At nearly 6.5 times smaller than England, Wales is a small country with a big heart found in the Southwest of Great Britain.
It is a country passionate about the game of rugby, home to one of the longest place names in all the world (Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyll-llantysiliogogogoch), and it has more castles per square mile than any other country in Europe.
Throughout history, more than 600 castles have been recorded here, and with around 400 still remaining, albeit some in ruins, it would take a long time to visit each one. Therefore, below is a guide to some of the coolest castles to visit in Wales.
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Larger than any other castle in Wales, Caerphilly Castle is the second largest castle in Britain, with Windsor castle taking the title of largest. Built in the 13th century, it is a spectacular medieval fortification in South Wales.
Believed to be the first concentric castle defence built in Britain, it is surrounded by water and is home to high, thick walls and several gatehouses.
Over time, the castle has been many things, including a fortress strong-hold, a stately home complete with hunting grounds and a lake, and is now a favourite filming location for several British TV shows, including Doctor Who and Merlin.
The biggest castle in Wales is one of the most popular to visit, with many travelling to see the south-east tower.
This tower is well known for its precarious angle due to the constant bombardment of gunpowder on the walls during the Civil War. Others visit to see the Caerphilly dragon lair, which has grown in popularity over recent years.
Whether travelling from Caerphilly or from further afield, from the main road, you will reach the grounds of Caerphilly Castle in a matter of minutes, and even from a distance.
You will be able to note its grandiose scale and extensive grounds. In the summer months, bring a picnic, because you could easily spend all day here exploring.
Accommodation near Caerphilly Castle
Often considered to be one of the finest castles ever created, Conwy Castle was built as part of the town walls back in the 1200s.
As one of the best castles to visit in Wales, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is an excellent example of military architecture with its imposing towers and is home to the most preserved medieval private Royal chambers in all of England and Wales.
Built by Master James of St George for King Edward I to add to his collection of Welsh castles, Conwy Castle has an almost fairytale-like appearance. It may have been built to defend, but it is now an eye-catching historical monument that leaves you entranced.
While the entrance alone is striking with its eight towers, the bow-shaped hall leads to the fortified gateways and connects the turrets together.
Delving inside, you will wander through the Great Hall in awe of its decor before heading through the kitchen and chapel and finally into the sanctum of the royal bedrooms, which will give you a real insight into how the Royals and their staff used to live.
Today, when you wander around the battlements still wholly intact, below, you will have a clear view of Conwy’s narrow market streets and quaint harbour. At the same time, further afield, you will be able to glimpse the peaks of Snowdonia National Park.
In North Wales, Conwy Castle is best reached via the coastal road (A55) or by cutting through the Conwy Valley if travelling from the south, and parking is available just outside the castle grounds.
However, consider using the car park outside the city walls for cheaper parking. Travelling by train is also relatively simple, as the train station is just a five-minute walk.
Accommodation near Conwy Castle
Located on the River Seiont, Caernarfon Castle is another castle that once belonged to King Edward I and took 47 years to evolve from a simple motte-and-bailey structure to what stands today. The sheer scale of this castle makes it one of the most impressive in the world and the most visited in Wales.
After the Tudors ascended to the throne, however, the importance of holding multiple castles diminished, and Caernarfon Castle fell into disrepair.
After the Civil War, when it was attacked not once but three times by the Parliamentary forces, its dilapidated state remained until it became a Unesco World Heritage Site, and funding was raised to restore it to its former glory.
Unlike other castles that feature round towers, the towers of Caernarfon are polygonal in shape, with the grand Eagle Tower being the most impressive of all and reflecting the architectural designs of what was Constantinople.
Chosen because it was easy to access the sea, it became a massive bastion and strategic strong-hold after being extended. It was an imposing fortress, intimidating with its immense walls and King’s Gate designed to withstand assaults.
Not only can you wander the exterior, where you will note the striped, coloured stone walls and the unique towers, but once inside, you can relive what it would have been like to wander the royal lodgings full of fine architecture and ornate furnishings.
Caernarfon is also home to the Royal Welsh Fusiliers Museum, where you can learn more about the 300 years’ worth of history of Wales’ oldest infantry regiment.
Caernarfon Castle is located in Gwynedd County, North Wales, 173 miles from Cardiff or just 10 miles from Bangor, and should you decide to travel via road there is plenty of parking available on site while the bus stop is just 200m from the entrance.
