Techniquest is one of those places Cardiff Family can visit time and again without ever getting bored. We have membership (well, three of us do; Baby I and Little O are still young enough to get in for free) and have even visited twice in the last week.
It’s a hands-on science centre, with its two floors home to around 100 exhibits that make science fun and accessible to children of all ages – and adults too.
I remember going to Techniquest not long after it first opened in the mid-1980s. Back then, it was at a small site opposite the gas showroom near Cardiff Castle (or so my parents tell me). I don’t remember too much about it, other than tasting cocktail sausages. Who knows why! It moved into its current location in Cardiff Bay in 1995 and, according to one member of staff I spoke to, visiting numbers range from a couple of hundred on a quiet, sunny day to over 1,000 in the summer holidays when it’s raining.
I’ll be honest, when it’s that busy, it can be stressful coming to a large, open-plan place like this when you are the only adult with three pre-school children. Baby I is fine, as he just sits in his buggy or baby carrier, quietly taking it all in. He especially likes the tropical fish and the hot air balloon. The other two though, get so excited that they flit from exhibit to exhibit, making sure they don’t miss out on anything. Often in opposite directions. You just have to take a deep breath and go with it and remember what a fun and educational experience they are having.
My littlies have favourites that will keep them still for a while. Currently, for Little E it’s the homograph, a giant kind of Etch-a-Sketch powered by a pendulum; the table that, through clever use of mirrors, makes it look like your head is on a plate and your body has disappeared; and the whole of the ‘dark’ section, which cleverly uses lights and shadows. Little O loves the arcade style computer game where you drive a car where the steering is reversed so that you need to turn left to go right and vice versa; and the wind-up electric cars. I love the giant keyboard where you can play tunes with your feet. We all enjoy watching the ants diligently carrying their leaves across the water.
There are so many exhibits, it’s difficult to see all of them in one visit, which makes our membership such great value, as no two trips are the same. As my children get older they become interested in different things and it’s fascinating to see their understanding growing on what can be quite complicated scientific concepts. They are not yet in full-time school but understand about air pressure and temperature in hot air balloons; how the idea of probability can help predict which tube a ball will blow in; how pulleys can help make a weight seem lighter, to name but a few.
We regularly visit on Toddler Day, the once a month event which sees Techniquest overtaken by pre-schoolers. Each day has a different theme and as well as the usual exhibits, little ones are treated to free face-painting, an arts and craft station, a Play-Doh table and story time sessions. It’s chaotic, but fantastic fun.
It’s also worth looking out for special events, such as Animal Day. We have met everything from guide dogs, donkeys and owls to snakes and reptiles.
The last two times we have visited, we have booked into the space journey show, suitable for under 7s. Taking place in the Planetarium, my children loved watching the images on the domed ceiling above them and came out with so much new knowledge on stars, planets and space travel. Such shows are free for members or there is a small cost for everyone else.
If you’re planning a visit, then definitely get there early before the crowds. Rainy days are especially busy so if you want a calmer experience, go when the sun is out.
I find the car park next to St David’s Hotel the most convenient place to park, as it is cheaper and bigger than Mermaid Quay, which is directly opposite.
All children seem to love the water play, and unsurprisingly they often get soaked, so spare clothes are a good idea. On Toddler Day, waterproof aprons are available, but not at any other time.
The wrist bands you are given on entry allow you to come and go all day, which is handy if you want to combine your trip with lunch in the Bay. There is a good and reasonably priced café in Techniquest itself but we usually take our own packed lunch, which you can eat in the lunch room (used mostly by school groups) on the ground floor.
I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like Techniquest. It’s great for all the family and brings science to life in ways that are fun, creative and above all relevant to real life.
For more information, visit www.techniquest.org
Have you been to Techniquest? What did you and your little ones most enjoy? Any tips for other families visiting?
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