They always say the best things in life are free, but days out with kids can be pretty expensive. That’s why it’s always good to have a few ideas up your sleeve which won’t cost you a penny. We are lucky where we live in the Vale of Glamorgan to have an abundance of free outdoor places to visit, all set in the wonderful welsh green countryside and all within an hours drive.
Here is a list of our favourite family friendly free* outdoor places to visit in Swansea, Bridgend and the Vale, all ensuring a great family day out. They’re all outdoor for added fresh air and vitamin D and most are dog friendly too.
Each of the ones listed have been tried and tested by us with our young ones (two adventurous boys and a toddler), and more often than not, also with our puppy in tow. We hope you enjoy these places as much as we do. Please let us know if we have missed off one of your favourites in the comments and we’ll add to the list.
Vale of Glamorgan
Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, Penarth
Cosmeston Park is a local nature reserve in Penarth. It has over 100 hectares of land to explore, with varied walks, lakes and plenty of rare wildlife and plants. It also has a great play area with climbing frames, swings and a pirate boat.
There are plenty of different routes to walk or you can take your bikes. For sunny days there are picnic tables and there’s plenty of green space to put down a picnic blanket. There is a basic cafe by the entrance which also has baby changing facilities.
With the exception of the play area and the cafe, the main park is dog friendly.
Car parking and entry to the park are free.
Dunraven Bay, Southerndown
Dunraven Bay (often referred to as Southerndown Bay) has a fantastic sandy cove backed by impressive cliffs with stepped rock formations. When the tide is out it exposes some of the best rock pools in the Vale, which are ideal for little ones to explore whatever the season. With its jurassic coastline its also a fab place for some fossil hunting.
In addition to the beach, there are the walled gardens and the Dunraven Castle ruins to visit. On a windy day the walled gardens provide a lovely spot for a picnic as they provide shelter from the wind. The beach itself is great for surfing, boogie boarding and a spot of kite flying.
Its also worth visiting the Glamorgan Heritage Centre where you can learn all about the Heritage coast.
Entry is free but there are charges for car parking in the summer months. It is dog friendly on the beach from October to end of April. The walk up to the walled gardens is dog friendly all year round.
If you’re looking for somewhere to eat after your visit to the beach, you’ll be passing Franco’s, which is a lovely child friendly Italian restaurant.
Ogmore Castle, Ogmore by Sea
There are plenty of different walks in this area from the walk into Merthyr Mawr village over the 52 stepping stones (tide permitting), the walk along the river bank or a trip to the beach itself. The beach is very much a walkers beach and which unlike is dog friendly all year round.
Locals believe that the stepping stones by the Castle were laid for a girl who lived in the castle and used the stones to meet her lover across the river. How romantic is that?!
The castle ruins make for an interesting visit and little ones will love to explore what now remains of Ogmore Castle.
Car parking is free near the castle and at various points along the river.
If heading to the beach you will need to pay for parking. There are toilets at the beach and on a sunny day there’s a portable cafe, the Coffi Pig, selling coffee, hot dogs with locally sauced meat and welsh cakes.
If you’re looking for somewhere to stop for a bite there are the Dog Friendly Pelican or the Watermill pubs close by for a drink or a bite to eat. The Watermill is one of the pubs listed in our Pubs with Play Areas guide.
For more information on all of the three above, visit: www.valeofglamorgan.co.uk
Amelia Farm, Barry
Amelia Farm is a working farm set on 160 acres of countryside in the Vale of Glamorgan just off the A48. It is a registered charity which supports disadvantaged and vulnerable people, so by visiting it you’ll be supporting a great cause too.
Our kiddies love seeing the animals and going on the nature trail walks. The whole place is dog friendly too, just be sure to keep little fido on a lead near the animals.
They often have events and different seasonal trails taking place through out the school holidays so its worth checking out whats on via their website. We have visited on many occasion and on one visit we had an opportunity to feed the lambs which was amazing. You can read about our lamb feeding experience here and our general visit here.
Entrance to the farm is free but they ask for a voluntary £3.00 donation for car parking.
For more information visit: www.ameliatrust.org.uk
Porthkerry Country Park, Barry
Porthkerry Country Park is a stunning park which spills out onto a pebble-stone beach. The park ticks all the boxes for a visit with kids and your pooch as it has over 200 acres of land, expansive woodland, fields, cliff-top pathways, a pebbled beach, a play area and even a small golf course. Beautiful at any time of the year, but in the spring its a perfect spot to get some stunning pictures amongst the bluebells.
Standing tall in full view is the sixteen arch viaduct, crossed by a railway which was used for the transportation of coal in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
There is a cafe and toilet facilities by the car park. Entry to the park is free, car parking charges apply.
Bryngarw Park, Bridgend
Based just outside of Bridgend, Bryn Garw Country Park has over 100 acres of land to explore, with plenty of footpaths and bike trails to try.
