pub.

In keeping with traditional pub décor, the floors and walls are still decorated in Victorian style.

There are relics that date back to the pubs early years such as bell buttons on the tables that were used for table service and an old Brains clock set into a central ornate wooden platform.

The building itself is narrow and has a dark tiled exterior which is illuminated from historic lantern lights above the entrance.

There seems to be a residence above the pub that may have been used as rentable accommodation in the past and like the rest of St Mary’s on the same side, Cardiff Cottage was built upon a burial ground. Spooky!

Packet 1864

The Packet - one of Cardiff's oldest pubs
source: Nick – Flicker – nicksarebi

An ancient sea farer’s establishment that welcomed merchants, tradesman and sailors from the many ships that came to port during the 1800’s, The Packet is a gem among the oldest pubs in Cardiff.

Named from the packet steamers that used to frequent the docs in Cardiff the packet is located a stone’s throw from the waterfront and often hosts live music into the wee hours of the morning.

The interior is classically made from mostly mahogany and apparently, there’s an unwritten yet unbreakable rule that if a sailor is in the venue when the tide is out they are to be granted free lodging at The Packet for the night.

Possibly worth noting if you’re heading there on a night out.

The Borough 1867

The Borough - one of Cardiff's oldest pubs
source: David Smitham – Flickr

An established boozer in the city centre of Cardiff since the 1800’s The Borough is a charming little venue nestled at the base of one of Cardiff’s unusually high and slim city centre buildings.

There are comfy smokers arm chairs under a covered space at the front of the building and the long slim bar runs the length of the building to the back where a feature fireplace remains.

Other than name changes in 1897 to The Bodega, changing back The Borough Arms in 1967, the venue has remained a steadfast feature among Cardiff’s oldest pubs and is still popular to date.

The Corner House 1872 (Albert)

The Corner House - one of Cardiff's oldest pubs
source: The Corner House

Originally named the Albert when first constructed but only until the establishment gained the title King’s Cross.

A bar that eventually became one of Cardiff’s leading gay bars and late-night drinking venues at the peak of Caroline Street and Mill Lane.

When the decision to refurbish the ancient venue was put forward patrons campaigned heavily for owners to leave the bar untouched. Wanting to hold onto the longest standing gay bar in Cardiff the campaign was backed by Gareth Thomas who came out as gay in 2009 and gay Councilman Rodney Berman.

The LGBT community of Cardiff were outspoken about their disappointment to remove the most historical gay bar from the area. Most patrons had stories to tell of Kings Cross being the first bar they frequented after coming out feeling safe and welcome within its walls.

Now the 145-year-old pub is Gastro Pub The Corner House and welcomes a busy trade of both daytime and evening clientele.

The Duke of Wellington 1892

The Duke of Wellington - one of Cardiff's oldest pubs

A huge three-storey building houses one of the oldest pubs in Cardiff as well as one of the smallest. In the thriving centre of Cardiff, The Duke of Wellington is a popular drinking venue that attracts a varied clientele of tourists and residents.

The name was given to honour the fortieth anniversary of the “Iron Duke” of Wellington’s death. One of the greatest British generals, Arthur Wellesley freed Spain from French occupation and took on Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo.

The nickname the Iron Duke came after rioters broke smashed the glass windows in his home after which he had them reinforced with iron shutters. The name was subsequently used to describe his character and discipline in articles and stories thereafter.

Church Inn 14th Century

The Church Inn - one of Cardiff's oldest pubs
source: Pub Explorer

Quite obviously there aren’t many records available with detail to the origins of the Church Inn. Only that it is the main public house in the village of Llanishen and that sits in the shadow of the church.

There is, however, a comical tale on the Llanishen history blog.

After The Welsh, Sunday Closing Act (1881) which stopped the sale and consumption of alcohol in all public houses on Sunday’s a young MP decided to see the effects of the ban by visiting random establishments undercover.

Upon reaching The Church Inn the MP and his party spotted a man sleeping outside clearly drunken but inside there was a pleasant busy crowd. In the back room, an entire table was filled with pub patrons of all ages drinking but not being rowdy, this, of course, pleased the MP and bolstered the campaign for the ban to be lifted.

That was until the same MP journeyed into Rumney where the ban was being flouted but in a less dignified manner with drunken parties “rolling from one side of the street to the other”.

The ban remained in place until 1961, but of course, it did not stop the good people of Cardiff enjoy a brew or two . . . or three or four in some places.

Staying at Exchange Hotel

Entrance to Exchange Hotel Cardiff

There you have it.

A fully comprehensive list of Cardiff’s oldest pubs, some have gone through various name changes and face lifts over the years. Others are clinging onto their past, and few remain almost untouched since they began serving the public with fine ales over a century ago.

If you are staying at Exchange Hotel, a historical experience in itself, why not take a stroll around the city and check out as many of Cardiff’s oldest pubs as you can.

Become a part of Cardiff’s history by raising a glass in a century-old boozer then enjoying a nights sleep in Exchange Hotel, one of the oldest and most celebrated pieces of Cardiff’s historical architecture.

Call our reservations team today on 0151 601 8801 or email to start your journey into Cardiff’s rich and interesting history.

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