No school for six weeks! How are you going to keep your little ones entertained?! Especially without it costing a fortune. Here are 63 free family-friendly days out in and around Cardiff for the summer of 2015. Some of them are one-off events but most of them are places you can visit any time during the holidays or indeed any other time of year. I’ve stuck to within an hour’s drive of Cardiff – stretching as far as Merthyr and the Mumbles. Are any of your favourites on the list, or are there any other places you’d recommend?
Regular readers will know how much I enjoy putting together these holiday guides and I’m excited that this one is in association with the lovely folks who run The Restaurant at House of Fraser Cardiff and House of Fraser Cwmbran, as well as the cafe at Wilkinsons in Swansea and Festival Park Shopping Centre, Ebbw Vale. They have a brilliant offer over the summer holidays where you can buy a child’s meal for £1 with every adult meal purchased. See in store for full details.
The restaurant at House of Fraser in Cardiff is especially great for little ones, as the Kids Corner, pictured above, is packed with toys to keep them entertained, from building bricks and easels to abacuses and even a slide. It’s a chance for parents, grandparents and carers to relax while still ensuring their children are having fun.
Clicking on the name of the event/place will take you to their website for more information. All events are subject to change, so I recommend checking ahead to avoid any disappointment.
I’d love it if you could share this post with any friends you think may also appreciate it. We’re so lucky in South Wales to have so many amazing free attractions, yet so many parents who read my page tell me they don’t know where to go to get this information. Please help spread the word and let’s all enjoy the fantastic places we have on our doorstep!
FREE FAMILY FRIENDLY SPECIAL EVENTS
The Isle of Fire – 18th&19th July, from 9pm each night.
Street Music Weekender – 25th&26th July, from 12 noon each day
Island Rocks Weekender – 1st&2nd August, from 12 noon each day
Street Theatre Weekender – 8th&9th August, from 12 noon each day
The Enchanted Beach Weekender – 15th&16th August, from 9pm each night
Sport, Arts and Play Weekender – 22nd & 23rd August, 11am-4pm
Cinema By The Sea Weekender – 29th & 30th August, from 8.30pm
Sunday 19th July, 10am-4pm
This annual show from the Glamorgan Classic Car Club will see a range of cars from the 1930s to 1980s on display in this free family event. You will have to pay for parking at St Fagans.
The Big Cheese, Caerphilly Castle
Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th July, 11am-7pm
An extravaganza of street entertainers, living history encampments, music, dance, traditional funfair, folk dancing, falconry, fire eating, minstrels, troubadours and much more, this free event portrays the history, heritage and culture of Caerphilly, attracting over 80,000 visitors annually.
Saturday 25th & Sunday 26th July; Saturday 1st August & Sunday 2nd August
The annual festival of circus, cabaret and street theatre takes place over two weekends, with plenty of free performances of quirky cabaret colourful powder promenades and steampunk circus, with many of the free events suitable for all the family (there is also a programme of paid events too). See the website for full listings.
Saturday 25th July to Saturday 5th September
Once again, the Roald Dahl Plas will be transformed into an urban beach, complete with sand, paddling pool, live music, traditional seaside rides and other family activities. Entry to the beach is free, but some facilities have additional charges.
Saturday 8th August, 10.30am-5.30pm
Now in its 26th year, Cardiff Carnival is a parade that celebrates the city, in a creative explosion of sequins, glitter and feathers. From 10.30am-3.30pm, the city centre will come alive with free family fun including glamorous carnival costumes, dance performances, live music and quirky street theatre. The parade takes place between 3pm and 5.30pm. There are also three free weeks of carnival workshops, at Fitzalan High School, where you can learn to dance for the parade and develop your creative skills.
Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th August
Visitors will have the chance to see a number of classic cars up-close and to chat to their owners, in this display of vintage motors overlooking Cardiff Bay Beach.
Breakin’ The Bay 2015: Hip Hop Festival, Wales Millennium Centre
Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th August
Free performances and competitions of hip hop, breakdancing and MCing at WMC. Full programme of events yet to be announced.
