Most visitors to the United Kingdom head straight for London with little thought for the rest of the country. But there are many cities worth visiting in the UK, and we’ve got two great ones here: Cardiff and Bristol. Both are important historic ports, both thriving university cities, and both have much to offer visitors.
Cardiff, the capital city of Wales, is known for its castle and the beauty of Cardiff Bay. It is a city filled with music, sport, Welsh culture, and pride. And Bristol, a desirable city in the South West of England, is known for its green spaces, diversity, dance music scene, and artistic talent.
Here, we’ve laid out the main points of interest in these two beautiful cities. We discuss the sights, the activities, the culture, the nightlife, and the natural beauty, all to help you decide which to visit, Cardiff or Bristol?
Cardiff or Bristol: Historic Sights
The most famous sight in Bristol, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, is an amazing feat of engineering dating back to 1831. The genius behind this astounding sight, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, also created many other treasures in the city, including Bristol Temple Meads Train Station and the museum ship, SS Great Britain, which you can explore in the harbor.
You can also visit the remains of the Norman-built Bristol Castle in the city center Castle Park, and a trip to College Green will show you the gothic masterpiece of Bristol Cathedral.
In Cardiff, it’s all about the castle, one of the most recognizable symbols of Wales. The Victorian gothic fortress contains over 2000 years of history. You’ll find many sights within its walls, such as the stunning Arab room, the fairytale apartments, and the sculpture-studded animal wall.
Take a cycling trip to another castle, the splendid Castell Coch. Or, if churches are more your style, visit the 12th century St John’s Parish Church or visit Llandaff Cathedral located on one of the oldest Christian sites in Britain.
Conclusion: Bristol. We love how Cardiff’s castle is such a focal point of the city, but Bristol has a few more sights to see.
Cardiff or Bristol: Activities
Bristol is brimming with things to do for the whole family. Animal lovers will enjoy the aquarium, zoos, and animal parks. Culture hunters should head to The Bristol Museum and check out the city’s many art galleries and theatres. Visit Aerospace for the chance to step aboard a Concorde jet, stargaze at the Clifton Observatory, then visit the hands-on, creative learning space We The Curious. Get active at The Wave, an inland surfing destination with artificial waves for surfers of all abilities. Or chill out at the Lido, a unique pool and spa tucked into a complex of Georgian houses right in the heart of the city.
In Cardiff, catch an event at the Principality Stadium in the center of the city. Or take the kids on an authentic coal mining experience to understand the impact ‘Black Gold’ had on Welsh communities. Then visit the Royal mint, where you can handle real gold and make your own coins. Or watch the Welsh Parliament at work as you check out the impressive architecture of the Senedd building.
St Fagans National Museum of History is worth a whole day trip. The marvelous outdoor museum shows glimpses of Welsh life through the ages. It’s set in the grounds of a 16th-century manor house and the garden houses an adventure course of high ropes and ziplines through the trees.
Conclusion: Bristol. Although you’d have to try hard to get bored in either city, Bristol has a wider range of activities on offer.
Cardiff or Bristol: Culture
Bristol is one of the most multicultural cities in the United Kingdom, and this diversity is part of what makes the city so exciting to visit. The resident population is estimated to come from around 180 different countries and speak over 90 languages. This melting pot of cultures has led to some exceptional creative work that is displayed and celebrated throughout the city.
But this diversity does not come without its struggles. The city made the world news recently when the statue of a known slave trader was torn down during anti-racism protests. This controversial statue can now be visited at the M-Shed museum where it lies, graffiti-covered, with the story of its removal displayed beside it.
Cardiff, the Capital of Wales, is a great place to experience Welsh culture. In the city, you can learn the history, hear the stories, eat the food, and meet the people. You’ll find Welsh people to be a hospitable lot, although, with the amount of Welsh slang they use, you might not actually understand them!
But Cardiff also has a multicultural population. Due to its history as a trading port, its openness to immigration, and the many international students who enroll in the universities, you’ll find plenty of diversity throughout the city.
Conclusion: Draw. Both cities have their own complicated histories, which create intriguingly layered cultures worth exploring.
Cardiff or Bristol: Sports
There is nothing in the world quite like Cardiff during a Welsh rugby match. If there’s an international game at the Principality Stadium, then prepare yourself for the whole city to turn red, white, and green with flags and face paints. Watch for people dressed as dragons, sheep, and daffodils and listen for bursts of the Welsh national anthem, rugby songs, and hymns sung in the streets. If you watch a game live, it’ll be an experience you’ll never forget. If you can’t, take yourself to a crowded pub and soak up the atmosphere of Welsh pride and love of the sport.
Although Rugby is the nation’s first love, you’ll find plenty of support and great facilities for the many other sports played within the city, including football, cricket, and the Cardiff Devils ice hockey team.
