Free Things to do in Cardiff, Wales

There’s no way to dodge it – cities are expensive places to visit, and capital cities in the United Kingdom are even more so.

Especially during the peak summer months when the throngs of tourists flock to the capitals, prices can get so high you have to re-mortgage your house in order to buy a sandwich.

For the thrifty traveller, there are other options, especially if you plan on paying a visit to the Welsh capital. Yep, there are free things to do in Cardiff.

There are a host of free activities that will leave both you and your wallet happy.

Free things to do in Cardiff, Wales
If you live or work in Cardiff, you’re able to enter Cardiff Castle for free.

Free things to do in Cardiff, Wales

Looking for things to do in Cardiff for free? Check out these spots!

National museum of Wales

Want a brief history of Wales that starts 4.6 billion years ago? Cardiff’s National Museum hosts Evolution of Wales; a permanent exhibition that takes you on a journey from Wales’ earliest beginnings right up to the present day. You’ll also see full dinosaur skeletons, woolly mammoths and a full size basking shark that is suspended from the ceiling. There is also a large art gallery upstairs featuring both classic and contemporary art. Make sure you don’t touch Brian the Bison, though; he’s going bald from being petted by visitors for over twenty years.

St. Fagans Natural History Museum

If the weather’s being kind to you then definitely pay a visit to St. Fagans. It is considered to be one of Europe’s best open-air museums (it seems museums are among the top free things to do in Cardiff), and it combines selections of Wales’ Celtic and industrial history with acres upon acres of beautiful Welsh countryside and parkland. Because it’s an open air museum, the warmer months make St. Fagans an excellent place to see live music and theatre events, festivals and living history celebrations.

Bute Park

If history isn’t your cup of tea, then take a stroll through the gardens and woodland of Bute Park (visiting parks are also among the top free things to do in Cardiff). Originally owned by the Cardiff nobility, the park is a naturalist’s delight and is one of the largest urban parks in Wales. The park features some 2000 trees and is home to a host of wildlife including herons, woodpeckers and otters. Bute Park hosts the annual Royal Horticultural Society show in the springtime, so you’re guaranteed to get a vibrant and colourful welcome.

Roath Lake

Roath Lake is a unique park in that it has still retained much of its original Victorian charm. The pleasure gardens back onto a large lake that contains a memorial lighthouse in honour of Captain Scott, who set sail from Cardiff to the Antarctic in 1910. As well as being home to a number of wild birds, Roath Lake also has a number of rowing and pedal boats that are available for the public.

Cardiff Story

The Cardiff Story Museum is a fairly new addition to the city’s amenities, and it’s an excellent complement to the main museum. Built in Cardiff’s Old Library, the Cardiff Story gives visitors a fun and interactive look at how Cardiff has been shaped over the centuries; from a sparsely populated late medieval town to the sprawling cosmopolitan metropolis of the Industrial Revolution. The museum also has its own upstairs gallery with the best of modern Cardiff talent in art, animation, film and much more.

Bonus: Cardiff Castle

If you live or work in Cardiff, you’re able to enter Cardiff Castle for free. You can sign up for a free ‘Castle Key’ pass that’ll give you access to the Castle grounds, original Norman keep and parts of the manor house.

The Taff Trail – Cycle Brecon to Cardiff

If you’re looking to explore South Wales by bike, the Taff Trail is a 55-mile trail (88km) that takes you south from Brecon to the waterfront of Cardiff Bay.

Featuring a mix of urban and rural pathways, the trail passes through towns and villages that still display relics of their industrial heritage.

The Taff Trail - Cycle Brecon to Cardiff
Brecan in Wales

Who is the Taff Trail suitable for?

The trail is suitable for most levels of fitness, although it’s long so if you’re thinking of completing it in a single day, pack adequate snacks and water, a basic repair kit should your bike get damaged, wet weather gear if the Welsh weather takes a turn for the worse, and in case of emergency a mobile phone, some cash, and a credit or debit card.

The route of old tramways, railway lines, canals and towpaths mostly consists of off-road sections, but does feature short on-road sections, fire roads, and gravel and forest paths meaning you’ll need tyres with at least a little grip. Slicks won’t really do here especially if the trail areas are wet. As the Taff Trail is shared by walkers, cyclists and the occasional horse rider, a bell will also come in handy for making your presence known.

The Taff Trail route

The trail is well signposted for most of distance, but occasionally mischievous locals get their kicks by tampering with them, with hopes to send trail users in the wrong direction. If you’re in any doubt, this route guide has been produced by the charity Sustrans who also help to maintain sections of the trail and make it safer for cyclists. You can also buy the Taff Trail Guide: Fully illustrated and detailed route planner which includes a map – buy on Amazon.

The trail leaves Brecon, passing through Llanfrynach and Pencelli, then through The Brecon Beacons, Talybont reservoir, Torpantau, and Garwnant. This stretch is amongst some of the nicest scenery allowing you to take in the green and natural beauty of The Brecon Beacons. From Garwnant, it goes past Ponstsicill reservoir, Pontsarn, and the Cefn Coed viaduct before reaching Merthyr Tydfil. 

With the occasional pub, café and shop along the route, there are opportunities to stop, rest and grab a bite to eat. 

Leaving Merthyr Tydfil, the route passes Abercanaid and Pentrebach followed by Aberfan and Pontygwaith before reaching Quakers Yard, Abercynon, and Pontypridd. At this point the end is not too far away, but if you don’t feel like cycling the last stretch, train services run fairly frequently from Pontypridd, Trefforest and other stations along the line. Most trains will allow you to board along with your bike, but check for restrictions on certain days especially where there are events happening in Cardiff. At Pontypridd, make way to Penrhos and then to Taffs Well and Tongynlais where, if you’re feeling energetic, you may want to challenge yourself and cycle up the hill to the fairytale castle of Castell Coch nestled on the hillside. 

If you don’t fancy the hill ride, carry on toward Radyr and Cardiff making sure to look back along the way to catch a glimpse of Castell Coch. As you near Cardiff Bay, you’ll pass through Bute Park and view Cardiff castle and the Millennium Stadium before following the last stretches of the Taff River to the end of the trail where you’ll have a well-deserved rest. 

How long does it take to cycle the Taff Trail?

How long it takes you to cycle the Taff trail depends on how often you stop and your fitness level. The full 55-mile (88km) trail is easily accomplished in a day for someone of average fitness. Keep cyclists could probably do it in under four hours.

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