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18 Best Castles in Wales to Visit

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With good reason, the ruggedly beautiful country of Wales is often referred to as the “Land of Castles.” It boasts some of the most stunning palaces and historic medieval fortresses in all of Europe.

Many of Europe’s surviving castles and ruins dating back to the Middle Ages are found in Great Britain. Each fortress owns a piece of Wales’ rich and complicated history, a tale hallmarked with battles, alliances, the quest for Welsh independence, and its union with England.

Wales has more castles per square mile than elsewhere in Europe. Many owe their storybook appearance to English King Edward I, who built them to fortify his conquests.

A master of engineering and siege warfare, his castles are typically characterized by three concentric rings of walls and towers, with the middle kept open as a courtyard. Friends and foes entered these military buildings by drawbridges over moats.

Many Welsh attractions, like these castles, offer tours and guides to help you explore the scenery while learning all about the past. Below, find our list of the best castles in Wales that will enchant your future travels.

Best Castles in Wales to Visit

1. Raglan Castle

Exterior of Raglan Castle

The first on our list of the best castles in Wales was the late medieval royal home of Welshman Sir William ap Thomas, the Blue Knight of Gwent. Commissioned in 1430, the Raglan Castle was built to display family wealth and stature. It has a moat and unusual six-sided towers.

The knight’s son, Sir William Herbert, dedicated his life to adding towers, halls, and sumptuous apartments, hosting nobles and royal visitors in luxury. Raglan Castle is decorated with towers that make it a classic fortress, and chances are you will be astonished at its sheer size from the gatehouse.

This Welsh castle is arguably the grandest of all the Welsh castles, and it was even the home of young Henry Tudor, who would later become King Henry VII, the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty.

2. Powis Castle and Garden

Powis Castle and Gardens

One of the best castles in Northern Wales is the medieval beauty located in Powys, near Welshpool. Built in the 13th century by a Welsh prince of Powys, it was a showpiece of the region until the 17th century when it underwent a major renovation that turned it into a Renaissance palace.

Powis Castle now holds significant works of art and historical objects, including the 17th-century Italian busts known as the Twelve Caesars, in addition to a masterpiece of Belloto. There are also formal gardens, terraces, and parks for wandering as Welsh nobles did here centuries ago.

See Related: Best Castles in London You Need to See

3. Criccieth Castle

Criccieth Castle

On our best castles in Wales list, we’ve got a classic Edwardian outpost overlooking Tremadog Bay. Llywelyn the Great built the estate late in the 13th century. As with most castles in the Edwardian style, it is fortified with a wall and openings for shooting arrows.

The castle alternated between English and Welsh rule until the 15th century, when it was burned to the ground and left to ruin after the last Welsh rebellion. Visitors can explore the ruins and see exhibits about the castle’s tumultuous history.

See Related: Visit Bamburgh Castle: An Anglo-Saxon Castle at its Finest

4. Laugharne Castle

Laugharne Castle

Welsh castles had a way of stirring the hearts of poets, and Wales isn’t short of poets. The 12th-century Laugharne Castle is famous for being one of the best castles in Wales and for inspiring legendary poet Dylan Thomas who took up residence in the boathouse here in 1949 until his death in 1953.

The site of many battles, struggles, and even peace treaties for centuries, Laugharne Castle saw the addition of a splendid Tudor mansion set between the two medieval towers and surrounded by gardens, thanks to Sir John Perrot, who was gifted the castle by Elizabeth I.

This goodwill wouldn’t last, as in 1592, he was thrown into the Tower of London on treason charges. He died in prison from poisoning, reportedly right before Elizabeth was set to pardon him.

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5. Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle

Of all the castles to visit in Wales, Caernarfon Castle is probably the most remarkable and is considered one of the world’s best-maintained military structures from the Middle Ages. Originally a motte-and-bailey castle from the late 11th century, King Edward I began the construction of this famous castle in 1283, and it was finally finished in 1330.

