1. Whoosh down the slide at Roath Park
Is there a bigger and better slide anywhere in Cardiff? Not as far as I’m aware. I panicked the first time my Little E went down all by herself. She was a petite two year old who suddenly decided she didn’t want to sit on Mummy or Daddy’s lap anymore. She loved it; still does, as does her brother Little O, and I’m sure it won’t be long before Baby I is following them down. Headfirst, probably, if he is anything like his siblings. I can see why they love it so much, it’s great fun and you pick up quite a speed. Come on, I’m sure I’m not the only parent who’s had a go themselves.
And while you’re at the lake, don’t forget to feed the swans and ducks. No childhood in Cardiff is complete without doing that at least once. Watch out for the big swans who lurk around the middle though; they’re not shy if they realise you’ve got food and some of them are huge. Oh, and mind the seagulls too. They’re vicious!
2. Step back in time at St Fagans National History Museum
Forget stuffy artefacts encased in glass cabinets; this is hands-on history at its best. My children might all be under five but they absolutely love exploring the 40 or so historical buildings here – the Rhyd-y-Car cottages, each one depicting a different era of Valleys ironworkers’ lives from 1805 to 1985; the Victorian school with its wooden desks, a cane terrifyingly on display and separate playgrounds for boys and girls; the 1900 bakehouse, which always smells incredible; the 1920s Gwalia Stores with all those wonderful old fashion signs and old-fashioned Welsh produce you can buy. We’re looking forward to visiting the police station and pub, due to open soon.
My little ones have not yet grasped the concept of different historical periods. Everything in the past is ‘the olden days’ to them. And they must think I am positively ancient because every time they enter a house with a thatched roof they ask if that was like the house I grew up in!
St Fagans National History Museum is one of the most important places in Cardiff you can take your child and the nearest thing to experiencing what life was like in Wales gone by.
Entrance to the museum is free but parking will cost you around £3.50 and as the machines don’t take cards or give change, make sure you have the right money ready.
Visit the website here.
3. Scoot, cycle or skate across the Cardiff Bay Barrage
Gosh, the barrage caused so much controversy when it was constructed – it cost a fortune and it resulted in the loss of many wildlife species. I’m not getting into any of that here though! The public pathway that opened in 2008 is wonderful. Whether you’re walking, cycling, scooting or skating, it’s such a lovely way to journey from Mermaid Quay to Penarth Marina, or vice versa. Those with young children probably won’t get that far though. I don’t think we have ever made it past the park in the middle – large wooden ship-themed climbing frames in a giant sand pit. It’s great fun. We’ve spent many an hour playing pirates here. Older children will also love the skate park and the outdoor gym. Whatever your age, this is a great outdoor activity all year round. Just wrap up warm in the winter months as the wind doesn’t half blow there.
4. Read a book at one of our many libraries
My plan to turn my children into bookworms has worked! Bedtime stories have been a part of their routine since pretty much the day they were all born. Reading to them in their pyjamas is one of my favourite parts of the day. Well, except for the evenings when they are arguing! It’s not surprising then that they love libraries. They can’t contain their excitement whenever we visit (usually at least once a week) and are always so thrilled to take home a bag-full of new – and free! – stories to plough through. We generally go to Penylan and Cathays libraries – both have large children’s sections with plenty of choice of books and lots of space to sit and read. For a special treat, they ask to go to ‘the big big library’, known to most people as Cardiff Central Library. The children’s section, which takes up the whole of the first floor, is fantastic. So many books, unusual looking seated areas, toys, plus toilets and a baby-change facility, we always need at least an hour there. They’ve currently got a summer reading scheme on, rewarding children with stickers and other goodies. Those with pre-school children should also try out the Rhyme Time and Singing Time sessions available for free across Cardiff in both English and Welsh.
5. Hunt for dinosaurs at National Museum Cardiff
Now that Little E is no longer scared of them, we love going to visit the dinosaurs at the National Museum Cardiff. In fact, most children I know are fascinated by the huge skeletons and moving woolly mammoths in the Evolution of Wales gallery. Elsewhere, the animals in the Natural History gallery are a firm favourite, especially the butterflies. Little E and Little O haven’t quite grasped the concept of taxidermy yet though; they think the animals are pretend ones.
