Cardiff is a cosmopolitan cultural capital, albeit compact. The history runs deep, and the community is lively, but every city has its pros and cons. To weigh brunch options and beauty spots against bus fares, and understand what living in Cardiff is like, read on.
The pros and cons of living in Cardiff
The pros of living in Cardiff
1. Plenty of green spaces
Choosing city life doesn’t mean committing to a concrete jungle. With plenty of green spaces to choose from, you won’t be short of an oasis to retreat to in Cardiff.
In the middle of town, you can lose yourself in Bute Park. There are also spacious fields in Pontcanna, a miniature wood in Heath Park and a pretty green in Whitchurch.
In Roath, you’ll find Roath Park and Boating Lake. A gift to the city with a Victorian rose garden, hothouse and adjoining pleasure gardens, complete with tennis courts.
Strike a little north and the suburban Cefn Onn park is grade 2 listed and great for autumn colour. It also has a back trail leading up onto Caerphilly mountain, known locally as the Graig (from the Welsh word for rock).
2. Food, glorious food!
Culinary options in the Welsh capital are varied and vibrant. If you don’t know what you want, then just walk along City Road or Wellfield Road. It is impossible to reach the end of either street without finding something irresistible.
A great opening gambit in Cardiff is Mint and Mustard. This Kerala inspired Indian restaurant has far more to offer than your standard local curry house.
For something fresh, try AnnaLoka, a buttoned-down vegan invention house or Yakitori 1, for dockside yakitori delights.
Curado is another reliable crowd-pleaser. The Spanish tapas-style restaurant is run by a family team with two wildly successful delicatessens in Narberth and Aberystwyth.
3. Cost of living
Looking for a city life that is wallet-friendly? You will find the cost of living in Cardiff attractive.
The cost of renting property is lower than in other major UK cities, it’s 26% lower than in Bristol and 8% lower than in Manchester.
Living in Cardiff, on the whole, is much cheaper than living in London including the rent that’s around 60% lower than in London.
Buying property in Cardiff is competitive relative to other UK cities, making it an accessible but solid investment
For the budget-conscious, Cardiff creates room to live well. Retail prices, restaurant bills and child care costs all come in below the national average.
4. Suburbs with personality
Cardiff’s suburbs are pleasant but not generic.
Cyncoed, Llandaff village and Lisvane are upmarket, but beyond a few streets, you won’t find a gated community. These areas are in the north of the city, but where Lisvane and Llandaff were once villages, Cyncoed is very much a suburb.
Lisvane and Llandaff have kept their village atmospheres with noticeable period properties adding character, but gained good transport links by train and bus. You can be in the centre in 15 minutes with no traffic, and less than half an hour in general.
Cyncoed is significantly closer to the centre, with equally good transport links. Walking around, you’ll mainly find handsome Edwardian properties with generous gardens. There are excellent schools and a small, thriving high street.
One of the advantages of living in Cardiff is that you don’t need to find the most upmarket areas to thrive.
Pontcanna is a friendly, leafy suburb that benefits from open spaces, bakeries and a choice of cafés on a lively shopping street.
Roath offers a central location, a beautiful park nearby and a community as diverse and exciting as you might find in London or Birmingham. The main difference you will find is that your neighbours are more likely to say hello.
If you are looking for a family haven, then turn to suburbs like Heath, Whitchurch and Radyr. They are all welcoming, attractive spots to learn to ride your first bike, find a spot to walk your dog and access the best schools.
5. Lots of culture, sports and entertainment
You won’t struggle to find artistic inspiration in Cardiff.
The Wales Millennium Centre is a focal point in Cardiff Bay, playing host to a range of traditional Operas as well as family-friendly productions and musicals. The design is impressively modern, and the centre also hosts community workshops and special events.
The New Theatre is a dramatic stalwart and pantomime spot with all the traditional theatre trimmings. Velvet curtains, ice cream sellers and the faint suggestion of ghosts backstage.
In the Hayes, you will find St Davids Hall, another world-class concert venue to add to the Millennium stadium.
When it comes to visual arts, don’t miss the Chapter Arts Centre in Canton. It combines a leading visual arts gallery with a space for small theatre productions and an art-house cinema.
For classical performance, Cardiff is home to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and its incredible performers. Shows by both the teachers and students are a rare privilege and a cornerstone of Welsh cultural life.
For sports fans, the Millennium Stadium makes Cardiff Rugby heaven, by drawing in international Rugby fixtures.
The options go on, with Cardiff City Stadium hosting major league football events and the SSE SWALEC cricket venue.
It’s also the home ground for the Cardiff Devils, the city’s international ice hockey team, which is a special highlight.
Cardiff also hosts a Velothon and a half-marathon, for those who like to move on their own steam.
6. Good travel connections
Cardiff boasts its own airport with international connections, as well as fast trains to London, Bristol and Birmingham.
