Aims This study sought to describe experiences and perceptions of cardiac rehabilitation among a sample of women from South Asian communities in an inner-city area of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK. Methods Data were collected via eight semi-structured interviews with staff and a focus group discussion with nine clients from a community-based, culturally sensitive cardiac rehabilitation service. Findings A number of individual, cultural and practical barriers to participation were identified. Facilitators centred on whether the format and content of the sessions could be considered 'appropriate'. For example, a women's dance group proved to be successful through the selection of a familiar local venue, supportive session leader, and an activity that was felt to be both enjoyable and beneficial. Conclusions This study has shown that it is possible to engage hard-to-reach groups in cardiac rehabilitation and physical activity. Further work is needed to explore whether this research is applicable in other ethnic groups and whether the lessons learned could be successfully incorporated into mainstream health services.