Cardiff is a city that’s steeped in history, with legendary and fascinating tales to discover around every corner. Whether you want to explore the story of the Welsh Revolution of 1400, or experience how the coal industry shaped the city, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to breathtaking Cardiff history.
Bursting with historical sights, the Welsh capital boasts some amazing treasures from the past, from Cardiff castle, to the Pierhead buildings and beyond.
Discover some for yourself with our guide to the best places to visit in Cardiff and boost your knowledge on times-gone-by…
A Guide For Cardiff History Lovers
1. Cardiff Castle
Coming in at number one in our guide to the very best of Cardiff history to see is Cardiff Castle. An iconic landmark in the city, situated just outside Bute Park. Throughout history, the building has been built and rebuilt, transforming from a Roman fort to an impressive Norman castle and beyond. Today, it stands as an extraordinary Gothic palace built by Lord Bute in 1865.
Take a tour of the house to see the incredible, opulent interiors including the famous Arab Room and the Banqueting Hall. If you don’t have time to visit, you can always read our comprehensive guide to Cardiff Castle and explore the history from the comfort of your couch.
2. St Fagan’s National History Museum
Jump on a bus from Cardiff city centre and head to St Fagan’s on the outskirts of the city for a walk-through Welsh history, from Celtic times right up to the present day.
Of all the historical places to visit in Cardiff, St Fagan’s is a history buff’s heaven. You can explore over 40 original buildings from different historical periods re-erected across 100 acres of parkland, including houses, a farm, a school and a chapel.
3. Llandaff Cathedral
Situated in the Cardiff district of Llandaff, the Cathedral Church of SS Peter & Paul, Dyfrig, Teilo and Euddogwy stands on one of the oldest Christian sites in Britain.
A beautifully ornate cathedral, the current building dates from 1107, when the arch behind the High Altar was built. However, it was damaged in the Second World War after a parachute mine blew the roof off the nave. The interior of the cathedral is surprisingly modern compared to its historic shell, making it an extremely unique slice of Cardiff history.
4. Pierhead Building
Cardiff’s Grade I listed Pierhead Building is regularly called Wales’ very own “baby Big Ben” and is a must-see place to visit in the Welsh capital.
Originally built as the headquarters of the Bute Dock Company, it’s now a Welsh history museum and function space. This beautiful building has stood for over 113 years in Cardiff Bay, making it an iconic piece of Cardiff history.
The coat of arms on the building’s façade bears the Bute Dock Company’s old motto “wrth ddŵr a thân” (by water and fire), symbolising the elements that create steam power and its importance to the development of Modern Wales. It’s certainly one of the most fascinating places to visit in Cardiff.
5. The Norwegian Church
The Norwegian Church is a landmark building on Cardiff’s waterfront. It perhaps looks a little out of place with its Scandi-style architecture, however this is one of the most amazing slices of Cardiff history.
During the industrial revolution, the church was built as a meeting house and place of worship for the community of Norwegian seafarers who made Cardiff their home.
It’s also where Cardiff-born author Roald Dahl was baptised, due to his Norwegian heritage. Nowadays, the church is an arts centre where you can learn about the Welsh-Norwegian heritage of the community that still uses it today.
6. The Animal Wall
Just outside Cardiff Castle sits The Animal Wall. One of the most photographed historic features in Cardiff, the wall was originally built directly in front of the castle. However, it had to be moved when the main building was extended back in the 1800s.
Head to its current location on Castle Street to spot the 17 stone sculpted figures, including an anteater, a wolf, two raccoons and a hyena! This a must on a sightseeing tour of the best Cardiff history.
7. The Plaque of Rawlins White
For avid Cardiff history lovers, this tucked away plaque might be hard to find but it’s well worth the search.
Hidden inside the House of Fraser department store on St Mary’s Street, the plaque reads: “Near This Spot Suffered For The Truth – March 30th 1555 – Rawlins White – A Fisherman Of This Town”.
The memorial plaque commemorates a Cardiff Fisherman who was burnt at the stake for preaching the Protestant religion during the Catholic reign of Queen Mary I, or ‘Bloody Mary’. Perhaps a bit gruesome but fascinating nonetheless!
