Bute Park was the first thing that drew me to Cardiff. I have so many lovely memories of this big green space when I visited T during his undergraduate degree, and it was the first place that made me feel like I wanted to live in Cardiff too.
New York's Central Park was a dreamy concept to me: the idea that a city would have ‘green lungs’ at its centre, as a place to escape the urban sprawl. Now, don’t get me wrong, Cardiff is no New York. The streets are wide, the traffic is manageable and you can walk everywhere within half an hour. But it certainly does give a city an edge, when there is this central natural space; it has such a positive impact on people’s lives.
It also helps that Bute Park has so much character and personality. During the medieval era it was the centre of Cardiff’s religion and agricultural industries. You can still walk through the floor plan of Blackfriar’s Friary, which dates back to the 13th century. It wasn’t until the 18th century that these 130 acres became focused as the Castle’s grounds. The wealthy Bute family inherited the Castle and began landscaping, hiring none other than the legendary Capability Brown to begin the process.
The park, as we now know it, was laid out by Head Gardener Andrew Pettigrew in the late 19th century, who is celebrated across the landscape. It was in 1947 that the Bute family donated the park to Cardiff city, and it's still owned and maintained by Cardiff Council today.
The character and facilities that make Bute Park so special are fairly recent additions. The Park Restoration Project took place in 2007 costing £5.6 million, and is responsible for many of my favourite elements. A huge portion of this was paid for by the Heritage Lottery Fund - so keep buying tickets people!
Above all else, my favourite thing to see in Bute Park is the changing of the seasons. Not an official entry on this list, but instead an honourary one, the variations of Bute Park such as the autumn leaves, magnolia blossom and many varieties of Welsh daffodil are sights to behold, and for many in Cardiff feel like huge events. But, if you're just here on a visit, here are...
The Top 5 Things to See in Bute Park
5. Stonehenge and the Wooden Frame
Escape to Stonehenge and have the picture perfect picnic in this corner, as the Castle features in the sky above.
4. Wooden faces
Throughout Bute Park are multiple carved wooden faces, creatures and abstract sculptures. Have fun with your family spotting them all!
3. The Weir
Sitting next to the Pontcanna playing fields, the weir raises the level of the River Taff. When the currents are at their calmest you will often see groups picnicking on the edges of the weir, where it is untouched by water.
2. Secret Garden Cafe
One of Cardiff's best-kept secrets, the Secret Garden Cafe in Bute Park is worth visiting just to admire its decorative door. Installed in 2011, each panel was designed by different wood carvers and depicts various pieces of the park's history. But if you're already there, you might as well go on inside for a coffee and/or homebaked treat in this tranquil spot.
1. The Castle
Wales is home to more castles per square mile than anywhere else in the world, so it's no surprise that Cardiff has its own. If you have the time then the tour is definitly worth your while - you may discover that there is more to the castle than meets the eye.
Other honourable mentions include the Water Taxi, which is a Cardiff staple, and the secret river path.