Sunday 30th August, 12-5pm
A swashbuckling day including free face painting plus the chance to meet famous pirates including tribute acts of Captain Jack Sparrow and Jake and Izzy from the Netherland Pirates. See the website for details of how to win a family ticket to go inside a 50ft-replica of a whale, for a unique Pirate’s Misadventure Show.
Cardiff Harbour Festival, Cardiff Bay
Sunday 30th-Monday 31st August,
The P1 Welsh Grand Prix of the Sea showcases some of the best race boats and nautical engineering in the industry, as the Bay becomes a racecourse in this unpredictable water contest. On land, nautical-themed street entertainers, family entertainment and a continental market will entertain visitors. The event is free but some activities may incur charges.
PARKS, WOODS AND THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Retaining much of its Edwardian charm, this beautiful park, which overlooks the Bristol Channel, features a period-style bandstand and Cenotaph amid its grassy parkland. This was Penarth’s first public park, and its flowers and trees are immaculately kept.
Open daily, 10am-6pm
Amelia Trust is a working farm where the objective is to support and educate vulnerable and disadvantaged young people, who care for the animals. Set within 16o acres of countryside, including plenty of woodland, you can see a range of farm animals such as cows, sheep and horses.
Encompassing such a huge area, I could probably write a whole list of family-friendly activities to do in the Brecon Beacons national park alone. From mountains to climb, lakes and reservoirs to walk around, and woods to explore, this is good old-fashioned outdoor exploring at one of Wales’s most famous landmarks. Admittedly, younger children probably won’t want to climb the famous peak of Pen y Fan, but you could start with the Sugar Loaf.
A green oasis in the heart of the city centre, Bute Park is 56 hectares of grassland, wooded areas and the River Taff running alongside it. There are paths for scooting and cycling along, plenty of wildlife to spot, trees to climb, wooden carvings to admire, as well as two cafes. We love the area around the Secret Garden Café.
Bryngarw House and Country Park, Bridgend
Entry is free, but parking charges apply
This beautiful house is set within 113 acres of parkland, making it perfect for a family day out. There’s a series of designated nature walks, cycle trails and a children’s play area, plus general exploring in the woods and grassland. There’s a programme of events over the holidays, all at an additional cost, including pond dipping hunting, bushcraft skills and building bug hotels.
Cardiff Bay Barrage
Stretching from Cardiff Bay to Penarth, and at just over 1k in length, this is a great place to take the kids on their bikes and scooters. There are also a number of educational trails and information points which provide an insight into the history of the Bay, such as an account of Captain Scott’s journey to the Antarctic. Mid way across the barrage is a children’s pirate-themed play area, skate park and toilet facilities. There is also an ice cream stall to make sure you have the energy to make it back to the start!
The lake here used to be a limestone quarry, now it’s the centre point for a 247 acre local nature reserve of woodlands and fields. There’s a great playground area, boardwalks through the reeds and marshland, and a reconstructed medieval village. Entry to the park and village is free. For an additional cost of £3 per child, 7-11 year olds can take part in a medieval mystery, Mondays, 10am-11am, or Go Wild activities including den building and fires. Click here for dates and details of how to book.
Open daily 9am-5pm (6pm, Friday and Sunday); open hours change in September
Explore the forest, including a range of activities such as a children’s explorer trail, fishing mountain biking and plenty of walking routes. A great place to explore by bike. There are a number of summer holiday events, available at an extra cost and which need to be pre-booked, such as dragon fly spotting and a seed hedgehog workshop. Unfortunately, the Forest Drive, with its breathtaking views, is currently closed for the removal of infected larch trees – but this has not affected the forest, valley floor, lake, visitor centre, café and campsite. Please see the website for further details of the Drive’s reopening.
Open daily, 9am-5pm
500 acres of countryside, including a network of countryside walks and trails, birds and other wildlife to spot, and an interactive visitor centre. There’s a café and also a camping and caravan site at an additional cost.
The area around the former Glamorganshire Canal is a haven for wildlife, with woodland, scrub, meadows, ponds and marshland. Species worth looking out for include mallards, moorhens, coots, kingfishers and dragonflies. You can also the recently restored Melingriffith Waterpump.
