The walk between Cardiff Bay and Penarth is one of Cardiff's highlights. You'll pass icons of Cardiff's industrial past, elements of its natural beauty, and modern art installations.
Cardiff and its bay
The route around the beautiful bay is an easy six miles. Along the way you'll be able to see the Cardiff Bay Wetlands Reserve, nestled next to the iconic sails of St David's Hotel (where you often find visiting sports teams and superstars taking residence). This nature idyll is a must-see for bird lovers, but it's also full of interesting and varied wildlife. This natural haven, with a city backdrop, is set in a space originally created in 2002 when a freshwater lake emerged after the barrage was finished.
The walk between Cardiff Bay and Penarth is one of Cardiff's highlights."
Walk through Mermaid Quay towards the barrage (maybe stopping off for an ice cream at Cadwaladers) and you'll come to the large oval space of Roald Dahl Plass, formerly the West Bute Dock of the Cardiff docklands area. The plass is named after the great author who was christened in a church nearby (read on for more information). It's used as a centre for activities like festivals and concerts, and is right in front of the unmissable Wales Millennium Centre.
Although the architecture around the bay might seem a bit disjointed, this reflects Cardiff's history: from small waterside fort to industrial giant in the 1800s, falling on harder times throughout the 20th century, and then its modern reinvention.
Our modern parliament (designed by Richard Rogers) - the Senedd - sits alongside the iconic redbrick Pierhead building. If you want to explore the amazing history of the docks, the Pierhead is a great option - a Grade I listed building, museum, and visitor centre.
Make sure to go inside the Senedd and Pierhead buildings if they're open - in the Senedd you can get guided tours that explain the way that the law-making process works in Wales, and the Pierhead has a permanent gallery upstairs.
The Senedd has been the home of the National Assembly for Wales, now the Welsh Parliament, since opening in 2006, and has the distinction of being perhaps the most eco-friendly piece of parliamentary architecture anywhere in the world. It’s built from traditional Welsh materials and topped with a wind cowl in the roof which spins to summon warm air out of the chamber beneath it.
If you're looking to stay nearby, the area's most recent hotel addition is the impressive Exchange Hotel - the renovated Coal Exchange, originally built in 1888 as a place of business, where Cardiff's mammoth coal export industry was run from. In 1901 the Coal Exchange became a historic landmark, as the location where the world's first ever million pound cheque was signed. Following the demise of coal mining, the Exchange closed in 1958, and has been largely empty since then, although it was earmarked as the location for the National Assembly for Wales in the 1970s (the vote for devolution did not pass, so the building remained empty). It was again refurbished in 2001 to be used as a concert venue, but again fell empty until its transformation in 2017.
Even if you're not looking to stay, make the trip to walk around Mount Stuart Square - it holds one of Cardiff's most concentrated collections of historic buildings, and there are some great independent coffee shops and bars nearby.
Heading back towards the barrage, you'll pass the infamous Norwegian church, shipped from Norway for the benefit of the Scandinavians working in Cardiff docks during the 1860s. It's also the place where locally born literary legend Roald Dahl was christened. Today, it holds everything from yoga classes to concerts, and also serves a lovely cup of tea.
The barrage walk
While taking in the stroll across the barrage, you'll pass the Porth Teigr nearby, take shelter under the Captain Scott memorial, near the point his Terranova ship sailed from in 1910.
Look carefully and you might see the Barrage Circles – a beguiling optical work dreamed up by Swiss artist Felice Varini which reveals a set of perfect concentric circles if you stand on an x-marked yellow paint spot.
If you're with a doggy companion, there are a couple of dog friendly coffee shops along your route - look for the signs for Coffi Co.
To get to Penarth Marina, where spectacular views await, you'll need to cross Pont y Werin. Translating as The People's Bridge, it's adorned with imposing sculptures of great Welsh sportspeople on either side, having been completed in 2010 as a bridge which can shift to allow large boats through.
If that makes you feel the lure of the sea, try something different with a boat ride from Penarth Pier, or a water taxi back across, admiring some of the scenery you'll have covered on your way there. Or, if you're feeling like a treat, you could try the Michelin-starred Restaurant James Sommerin which has an enviable prime position on the Penarth Esplanade.
Wherever you visit, you'll be able to relax in style on the bay, which is renowned for its excellent food and drink, as well as its shops, galleries and parks. It's a fantastic area to relax in, with the beach as your constant companion.