Caernarfon Castle sits overlooking the island of Anglesey, on the River Seiont and the Menai Strait. Edward II was born inside this dramatic-looking royal home in 1284 and was named Prince of Wales in 1301 – the title bestowed upon every male heir.

Other Welsh princes would be dubbed at this famous castle, including then Prince Charles in 1969, who had his investiture there as Prince of Wales. Legend says the castle was part of a dream by Macsen Wledig, who envisioned this one at the mouth of a river.

There is a dream-like quality to Caernarfon Castle’s magnificence, and the best way to immerse yourself in it and its castle grounds is with a guided tour. Better yet, you can bundle up some of the best castles nearby for a once-in-a-lifetime tour experience from Llandudno.

6. Beaumaris Castle

Beaumaris Castle and Moat

Welsh castles are not only famous for being ubiquitous but also picturesque. On the island of Anglesey, the gothic Beaumaris Castle looks as if ripped from the pages of a fairytale.

Beaumaris Castle is one of the most sophisticated of Edward’s military-style Iron Ring castles in Wales. Construction began in 1295, and it contains an almost perfect symmetry of concentric walls. This concentric design, with walls within walls, provided extra layers of defense.

During the first year, it is estimated over 2,500 men worked on the site – a vast number of laborers for the time. Besides the near-impenetrable walls, a half-moat protected the palace from attack for centuries.

Unfortunately, the castle was never fully completed, but it saw plenty of action during the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr in 1403 and the English Civil War in 1642.

Despite never being fully completed, the castle’s symmetrical beauty is striking, and the inner passageways are as formidable as its exterior. This is about the most archetypal British medieval castle out there.

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7. Chepstow Castle

Chepstow Castle on the river Wye

The oldest castle in Wales is found in the south and is an astonishing 950 years old! Perched on the edge of a crumbly-looking cliff, this post-Roman stone fortress looms over the River Wye.

Its tower is impossibly giant, especially for its age. Visitors can wander inside and see how Roman tiles from a nearby settlement were used for some of the walls and spot the oldest surviving wooden doors in Europe.

In the town of Chepstow, a museum shows the captivating chronicles of the area, and the ruins of Tintern Abbey are only a few miles away. Visit the picturesque villages and ruins along the Wye with a full-day tour or a multi-day package.

See Related: Tintagel Castle: Discover the Legend of King Arthur

8. Caerphilly Castle

Caerfilly Castle

Travelers who want to visit castles in Wales will love the mightiness of this fortress. You’ll also note the great leaning tower of Caerphilly Castle, which resulted from an attack during the English Civil War. Caerphilly Castle has an ethereal look to visitors as it appears to rise from the lake.

Construction on the castle began in 1268 by Earl Gilbert de Clare as protection against Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. Caerphilly Castle is the biggest castle in Wales, covering 30 acres.

After the death of Llywelyn, the castle was transformed into the ornate residence of the ambitious and greedy advisor to King Edward II, Hugh Despenser. Despenser wanted the biggest and best castle in Wales as his own. He also installed a hunting park and the lake the castle sits next to.

The best way to see Caerphilly Castle is on a Cardiff day trip from London.

See Related: Visiting Scotland’s Iconic Eilean Donan Castle

9. Carreg Cennen Castle

Romantic Careeg Cennen

Visitors taking Wales castle tours never miss a trip to idyllic Carreg Cennen Castle. The ruins are tucked away atop one of the rolling hills of Carmarthenshire, in the western section of Brecon Beacons National Park, overlooking the River Cennen.

Built on a limestone cliff, the castle had an advantage against invaders, yet little is known about the actual castle, its history, or its origins. Common theories are that it was either built in the late 12th century by Rhys ap Gruffydd (Lord Rhys) or in the 13th century by Baron John Giffard at the behest of Edward I.

Throughout history, the site changed hands between Welsh rebels and the Norman English before eventually falling to ruin after the War of the Roses.

