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Exploring the Welsh capital doesn’t need to be expensive. This beautiful port city has a wealth of free activities for all the family to enjoy.
A tranquil oasis in the middle of the metropolis, Bute Park is the ideal place to spend some time outdoors in Cardiff. The best time to take a wander is in spring, when the flora and fauna truly come into their own. Stroll through the friary ruins, amble alongside the Taff and stop for a picnic to soak up the area’s natural beauty.
Just one of seven national museums across Wales, the National Museum Cardiff has such varied collections that you can spend a whole day wandering around without getting bored. This spectacular building is home to exhibitions of zoology, botany, archeology, geology and more. Kids will love exploring the dinosaur installation, which is arguably the museum’s pièce de résistance. The museum also boasts an extensive art collection, with works by Magritte, Renoir, Degas and Monet.
Wales’ historic past comes to life at this 100-acre open-air museum. It contains over 40 re-erected buildings from various ages of Welsh history, with old schools, butchers, bakeries, ironsmiths and workmen’s institutes all featuring. As it is a living museum, you will see craftspeople practising traditional skills and selling their wares. In the grounds, you’ll also meet local breeds of livestock, which are still farmed here. Check before you go to see if your visit coincides with one of the museum’s seasonal celebrations of traditional music and dance.
Head down to the bay and you’ll find this architectural masterpiece, which houses the National Arts Centre of Wales. Although the majority of the events on offer here are ticketed, they also hold public performances such as dance shows, contemporary music concerts and festivals on the Glanfa Stage in the lobby, which are free to watch. Even if you can’t catch a show, the building itself is impressive; made of Welsh wood, slate, steel and glass, the structure is seen to embody all that is good about the national spirit.
The Fforest Fawr sculpture trail is a woodland area located near the captivating Castell Coch, just a short drive from Cardiff. The path is roughly 1.5 miles long and is designed to take children on a magical journey through the forest. In 2018, several of the original sculptures, damaged after years of exposure to the elements, were removed and replaced with 10 new figures depicting animals which would have once roamed the Welsh forest, all carved by artist Simon O’Rourke from a single redwood tree. Some original sculptures, such as a giant Welsh dragon, remain alongside the newer arrivals of an elk and European wolf.
The Senedd is Wales’ National Assembly, and is open for you to wander into seven days a week to watch democracy in action. It is one of Cardiff’s most beautiful structures, and you can find plenty of tour guides on hand who are willing to give you a full understanding of its design, which makes use of around 1,000 tonnes of Welsh slate. As well as the National Assembly, the building is home to the Heart of Wales, a beautiful piece of glass artwork by Swansea-based artist Alexander Beleschenko.
These intricately designed Victorian arcades, which have been home to Cardiff’s markets for generations, are filled with rows of quirky, independent boutiques. From bookshops filled with the smell of forgotten pages to music stores that will transport you back to the age of vinyl, taking a leisurely stroll around these undercover arcades gives you a truly unique window-shopping experience.
The Amelia Trust Farm is a 160-acre working farm and donkey sanctuary where you can meet a range of animals including alpacas, Shetland ponies, rabbits and degus. The park farm also has a number of nature trails, which you can follow to spot and identify local wildlife. While the farm is situated in Barry, just outside Cardiff, it is well worth a visit, especially if you have little ones who need entertaining.
This enchanting island is just a half-hour drive from Cardiff, but do check tide tables to ensure you are able to return safely over the causeway as the island does not have a bridge. Once across, there is plenty to explore; the hill at the end of the island is said to have been a Viking look-out fort, and you can also see the visible ribs of a ship from a Victorian wreckage, washed ashore and now part of the landscape. Take provisions, wear suitable clothing and footwear, and enjoy a day scrambling over the rocks.
Penarth Pier is a beautiful Art Deco structure that has been enjoyed by visitors to the Welsh seaside since 1898. The Victorian pier has benefitted from substantial redevelopment but retains some of its original features, and there are plenty of small shops and restaurants close by to explore. Wander along the pier for free, then sit and relax while enjoying the sea breeze and some fish and chips.
Formerly a church used by Scandinavian sailors and the lively Nordic community who settled in Cardiff’s multicultural Tiger Bay, this distinctive architectural landmark is now a gallery. It hosts touring exhibits and displays works by local artists, and is free to enter. One of its rooms is known as the The Dahl Gallery, named after Cardiff native and prolific children’s author Roald Dahl, who was baptised in the church.