Home Things to do UK Cardiff Best Free Things to Do with Kids in Cardiff
CardiffThings to do

Best Free Things to Do with Kids in Cardiff

This post contains affiliate links. Read the full disclosure here.

It’s the beautiful capital of Wales with an array of wonderful places to visit for a day out.

We’ve pulled together our favourite free activities for families in Cardiff.

Table of Contents

St Fagan’s National Museum of History

St Fagan’s National Museum of History

What it is: One of the most popular visitor attractions in Cardiff if not the whole of Wales, although this is described as a museum it’s a whole lot more. It’s often described as a “people’s museum” – this is all about how ordinary people have lived over the years and the history they’ve seen. It’s a manor house from the late 16th century, and in 1948 was donated to the country by the Earl of Plymouth. The parkland covers over 100 acres. There are parking charges and you need to be aware that some of the paths, grassed areas, and slopes can be slippery in wet weather. 

Why we liked it: The grounds are gorgeous, and the museum is right in the middle of the grounds of St Fagan’s Castle and the surrounding gardens. There are 40 buildings in total, so you can easily spend more than a day here. They’re all from different time periods and include a school, a farm, houses, a chapel and a Workmen’s Institute. Our favourite pastime was being able to see farming tasks and traditional crafts being demonstrated, and the Welsh language being used in live settings. There’s plenty of space, and it’s a great location for picnics too. 

More information about St Fagan’s National Museum of History 

Address: St Fagans, Cardiff, CF5 6XB

Opening Hours: 10am to 5pm daily (including Bank Holiday Mondays)

Cardiff Bay including the Barrage

Cardiff Bay

What it is: Until you’ve been there, you might not realise that Cardiff Bay is built around a freshwater lake of that name. The lake covers around 200 hectares, and you’ll find plenty of attractions and things to do all around the water. It’s packed with history, and there are plenty of buildings you can explore from the outside or the interior. That includes the Wales Millennium Centre, and you can also visit the Skate Plaza and the Adi Zone outdoor gymnasium. 

Why we liked it: There’s so much to see in this part of Cardiff, not just the buildings but also the special events that take place regularly. One of our favourite areas was the Cardiff Bay Barrage, which gives you great views over the Severn Estuary and Cardiff Bay. It’s flat with no steps, and accessible for everyone. There’s a children’s play area, and we all loved the Enormous Crocodile. (Some people reckon he’s got the widest smile anywhere in the Bay.) 

More information about Cardiff Bay

Address: Queen Alexandra House, Cargo Rd, Cardiff Bay CF10 4LY (Barrage)

Opening Hours: 24/7 all year round for external attractions

National Museum of Wales

National Museum of Wales

What it is: If you’re looking to explore the story of Wales, this has to be one of the best places to start. The ground floor has the National Science and Evolution of Wales galleries, while the art galleries on the first floor offer the chance to see some of the undisputed masters of art, including Rembrandt, Richard Wilson and Botticelli. 

Why we liked it: Walking the fine art gallery was like being transported to another world – Renoir, van Gogh, Monet and so many more. It might seem a little bit random to have dinosaurs in the same museum, but for us, it just added to the fun. It’s really close to the city centre too, so easy to access, and we loved the later night opening hours the first Thursday of every month through to June 2023 at least. 

More information about the National Museum of Wales 

Address: Cathays Park, Cardiff, CF10 3NP

Opening Hours: 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays (galleries close at 4.45pm; opens later first Thursday each month)

Roath Park

The Scott Memorial Lighthouse in Roath Park

What it is: This Grade I listed public park was one of Cardiff’s first public parks, opened in 1894. It runs along the Nant Fawr stream and still has a classic late Victorian atmosphere. There’s a man-made lake that covers 30 acres, and the Scott Memorial Lighthouse on the lake is an iconic image of the city. This has to be one of the prettiest places in Cardiff to do just that. It wasn’t just ducks, either – we saw swans and other wildfowl. And the play park was a very decent size, though we did find it gets pretty popular at weekends.

Why we liked it: We especially enjoyed the Wild garden and the wildlife explorer trail (following the leaflet we downloaded). And the children’s playground and what’s known as the trim trail in the recreation ground met with approval all around. There’s a boating lake and a rose garden and an exotic greenhouse (small charge required to enter the greenhouse), and a play park. It’s a couple of miles out from the centre of Cardiff, but it’s well worth it.

More information about Roath Park

Address: Lake Road West, Cardiff CF23 5PA

Opening Hours: 7.30am to 30 minutes before sunset daily (park and pleasure gardens); 24/7 all year round (recreation ground).

Insole Court

Insole Court

What it is: This charity-run Grade II* listed Victorian/Edwardian mansion house has a long history dating back over 150 years, and a lively programme of events. The Insole family made their money from coal mining and shipping, and originally the mansion was a modest family home until the grounds around it were extended into an attractive ornamental parkland. 

