There are over 600 castles in Wales, some of which are among the best castles in the world. Most of these are medieval castles, with some constructed later as residences. Welsh castles vary greatly, from humble medieval mottes to Edward I’s Castles in Gwynedd, the latter a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The latter are formidable fortresses, among the most famous castles in the world.
It’s been difficult narrowing so many down to just ten, but here is our selection of the best ten castles of Wales.
Cardiff Castle is the first Welsh castle many visitors see, and it’s right in the middle of Cardiff city centre. It started out as a Roman fort, and a central tower, or keep, was added in the 11th century. It’s one of the most beautiful castles in Wales, largely because of its 19th century additions. It was owned by the 3rd Marquess of Bute, and he funded the radical remodelling and clock tower by William Burges.
The standard self-guided tour takes you to highlights such as the Arab Room and Banqueting Hall. The House and Connoisseur Tours take you further behind the scenes.
Caerphilly Castle is one of the largest castles in Europe, seven miles (11 km) over the mountain from Cardiff. It’s the first in Britain to be built to a concentric design, and possibly the most impressive of the many castles in South Wales. It’s among the most picturesque castles in Wales, almost entirely surrounded by lakes. Caerphilly also has a famous leaning tower, and just below it, a brand new dragon’s lair which is a great hit with kids.
This unfinished castle close to the shore of the Menai Strait has castle experts enthusing over its concentric design, with one circuit of walls within another. It was the last of Edward I’s Iron Ring of Castles in North Wales, left incomplete because of his overstretched finances. The view from behind the castle to the mountains of Snowdonia on a clear day is magnificent.
Caernarfon Castle is one of the most famous castles in Wales, partly on account of Prince Charles’ investiture as Prince of `Wales there in 1969. It guards the estuary of the river Seiont and the southern, opposite end of the Menai Strait to Beaumaris. The inspiration for this military masterpiece was the circuit of city walls in Constantinople. Caernarfon Castle is also augmented by a circuit of Town Walls, part of which run along the seafront to the north
Harlech Castle, the most impressive of the castles in Snowdonia, was built on a sea cliff in the late 13th century by Edward I. Due to enormous deposits of sand, it now lies over a mile inland. From the ‘Graig” (Rocks) viewpoint at the southern end of the town, you can appreciate its dramatic setting above the coastal plain with the whole Snowdon range visible behind in good weather. The visitor centre and new bridge to the elevated entrance are a welcome addition, making it more accessible. ‘Men of Harlech’, one of the canon of Welsh rugby songs, describes a siege here during the Wars of the Roses.
One of the best castles in Europe, Conwy Castle was built by the master military architect, James of St George. It was built to consolidate Edward I’s hold on an area he had already fought over twice. Like Caernarfon, an adjacent walled town (bastide) was constructed at the same time. The Castle now presides over the nearby Quay and possibly the finest historic town in Wales.
This is one of the less obvious castles, but what it lacks in size Dolwyddelan Castle makes up for in its dramatic location. This mountain castle sits on an outcrop of rock high above the main A470 road, a lonely battlemented tower overlooking the magnificent Lledr valley. It was originally a castle of the native Welsh princes, and eventually captured by Edward I. As well as visiting the castle itself, explore the surrounding area to really appreciate its outstanding mountain setting. The best places to walk are above Dolwyddelan village, and the other side of the Lledr river.
Another castle founded by the Welsh princes in a dramatic mountain setting, Dolbadarn Castle sits on a hill overlooking Llyn Padarn lake at the foot of the Llanberis Pass, the mountain road that takes between the sheer rock walls of the Glyderau and Snowdon ranges. It looks like a tiny pepper pot from further down the lake, but make the effort to climb the short, steep hill to see it up close where you can appreciate it as a brooding, impressive sentinel guarding the Welsh mountains.
A very different proposition to the others in our list, Powis Castle started out as a Welsh prince’s fortress in border country, evolving over the centuries into one of the grandest stately homes in the country with one of the finest art collections and formal gardens in Wales. Powis has been continuously occupied and in use since medieval times, and never suffered a period of decay and disrepair like many other Welsh castles. The Castle also houses the Clive Museum, a fascinating collection of artefacts from India.