The woodlands around Castell Coch are a beautiful area to explore. The sculpture trail takes children on a magical journey through the forest, as well as there being other trails for walking and cycling. You can tie it in with a visit to Castell Coch, although admission charges apply. Here’s how we got on when we visited recently.
Garwnant Visitor Centre, near Merthyr
Open daily, 9.30am-4pm. Entry is free but parking charges apply.
The southern gateway to the Brecon Beacons National Park, Garwnant Visitor Centre is situated in the heart of the forest and is the starting point for walking trails, mountain biking routes for junior riders and a fully accessible trail for wheelchair users and buggies. You’ll also find a play area, a low ropes course and an animal puzzle trail, plus areas to picnic in and a café.
Nestled behind University of Hospital Wales, there’s good size playgrounds for older and younger children, woods to explore, a wildlife pond, a pitch and putt golf course (at an additional costs), a sensory garden area, and huge grassy fields. The only downside is that there are no toilet facilities, other than in the golf kiosk, which seems to open sporadically. The tennis courts are currently being re-built, and it’s also worth visiting when the miniature railway is open, as it’s such a fab day out (at an additional cost).
Hendrewennol is a pick-your-own farm, famous for its strawberries. Even if you’re not picking fruit, the play area is definitely worth a visit. Children of all ages will enjoy the huge sand pit, exploring the willow downs and playing on the hay bales. There’s a coffee shop for parents/carers too. The famous maize maze is due to open at the end of July, but this will cost £2.50 per person.
Acres of grassy fields, a large playground with separate areas for younger and older children, and woods to explore, Llandaff Fields is perfect for meeting up in big groups. The long pathways around the edge of the park are great for cycling or scooting along, and there’s plenty of parking nearby (although it can get busy). It could really do with some toilets though!
Skaters and skateboarders will love the range of equipment at this free skate park, which sits just outside Llanishen Leisure Centre. Equipment includes two quarter pipes, a jump box, wall ride and a mini ramp, plus some for beginners.
Open daily, entry is free but there are charges for parking
With 1,000 acres of park and woodland, there’s plenty to do here including visiting Margam Castle, the Orangery and gardens, a deer park, a children’s fairytale village, adventure playgrounds and a rare breeds farm trail. There are loads of free events at the park during the school holidays – too many for me to include, but highlights include circus skills on Monday 20th July, Storytelling with the Maid of Margam on Monday 27th and pond-dipping on Wednesday 29th. See here for full listings, and details of special events where there will be a charge to enter the park.
Open daily; car parking charges apply
The stunning sand dunes that make up this nature reserve are home to a wealth of plants and insect life, as well as some nationally rare and unusual fungi species. Exploring is great fun – however, don’t forget your sledge to go whizzing down the dunes for the ultimate family day trip.
Open daily, 9am-5pm
This nature reserve is a haven for wildlife, with numerous bird species to be spotted all year round. Run in partnership by Natural Resources Wales, Newport City Council and the RSPB, the centre welcomes children and families. Guided walks and children’s activities are available, plus there’s an outdoor children’s activity play area.
For an additional cost, you can try your hand at pond dipping on Wednesdays and mini-beast hunts on Fridays throughout the summer.
Cefn Onn is a Grade II listed park in Lisvane, North Cardiff. It’s great place to explore, with woodland, streams, ponds and flowers and wildlife to spot. It’s not great for buggies though – you’re better off with a baby carrier or sling.
Porthkerry consists of 220 acres of beautiful woodland and meadows, which lead to a pebble beach and cliffs. There’s a 12-hole pitch and putt golf course, barbecues to hire, a wooden adventure playground, plus a shop, café and toilets. Entry is free but you will have to pay for parking on Sundays and bank holiday Mondays. Children aged 7-11 can take part in Go Wild sessions every Tuesday for a cost of £3 per child. More details on booking here. You can a review of our day out at Porthkerry here.
One of Cardiff’s most famous landmarks, there’s plenty to do here. You can walk around the lake, feed the ducks and swans, slide down that amazing slide and play on the playground, explore the nature gardens and, for an additional cost, row one of the boats. There’s toilet facilities, a cafe and an ice cream kiosk. It does get busy on sunny days though! You can read my full review of Roath Park here.
