Cardiff offers so many opportunities for entertaining children without spending a penny, with free-to-enter museums, free child-centric attractions and famous landmarks to explore.
Here’s some inspiration for where to go for fun and free family days out in and around Cardiff, all of which have been recommended by local parents or recent visiting families.
Top of everyone’s list is St Fagans National Museum of History, four miles out of Cardiff’s bustling city centre, which shows how Welsh people have lived, worked and played through the ages.
“The free national museum at St Fagans is a great day out with our daughter,” says Cath Janes. “On one side of the estate are piles of historical houses that you can go into to see how people used to live and on the other side is a manor house and gorgeous gardens for picnics. It’s perfect for younger kids who want to explore.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Cathryn Scott, who blogs at Cardiff Mummy Says: “It’s brilliant. It really brings history to life with more than 50 historic buildings from all over Wales, rebuilt there.”
Children can step back in time and into farmhouses, churches, a tannery and mill. Craftspeople like the Clogmaker and Blacksmith will chat to your kids as they work and children can try their hand at weaving and milling flour. The museum is set in open grounds leading to ancient woodland; perfect for children to run around in. There are daily programmes for families including cookery demonstrations, re-enactments and hands-on art and craft activities.
Alternatively National Museum Cardiff is in Cathay Park and open every day for free, except Mondays. The highlight for most children will be the dinosaur skeletons and enormous moving woolly mammoths. “Free and dinosaurs, the best combination for entertaining children,” says dad-of-two James Moore.
Mum-of-three Cathryn Scott, adds: “We love the whale skeleton and the dinosaurs, which now includes the skeleton of a new dinosaur species, discovered earlier this year in the Vale of Glamorgan and on display until September. There are loads of interactive exhibitions for children and they do fantastic family workshops at weekends and holidays.
“The Museum’s Evolution of Wales gallery charts the history of Wales from the Big Bang that lead to the formation of the Earth 4.5 billion years ago passing through different climates and environments as Wales moved across the surface of the planet, including a reconstruction of south Wales 200 million years ago.”
Younger children will love the Cardiff Story Museum in the Old Library building in the city centre. There are lots of interactive displays telling the story of Cardiff.
There’s also period-style dressing up costumes and a play area with a wooden train and kitchen. Every Wednesday during the holidays there are family craft events.
Cardiff is one of the greenest cities in the UK. The Taff Trail passes through a number of parks and green spaces with opportunities for circular walks in Bute Park, Hamadryad Park, Hailey Park, and Forest Farm Country Park.
“We love walking around the Cardiff Bay barrage,” says mum-of-two Sian Rowland. “Just before the barrage there’s a great kids’ playground with shipwrecked boats buried in sand.”
Cardiff Bay Wetland Reserve was created nearly 20 years ago on the site of a former salt marsh and is a favourite for Jayne Marsh and her family. “My children love pelting up and down the wooden boardwalk while I love the herons,” she says. “In summer we get competitive, trying to catch grasshoppers.”
Fforest Fawr sculpture trail in Tongwynlais gets local mum Shawna Williams’s vote. “We come up here most weekends on foot or on bikes with a picnic,” she says. “It just has a really magical feel.”
The wooden animal sculptures give impetus to children to dash on to find the next one while parents can enjoy the beautiful forest where the BBC series ‘Merlin’ was filmed. The sculpture trail is 1.6 miles but you can go a bit further and find the old mining cave or arrive at Castle Coch, a red turreted Victorian Gothic extravaganza created as a holiday home for the third Marquess of Bute, owner of Cardiff Castle a few miles away.
Victoria Park Splashpad opened last year to replace the old paddling pool and is a huge hit with local families. Cathryn Scott says: “There are 33 different water features. My four-year-old likes the various water sprays and squirters but his favourite is the bucket which fills up with water and then tips out when it is full, drenching those underneath. He spent ages standing underneath waiting for it to empty.”
In the summer holidays, this free watery entertainment is bound to be crowded. But you could follow Cathryn’s year-round advice: “Don’t just leave it for the sunny days when it will be jam-packed. If your children have beach wet suits, put them on and enjoy having the place to yourselves.”