With the big kids now back in school, it’s time for the under fives to reclaim the play centres of Cardiff. Here are 10 indoor places my children love to visit. Are there any you think I should add to the list? I’d love to hear your recommendations
Unit 3, Freemans Parc, Penarth Road, Cardiff, CF11 8EQ (CF11 8TT for sat nav) (02920 372420)
The new kid on the soft play block, this place is great. Everything is so clean and new. It’s big enough that your children can have a good run around, but small enough that you can keep an eye on them without too much trouble. The four-lane slides are super fun, although smaller children may need your help to go down (yay! Surely I’m not the only parent who loves going on the soft play too?) There’s a good-sized separate section for the smallest children – mine love driving around on the wiggle car track and the ball pit area. There are quad bikes for over fours, although these cost extra. There’s a good choice of food, such as baguettes, jacket potatoes, salads and pasta, all freshly cooked and quite reasonably priced. They do some great term-time deals but, being so new, it gets busy at weekends and in school holidays, so it’s worth checking their Facebook page or calling ahead on rainy days as they’re regularly been so full, there’s a queue to get in.
2. Café Junior
Fanny St, Cathays, Cardiff, CF24 4EH (029 2034 5653)
I love how this place encourages creative and imaginative play through its wooden houses, shop, school and café, not to mention a wooden train track, rockers and ride-ons. The play area is surrounded by leather sofas, which makes it easy to watch your little ones. We’re regulars here, as I have previously blogged about. On the downside, parking can sometimes be problematic, the food is a little on the expensive side, and people continually flushing nappies and wipes down the toilets mean there seem to be continual problems with the bathrooms. That said, it’s one of the easiest places to navigate more than one child or to sit on the sofa with a baby, while an older child plays. They also offer a great range of baby and pre-school classes, run independently, but which allow you to stay and play after your class has finished. Also check out the newly-opened Gym and Junior, where you can exercise while your children play in a specially-equipped area.
PLEASE NOTE: SINCE I WROTE THIS POST, MARMALADE HAS CLOSED. IT IS HOPEFULLY REOPENING AS CAFE JUNIOR EAST IN THE NEAR FUTURE…
307-315 Cowbridge Road East, Canton, Cardiff, CF5 1JD (029 2115 3288)
Formerly Bambeans, this isn’t quite as well-kept or clean as it used to be, but we always have a good time here. There’s a mini soft play area and ball pit, a sizeable reading area with a good selection of books, a lovely wooden play house, and various ride-ons. The sensory room here is one of our favourite parts (although on our last visit we were disappointed it was out of order). It’s quite a long venue, and depending on where you sit, it’s not always easy to keep an eye on your little ones but it’s a great place to meet friends with decent enough food and a good selection of privately-run classes.
4. Wacky Warehouse
Heron Marsh pub, Vaendre Fach, St Mellons, Cardiff CF3 2UZ (029 2077 0700)
Attached to the Heron Marsh pub, Wacky Warehouse is part of a national chain of softplays. They do some fantastic term-time deals here, for example you can play all day for a couple of pounds as part of their Tots Club. Smaller children may need some help inside – the bottom floor is completely covered in balls, which is great fun, but can make getting about challenging for smaller children – but with seating all around, it’s easy to keep a good eye on them. Every time we have been during school hours, there’s an arts and crafts table, which has proved very popular with my little ones and their friends. There’s also a big car park and you can order a selection of pub grub and snacks and drinks, too.
5. Ants Inya Pants
Rhymney River Bridge Rd, Cardiff CF23 9AF (029 2047 2236)
I absolutely love whizzing down the slides here; they are such great fun. Oh, and my children enjoy it too! Whenever we visit, they will happily go off to play by themselves and don’t need much help once inside the play structure. It’s small enough that it is easy to keep an eye on more than one child, but big enough that they don’t get bored. We can easily pass three or so hours here. My son especially loves the ride-on cars, while my baby loves hanging out in the special area for the smallest visitors. They serve a selection of food and snacks, and also have a loyalty card scheme and membership available. On the downside, the car park is quite narrow and can be tricky to manoeuvre in and out of, and some of the equipment and décor is showing signs of being well-used.
