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Where to find the local gems in the capital city of Wales.

Wales sometimes draws the short straw with UK-bound vacationers. But Cardiff, the dragon-flagged country’s increasingly hip capital, is only two hours west from London by train. An excellent long weekend destination, the Cymru city – the Welsh word for Wales – is an open canvas for first-timers. Once you’ve unpacked, though, there’s an enticing blend of cultural, culinary and fashionable discoveries to make – so long as you follow the locals.

Best Sleepovers

Located on pub-and-restaurant-lined Cathedral Road (a 15-minute walk from the centre), Lincoln House Private Hotel is a top-rated B&B with a warm welcome. On the same street, Jolyon’s at No. 10 is a stylish boutique hotel fusing heritage and contemporary flourishes. Locals have also been gossiping for months about the new Exchange Hotel. Opening this year in a striking Cardiff Bay heritage building, it promises to be the city’s poshest sleepover.

Breakfast With the Locals

The Full Welsh at the cozy Pot bistro includes bulging pork and leek sausages – leeks being a national symbol of Wales. While deliciously gooey Welsh rarebit (cheese on toast made with beer and cheddar) is an all-day staple at chatty Garlands. Alternatively, join java-loving Cardiffians for lattes and treats (pistachio brownies recommended) at Little Man Coffee.

Insider Tours

Discover what else locals eat on a Cardiff Tasting Tour, including six stops and samples of Welsh delicacy laverbread (a seaweed paste). And while Cardiff on Foot tours reveal the history behind the city’s heritage facades, you can also also plot your own self-guided Roald Dahl walk: The Twits author was born here. Sports nut? Rugby is (practically) a Welsh religion and you can tour the Principality Stadium or catch a match — preferably versus arch-rivals England.

Local Sights

Dripping with ornate interiors, Cardiff Castle is a leading attraction. But the best way to commune with Cardiffians here is at lecture nights or Underground Cinema events — peruse upcoming Castle happenings here. It’s a similar story at the grand National Museum where a huge array of free events lures the locals — organ recitals recommended. Scratch your cultural itch further at Craft in the Bay, a gallery of Wales’s best contemporary arts and crafts.

Life in Wales — and Other Planets

And while yesteryear Welsh life is illuminated at rustic St Fagans National History Museum, consider hopping a Baycar Bus to Cardiff Bay and exploring a far wider universe. This once-gritty waterfront district hosts cafes and galleries in restored port buildings while also hooking fans of the world’s oldest TV sci-fi show, filmed in its BBC studios. Across the street, the Doctor Who Experience bristles with Whovian props, costumes and monster models. Need a selfie with a Sontaran? This is the place for you.

Hot Shops

Back in the city centre, swap the chain stores for Cardiff’s labyrinthine Victorian shopping arcades, each lined with unique shops and cafes. Hit Morgan Arcade for 1894-founded Spillers, reportedly the world’s oldest record shop, and Castle Arcade for browse-tastic Troutmark Books and pungently aromatic cheesemonger Madame Fromage.

And while you should also include glass-roofed Cardiff Central Market, open your shopping bag wider at hip local favourite Castle Emporium and the clamorous, edge-of-town Cardiff Indoor Flea Market.

Dining Delights

Since extensive shopping requires plenty of fuel, plunge into the pizzas (and enticing stacks) at Octavo’s Book Cafe and Wine Bar. And while local gem Bully’s fuses French and Welsh culinary approaches, savvy Cardiff diners also love two very different gourmet training restaurants: culinary students work hard under expert tutors at Nant, while The Clink’s students are prison inmates learning vital skills for life on the outside. Still hungry? Join food truck fans at the weekly Street Food Social and summertime Street Food Circus.

Nightlife Alternatives

While Cardiff’s evening streets are routinely filled with hen and stag partiers, more discerning quaffers sip craft beer at Porter’s and Tiny Rebel’s Urban Taphouse, or indulge in cocktails at speakeasy-like Dead Canary (Tip: book your spot ahead of time online). There are also some great alternate ways to hang with the locals here: cinema screenings at Chapter Arts Centre; craft workshops at Craft in the Bay; and even Flying Trapeze Taster lessons at No Fit State — an unforgettable finale to your Cardiff urban adventure.

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