Cardiff Bay (Shutterstock: see credit below)
List Words : Gwenllian Jones | 04 November

8 free things to do in Cardiff

Fancy a cheap break in Wales's capital? We've rounded up Cardiff's best unmissable freebies...

1. National Museum Cardiff

Situated amongst the beautiful architecture of the civic centre, the museum is a must for anyone with even a remote interest in natural and geological history. Come alone or with your family – children and big children alike will marvel at what this institution has to offer.

Pride of place is given to the Evolution of Wales exhibition. Starting at the time of the Big Bang, it then follows Wales in her journey across the surface of the globe and through her many transformations. There are plenty of interactive activities to keep everyone entertained, and the Natural History display will be a hit with adults and children alike.

Be sure to leave enough time to visit the Art Gallery, where you'll find the art collection of the Davies sisters which includes an impressive array of Impressionist artworks.

2. St Fagans National History Museum

Learn about traditional Welsh living with a visit to St Fagans – Wales' most popular heritage attraction. This open-air museum covers an area of 100 acres, and contains over 40 re-erected original Welsh buildings from various historical periods. Spend the day wandering around the different hamlets. Peek inside the school and the old Workmen's Institute, and stumble upon the working craftsmen in their studios where you'll find all manners of traditional skills on display.

On the grounds you'll also see native breeds of livestock – farmed daily – as well as seasonal celebrations of traditional music, dance and festivals. Occasional events and performances held in particular buildings may cost you, but you won't have to pay a penny to enjoy the main display. You'll also be able to meander around the castle and arguably the best-kept secret of the museum – the gardens.

3. Visit the Art Galleries

The best ones are always free – and Cardiff has plenty for you to choose from.

The Kooywood Gallery and the Martin Tinney Gallery are both located around the corner from the civic centre, and both feature Welsh and Wales-based artists and sculptors. They offer ever-changing exhibitions which draw upon their great collections of past and present works by the country's best. They both also display work by young and emerging artists, so they're a good place to go if you fancy seeing something a bit different.

Chapter is also a good bet for art exhibits. This multi-artform cultural venue is sometimes better known for its performance space and its cinema. Unlike these however, the gallery is free of charge, and displays works from all over the world. In the past it has housed works from the international art competition Artes Mundi, so it would be well worth checking their website for upcoming exhibitions.

4. Entertainment at the Millennium Centre

One of the most eye-catching buildings in the city, it was opened in 2004 as Wales' most prominent Arts centre. The architects designed the building with the intention to embody the Welsh identity in terms of landscape, industry and history. On the exterior you will see Welsh wood, slate, steel and glass – all brought to life by the bi-lingual words of poet Gwyneth Lewis.

And there's no need to buy tickets to taste what the centre has to offer. In the foyer, you'll find the Glanfa Stage where you'll come across free performances almost daily. These include choirs, dance, contemporary music and orchestral groups. The full timetable can be seen on their website.

Outside its doors you'll see the Roald Dahl Plass – an open public plaza that accentuates the grand edifice that stands beside it. It hosts various events throughout the year, such as the annual international food festival and occasional live performances. In the summer it transforms into Cardiff's Urban Beach, complete with sand, shallow play pools, fairground rides and volleyball tournaments.

5. The National Assembly

Don't be discouraged by the airport-like security, the Senedd is open to all. From outside you'll be struck by the lightness of the building – built in order to represent transparency and sustainability, it is comprised mostly of glass and wood and inside you'll find a spacious area with plenty of room to move.

Perch yourself in the cafe for views of the bay, then wander over to the gallery above the debating chamber and listen in to the day's discussions. There are plenty of guides on hand, and it would be worth availing of a free tour. You'll be given further information about the purpose and vision of the building and how it represents the work carried out there.

6. Fire up your imagination

Ignite Cardiff's popularity is on the rise, and you'll have to scramble across the internet's metaphorical floor for tickets. But they are free, and it will probably be worth it.

The concept is simple: think TED talks, but more concise and to the point. The idea started in Seattle in 2006 with the aim to inspire audiences by getting people to share their interests, experiences and passions on stage (no promotions allowed). After choosing their topic, speakers are given 20 blank slides in order to prepare their talk. On the night these slides will auto-rotate every 15 seconds, meaning that no talk lasts more than 5 minutes.

Cardiff became Ignite's first UK host in 2008, and has since gained mass appeal. The bi-monthly events are held in the Glee Club in Cardiff Bay, and now attract a typical audience of 400. Keep an eye out for release dates, as tickets tend to sell out in minutes. Apply to speak, or go along and be enlightened!

7. Take a Breather

A couple of minutes' walk from the city centre, you'll come across Bute Park. This large expanse of greenery used to make up the grounds of Cardiff Castle, and its walls now offer a peaceful refuge from the traffic and the noise outside.

There are pruned flower patches, woodland and open spaces. You'll see plenty of people around, but you're guaranteed to find your own space to rest. There are a couple of cafes dotted around the place, too, so bring a book and sit yourself down by the river and while away the hours.

8. Experience Contemporary Welsh-Language Culture

If you've spent a couple of hours walking around Cardiff, chances are you will have heard an utterance or two of the country's native language. Welsh is widely spoken in particular areas of Wales – and whilst Cardiff is no exception, the overwhelming population does tend to drown it out of earshot.

The best way to experience a different culture is to live it! So if you're here in the Summer, look out for Tafwyl – a blossoming Welsh-language festival with events running in venues across the city for a week. Tickets are needed for the majority of these, but the main fair – which takes place within the walls of Cardiff Castle – is completely free. There are plenty of things to enjoy including gigs, literature and culinary events and sporting activities. A fantastic day out, you'll be immersed in a language that might have otherwise eluded you.


Main image: Cardiff Bay (Shutterstock)