Parc Ty Glas, Llanishen, Cardiff, CF14 5DU (029 20747 300)
The king of the soft plays, I’d like to come to Jump without my offspring so I can release my inner child and enjoy the slides, tunnels and climbing frames all by myself. At 27,000 sq ft, this place is big – in fact, it is the largest dedicated indoor soft play centre in the UK. It’s also the most expensive soft play I know of, even during school hours, which means we only go there for an extra special treat or if we get a discount voucher. They often appear on the back of Morrisons receipts, for example. There are so many different play areas here, it is easy for younger children to get lost, but the toddler area is a good size and at 11.30am each weekday morning, they have activities for toddlers at no extra cost, such as messy play and craft sessions.
Pengam Road, Cardiff, CF24 2RZ (029 2048 4880)
Situated inside Boulders climbing centre, this is one of the smaller soft plays, but my children love it. Specifically for under sevens, it is reasonably priced, never too busy during term time, there’s a good selection of food for children and adults, plenty of parking and, if you do one of the many private classes that take place here, you can stay and play for free afterwards. As you would expect in a climbing centre, this soft play is geared around helping little ones to develop climbing skills, and for a while my two-year-old struggled to get between the different levels without my help, yet had grown out of the smaller play area for the youngest children. It’s easy enough to watch your children from the seating area – although as it’s such a big building it does get cold, so don’t be shy about asking staff to turn on the heating for you.
8. Penylan Community Centre
Penylan Road, Penylan, Cardiff, South Glamorgan, CF23 5HW
(029 20788 400)
Most of the council leisure centres have soft play for under fives on weekdays and the weekends. We like Penylan a lot – for many reasons. Firstly, it has a decent car park. It’s also cheap. It costs me £2.85 for my two eldest to play for two hours; it’s big enough that they don’t get bored, but small enough that I can keep an eye on both of them while feeding baby on the side. The library is in the room next door, so we can combine playing with choosing some new books. It’s also next to the Rec park and playing fields, and close to Wellfield Road, with its coffee shops, banks, supermarket and so on. It doesn’t have the climbing structures of other soft plays, but the bouncy castle it great, and my children love stacking up the big foam blocks. Other council-run softplays we enjoy are Pontprennau Community Centre and Canton Community Centre.
9. Parc Play
4 Curran Embankment, Cardiff CF10 5DX (029 2034 5696)
Oh, this place is wonderful! A giant wooden castle with fireman poles, wobbly wooden bridges and turrets; a zip wire; a big sandpit with diggers, buckets and spades; giant slides; and a dedicated area for the littlies. This is old-fashioned outdoorsy-style play, partly under cover and partly outside. On the downside, it can get cold for parents waiting on the side-lines, so you either need to wrap up warm or get in on the action yourself. It can be challenging navigating more than one mobile child if they’re not quite ready to tackle the bigger activities by themselves. It also closes during the week in the colder winter months and gets busy on weekends as it is a popular place for birthday parties. It has a good-sized car park, they don’t charge for adults and – unusually for this type of place – you can take your own picnics, making it an affordable day out.
10. Fuzzy Eds Play House
Pentre Gwilym House, Thornhill Road, Thornhill, Cardiff, CF14 9UA (029 2061 3873)
I only discovered this place a few months ago when we were invited there for a birthday party by a friend who regularly visits with her little ones. The giant slide is particularly popular with my children, although my usually fearless son does sometimes need some help. It’s a decent size – not too big you lose them but not too small they get bored either. It’s inside the Pentre Gwilym pub, so there’s plenty of parking and food available. At the time of writing, they currently offer free play on a Tuesday – bargain!
I have deliberately not included prices and opening times here, as they are subject to change. However, most places are cheaper during term-time school hours and a lot also offer after school play and eat deals. It’s also worth keeping a look out on Groupon, Living Social, Amazon Local etc. We’ve previously got good deals for Marmalade, Parc, Café Junior and Pebbles.
Where do your little ones like to play? I’d love to hear your suggestions of the softplays your children enjoy the most.
*Disclaimer – I have not been paid to write about any of these venues, nor have I been given free entrance. These are honest opinions following our visits to the places.