With a children’s play area, tennis courts, bowling green seasonal floral displays, paths that are great for scooters and roller skates, plus lots of open parkland, this beautiful and well-kept park is a CADW grade II listed park. As a child, I especially loved the stone bridge and stream area, which we call Fairy Land. If you walk under the viaduct, you can easily combine a trip here with a visit to the Knap lake, pebble beach and assorted cafes.
The Taff Trail is a 56km-pathway from Brecon to Cardiff and great for exploring on bike or foot, especially as the majority of it is traffic-free. There are lots of places of interest along the route such as Pontypool Park, Forrest Farm near Whitchurch and Bute Park (all of which I’ve included separately in this guide), although wherever you go is great for wildlife spotting and general exploring. If you’re feeling enegertic, take your bikes on the train to Merthyr and spend the day peddling back to Cardiff.
The Wenallt is 44 hectares of ancient woodland with all manner of flowers and trees to spot. The woods are also home to some unusual bird species, such as buzzards and great spotted woodpeckers, as well as badgers and rabbits. On a clear day you can see right across the whole of Cardiff. The views are breathtaking.
This grade 2 listed park is one of the most popular parks in Cardiff. It has a great children’s play area, a children’s splash pool, open from the end of May until the start of September, plus a statue of one of the park’s most famous former residents, Billy the seal, not to mention all the flowers and trees. There are toilet and baby changing facilities too.
Tredegar House – gardens and parks
Free, but parking charges apply
While you have to pay or be a National Trust member to visit Tredegar House and its immediate gardens, the parkland around it is free and definitely worth a day trip. There are acres of fields, woodland to explore, a large pond and a children’s playground. Here’s how we got on when we visited recently.
Ynys Angharad War Memorial Park, Pontypridd
One of the most famous parks in South Wales, Ponty Park, as it is known locally, is undergoing a massive regeneration to make way for the new flagship leisure facility, including a Lido and children’s play attraction, so check ahead before visiting to avoid disappointment. There’s still plenty to see though, including a pitch and putt golf course, sports pitches, a bandstand and refreshment kiosks. The park is also home to a memorial to Evan and James James, who wrote Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, the Welsh national anthem.
BESIDE THE SEASIDE
Barry Island is as cheap a day out as you want to make it. Stick to the golden sands of Whitmore Bay and a walk along the seafront, and bring a picnic and you’ll only need to pay for parking or bus/train. Otherwise, there are loads of seaside shops and cafes, arcades and, of course, the funfair at this traditional seaside resort.
Dunraven Bay, although the locals call it Southerndown beach, has to be one of the most idyllic spots in South Wales. The half-pebble, half-sand beach, is nicely secluded, and at low tide there are rock pools for the children to explore and fossils to hunt for. If the beach is too busy or hot, you could always explore Dunraven Castle ruins or walk along the coastal path and enjoy the scenery across the Bristol Channel. Check the tide times before you go! Children aged 7-11 can take part in Go Wild sessions on Wednesday 22nd and 29th July, from 10am-11.30am for a cost of £3. Click here for booking details.
Walk around the harp-shaped lake and feed the swans and ducks, skateboard in the Richard Taylor Memorial Skateboard Park, explore the Cold Knap pebble beach, walk up onto the headlands if you’re feeling active, or round the corner to the Old Harbour bay. It’s also worth checking out the Roman remains (see the Historical section for details).
Skate, scoot, cycle or walk along the sea front path from the village of Mumbles to the famous pier and lighthouse. There’s a decent children’s park along the way plus areas of coastline to explore. If you have a few pounds to spare, stop by Joe’s Ice Cream Parlour or Verdi’s for a summer treat. You can read about our trip to Mumbles here.
This is a popular beach of mixed sand and pebbles, two miles long, at the mouth of the river Ogmore. There’s lots to discover – such as finding fossils along the beach and the craggy rocks, spotting wildlife on the river, or venturing to the haunted Norman Castle and the expansive sand dunes. The beach has a surf club, toilets and an ice cream van is usually present.
