Museums that tell the story of Wales

Most people automatically associate the landscape and people of Wales with a wealth of historical sites just waiting to be explored. But the museums of Wales are finely poised to tell all those stories, whether you’re enticed by the towering national ones or the singular, smaller heritage venues.

From prisons to planetarium

Ruthin Gaol

Ruthin Gaol, Denbighshire, North Wales Borderlands

It’s hard to imagine a building more intriguing and atmospheric than Ruthin Gaol, the North Wales prison where thousands were incarcerated between the mid-17th and early 20th centuries. The Old Bell Museum, in Powys, dates from even earlier – an inn during the 16th century, it now illustrates the story of Montgomeryshire in beautiful detail across 11 rooms.

Local history museums

The Powysland Museum building in Welshpool, Powys

Powysland Museum, Powys, Mid Wales

 by Birdrock1

The Powysland Museum, in Welshpool, also makes for an enlightening visit to find out more about the region, including a chronological vault of archaeology on the first floor which takes in Neolthic farmers, the arrival of the Romans, Viking attacks and the religious history of locals.

Life on the home front during the Second World War is the stuff of 1940s Swansea Bay, where the sights and sounds of air raids – as well as the food and living conditions of the time – recreate volatile times. And at the Abertillery and District Museum, Bronze Age axes and a miner’s kitchen are part of the experience on the ground floor of a theatre, fuelled by an Italian café where you can have a cuppa.

Close up of a display at Brecknock Museum, Powys

Brecknock Museum, Brecon, Mid Wales

 by Devon 21
There are plenty of places to find out all about the industrial history of Wales – the Aber Valley Heritage Centre and Museum, for example, is a volunteer-run warren of displays looking at the changing face of the mining community in the valleys, open for public viewing most afternoons. Brecknock Museum, in Brecon, is renowned for being a particularly lively small museum, with a comprehensive collection dedicated to the prehistory and culture of the area.

Crafty museums

The nimble-fingered exploits of Welsh creators is also something to savour: Newtown Textile Museum, housed in an early 19th century weaving shop, follows the process of wool to yarn and tanning to clog-making, explaining the importance of the industry to Powys. Smaller centres, such as the Aberaeron Craft Centre, also invite you to head home with some of the textile gems still flourishing today.

Hands on Science

Interior of Techniquest Cardiff

Techniquest, Cardiff

 by thatcamelwoman

Science fans of all ages won’t want to miss Techniquest in Cardiff Bay, one of the finest hands-on science museums in Britain, with a planetarium and all sorts of interesting exhibitions set within a modern space. But perhaps your first port of call in Cardiff should be The Cardiff Story, a city centre museum in the historic Old Library building, which aims to chart the transformation of the capital from a small medieval market town to an industrial leading light and the impressive modern city it is today. 

More museums in Wales