Housed in the Old Library, this new kid on the block has been mooted for many years, so it was a pleasant surprise to see it up and running on a recent return home. I’ve been obsessed with the city since my youth, then living in my adopted second homeland of New Zealand I went to (irony alert) the old library in Wellington and grabbed as many books as I could on my native capital, so for me this is a dream museum and exquisite by design.
There’s plenty to do over three floors and you don’t have to be local to appreciate its ingenuity (much in the same way that the Science Museum in London engages me even though it’s not one of my main interests). Technical gizmo’s keep the ‘hands on’ brigade entertained with the Time Machine which unravels the modernity of many well-known landmarks to their origins and back to the present. It also confirmed one of my worst fears; that the ruins of Greyfriars monastery were demolished for the abysmal Capital Tower (a blight on the landscape which sadly still stands). Thankfully Cardiff has evolved for the better since then.
The ground floor is devoted to ‘Cardiff in Context’ and displays many artefacts from its past arranged neatly in colour coded cases eg 1794-1850, 1851-1913 etc. There’s a fabulous interactive display of Cardiff Bay’s historical buildings which spring to life like a child’s pop-up book – a hugely successful adaptation of the old and new. Tucked away from the main room is the Tiled Corridor (pretty much what it says on the tin) while downstairs the ‘City Lab’ is a resource area to discover information on family ancestry and local communities.
Upstairs temporary exhibition ‘Big Little City’ is as inventive and even more fun with photo exhibitions examining the cities characters and multi-cultural migrants. Another zooms in on Cardiff’s independent record shops (it reportedly has the world’s oldest if you don’t know). You can also write about your own visions of the city (even if you’re a fleeting visitor) on specially printed postcards.
The quirky side of Cardiff is not lost with a clock display featuring several of the cities suburbs showing exactly the same time. The irony being although time is the same wherever you may be in the city, it’s a city that doesn’t stand still! Constantly reinventing itself and it does so brilliantly here. Everything is well thought out, beautifully pieced together and it’s compelling enough to demand repeat visits. An essential in any visitors’ tour itinerary and a welcome addition to the cultural fabric of the Welsh capital some 336,200 people are lucky to call home (and that some of its former residents were grateful to visit).
PS – The staff are great too!
Admission free. Monday – Saturday 10am – 5pm Sunday 11am – 4pm