Why we liked it: The gardens and parts of the mansion are usually free, although there’s sometimes a charge for special exhibitions. The grounds are especially attractive, and we very much enjoyed the picnic benches and the old stables area. We combined it with a visit to the nearby cathedral to make a very pleasant full day out. 

More information about Insole Court 

Address: Insole Court, Fairwater Road, Llandaff, Cardiff CF5 2LN

Opening Hours: 10am to 4pm daily; there may be occasional closures, check ahead of your visit. 

Bute Park

Bute Park

What it is: One of the things that’s likely to strike you on your first visit to Cardiff, in particular, is how green the city is, and if the Welsh capital has a beating green heart, this CADW Grade 1 listed park is it. It’s behind the castle and just a short stroll from the high street. There are plenty of features to explore, from the People’s Door to the Stuttgart Garden and the Cardiff Salad Garden. There are various trails including the Story Trail, Wildlife Trail and the Nature Activity Trail. 

Why we liked it: There’s plenty of natural space to play, and knowing that the park is a Green Flag site gives a good idea of what to expect. We really enjoyed hunting out the sculptures in the park and the Gorsedd Stone Circle – no need to visit Stonehenge when this is in the back garden, effectively. If you like woodland, take a trip to Blackweir Woods, and if there are any budding nature lovers in the clan they’ll love the bee hives, bat meadow, and herbaceous border. 

More information about Bute Park 

Address: North Rd, Cardiff CF10 3ER

Opening Hours: 7.30am to 30 minutes before sunset daily. 

Fforest Fawr, Tongwynlais

Fforest Fawr

What it is: The forest is crisscrossed with walking and cycling trails, and like so many natural features in Wales, has a real sense of ancient magic about it. There are caves, groves, fabulous views and ever-changing displays of flowers and trees, from bluebells, anemones and wild garlic carpets in spring to the blazing leaves of autumn. 

Why we liked it: You’ll probably need to drive to this location or take a bus, but it’s worth it for this gorgeous woodland area next door to Castell Coch. (Coch means red in Welsh – look for the towers, you can’t miss it.) The Gruffalo-themed sculptures and others in the park are designed to bring the forest to life, and you never know when you’re going to come across them, nestling in the landscape. It’s often used as a setting for film and TV work, including Dr Who. Look out for the dragons! (Oh, and keep an ear out for the peacocks.) 

More information about Fforest Fawr 

Address: Caerphilly, CF83 1NG

Opening Hours: 24/7 all year round

Tinkinswood Burial Chamber

Tinkinswood Burial Chamber

What it is: One of the many fabulous things about Wales is that its history is right there, wherever you look, dating back to Neolithic times,. This ancient chamber has one of the largest capstones you’ll find anywhere in Britain. It weighs about 40 tons, and you have to wonder how they got it up there. The official name for the structure is a dolmen, and experts reckon it’s about 6,000 years old. In its day, Tinkinswood was a village, possibly up to the Bronze Age period. In good dolmen tradition, there’s a group of boulders just southeast of the structure – apparently, these were women turned to stone for dancing on a Sunday. (We’re pretty sure they’re not, but it’s a fun legend.) The pylon right next to it is a reminder of how past and present often cross. 

Why we liked it: If you love to delve into the ancient past, or just wonder where we all came from, this site offers unexpected peace and tranquillity. We loved trying to work out just how they got that capstone on the top, as well as finding out all about the local legends. Our favourite is the one that said anyone who stayed here overnight on the evening before Midwinter Day, St John’s Day (23 June), or May Day would suffer a terrible fate – including either going mad or becoming a poet. Oh, one tip (though to be fair this applies to lots of rural Wales, lots of the time) – wear wellies or stout shoes, it can get a bit muddy and though the car parking access is good, there are only 5 car parking spaces right nearby. 

More information about Tinkinswood Burial Chamber 

Address: Duffryn Lane, Cardiff CF5 6ST

Opening Hours: 10am to 4pm 1 April to 31 March, last admission 30 minutes before closing time; closed 24 to 26 December and 1 January. 

Victoria Park and Splashpad

Victoria Park Splashpad

What it is: In 1897, this traditional and colourful park was opened in Canton, a suburb to the west of the city. It holds a Green Flag and is Grade 2 listed. There’s no car park dedicated to this park, but there’s often parking available on the local residential streets. 

Why we liked it: It’s not all that often you find a bandstand in a park these days, and although this one is a replica rather than the original 1897 structure, it’s still impressive. We really enjoyed seeing Billy the seal (the zoo is long gone, this one’s a sculpture), the designated children’s play area (up to about age 12), the multi-use area for games, the tennis courts, and the splash pad (although it is seasonal in spring and summer and may be closed if the weather is bad). The splash pad is on the site of the old paddling pool, and in season has 33 different features. These include a tunnel, jets, sprays, and a tipping water bucket, with three zones for families, juniors and toddlers. There are also more relaxed Wednesday sessions for children with additional needs – see Opening Hours for details. 

