Cardiff Bay, barrage, heritage docks, the Welsh Assembly, bayside cafes and bars
|Start and Finish||Cardiff Bay or Penarth|
3.5 miles (5.6km) out-and-back or about 2.5 miles (4 km) one way. Level unless you parked on Penarth hill
Cardiff Bay Trail Circular : 10.2 km / 6.3 miles
|Time||2 hours + sightseeing|
Cardiff Bay and Penarth stations are on separate branch lines from Cardiff Central. Cogan station (on the Penarth branch line) is close to the south westerly corner of the Cardiff Bay Trail (and signposted from it).
Drivers can park for free on Penarth hill (around CF64 1DR), or there is a pay car park (approx £1/hour) at the bottom of the hill, right by the Penarth side of the tidal barrage (Sat Nav: CF64 1TT).
This is a walk around the new Cardiff Bay development. It used to be docks and tidal mud flats, now it's an inland freshwater lake with a barrage (lock gate) across the harbour entrance. The Bay area has been regenerated, and there is a large pedestrian area around Mermaid Quay, with the Senedd (the Welsh Assembly building), an Opera House, and several restored heritage and former industrial buildings, many bay side cafes and bars, and Ianto Jones' shrine (a fictional character from the Torchwood TV series).
There are guided tours available of the Senedd and of the Millenium Centre (Arts/Opera House). Other notable buildings are the Norwegian Church (Cafe and Arts Centre), the Pierhead Building (beside the Millenium Centre), Coal Exchange (to be a hotel), and Techniquest (a science museum). The Bay visitor centre and the Doctor Who Experience have closed.
The suggested walk is out-and-back, but there is a train station at either end so you could do a one-way walk. You can start the walk at either end.
Cardiff Bay Trail
There is a 10 km "Cardiff Bay Trail" circular walk around the entire bay. However, the Bay hasn't been fully gentrified yet so there are some inland and road detours, as well as some rather soulless low rise new-built housing. The route shown around the west side of the Bay is the official one (at the time of writing), avoiding sensitive habitats and unmade paths. It will get closer to the waterfront as new developments continue to be finished.
There are regular tourist boat trips leaving from by the big ferris wheel (£2 to £4) near the Welsh Assembly. The routes are a) up along the Taff river to the old town (recommended), b) around Cardiff Bay, or c) to Penarth.
Cardiff now has 2 centres, the Bay area (where this walk takes place), and the old town. The old town is about 1 mile further inland (bus, or one stop by train) with Cardiff Castle, the Millenium Rugby Stadium, Cardiff Central station, Bute Park/Sophia Gardens, the National Museum, Cardiff (Storey) Museum, and the pedestrian shopping/cafe/bars area with its many arcades. The tourist boat trip between the two is recommended.
It's hard to recommend a walking route from the bay area to the old town ("castle quarter"), maybe apart from the Taff Trail along the river (see below list).
Once you get there, the old town is a pleasent surprise, with a large pedestrianised area of shops, cafes and bars. North of the railway line, Sophia Gardens/Bute Park is nice, as is the Castle, a medieval castle containing a Victorian Gothic mansion (£13.50/£9.50 adults/children in 12/19).
If you climb the hill above the barrage, you get to Penarth. It has many grand residential buildings, a seafront, and a pier, but its not (yet) worth the extra walk.
Cardiff was a small town until the industrial revolution. In the 1790's, a coal carrying canal from Merthyr opened. By the 1880's Cardiff was the biggest coal exporting port in the world leading to a tremendous boom, peaking in 1913. However, nearby Barry docks (with better tidal access), and then competitor coal mines and steel plants abroad made for an even more dramatic decline in the city's fortunes. By the 1980's, most of the mines and steel plants had closed, and the bay was an industrial wasteland. The 1999 barrage, the Welsh Assembly, waterside bars, and new housing are aimed at regenerating the area.
|Eat and Drink||
Mermaid Quay, just west of the Senedd and the Pierhead Building, has many cafes, bars and restaurants to choose from, incl. a large Wetherspoon's (The Mount Stuart) in a heritage seafront building. Its upper deck has a lovely Bay view.
After the walk, we would love to get your feedback
Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline (bus times): 0871 200 22 33 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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The directions for this walk are also in a PDF (link above) which you can download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone. OpenStreetMap (not OS) mapping is used in the PDF for licence reasons.
The route is quite obvious - just follow the Bay!
- Starting from Penarth. Park at the top of the hill (free) and walk down to the barrage (pay car park)
- Cross the lock gates, and follow the landscaped pedestrian barrage towards the Bay area.
- The path briefly leaves the bay side, then you pass another lock gate past a newly gentrified former docks
- Then you pass the Norwegian Church Arts Centre, the Pierhead Building, the Senedd (the new Welsh Assembly Building, free entry), the Opera House, and many bars and cafes overlooking the bay.
- Cardiff Bay station is just a little further north along the wide dual carriageway Lloyd George Avenue.