Accommodation near Caernarfon Castle
Found on the island of Anglesey, Beaumaris Castle is often referred to as the most splendid castle that never was. While commissioned by King Edward I, it was never finished due to a lack of money and supplies.
While it is still a magnificent structure, initially, the fortifications were designed to be much taller. That doesn’t mean that it is not worthy of a visit, and even incomplete, it is considered to be one of the finest Edwardian castles in Wales and perhaps the most technically perfect in Great Britain.
With its flawless symmetry, its four concentric walled defences and water-filled moat would have been hard to pierce, making it an ideal fortress.
The strong-hold stands at one end of Castle street, turning what was marshland into not only the castle but an entire garrison town and benefits from both sea and mountain views, making it a nightmare for anyone wanting to attack.
With several obstacles to overcome, including hundreds of arrow slits and endless murder holes, reaching and penetrating the entrance would have been all but impossible.
Unlike other castles, the inside has not been dressed to impress. However, instead of feeling empty and underwhelming, it allows the building to breathe and the architectural beauty to shine.
Getting to Beaumaris Castle is simple, with not one but three train stations being less than a 15-minute walk, and there is plenty of parking both at the castle or in the town centre just a short distance away.
Accommodation near Beaumaris Castle
Close to the Irish sea, Harlech Castle rises up on the rocky crag, Harlech Dome, which sits nearly 200 feet high and close to the peaks of Snowdonia National Park.
The natural defences of this castle and its classic wall-in-wall design would have made it an imposing sight for anyone hoping to win a siege and was known as part of the iron ring of castles owned by King Edward I.
Built between 1282 and 1289 out of local grey-green sandstone and decorated with a softer yellow sandstone that possibly came from around Egryn Abbey near Barmouth, this is a striking vision. It is also amazing to think that at one time, this was a castle built on the top of sea cliffs where sand dunes now line the perimeter for about a mile.
While the castle is now partly in ruins, you can still access it via a modern floating footbridge that replaced the old wooden entrance. Although once inside, it is now missing much of its floors and roofs, the exterior structure is still impressive, and the panoramic views are spectacular.
Even though it appears to be a castle surrounded by countryside, the train station is only a few moments away. However, they only run every couple of hours, so check the timetable for accurate information.
While for those travelling by car there is parking available directly in front of Harlech Castle with three hours setting you back just a couple of pounds.
Accommodation near Harlech Castle
Found in the centre of the city, Cardiff Castle is a fine example of firstly medieval architecture and then a Victorian Gothic Revival Mansion. Originally built in the 11th century by Norman invaders on top of a 3rd-century Roman fort, this castle oozes with history.
Thought to be commissioned by either William the Conqueror or Robert Fitzhamon, it very quickly became the heart of the old town.
Unfortunately, severe damage and destruction occurred after constant bombardment due to both the War of the Roses and the Civil War. This led to various dynasties throughout history coming in to complete renovation works, with Capability Brown and Henry Holland, two well-known architects, being employed to transform the building.
Fast forward to the Second World War, and Cardiff Castle was again used in battle, this time as an extensive air raid shelter with the ability to house 1800 people.
Today, the castle is a major tourist attraction and maps its history through Roman occupation, Norman conquest, Victorian revival, and 20th-century terrors.
You can wander the extensive grounds, climb the Norman keep, explore the well-furnished, elaborately embellished apartments, and explore a corner dedicated to Roman Charioteers.
Or you could visit the Firing Line museum, which commemorates 300 years of battles covering Rorke’s Drift against the Zulus back in 1879, through to the Battle of Waterloo and the most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On warmer days, the free public square inside the castle walls comes alive with people meeting for coffee at the castle cafe or picnics on the extensive grounds. At the same time, during the Festive season, an ice rink appears, and the inner gardens of the castle become a winter wonderland.
Being in the city centre, this is probably one of the best castles in Wales to visit as both road and public transport links are excellent; however, be mindful that parking is not available in the castle on this occasion. Still, there is plenty around the city, including an excellent park-and-ride service.
Accommodation near Cardiff Castle
One of the most impressive castles in South Wales, Pembroke Castle is a medieval castle in the centre of Pembroke and is now a popular filming location for both TV and film.
The first castle was built on this site in 1093 by Arnulf of Montgomery during the Norman invasion of Wales. It was then later gifted to William Marshal, who became one of the most powerful men in Great Britain during the 12th century.