More information about Victoria Park

Address: Victoria Park Rd E, Cardiff CF5 1EH 

Opening Hours: Park – 7.30am to 30 minutes before sunset, all year (park); Splashpad – 10am to 7pm weekends and term time weekdays; 12 noon to 7pm Monday to Tuesday and Thursday to Friday, 11am to 7pm Wednesdays (school holidays). There are also more relaxed Wednesday sessions aimed at children with additional needs on Wednesdays, 11am to 12 noon term time, 10am to 11am in school holidays. 

Cardiff Story Museum

Kids’ fun at the Cardiff Story Museum

What it is: Once upon a time, in the middle of the beautiful Welsh countryside, there was a small market town. Over the centuries, Cardiff transformed from this small town to one of the world’s major ports – and this museum tells its story. From Bronze Age times through the Romans, Normans, and Middle Ages, it was great to see how the shape of the city changed through the centuries. 

Why we liked it: Housed in the Old Library building and right in the middle of Cardiff city centre, we loved the fact this museum is all about the ordinary people who made Cardiff what it is. There are photos, real objects from real lives, films, and interactive stories. One Friday in the month also sees the place turned into a designated baby and toddler zone. Ask about messy play, music, craft, detective trails, stories, rhymes and fun play. So if you have a “Dinky Dragon”, take them along on the second Friday of each month from 10am to 3pm. 

More information about Cardiff Story Museum 

Address: The Old Library, The Hayes, Cardiff, CF10 1BH

Opening Hours: 10am to 4pm daily (check bank holiday opening times). 

Pierhead Building

Pierhead Building

What it is: So many of Cardiff’s stunningly lovely buildings date from late Victorian times, and this is one of them. It was built as the headquarters for what was known as the Bute Dock Company (later the Cardiff Railway Company) in 1897 and is Grade I listed. (Yes, it’s not your imagination, Cardiff is packed with listed buildings and other locations.) The Pierhead Building now belongs to the Welsh Parliament, otherwise known as the Senedd. It was reopened in the spring of 2010 as an education and visitor centre for the National Assembly, known as “The Assembly at the Pierhead”. 

Why we liked it: I’m sure we weren’t the only ones who didn’t know until we visited that the unofficial name for the clock on the building is “Baby Big Ben”. (Sometimes known as the “Big Ben of Wales”.) The building is gloriously random – there are gargoyles, friezes, and hexagonal chimneys as well as the clock tower. Inside, there are plenty of exhibits and films to help you find out about how iron and coal shaped the landscape, and how the coming of the railways in the 1840s changed the world. 

More information about the Pierhead Building

Address: The Pierhead, Pierhead Street, Butetown, Cardiff. CF10 4PZ

Opening Hours: 9am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday; 10.30am to 4.30pm Saturdays and Bank Holidays, last entry 4pm. 

Fogo’s Free Walking Tours

One of Fogo’s Free Walking Tours

What it is: If you’re looking for Cardiff’s only free walking tour, this is it – there’s a choice of tours, depending on the year. You can opt for the general tour, a dark side tour in October, and a Cardiff Bay tour in the summer. You do need to book in advance, and there is a minimum number of advance bookings required for the tour to run. 

Why we liked it: The friendly and knowledgeable guides showed us a side of the city we’d not suspected, and we enjoyed the fact that the route is pram-friendly and suitable for children. 

More information about Fogo’s Free Walking Tours

Address: John Batchelor Statue on The Hayes, central Cardiff (opposite TK Maxx store), CF10 1TD. (Starting point.)

Opening Hours: 11am Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. 

Honourable Mentions

The slides at Llandaff Fields

We’ve mentioned a few, but Cardiff is packed with lovely parks, including Parc Cefn Onn, Cathays Park, Llandaff Fields and Pontcanna Fields and Heath Park. If you prefer exploring buildings, then head for the many Victorian and Edwardian Arcades or the Cardiff Central Library. Keep an eye out in the next couple of years for a whole new park, Parc Mackenzie, behind the National Museum of Cardiff. 

Written by
David Prior

David Prior is an NCTJ-qualified journalist and the editor of Big Family Breaks. He is also a father of five and an experienced traveller, especially with kids.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Aerial View Photography of a High-rise Building in Oxford
OxfordThings to doUK

The Very Best Free (or Cheap) Things to Do for Families in Oxford this Summer 2023

This post contains affiliate links. Read the full disclosure here. Nestled in...

A couple strolling along Hadrian's Wall, North East England
Things to doUK

The Very Best Free (or Cheap) Things to Do for Families in the North East this Summer 2023

This post contains affiliate links. Read the full disclosure here. Summer is...

Landscape photo of the Newcastle castle
NewcastleThings to doUK

The Very Best Free (or Cheap) Things to Do for Families in Newcastle this Summer 2023

This post contains affiliate links. Read the full disclosure here. Looking for...

The Walls in Chester
Things to doUK

The Very Best Free (or Cheap) Things to Do for Families in Chester this Summer 2023

This post contains affiliate links. Read the full disclosure here. Summer is...