This 658-foot-long pier is great fun to walk along, and is one of only two surviving pleasure piers in South Wales, the other one being Mumbles. Built in 1894, the fully-restored art deco pier pavilion also houses a gallery, cinema, café and restaurant. You can also explore the beach, a combination of pebbles and sand.
This gorgeous, sheltered sandy beach is popular with tourists heading to Porthcawl for a traditional day at the British seaside. Just as with Barry Island, you can make a day here as expensive or as cheap as you want, by heading to the Coney Beach amusement park which is situated on the promenade. Entry to the park itself is free but you’ll need to pay for the rides and amusement arcades and so on.
HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL
Open daily, 9.30am-5pm, underground tours 10am-3.30pm
This former coal mine-turned museum gives visitors the chance to descent in the pit cage and visit the places where generations of coal miners worked. There are a number of free special events over the summer, including Miners’ Fortnight from Monday 20th to Friday 31st, celebrating the family holidays to Porthcawl and Barry that were the highlight of the summer for coalfield communities; Bug Hunt on the Big Tip on 25th July at 11.30am-1pm and 2pm-3.30pm; and Living History Weekend on 1st-2nd August, 12-4pm.
If you live or work in Cardiff, then you can apply for a Castle Key, which gives you free entry* to the famous city centre landmark. Explore Cardiff Castle’s ornate castle house, the 12-sided castle keep, and the war shelters hidden in the castle walls. Free events this summer include Meet The Knights on Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th July, and the Lords and Ladies Challenge between Saturday 25th July and Sunday 31st August, where you can complete a number of tasks to see if you can behave like a Lord or Lady. You can also buy tickets for the Grand Medieval Melee on Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th August at an additional cost.
*for three years; adults have to pay a £5 administration charge
Everyone who lives in Cardiff should visit here at least once! It tells the history of our city through the eyes of its people, with lots of interactive displays that make it perfect for children. There’s also period-style dressing up costumes and a play area with a wooden train and kitchen. Look out for the Dinky Dragons pre-school days, the second Friday of each month, including Friday 8th August. You can see my full review of The Cardiff Story here.
Cyfartha Castle, Brecon Road, Merthyr
Open Mondays to Fridays, 10am-5.30pm; Saturdays and Sundays, 12pm-5.30pm (April to September)
Set in beautiful parkland, on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, the castle is not just a castle but also a museum and art gallery. Built by William Crawshay in the 1820s to serve as a reminder of the Ironmaster’s dominance over the town, it is considered one of the most impressive monuments of the Industrial Iron Age in South Wales.
This is one of the best sites in Britain to see dinosaur footprints from the Triassic Period. You’re best off visiting when the tide is on its way out, as some of the tracks get covered at high tide. I’m sure it goes without saying, but please don’t damage the footprints! They have been stolen in the past!
Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am-5pm. Closed Mondays.
Discover the history of Wales, learn about animals in the natural history section, and visit the art and ceramic galleries. Most children I know seem to enjoy the dinosaurs the most though – 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 free events during the summer holidays. Highlights include workshops 25tth July and 15th August at 11am, 1pm and 3pm, to celebrate the International Year of Light. You can read our full review of the museum here.
Wales was the furthest outpost in the Roman Empire, with the fortress at Caerleon guarding the region for over 200 years. Learn about Roman life in Wales in the museum, explore the remains of the fortress – known as Isca to the Romans and covering 50 acres of land – and the Roman baths.
Open daily, 10am-5pm
Telling the story of industry and innovation in Wales over the last 300 years, exhibits at the National Waterfront Museum include replica boats and an exploration of the exporting and importing and goods; plus a collection of cars and other vehicles from over the years. There are various free family-friendly events taking place over the summer, and you can read more about our visit to the museum here. It’s situated next to Swansea Museum (see below).
Charting the rich cultural past of Newport, the museum’s displays include: prehistoric and Roman Newport; medieval life; the Newport Ship; Chartism and its legacy; Newport’s industrial heritage; wildlife displays of common animals; and a 3rd floor gallery art gallery.
The museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays and building work might cause some temporary disruptions.