Extensively remodelling the site, it is William’s castle that remains today. Henry VII, the father of Henry VII and the first Tudor monarch, was also born at Pembroke Castle.
When visiting Pembroke Castle, you will get to explore not only the birthplace of King Henry VII but also the tower dungeons, the Great Keep, and Wogan’s Cavern, a cave under the castle that has been in use for more than 12,000 years.
You can also enjoy a fantastic lunch, with daily specials, at the castle kitchen before wandering around the onsite gift shop.
Whether travelling by car, train, or bus, a little walk is involved to get to the castle as there is no parking allowed on site, but don’t let that put you off. With so much to see and free guided tours offered to everyone, you could easily spend a day here.
Accommodation near Pembroke Castle
Powis Castle, built in the 13th century, is a National Trust property in Welshpool near Powys. Occupied by the Herbert family since the 1570s, the castle, its fortress, and gardens reflect their specific style and visions passed down through the generations.
With views across the Severn Valley, the gardens are grade I listed and retain many original features, including 17th-century Italian terraces, century-old trees, stunning rose beds, and a peaceful woodland to explore.
The flower beds and plants you see now are still very much in keeping with Lady Violet’s designs, the castle’s last owner before it was handed over to the Trust in 1952.
The original castle was built by a Welsh prince determined to establish his independence and therefore looks very different from the castles commissioned by King Edward I. The Herberts had then gone on to modernise the building over time.
However, in 1902 when electricity and hot water were added, G.F. Bodley, the then architect, decided also to reinstate some 17th-century style in several rooms, believing it would be more in keeping with the medieval castle it once was.
Powis Castle is also home to the Clive Museum, one of the largest collections of South Asia artefacts in the UK and dates back to the 1600s. It also has a coffee shop, a courtyard shop selling local products, and a second-hand bookshop where all money raised goes to future conservation projects.
There is generous parking available on-site, and there is a train station at Welshpool with direct links into London, making this one of the easier Welsh Castles to reach.
Accommodation near Powis Castle
Set in the county of Monmouthshire and close to the Brecon Beacons National Park, Raglan Castle is distinctive and unlike many other Welsh castles. Thought by many to be the grandest castle ever built by Welshmen, Raglan Castle is now more of a silhouette of its former self.
From afar, you can still see the grandeur of this magnificent castle, although it is now in a state of ruin. What you see today is a castle built in three stages. The first section, built during the 15th century and still standing, is the hexagonal Great Tower surrounded by a watered moat.
At the time of its completion, the only way to access this castle section would have been via the main castle. Later, luxury apartments were added by Sir William Herbert, while the Earl of Worcester turned the whole thing into a sumptuous mansion during the 16th century.
However, history can be cruel, and during the Civil War, the Earl declared his allegiance to King Charles I. It was at this time that Raglan, even though well-designed to take on such attacks, fell.
Despite housing a large garrison of men and withstanding one of the longest sieges of the Civil War, it was overrun by parliamentary forces, looted, and demolished; hence what you see now is what was left after the castle was abandoned.
Raglan castle can be reached by car or public transport, with the closest train station being Abergavenny. It is just a short walk from the station, although there is a car park directly next to the castle grounds for those driving.
Accommodation near Raglan Castle
Chepstow Castle is not only the oldest castle in Wales but also the oldest surviving post-Roman fortification still standing in Great Britain. Built close to the River Wye, under the guidance of Lord William FitzOsbern, a close friend of William the Conqueror, in 1067, just a year after the Battle of Hastings, the striking castle continued to evolve.
It became one of the best examples of how a building changes to adapt to the advances in weaponry. However, after the Civil War, it declined until tourism brought people to the area during the late 18th century.
Due to the increased footfall brought on by steamboat travel, the castle began to be used for shows, fetes, and pageants. By the 1900’s it had become so popular it was often used as a filming location, which led it to become one of the most famous castles in Wales.
As soon as you arrive in the town of Chepstow, you will be able to see the castle rising up above the cliffs, dominating the skyline as it stretches as far as the eye can see, and while there are parts of it that have now turned to ruin it is still a monument of intimating size to walk around.
From the town of Chepstow itself, it is just a 7-minute walk before you find yourself entering the castle grounds, and for those driving, there are not one but two large car parks nearby.