Spoiled for choice with the National Museums of Wales

Published: Thursday 8th Jan 2015

Written by: Ginnie James

As we all know there are plenty of fantastic things to do in Wales that don’t cost a thing, after all you can’t charge for a wonderful view from the top of a ruined castle or dolphin spotting from the coast path in West Wales. However sometimes we have to admit that a ramble in the woods or a gentle bike ride around a picturesque reservoir doesn’t always cut it as a good day out, for old and young alike, especially if the weather is proving particularly inclement.

But never fear, as there are many art galleries and museums throughout Wales that offer free entry and where you can enjoy a lovely few hours and, dare I say it, maybe even learn some new interesting facts or develop a new hobby! A great place to start would be one of our seven National Museums. All have free entry, rolling programmes of exhibitions and events and have extensive opening times (although do check the website for up-to-date information).

The National Roman Legion Museum, Caerleon is close to my heart as I spent lots of time here while studying for my degree. Sitting within the site of one of only three permanent Roman fortresses established in Britain, there is a collection of artefacts from all aspects of Roman life, a reconstructed Barrack Room, a Roman Garden and the excavation of the most complete Roam amphitheatre to be found in Britain. Big Pit National Coal Museum is a real coal mine and forms part of a preserved industrial landscape that is a World Heritage site in Blaenafon, South Wales. Former miners run guided tours underground for a true immersive experience. The underground tour is just part of what’s on offer with the Pithead Baths housing exhibitions on mining in Wales and many of the other buildings on site have been sympathetically restored with some, as in the case of the blacksmith’s, still used for their original purpose.

For a traditional museum it doesn’t come much better than The National Museum in central Cardiff. From one of the finest art collections in Europe to a huge exhibition charting ‘The Evolution of Wales’ there is something for everyone to enjoy and on the weekends the Clore Discovery Centre is open to all to get your hands on some of the items that are usually hidden away in storage. Wear comfy shoes and hope for a dry day when exploring St Fagans National History Open-Air Museum!

Located about 7 miles from Cardiff centre, the 100 acres of parklands of St Fagans Castle and Gardens are home to over forty re-erected original buildings dating from C13th up to the mid C20th. A fabulous insight into the lives and work of the people of Wales through the ages. And with gardens to discover, living history in many of the buildings and exhibits, there is plenty to keep you busy for a whole day or maybe even two!

The National Waterfront Museum in Swansea offers both traditional exhibits and cutting-edge interactive displays and workstations to bring to life the industrial and maritime heritage of Wales. Learn how the industrial revolution affected the way of life for everybody and how this period of change was embraced by the Welsh and how the spirit of innovation lives on today.

Learn all about the all-important slate industry at The National Slate Museum, Llanberis. This may not sound too gripping to you but with imaginative interpretation, the dramatic landscape of Dinorwig quarry and Padarn Country Park, the Llanberis Lake Railway and demonstrations by skilled craftsmen the museum offers a genuinely interesting day out in North Wales.

Follow ‘The Woolly Tale’ with a hands-on tour of The National Wool Museum, Llandysul where you can experience the full journey from the raw fleece to the finished material. The museum is housed in the historic Cambrian Mills in the Teifi Valley and visitors also have a chance to view the workings of the commercial woollen mill that has been developed on site.

So, has anything taken your fancy? These are all big museums but are there any hidden gems of local museums that you know of that you want to share? I look forward to hearing from you!

Ginnie James
Ginnie James



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