Fairly easy to travel to, friendly museum staff and interesting exhibitions with cultural relevance and perspective. Free entry; can't really go wrong! The only improvements I would make would be to the café and gift shop - rather trivial.
Travelling from Hampshire to Cardiff via train can be done rather easily, one simple direct train, but just be warned of the length of the journey. A friend and I took a day trip to the Welsh capital during the Easter break and in doing so, rode the train from end to end. Portsmouth Harbour to Cardiff Central is three and a half hours. Southampton Central to Cardiff Central, meanwhile, is just under three hours and is £21.55 with a railcard.
We were blessed with good weather, sunny and warm but with a breeze, and our plan was to explore the city and visit the free attractions. The National Museum Cardiff is one such attraction thanks to a grant from the Welsh Government. Established in 1905, the museum has collections of botany, fossils, fine art, geology, and zoology. It is open Tuesday to Sunday 10am until 5pm and located just to the north of the city centre.
Current exhibitions include The Rules of Art? (23rd October 2021 – 4th June 2023), The Sea Horizon (18th February – 10th September 2023) and Reframing Picton (1st August 2022 – 3rd September 2023) which takes a mature and open view of the debate concerning the controversial history of a Welsh war hero killed at the Battle of Waterloo. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, and events in nearby Bristol on 6th June 2020, there was a campaign to remove Sir Thomas Picton’s portrait who had served as governor of Trinidad, overseeing a period of abuse and torture on the local black population. The exhibition seeks to educate and re-evaluate rather than simply, for lack of a better term, whitewash history.
Located on the ground floor of the Edwardian building was the exhibition which captured our attention most; BBC 100 in Wales (10th December 2022 – 3 September 2023). Celebrating both the BBC as a whole and its prominent place in the heart of the Welsh capital, the exhibition features real props from notable children’s TV shows made by the BBC, such as Bagpuss, Trumpton, Basil Brush, Andy Pandy and Teletubbies. Additionally, you are able to see costumes from Doctor Who, Sherlock, Casualty and His Dark Materials. The Tardis is not only bigger on the inside but it looked considerably bigger on the outside than it does on the small screen.
The BBC 100 exhibition was fun to walk around and you could tell that those who had curated it were interested in the subject matter. A lot of charm comes from the memories and feelings attached to the television shows, although the history of the BBC on offer is still justifiably comprehensive. If you can tell a lot about an exhibition from its poster, the poster for this is minimalist and retro. Very visually pleasing so, of course, I had to buy it to put in my room.
All exhibitions mentioned in this article are free entry and, while you are encouraged to book in advance, they welcome walk-ups. We had planned to go the museum as a general free activity, alongside the Cardiff Castle grounds and City Museum, but had not known about the BBC 100 exhibition until we were told by someone we had asked for directions. It was definitely a nice surprise.
All the people we spoke to were very friendly and informative with one woman going out of her way to show us an aspect we may have missed. Both working in a museum ourselves, we enjoyed the realization that you likely get the same types of team members in every one.
Transport: Cardiff Central train from Southampton Central (3 hours direct)
Distance from Station: 0.8 Miles (Museum 20-30 minute walk through city centre)
Price: Free Admission to Museum
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 10am – 5pm