For an immersive exploration of Welsh life through the ages, it’s hard to beat St Fagans Museum of National History. It’s an astonishing collection of historic buildings from across Wales, taken apart brick by brick and reassembled in 100 acres of parkland on the outskirts of Cardiff. Wander through the grounds and you’ll see an Iron Age farmstead, 18th-century woollen mill from Powys, Tudor trader’s house from Pembrokeshire and 12th-century church from Glamorgan, alongside dozens of other fascinating buildings from all over Wales.
It’s St Fagans’ 70th birthday in 2018, and the museum is marking the occasion with some exciting additions. The main entrance building has undergone an extensive revamp, with a brand-new atrium, café and gift shop. There’s also Gweithdy, a sustainable building celebrating the skills of makers past and present, which allows visitors of all ages to experience traditional skills first-hand with a wide range of courses and craft workshops run by skilled craftspeople and artists. Another new addition is Llys Llewelyn, a reconstruction of the medieval great hall from the Llys Rhosr site on Anglesey. It’s more than just a museum piece. From spring 2019, school and community groups from across Wales will be able to stay overnight in the building.
Art, nature and science
Housed in our capital’s striking neo-classical Civic Centre, the National Museum Cardiff is an eclectic collection of artefacts and exhibitions that includes everything from art to zoology. It’s home to incredible art from Wales and the rest of the world. You’ll see paintings, sculptures, drawings and ceramics, including one of the biggest and best collections of Impressionist art in Europe. You’ll also find exhibits covering Welsh history, wildlife and geology which will fascinate enquiring minds of all ages.
Alongside these permanent exhibits, the museum hosts a changing selection of temporary exhibitions. Check the National Museum website to find out what’s on before your visit.
On the waterfront
For a dive into our industrial history, head to the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea. The centrepiece of the city’s Maritime Quarter, it tells the tale of more than 300 years of industry and innovation through a combination of historical artefacts and high-tech interactive exhibits. You’ll learn about how the Industrial Revolution shaped lives and communities here in Wales and the technological advancements that came with it. As you’d expect for a museum in our City by the Sea, maritime history is a big feature.
The National Wool Museum in Carmarthenshire lets you explore this most Welsh of industries. Situated in the historic former Cambrian Mills, you can watch the whole process of wool making, from fleece to fabric, with live demonstrations on traditional machinery.
Go deeper (literally) into our industrial heritage at Big Pit National Coal Museum, which tells the story of one of our most valuable resources. The highlight (or should that be lowlight?) of this amazing attraction is the underground tour, where you’ll travel 300 metres below the earth to explore the workings of this former coal mine. There’s lots to see on the surface too, including the pithead baths where miners would clean up after a hard day underground, and the historic colliery buildings, home to the massive winding engine that’s lifted coal and miners up from the depths for more than 50 years.
For those about to rock
Like Big Pit, the National Slate Museum in Llanberis was once a busy industrial site. In Victorian times, Dinorwig Quarry was at the heart of the slate trade, and its workshops now stand preserved as if the workers had just clocked off for the day. Learn the fascinating story of an industry that reshaped Wales and see impressive demonstrations of slate splitting from skilled former quarrymen, our very own rock stars.
There’s no place like Rome
Last but not least on the museum menu is the National Roman Legion Museum at Caerleon, where you can travel back in time to learn what life was like in a remote outpost of the Roman Empire. It's currently closed until autumn 2019 undergoing essential maintenance. The museum sits on the site of one of only three permanent fortresses the Romans built in Britain with impressive remains that include the UK’s most complete amphitheatre, baths and the only surviving Legionary barracks anywhere in Europe.