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A student’s guide to living in Cardiff

Cardiff is a multicultural, vibrant city, filled with beautiful architecture stretching all the way from Roman, to Norman, to Medieval, to present day.

Cardiff manages to strike a great balance of city life and nature retreat and even has the biggest inner-city park space per person in the UK. During your time here make sure you visit Cardiff’s castle, which sits at the heart of the city and is a great reminder of its history dating back 2,000 years.

The most student-friendly suburbs

Our top tips on where to live in Cardiff. 

Where your halls of residence are

Cardiff is a city that’s incredibly student-friendly. Cardiffians are welcoming, up for a chat and always happy to give directions – the perfect combination for a newcomer.

Whether you want to go into halls of residence (most undergraduates do this in their first year), or find a house, there is really something for everyone.

As a city, Cardiff is quite compact. You’re always within walking distance of the local shop, pub, hairdressers, gym and so on.

Whilst it’s not mandatory to live in halls throughout your first year at university, it’s a great way to meet new people and socialise. Halls often have events going on throughout ‘Freshers’ Week’ to bring everyone together and get to know your flat mates.

There are halls of residence right in the city centre, and ones spread further out, too. Keep in mind where your main university building may be, as well as the type of area you’d like to live in.

Cathays

Looking for a busier and livelier suburb? Cathays is your best bet.

This area is highly populated with students of all years. And it’s located right by Cardiff’s university, which makes it ideal for people who don’t want to travel far for lectures.

Roath

If you prefer quieter areas with quirky shops and markets, Roath is a great option.

Anna Loka, one of Cardiff’s most popular brunch places is located here. It’s 100% vegan and if you ever go there you have to try the “bacon” pancakes.  A new zero-waste shop which has just opened here, Ripple, is another Roath-highlight. They sell everything from laundry detergent, to pasta and clothing.

City centre

By living in the centre, you have instant access to the shopping centre, arcades, markets and nightlife.

Some of the universities have their lecture theatres based here also, for example, the University of South Wales and Cardiff University.

To decide where to live, find out the location(s) of the course(s) you are applying to, and then decide what kind of area you would like to live in. Finally, weigh up which factors are most important to you.

Even if you aren’t living right next to your university, Cardiff’s transport system is great for getting around quickly.  

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Navigating Cardiff’s transport system

Cardiff’s transport system makes the city easy to navigate, with buses, trains and bikes (if you want to keep fit while you’re getting from place to place!).

Buses

Buses around Cardiff are called “Cardiff Bus”, and are very recognisable with their orange and green design. You can buy either single tickets, weekly tickets, or, if you are between the ages of 16 and 21, you will be able to get a travel pass card which gives 30% off all fares.

The Met Rider buses operate from Cardiff city centre to both Cardiff metropolitan campuses, and also to halls of residence.

Each university will offer a different deal for the bus passes, so keep an eye out in Freshers’ Week for more information. If you’re looking at either Cardiff University or University of South Wales (the city centre campus), having a bus pass may not be as necessary, as they are more central.

Trains

Sometimes it’s easier and faster getting trains around Cardiff, especially because they run so frequently.

Cardiff is serviced by four main stations that make navigating the city easy and give you the option to get out of Cardiff to explore further afield. Train fares are very reasonably priced, especially if you have what’s known as a ‘young persons’ railcard’. You’re able to apply for one of these if you are between the ages of 16 and 25, getting you a third off your fares.

This railcard is particularly great if you’re travelling long distance journeys.

Bikes

Keep your eye out for Cardiff’s bike share system, Next Bikes.

To rent a Next Bike for the day it will cost you £1 for every 30 minutes, capping at £10 for 24 hours. There are Next Bike stations all throughout the city, making them easy to find with their distinctive blue back. There is also an app to locate the bikes and pay to rent them.

When you arrive at university, ask if they offer a student discount for the Next Bikes. There are cycle paths throughout the city, some on the main roads, as well as some paths being completely traffic-free. These paths tend to be located in the parks.

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How to spend your first week in Cardiff

It’s your first week living in Cardiff and you want to see what the city has to offer.

Getting a feel for the city, finding your way around, and getting set up in your new city is probably going to be on the agenda for week one.

Monday

It’s the start of a new week, and a great time to get to know your new flatmates. You can always grab a coffee, get a bite to eat, or even go dancing if the mood strikes you.

Mill Lane in Cardiff City Centre is perfect for this. It’s a road of restaurants, bars and clubs in the evening, so you won’t have to walk far.