The Clore Discovery Centre is also great fun; it’s a hands-on area where you get to open up all the drawers and pick up such treasures as Bronze Age weapons, tropical insects, various gemstones and dinosaur bones, and even examine them up close with magnifying glasses. Weekends and school holidays often see family workshops – last month my children were thrilled to make pterodactyls from clothes pegs, pipe cleaners and card. Check the website for details of special events, as well as opening hours.
6. Have a woodland adventure
The papers are always full of stories about how children spend too much time on their computers or watching television and not enough in the great outdoors. We have no excuse for that in Cardiff, as there’s always a woodland adventure to be had. Grab your wellies, as even if it’s sunny there can be some delicious muddy puddles to jump in among the trees; a pack of wet wipes, as someone is bound to fall over; and a picnic. If you’re not sure what to do when you get there, how about taking some crayons and paper for bark rubbings, or a going on a bug hunt under big stones or fallen tree trunks? Cardiff Family love the Wenallt Woods at the top of Caerphilly mountain, but next on our list to check out are Coed-y-Bedw near Gwaelod y Garth and Pentyrch, as well as Fforest Fawr, behind Castell Coch, both of which have sculpture trails of ornate carvings crafted into the trees.
7. Pretend to be a knight, prince or princess at Cardiff Castle
When you see it day in, day out, it’s easy to forget what a magnificent castle we have in the heart of our city. It’s a fascinating place to visit though. My little ones love the decadent décor of the splendid rooms, as well as the stone animals carved into the castle walls, not to mention generally running around the grounds pretending to be knights at battle. If you live or work in Cardiff, you can get a Castle Key, which gives you free admission for three years. There’s a £5 admin charge for adults, so it’s not entirely free, but it is excellent value, and there’s no charge for cards for children under 16.
Over the summer holidays, they have a number of special events going on, usually costing a couple of pounds extra. Check the website for full details, as well as opening times and hours, and special events that may affect entrance.
8. Get cultured at Wales Millennium Centre’s Milipwts Den
This little gem in the foyer of Wales Millennium Centre is an excellent way to introduce your children to theatre, opera, dance and classical music and the various national arts companies that are based at the Centre. An interactive wall display lets them hear the different sections of the orchestra. They can pretend to be various characters from musical theatre and opera with cut-out costume boards and then listen to music from that production, as well as learn some dance moves. I wish I was small enough to crawl into the backstage area though, where you can discover all about what goes on behind the scenes at this landmark Cardiff venue. Check the website for details of free family-friendly workshops and events every Saturday and during school holidays, as well as performances on the foyer stage.
9. Have a picnic in Bute Park
I’m always amazed by just how big Bute Park is. I’ve been going there for years but there are areas I have only just discovered (such as the amazing Secret Garden Café, which is so secret I only found out about it earlier this summer!). Named after the 5th Marquess of Bute who gifted the castle and its grounds to the people of Cardiff, you can have a different experience every time you visit. Whether it’s lazy picnics in the sunshine, kicking around a football, pond dipping in the rivers, wildlife spotting everything from woodpeckers, herons, countless small bird species and over 3,00 different types of trees, or marvelling at the ornate wood carvings in fallen down trees, little ones will never get bored here.
10. Get soaked at Victoria Park splash pool
Be warned! This can be a stressful experience for parents, as it gets busy, busy, busy on a hot day. Just go with it though, as your children will have so much fun jumping about in the water. Don’t forget to say hello to Billy the seal while you’re there; the park is home to a sculpture of its most famous resident, who lived there from 1912 (after being caught in a fishing net off the coast of Ireland and being discovered when the boat arrived back at Cardiff docks), until 1939, when Billy died and it was discovered that he was in fact a she. Incidentally, Billy’s skeleton is on display at the National Museum Cardiff.
The park is open from 24th May until 7th September, 2014, 11am-7pm.
What about you? What free things to you like to do in Cardiff with your family? I’d love to know as I’m always looking for fun days.
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