8. Cardiff City Hall
Over in Cathays, three great historic buildings sit side-by-side: Cardiff Crown Court, the National Museum Cardiff and Cardiff City Hall. They’re all must-see places to visit in Cardiff, thanks to their incredible architecture.
The City Hall was built in Edwardian times, during the coal boom in the city, and boasts architectural design inspired by Italian Renaissance buildings.
You can head inside the City Hall to admire the art collection which hangs on the walls of many of its ornate rooms. Look out for the City Hall’s famous clock tower as well – the five bells are inscribed with both Welsh and English mottos.
9. National Museum Cardiff
Another impressive building in Cathays is the National Museum Cardiff. And for history lovers, the museum has the added extravagance that it’s full of Cardiff history on the inside as well as the outside!
It’s a great museum to take the family to, with world class art and an exhibition on the fascinating natural history of Wales. Children will enjoy The Evolution of Wales gallery, which includes dinosaur skeletons and woolly mammoths!
10. Ruins of Bishop’s Palace, Llandaff
The Bishop’s Palace in Llandaff is the ruined residence of the Bishops of Llandaff. Only a short walk from the cathedral, the two-towered gatehouse is one of the few remaining structures of the palace.
The ruins are believed to date back to roughly 1266 and have been part of some legendary Welsh history. Rumour has it that the palace was attacked by the Welsh hero Owan Glyndŵr in the rebellion of 1402-05.
Nowadays, the ruins are owned by the city and have been made into tranquil public gardens – perfect for relaxing in after a hard day’s sightseeing.
11. The Victorian Toilets, The Hayes
If you love a bit of weird and wacky Cardiff history, head to The Hayes and check out these incredible toilets hidden under the street.
The Victorian lavatories are Grade II listed and have original cisterns designed by Thomas Crapper, the inventor of the modern flushing toilet.
And if you don’t fancy heading down the steps into the men’s loos for a peek, you can now scan a QR code outside the legendary public loos and be directed to a website which explains their history and gives you a digital look inside the famous WCs.
12. Caerphilly Castle
A short bus drive or train ride out of Cardiff will take you to Caerphilly Castle, the largest fortress in Wales. This huge building has featured as a backdrop for lots of TV series and films, including the recent BBC series Merlin.
Built between 1268 and 1271, the castle has an extensive ring of water defences and huge gatehouses, built to withstand Welsh Prince Llewellyn ap Gruffudd’s attempts to take Glamorgan.
Look out for the famous leaning tower, a hangover from 1648 when Oliver Cromwell’s roundheads failed to break the castle boundaries but managed to dislodge a tower.
This is one of the best places to visit in Cardiff if you’re a history lover.
13. The Exchange Hotel, the former Coal Exchange
Built between 1883 and 1888, Cardiff’s Coal Exchange Building was the base and headquarters for the city’s coaling industry.
In 1901 the world’s first £1 million business deal was allegedly made in the building, for the transportation of 2,500 tonnes of coal to France.
However, after World War One, the price of coal began to decline leading to a depression in Cardiff, and reduced trade in the building. By 1958, the Coal Exchange ceased trading.
Numerous attempts were made to restore the building over the years, including plans for it to be the home of the Welsh Assembly and as a headquarters for Welsh TV station S4C. From 2001 onwards, it was the home of a music venue, but sadly most of the building was left to decay and fall into disrepair.
However, in 2016, hotelier Signature Living saved the building and transformed it into the luxurious and opulent hotel and events venue you can see today.
A Luxury Hotel for Cardiff History Lovers
Cardiff history enthusiasts can now stay in a building that’s been at the heart of Cardiff’s industrial past.
The Exchange Hotel is the perfect base from which to explore all the historic sights of the Welsh capital. The luxurious rooms reflect the building’s opulent past and come with luxurious amenities including flat screen TVs and spa baths.
The fabulous hotel is also home to a magnificent bar and restaurant, R.P Culley and Co. Offering some of the most delicious and locally sourced dishes in Cardiff, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a bit to eat before or after a day of exploring.
To inquire further about staying at The Exchange Hotel Cardiff or to book your visit to The Exchange Hotel in Cardiff, call us on 0151 601 8801. We also provide a number of amazing hotel offers, keep up-to-date with everything by visiting our website or following us on the Exchange Hotel Facebook.