Student cities: studying in Cardiff

Head to Cardiff Bay for bars or a bike ride, get your fill of history and culture or enjoy city life.

The Welsh capital packs in the entertainments and amenities. Cultural vibrancy is the name of Cardiff’s game, whether that involves acquiring some American memorabilia at the Vintage Festival, having a fish and mango curry at the Mint and Mustard restaurant in the Cathays area or taking in one of the city’s Welsh indie music festivals.

Cardiff is steeped in history, with a fabulous medieval castle and Victorian gothic mansion in the centre of the city. It’s only been the capital since 1955 and it works really hard to carve its niche. Its new jewel is Europe’s largest city waterfront project, which has seen the creation of an eight-mile freshwater lake in Cardiff Bay dotted with cycle tracks, bars, fun events and Dr Who film crews.

Cathays and Roath are the two main student housing areas, particularly if you’re at Cardiff University. Cathays is close to the Students’ Union as well as lots of bars and budget supermarkets. Roath is a little quieter.

Free and cheap stuff to do in Cardiff

You could get lost in St Fagans National History Museum, which is arguably the best free visitor attraction in the UK. The idea behind it is simple: search Wales for over 40 buildings that represent the country’s history, relocate them to one spot and kit them out with their original store cupboard ingredients. There’s something weird about seeing tins of creamed liver soup your granny might have eaten as a child.

Closer to the city centre there are a couple of great parks to chill out in. Roath Park is a former malarial bogland, drained and made splendid. It’s in a popular student area. Bute Park has a fine arboretum and is host to Pride, music events and Spark in the Park – the mother of all bonfire night celebrations firing 20,000 fireworks each 5 November.

Head to the waterfront for further free fun. Cycle along the barrage to nearby Penarth or make a note to go to August’s Cardiff Harbour Festival, which incorporates the P1 Welsh Grand Prix of the Sea. Spread over two days, for land lubbers, there are bands playing on the docks and hog roasts on the quayside while offshore everything races, from powerboats and jet skis to water-borne Zorb balls.

May bank holiday’s Vintage Festival is also free with its retro shopping stalls, DJs, films and classic cars. There’s also no admission charge for Tafwyl Fair in the first week of July. It’s a Welsh language event promoting music, drama, art, cookery and sports.

Swn Festival is a more indie version of Tafwyl Fair – it lasts three days and costs £55. Hub Festival at the end of August has 12 stages and 200 local music acts for the knock-down price of £20 for three days.

And you’ll pay for the pleasure, but Cardiff isn’t short of food and drink festivals: there’s one in October solely devoted to gin.


Cardiff has gained a reputation as one of the top ten shopping destinations in the UK. Most of its stores are around Queen Street and St Mary Street with over one million square feet of shops in St David’s Centre alone.

Dotted around the city are various retail parks, such as the one in Cardiff Bay, plus markets. Splott Market is the largest and sells cheap, ordinary goods while Cardiff Central Market is a little posher. It used to be the site of the city’s gallows; these days it’s two floors of fruit, veg and fancy goods. It’s also worth checking out Roath Farmer’s Market, Cardiff Indoor Flea Market, and the charity shops on Albany Road.

For upmarket shopping, vintage and record stores head to the city’s six Victorian and Edwardian arcades.


Right next to Cardiff University Student’s Union, the Sherman Theatre covers the theatrical genres. Away from the centre, Chapter Arts Centre has a really good art house cinema as well as a theatre and art gallery.

Tiger Tiger is a nightclub that’s popular with students and has an old-fashioned 70s style disco floor with themed bars and a restaurant attached. Glam (motto: ‘too glam to give a damn’) is simultaneously showy and cheesy. Metros (nickname: sweatros) is a punk and rock club with nights such as Alternative Mayhem. Mondays and Tuesdays are cheap food nights at Revolution.

Gassy Jacks is one of the biggest student pubs and it’s in the heart of Cathays. Y Mochyn Du is a more traditional Welsh pub. The Dead Canary is decorated as a 1930s speakeasy bar. There are bars and pubs to suit all tastes in Cardiff.

Likewise, music venues run the gamut from the mega-large Motorpoint Arena to smaller venues such as The Globe, Full Moon, Gwdihw and Clwb Ifor Bach, where the policy is to be passionate about introducing new acts and to defy musical categorisation.

If you’re looking for work experience

Business, law and finance are strong components of Cardiff’s economy along with the media, the NHS, education and public administration. And, of course, leisure, tourism and retail.

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