Bristol is also a sports-loving city and home to professional teams in cricket, rugby, and basketball. But it’s football that holds the most pride. Two major-league teams are housed within the city, Bristol Rovers and Bristol City. When a derby match is played between the two, you’ll hear about it for days and should try to watch it live or in a supporters pub.
Conclusion: Cardiff. It’s not a fair fight; Welsh rugby fans are simply the best in the world.
Cardiff or Bristol: Nature
With over 400 parks and gardens, Bristol has won awards for both its green spaces and environmental initiatives. Visit Castle Park for a large expanse of riverside greenery right in the middle of the shopping district. Queens Square, with its grand buildings, is popular with studying students and office workers on their lunch breaks. The Clifton Downs is a beautiful expanse of protected parkland, home to many events and festivals throughout the year. And Leigh Woods is a wonderful woodland spot to visit during a trip to the suspension bridge.
The green heart of Cardiff City is Bute Park, the extensive grounds in which Cardiff Castle sits. The mature parkland offers a beautiful escape from city life with several playgrounds, sports fields, cafes, and walks along the River Taff. Bird lovers should head to the Cardiff Bay Wetlands Reserve to explore the salt marshes, and families will enjoy a stroll or bike ride around the Cardiff Bay Barrage to enjoy free exhibits, an outdoor gym, a skate park, and stunning views of Cardiff bay.
Conclusion: Draw. We love that both these cities respect the need for green spaces and beautiful waterfronts within and around their urban centers.
Cardiff or Bristol: Arts
Bristol, the city that birthed both Wallace and Gromit, and Banksy, is understandably known for its artistic talent. Visitors should head to the Arnolfini to take in everything from art to music to poetry, and then Spike Island for a glimpse of its progressive gallery and production space filled with working artists. Fans of street art can take a walking tour of the Banksy works dotted around the city. Or head over to Bedminster, host of Upfest, the largest street art and graffiti festival in Europe, and admire the artwork that’s on display year-round.
If performing arts are more your thing, check out the Bristol Old Vic, one of the oldest working theatres in the world, or visit the Watershed to watch arthouse and independent films.
Cardiff is filled with musical and artistic talent, showcased at the many schools and venues within the city. Check out the Welsh National Opera and the National Orchestra of Wales at the Millenium Center, where you can also catch world-class musicals, exhibitions, and workshops. Take in the city’s many galleries for contemporary and fine artwork as well as shows by up-and-coming local artists. Catch a play at the New Theatre or at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, where Sir Anthony Hopkins was once a student. Then for something unique, visit NoFit State, the UK’s biggest contemporary Circus company.
Conclusion: Bristol. Although you’ll find plenty of music, art, and theatre in Cardiff, we’re giving it to Bristol because of Banksy and Upfest’s fantastic street art installations.
Cardiff or Bristol: Nightlife
Bristol, home to two universities, several colleges, and a diverse population of residents, has a fantastically varied nightlife scene. Whether it’s classical concerts, massive gigs, or acoustic sets, fans of live music will find a venue for them. Likewise, dance music lovers will be in heaven in the city that created trip-hop, and which has one of the best underground dance scenes in the UK.
Whether you want a retro club with a cheesy playlist, a student bar with budget beers, a speakeasy with signature cocktails, or a superclub with massive production value, you’ll find something to your taste in Bristol.
Cardiff is also home to more than one university, and where there are students, there is always thriving nightlife! You’ll find no shortage of bars and clubs in this city. And as Wales’s capital, it’s a must-stop for most bands and performers on tour. The Principality Stadium has hosted some of the biggest names in music, and a gig there is one you won’t forget in a hurry.
You’ll find smaller gigs happening around the city every night of the week, and while you’re in town, why not check out some Welsh language folk or rock music? If you want to get a little wilder, head to St Mary’s Street for the biggest concentration of bars and clubs. You’ll find everything from cool cocktail lounges to chain clubs to LGBTQ+ bars and traditional Welsh Pubs.
Conclusion: Draw. If you’re specifically looking for dance, dub, or trip-hop, head to Bristol. If you want a stadium gig, head to Cardiff, but if you’re just after a good night out, either of these cities will make you proud.
Cardiff or Bristol: Conclusion
As you can see, several of these categories ended in a draw. That’s because we love both of these cities, and we know that neither of them will disappoint you.
Obviously, if you’re looking for a chance to visit Wales and experience Welsh culture, then you need to visit Cardiff. And if you have a burning desire to walk in the footsteps of Banksy or to explore the dance music scene, you should head to Bristol.
But if you just want to experience a historic, vibrant city filled with great sights, beautiful natural spaces, and fantastic nightlife, you can not go wrong with either city.