In just a few weeks the new Parkgate Hotel will be opening in Cardiff city centre.
Owned by the same group that owns the Celtic Manor hotel, this is one hotel I will DEFINITELY be visiting. The Parkgate Hotel has been redeveloped from two historic civic buildings dating from the turn of the 20th Century – the former Head Post Office for Cardiff and the city’s old County Court on Westgate Street. I can’t wait to visit for lunch one day and just soak up all the history.
Cardiff has a long history, but has seen much modernisation and development over recent years. This has resulted in lots of sleek, modern restaurants. You really have to dig around and have a little bit of local knowledge if you want to find good eating places where you can soak in some of the city’s fascinating past at the same time.
But where to go? Don’t worry, I’ve done all the hard work for you and rounded up the top historic places to eat in Cardiff.
Probably the most iconic building on the list, The Coal Exchange Hotel in Cardiff is a very significant building in terms of modern Welsh history.
The now Grade-II listed Coal Exchange served as a centralised trading place for the rising boom of the Welsh coal industry and the global coal trade. At one time the price of the world’s coal was determined here. It was at the Coal Exchange that the world’s first £1 million pound deal was struck in 1907.
Particularly recommended is the Bottomless Sunday Lunch in Culley’s Kitchen and Bar. Yes, that’s right folks, a bottomless Sunday lunch.
‘Probably one the most important 19th century townhouses in Wales’ according to Cadw, Grade I listed Park House is now home to one of Cardiff’s top fine-dining restaurants.
But why is Park House so important? It was built by the great Victorian architect William Burges who overhauled both Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch in Gothic Revival style for the 3rd Marquess of Bute. It also revolutionized Cardiff’s domestic architecture, setting a template for house building and design which can still be seen in certain streets throughout the city.
A building that reminds us of Cardiff’s history as a key port, the Pilotage Building in Cardiff Bay is home to chain restaurant Bills.
This was a key building in the port of Cardiff. It was from here the local river pilots would pick up their roster and pay. These men played an important role, using their local knowledge to guide large ships safely into the dock.
However, it wasn’t originally built as a pilotage office. In fact, no one knows for sure what it was first built for! What we do know is its a contender for the oldest building in Cardiff Bay.
Everywhere you go in Cardiff the Gothic architecture seems to follow you – and the unique Chapel 1877 restaurant is no exception!
The irony is not lost in me that you can experience fine dining accompanied by a glass of wine in what used to be a Welsh Calvinistic Methodist chapel (traditionally all Methodist churches were dry and members usually abstained from alcohol).
This imposing Renaissance-style building just the other side of Cardiff Bay barrage was once the Customs and Excise office for the booming Cardiff Docks. But did you know its not actually in its original location? In 1993, during redevelopment of the docklands, the building was placed onto a low-loader lorry and moved 50 metres to its present site!
And that isn’t the only interesting fact about the Custom House! It sits on the site of the former Penarth Head Inn, home in the 1700s to the notorious smuggler and Penarthian pirate, Edward Edwards.
The building actually contains two fine dining restaurants – El Puerto and La Marina, the latter specialising in fish and seafood.
Cafes and Tearooms
Pettigrew Tea Rooms (named after the 3rd Marquess of Bute’s gardener) is a vintage style tea room at the southern end of Bute Park in central Cardiff. It is housed in the West Lodge, which was built in the 1860s to house castle employees. Following restoration, the tea rooms were opened in 2021.
Pettigrew Tea Rooms boasts a comprehensive lunch menu including seasonal ‘high tea’. There are wonderful cakes baked daily on-site, a superb selection of loose leaf teas and fine, locally roasted coffee.
Other historic places to eat in Cardiff
Cardiff has a bit of a reputation for it’s street food culture – but historic Cardiff Market is the OG street food venue in the city.
Try not to think about its history too much while you are enjoying your lunch though. The Victorian market building actually sits on the site of the original Cardiff gaol. In fact, one of the street entrances sits on the site of the former gallows, where Welsh folk hero and martyr Dic Penderyn was hanged.
Cardiff is known as ‘the City of Arcades’ as it has the highest concentration of indoor shopping arcades of any British city – including seven Insta-worthy Edwardian and Victorian ones!
Housing over 100 independent cafes, bars and shops right in the heart of the city, the arcades offer a truly unique shopping – and dining – experience. My favourite place for coffee and cake is Coffee Barker in the two-storied Castle Arcade (trust me, the Nutella latte is divine).
There really is no excuse you can’t combine great food with a love of history in Cardiff. Let us know which great historic eaterie you will be visiting first in the comments below!
P.S. Like this post? Then I’m sure you will like my other posts about historic Cardiff, including this one about the best ways to explore historical Llandaff.