There are lots of different gardens to explore and there is a large pond where you can feed the ducks. The play area is pretty impressive with a super slide for older kids and some swings and slides for little ones too. You can read more about our visit and what to expect here.
There is car parking, with a small charge of £2.50 for the day, and then entry to the park is free of charge. There is a small visitors information point and there is also a lovely small cafe at the entrance. The park is dog friendly and the cafe has outdoor seating and a serving hatch, handy if you’ve taken your pooch.
They have lots of events through out the year so its worth checking their website to see what is on.
For more information visit: www.Bryngarwcountrypark.co.uk
Merthyr Mawr Sand Dunes
Merthyr Mawr Sand Dunes, the second highest sand dunes in Europe, has an endless expanse of sand dunes with magnificent views out to the sea and beaches of Ogmore and Porthcawl. Despite only being a few miles outside of Bridgend, when you are there you will feel like you are a million miles away.
Make a day of walking around the dunes, sand sledging (take your own baking tray or sledge) and exploring the ruins of medieval Candleston Castle which are close by. You’re also a walk away from the 52 stepping-stones which cross the Ogmore river to Ogmore Castle. You can read more about our time at the dunes here.
Kenfig Nature Reserve, Near Porthcawl
Kenfig Nature Reserve is another huge coastal dune system just outside Bridgend and Porthcawl and is an area of outstanding beauty. It has rolling dunes, wetlands and a sandy beach.
The walk to and from Sker beach is a three mile walk, or you could do the shorter green trail to Kenfig Pool, the largest natural lake in South Wales. Of course you can always ramble to where ever the mood takes you as there are 1,300 acres to explore.
There is free parking and there are a few picnic tables near the car park.
For more information visit: www.meadowgarden.co.uk
Margam Park, situated just outside of Port Talbot off the M4, has over 1000 acres of countryside to explore. It has a castle, orangery, lakes, a narrow gauge train, adventure playground, a Fairytale village with a play castle, Go-Ape, a Farm Animal area and plenty of trails and bike paths to conquer.
There really is so much to do there you can easily spend a whole day there and not be bored at all. There is a cafe where you can buy hot or cold food or its an ideal place to take a picnic. In the warmer months they even have barbecues to rent.
We find it a perfect day out for the kids as our older boys enjoy the bigger adventure playground and my youngest girl loves the Fairytale land with its miniature houses so it suits them all despite the age difference. A highlight is if you manage to spot some of the roaming deers.
You can read about what to expect and about our visit here.
Entrance to the park is free but there is a car parking charge in the main car park of £4.50
For more information visit: www.margamcountrypark.co.uk
Gnoll Estate Country Park, Neath
Gnoll Estate Country Park in Neath is set amongst 240 acres of woodland and has plenty of wide open spaces, a park and an adventure playground with a zip line.
There are three ponds, a reservoir and some formal and natural cascades. There are marked woodland walks to enjoy. In the school holidays there are often events planned and extra activities on offer. Recently they have added a nine hole footgolf course which is at additional cost.
There is a basic cafe with toilet facilities. Parking is charged at £2.00 but entry to the park is free.
For more information visit: www.gnollestatecountrypark.co.uk
Penllergare Valley Woods, Penllergaer
Penllergare Valley Woods is almost like a secret woodland garden, where you can enjoy some great walks, hide among the bamboo, climb trees and make dens. There is also a lake and a waterfall.
The woodland has been lovingly restored by a group of local volunteers who continually invest their time in enhancing the area. There is also a lovely dog friendly cafe and parking costs just £2.
For more information visit: www.penllergare.org
Aberavon Beach, Port Talbot
Aberavon Beach is a three mile stretch of sandy beach on the eastern edge of Swansea Bay with a long promenade with a cycle and walkers path. Unlike the Mumbles promenade this stretch of beach is much quieter and is a great place for a family bike ride without the added stress of having your little ones constantly almost crash into people.
The promenade has a few cafes and ice-cream shops and also has a nine hole miniature pirate golf course (for which there is a charge).
The beach itself is sandy so is perfect for building sandcastles. The beach at the far end is also dog friendly all year round. You can read more about our review of Aberavon Beach here.
Mumbles Pier, Mumbles
Who doesn’t love a day at the seaside? Mumbles Pier has all that old fashioned seaside fun. Just down from the pier there is a lovely sheltered sandy cove and you can also walk across to the old light-house on its own island. Just be careful of the tide and don’t get stranded on the island. On the pier there are penny arcades with plenty of 2p slots so it doesn’t end up being too expensive.
A walk along the pier will reward you with great views and give you the chance to see a real lifeboat at the RNL visitor centre.
There is also a long stretch of promenade to walk, cycle or scooter on all the way back tio Swansea. There is also a good play area just off the promenade behind the boats on the main stretch just opposite from Patricks with Rooms. You can read about our top things to do in the mumbles here.
* Car parking charges may apply for some of the above. Where known this has been stated.
Whilst many of the above places to visit are listed as dog friendly, dogs are not permitted into any of the play areas