Rhondda Heritage Park, Trehafod
Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10.30am-4.30pm
Exploring the mining history of Rhondda, the visitor centre and art gallery here are free. The visitor centre features a reconstruction of a period village street, showing domestic and commercial life in the valleys.However, if you want to go underground on a guided tour run by former miners, there is a reasonable charge, currently £3.50 for adults and £2.50 for children, or £10/£14 for a family of four/six. It’s advisable to pre-book.
Cold Knap was once a Roman port and you can still visit the remains of what is thought to be a major public building from the late 3rd or early 4th century. You can see the layout of 22 rooms arranged around a central courtyard, plus cellars and a watchtower. Worth combing with a trip to The Knap and Romilly Park.
Handily situated next to the National Waterfront Museum (see above), here you’ll find ancient Egyptian artefacts, including a mummy named Hor; an exhibition charting Swansea’s relationship with the sea; plus artefacts from the Second World War. There’s a also a series of summer arts and crafts drop-in workshops on Thursday 23rd July, and 6th, 13th and 27th August, 10am-1pm and 2pm-4pm, inspired by the theme of “in the garden”.
Open daily, 10am-5pm
The open air museum brings to life the history of the Welsh people with over 100 buildings reconstructed on the site, including a Victorian school, a row of Valleys mining cottages, a chapel and farm houses. You can read my full review of St Fagans here. Entry is free although there is a charge for car parking. There are loads of free events taking place throughout the summer – too many to list here!
Open daily, Monday to Friday, 10am-4pm; Saturday and Sunday, 11am-4pm
The hands-on exhibits at this museum tell the history of Caerphilly, while it’s worth visiting on the last Saturday of each month to see the original Victorian winding engine in action.
Plus over the summer, there’s a chance to see Valleys Re-Envisioned (Monday 20th July to Monday 24th August), a pictorial expression of the people and places within the Rhymney Valley.
CREATIVE AND ENTERTAINMENT
The famous toy store hosts a full summer programme of events for children, featuring their favourite toys and characters. Be warned that such free events do get busy and you should expect to queue, with queues being closed to ensure the event finishes on time.
Monday 27th July to Sunday 2nd August, 12pm-4pm – K’Nex K-Force
Monday 3rd to Thursday 6th August, 10am-5pm – Playmobil Roadshow
Monday 10th to Friday 14th August, 12pm-4pm – NERF Vault
Mondays to Fridays, 21st July to 14th August, 2pm – Hamleys Hopper Races
Monday 17th to Friday 21st August, 12pm-4pm, Have A Luvely Day; Luvley Workshops, 1pm – The Luvley Boutique at Hamleys; Luvley Workshops
Monday 24th-Friday 28th August, 1pm – Get Creative Workshops
Make, Play, Create, Glanfa, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay
A chance to get creative and contribute to a giant art installation in the foyer of Wales Millennium Centre, with a different theme each week. We took part in a similar event at the Centre last year. See how we got on at Home Sweet Home here.
July 20-25, 11am-4pm, Magical Garden
July 26-Aug 1, 11am-4pm, Crafty Picnic
Aug 3-8, 11am-4pm, Graffiti Mosaic
Aug 10-15, 11am-4pm, Jungle Time
Aug 17-22, 11am-4pm, Space World
Aug 25-29, 11am-4pm, Underwater Wonderland
Thursday afternoons, subject to weather conditions
Thursday 23 July – Cinderella
Thursday 30 July – Scooby Doo
Thursday 13 August – Little Mermaid
Thursday 20 August – CATS
See here for a list of libraries in Cardiff.
Children across the country will be taking place in the annual summer reading challenge, encouraging them to read six books of their choice, collecting stickers and other rewards along the way. This year, the theme is Record Breakers.
Also, a number of local branch libraries in Cardiff are running free literary and creative events across the summer.
I hope you find this list useful! We’re certainly lucky in Cardiff and the surrounding areas to have so many amazing free activities to do. Please do share with anyone else you think would appreciate this list. And don’t forget to like the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page or follow me on Twitter @cardiffmummy
You might also like this article – Kids’ summer to do list: 50 simple things to enjoy with your children this summer
And if you have a baby, toddler or pre-schooler, check out this article on classes that are still running in the school holidays.