Cardiff Central station is also a great gateway into the Brecon Beacons and west, along the coast.
7. No shortage of shopping options
If you enjoy retail therapy, then Cardiff provides plenty of avenues to pursue it.
The pretty Victorian arcades are packed with independent shops and cafés to refuel.
The St Davids centre is the place to find global brands like TAG Heuer, Bershka and Crew as well as down to earth British favourites like Primark and John Lewis.
8. Steeped in history
Cardiff has a strong connection with the past. You get to live with a healthy supply of modern convenience, but with history all around you, barely underneath the surface.
You can’t fail to notice the castle or the arcades in the city centre, but keep an eye out for the gorgeous animals carved onto the walls of Bute Park, installed in the late 19th century.
For people desperate to time travel, there is the unique St Fagans Museum of Welsh Life. It is one of the largest living history museums in the world, with faithful, brick by brick reconstructions of buildings from all over Wales. It also hosts craft demonstrations, re-enactments and occasionally, fabulous outdoor theatre productions.
In the centre is the National Museum, an imposing structure adjoining the university. It is home to a pleasant collection of art, an engaging natural history section and a rotation of intriguing exhibits.
Be warned, the Mammoth in the prehistoric section moves and more than one visitor has been caught off guard!
9. Good work-life balance
Cardiff has all the ingredients for you to achieve a good work-life balance.
Excellent access to natural surroundings and creative outlets mix with a lower cost of living. This adds up to a real opportunity to fine-tune your priorities and create the right fit.
The culture has a good balance of contentment and competition to help you find your sweet spot.
10. Good education
Cardiff is home to 3 universities, with several campuses dotted across the city. They create a stimulating environment, with Cardiff University carrying the banner for academic excellence as part of the elite Russell group.
Cardiff also boasts several excellent secondary schools, including Cardiff High, Radyr Comprehensive, St Teilo’s and the Bishop of Llandaff School.
Local primary schools also perform well, with the Welsh government rating the majority of schools in the highest ‘green’ category.
Perhaps, the best thing about Cardiff is the population. Small enough to get to know people, big enough to find your niche, and friendly enough to settle right in.
Cardiff was voted the 3rd friendliest city in the UK in 2021 by a Condé Nast survey, and the only surprise is that it was beaten to first place.
The cons of living in Cardiff
1. Fewer opportunities for highly ambitious careers
Cardiff doesn’t lack job opportunities, but for those looking to make the maximum salary or scale the career ladder at speed, it lacks the edge.
With a big public sector presence and moderate salaries, ambitious climbers might find Cardiff too small in the long term.
2. Life in a rainy spot
Cardiff is rainy compared to the southeast of England. For people used to living in bone dry climates, this might take some adjustment. Compared with other cities in rainy spots, like Glasgow and Manchester, Cardiff is much the same.
3. Nightlife overspill
Cardiff has a wonderful nightlife, but occasionally the party can overspill.
After midnight, St Mary’s Street in the city centre can get boisterous.
The areas around the Millennium Stadium are also full to bursting with excited rugby fans on days when the Welsh team are playing at home.
On the whole, it’s just good-natured overexcitement and a few too many drinks. If you prefer quiet, though, these specific parts of town might not be for you during peak party hours.
4. City centre change
Cities in the UK sometimes struggle when large modern shopping centres arrive. Cardiff has fared better than most, with the new St David’s shopping Mecca sitting adjacent to the older shopping district around Queen Street.
Unfortunately, changing tastes have opened one or two empty shop fronts, and the once-bustling Debenhams building currently stands empty.
Cardiff Council and the Welsh government do have an ongoing plan for city-centre regeneration, however, and a good track record on regeneration. The Bay Area was recently transformed from a tired industrial area into a glamorous spot for the arts and upmarket restaurants.
5. Public transport costs
Bus fares in Cardiff are one of the few areas where you’ll find similar prices to other major cities.
The local providers have dragged their feet when it comes to introducing contactless payments, and the prices are higher than you would expect in such a cost-effective city.
If you commute, you can take the edge off with a season ticket, though.
6. Smaller city
If you prefer the anonymity of a large city, then Cardiff won’t deliver it over the long term.
As a smaller and more personal city, long-time residents will find it hard to go into town shopping or attend a big event without seeing an acquaintance or two.
It isn’t quite like village life, but you will become a familiar face in your favourite haunts.
Final word on living in Cardiff
The essence of living in Cardiff is knowing that good things can come in small packages.
If cities are your worst nightmare, then Cardiff might only be a good compromise between the need to work and live among green spaces.
On the other hand, if you love all the variety, culture and creativity of a city but don’t want to be lost in a crowd, Cardiff could be perfect for you.
Nothing is everyone’s cup of tea, but for anyone who thought they had to trade a cosmopolitan life off against the cost and commute, Cardiff could be the answer.
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