Wales has over 600 castles, from medieval mottes to the four mighty castles of North Wales that make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here is an introduction to some of the best castles in Wales.
The first many visitors see, right in the middle of Cardiff city centre. It has grown from a Roman fort, with additions all the way through to the 19th century when under the endowment of the 3rd Marquess of Bute, the clock tower and western side were remodelled 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.
Seven miles over the mountain from Cardiff, this vast 13th century castle – the first built in Britain to a concentric design, and the second largest in the country – dominates the small Valleys town that has grown up around it. It enjoys one of the most picturesque settings of castles in Wales, almost surrounded by lakes.
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.
This is possibly the best known Welsh castle to those outside the country, partly on account of Prince Charles’ investiture as Prince of `Wales there in 1969. It guards the estuary of the river Seiont, at the southern, opposite end of the Menai Strait to Beaumaris. This highly impressive, sturdy castle was also augmented by a circuit of Town Walls, part of which run along the seafront to the north.
This evocative castle was built on top of a sea cliff in the late 13th century, but 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.
This great castle was built by the master military architect, James of St George, 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 it makes up for in its dramatic location. It sits on an outcrop of rock high above the main A470 road, and consists of a lonely battlemented tower overlooking the mountainous 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, take a few hours to walk the surrounding area (especially across the river and above the nearby village of the same name) to really appreciate its magnificent mountain setting.
Another castle founded by the Welsh princes in a dramatic mountain setting, Dolbadarn 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 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.