If you’re more of a day-time explorer, there’s Bute Park, located in the city centre, or Roath Park in Roath, which are both great spots to chill out, take a picnic and have a good old-fashioned chat. Roath Park also has a big lake, and when it’s sunny, you can hire rowing boats and kayaks.

Tuesday

You may need to go out and get a few things: toaster, kettle and cutlery by any chance?

Now that you have met your flatmates, you can all decide what you need, who’s buying what and where you’re going to get things from.

There’s an Ikea a short bus journey away from the city centre, or there are also plenty of student budget-friendly shops in the centre itself to get everything you need.

An alternative to this would be to look on second-hand sites. Groupon and Facebook Marketplace are a great place to start, where you can set the location in settings to Cardiff.

Another tip is to join the Facebook university student pages. You’ll often see students about to graduate and move away, wanting to sell their items (at a very cheap price, too!).

Wednesday

Wednesday is student sports night where all three universities in Cardiff have their sports team social nights.

It’s a chance to bond with your team, meet students from other sports teams and from other universities. Many of the nightclubs, pubs and bars will offer student discounts on food, drink and entry.

Thursday

The National Museum is right by Cardiff University, and many of the exhibitions are free.

Try to visit on a weekday (so it’s not as busy), and it’ll be a more peaceful experience. There are constantly new things on here, so keep an eye out online for upcoming events and shows.

While you’re nearby, you could also check out Cardiff Castle. The Castle dates all the way back to Roman times, being re-built many times throughout different eras. The Bute family passed it over to the people of Cardiff in 1947. There are tours under an hour led by experts, so you can walk away knowing everything you need to know.

If you can prove that you’re a Cardiff resident, you’ll be eligible to get a ‘castle key’ costing £6.50. It will give you re-entry for three years.

Friday

Thinking of joining a sports club, or just looking to keep fit? Cardiff offers swimming pools, ice rinks, rock climbing centres, trampoline parks and more.

Have a think about what you’d like to try and see if any places are taking on club members. Most clubs will have taster sessions, so you’ll never have to commit to anything if you just want to give something a go.

Saturday

The weekend is here! Saturday is a great day to head down to Cardiff Bay, either by train, foot or boat.

The boat runs from Bute Park to the Bay every half hour, taking no more than 30 minutes. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from, and most have a beautiful view over the docks. The Bay is also home to the Millennium Stadium, where many musicals and shows take place.

Sunday

Sundays are great for mooching around the many outdoor markets that Cardiff has to offer.

They often run in the mornings, so you’ll probably be able to fit two in, possibly three, if you’re quick on your feet. Markets run all over Cardiff, so wherever you’re living, there will most likely be one near you.

The Riverside Market, located right by the Principality Stadium, has a great vibe and lots of different stands, from spices, to vegan cakes, to freshly made breads and local organic produce.

Another favourite is the Roath Real Food Market. It’s a little smaller than The Riverside Market, and less busy. In between onion bhajis, olives, and homegrown potatoes, you’ll be filled with foodie inspiration to take home to your kitchen.

Student-friendly cafés to study in

Given that Cardiff is so student-friendly, you’ll find lots of cafes dotted around, where you’ll be able to study comfortably all day.

Here are some of the standouts:

Coffee Corner

This is an independent café in the heart of Cardiff, offering delicious fresh food and coffee while you study.

The staff here are extremely welcoming, and knowledgeable about coffee. There are tables in the back and chairs by the window, so you can watch the world go by when you’re writing that essay.

Uncommon Ground

Located in the Royal Arcade, Uncommon Ground has some of the best coffee in Cardiff. However, if coffee isn’t your thing, there’s also a great selection of teas and fresh juices.

This place has an exciting feel to it, with lots of people choosing to study and work there. If you’re meeting a group of friends from university, or working on a team project, their large tables are ideal for sitting around and catching up.

Coffee Barker

Coffee Barker is found in the Castle Arcade and was inspired by New York City’s West Village and Paris. This one is usually the busiest, but if you manage to get a table, you’re good for the rest of the day.

If you like this place, there are three other spots owned by the same family around Cardiff, one being Barker Tea House. With the comfiest seats and inspiring décor, you won’t ever want to leave! If you fancy working outside, they have seating along the Arcade also. Each table has blankets if it gets a bit chilly.

The Little Man Coffee Shop

Another independently-run coffee shop, fairly new to Cardiff.

Other than being a top place to study, The Little Man Coffee Shop also run Yoga Breakfast Mornings and put on live theatre shows in the evening. The menu includes things like toasties, soups, salads and smoothies.

This coffee shop is right by one of the student halls of residence, so it could be your new local.

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