Museums are an important part of childhood development, exposing our children to interesting and unique experiences and concepts that they wouldn’t get in day to day life. Even if you feel your toddler or children are too young to understand many of the things a museum have to teach, the museum will spark their imagination and offer an opportunity for family time spent engaging with each other. I often take my toddler into the art galleries at National Museum Cardiff, not just sticking to the natural history museum and this has surprised a lot of people I’ve spoken to. But when we look at a piece of art it can evoke a great deal of internal emotions and feelings – who knows what’s going through a toddlers mind when they look at it? Of course, like most things with a toddler, patience is limited, so if it’s not directly engaging, the visit may be short!
If you’re reading this you are looking at visiting National Museum Cardiff with a toddler or children. I’ve visited Cardiff Museum many times, both as a child, growing up in Cardiff, and then as a mother with my own son, who is now three. This is a large museum with a host of things to see and great for families. It’s open Tuesday to Sunday (always closed on a Monday) and is completely free entry for everyone. This is an ideal situation for visiting a museum with a toddler, as you don’t want to pay an expensive entry fee to find out he’s having tantrums two minutes in and have to retreat. We’ve all been there!
Here’s what you can expect to do and see on a visit to National Museum Cardiff with toddlers of young children. You can visit the official National Museum Cardiff website for up to date information.
The Logistics of National Museum Cardiff – Parking, Access and Convenience
First I’ll tackle some basic logistics of National Museum Cardiff so you can plan your day accordingly. Cardiff Museum is centrally located just a few minutes walk from Cardiff City Centre. It’s an ideal day out when combined with shopping, eating, visiting Cardiff Castle or taking a walk through Bute Park.
There is council run parking all around the museum. This can be very busy during the week as a lot of workers park here. I would recommend arriving early on week days. On weekends there are always spaces. You pay per hour and we usually pay for 3 hours which is currently £4.10. The machines accept coins, but also card and contactless payments.
I’d recommend leaving the stroller at home if you don’t need it as there are a lot of steps in the building and the stroller can be very bulky as well. But if you need your stroller it’s not a problem. There is a disabled and pushchair lift to the side of the main entrance to get you up the steps. There’s a stroller park near the entrance if you want to leave it, next to lockers that you can put your coats and bags in. At the time of publishing these took the old £1 coins (probably the only thing left in Cardiff that does!) so if you want to use one just ask at reception for a coin and they’ll give you one which you return at the end. I’ve never found the lockers all full and we always put our bags and coats in so we can walk around unencumbered.
The toilets are in the basement, as is the restaurant, but there is lift access if needed.
Natural History Museum
The main draw for most children will be the natural history museum. This is an interesting and engaging look at the history of the world. You can get information about space and the creation of the Earth, rock formations and geological information, fossils, bones and animals, including dinosaurs, woolly mammoths, prehistoric bisons and a great deal more. Some of the exhibits have noise and movement, although they’re quite dated, as I remember these from when I was a child! There are side galleries dealing with different time periods, whale and shark skeletons and caves to explore.
The galleries are spacious, but safely set up, with opportunity of space for young children to be excited without you needing to hold onto them too close, letting them explore and feel independent. Each section has a member of staff watching over the exhibits, and I’ve found them quite happy to talk to you about anything should you or your children have any questions.
Here are a few pictures from one of our visits to the Natural History section in Cardiff Museum to give you an idea of what you’ll see:
Clore Discovery Gallery – Special area for learning and children
The Clore Discovery Gallery at National Museum Cardiff is an area in the main hallway set aside specifically for children’s exploration and learning. This is a hands-on section that runs toddler sessions (see website) and is ideal for an hours visit even if you don’t have time to spend a full day at Cardiff Museum. There are loads of drawers and in these drawers are different sets of exhibits and a booklet explaining them. They are available to look at, touch, explore with microscopes or magnifying glass and generally get hands on with the learning. There are loads of tables and chairs set up for the kids, with other things like art and crafting available too.
There’s also what I would describe as a toddler section tucked away behind bookcases – an open mat with jigsaws and puzzles, children’s books, educational stuffed toys and comfortable bean bags.
National Museum Cardiff Art and Galleries
On the upper floors you’ll find a massive array of world class art and historical exhibits, including applied art in the form of pottery, china, statues, coins and more. The art galleries are organized and structured into different time periods and take you on a journey through historic art from the 1500s up through impressionist, contemporary and modern art.
I do take my toddler up into these art galleries but it isn’t engaging in the way the National History Museum or Clore Discovery Gallery are. It is much quieter with a weighty atmosphere of contemplation, as is usual in art galleries. Each gallery has a staff member carefully watching that no one gets too close or touches the art. It won’t be suitable for all children, but when my toddler is in a calm mood he is definitely interested in being carried around and looking at some of the pictures. I don’t really know what he thinks of them, but I have to think it sparks his imagination somehow!
If you have chance, come and look at these galleries without the kids, as it’s definitely worth enjoying them in a more relaxing atmosphere. Last year I attended a wedding held in these art galleries after the museum was closed and the atmosphere was just unreal.
Temporary Galleries and Special Events
There are temporary galleries which change fairly frequently. These are sometimes great for kids. For example the Snakes Alive! exhibition, or when Dippy the Diplodocus was visiting. Sometimes they are free, other times there is a cost. There can be special programs such as Augmented or Virtual Reality to engage children as well. There are also often great local displays, photography and art or just interesting things that both children and adults can learn.
Additionally there can be one off events, symposiums, conferences, courses, tours and talks. It’s always worth checking out what’s on and these changing galleries and special events mean even if you’ve visited the museum a dozen times before, you’re still likely to find something new and exciting throughout the year.
Are there any negatives about the National Museum Cardiff?
Nothing is perfect. The museum is closed on Mondays which I think catches people out sometimes as it’s quite unusual. The cafe, gift shop and restaurant are all pretty expensive for a family visit, although the quality is good and I’m sure it suits tourists. If you’re visiting in the summer there’s a lovely lawn outside that you can picnic on.
Do I recommend visiting National Museum Cardiff with children?
Yes absolutely. Whether it’s belting down with rain, or a sunny day and you’ve just been to the park, this is a fantastic museum for children, with free entry which makes it very affordable for a quick visit or half day out. There’s loads to do in Cardiff nearby so you can combine the visit with other attractions, or you could check out some of the amazing family friendly days out, soft play, restaurants and cafes that Cardiff has to offer. We’ve been going to Cardiff Museum regularly since William was born and I know we’ll be visiting many more times in the future.
Check out these other posts I’ve written about Cardiff for the family
- Soft Play in Cardiff
- Family Friendly Restaurants and Cafes with Play Areas in Cardiff
- Free Family Friendly Days out in Cardiff
- Exploring Insole Court in Llandaff, Cardiff
- A Day Out at Cefn Mably Farm Park
- Everything you need to know about Roath Park Lake and Conservatory, Cardiff
- Victoria Park Cardiff