It’s a stark yet romantic-looking palace and one of the best castles in Wales for photos, dominating the landscape and offering fantastic park views. The location and the castle are remote and wild; when you go, you’ll feel like you’re the only one who stumbled upon it.

A multi-day tour is one of the best ways to see the beauty of Carreg Cennen and its surroundings – not to mention some of the most stunning time-honored landmarks in Wales.

10. Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle Interior

Next on our list of the best castles in Wales is the classic medieval military fortress of Conwy Castle on the north coast. With the rolling mountains of Snowdonia in the background, this 700-year-old castle is a genuinely spectacular sight.

Just looking at this medieval fortress, it’s difficult to believe Edward I was able to complete Conwy Castle in the four years between 1283 and 1287 – but then again, old Edward Longshanks was a master builder and tactician.

The harbor of Conwy Castle sits at the foot of this UNESCO World Heritage Site and is still walled. But the most remarkable fact about Conwy is how well-preserved it is. The royal apartments are nearly intact. Newly restored spiral staircases in the towers let you walk the battlements, which is worth all the climbing for the views.

Conwy Castle is as imposing now as it was in the 13th century. I highly recommend seeing this dreamy locale on a full-day area tour – Snowdonia is simply lovely.

See Related: Real, Magical Castles in Fairytales to Visit

11. Chirk Castle

Chirk Castle

Another of the best castles in Wales is a 13th-century royal residence built by Roger Mortimer de Chirk in 1295. It was so significant to King Edward I that he even came to see the structure personally. This castle was built to guard the main route through North Wales.

For centuries this medieval fortress protected the Ceiriog Valley until 1595, when it became the prime and luxurious residence of the Myddelton family. Today, visitors can see the lavish furnishings and appointments made by generations of wealthy families.

Room after room shows the fashions of the age in which they were designed. These walls must hold as many secrets as wealth. Guests are also welcome to walk the abundant gardens and parklands surrounding the impressive family home.

12. Harlech Castle

Harlech-Castle-Wales-UK
Huw Edwards/Unsplash

The spectacular Harlech Castle sits on a sheer rock cliff overlooking a desolate landscape of dunes. Harlech Castle was once on the sea, but the coastline has given way to silt over the centuries. To complete the picture-perfect setting, the craggy peaks of Snowdonia are visible in the distance. It’s dramatic, beautiful, and a highly-recommended destination.

It took Edward and his architect, Master James of St. George, only seven years to complete the structure with its classic defensive wall design. The castle is also famous for its “Way from the Sea,” a set of 108 steps carved into the cliff that allowed inhabitants access to ships. Harlech Castle saw many violent encounters throughout history, including the bloody War of the Roses.

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13. Castell Dinas Brân

Castell Dinas Bran looking Sout Eastwards from the Keep

Almost all the Welsh castles evoke a sense of romance and mystery as you walk around the ruins and ramparts. Although Castell Dinas Brân no longer has towers, passageways, and battlements, it still stirs the senses.

A walk around the ruined arches and walls, slowly breaking down back into the earth, gives you a quiet moment to consider hundreds of years of human conflict and resilience. The ruins overlook the pastoral Dee Valley outside of Llangollen.

Although this ancient castle was built in a prime spot of defense, princes would only occupy the space for multiple decades. It takes effort to reach the pinnacle where the ruins sit, which may be why it was abandoned and fell to destruction.

But the climb gives an idea of what the castle enemies, and residents, experienced in their approach. At the top, catch your breath while you take in the view in wonderment. Visitors are not charged, and parking at the bottom of the hill is available. But be prepared for a good uphill hike.

See Related: 2 Days Hiking the Heart of Wales Line Trail

14. Pembroke Castle

Pembroke Castle

Pembroke Castle was constructed by Norman Roger of Montgomery in 1093 when he conquered the town. This castle was the site of significant conflicts during the English Civil War. It eventually came under the ownership of Jasper Tewdwr, Earl of Pembroke, and was the birthplace of his nephew, Henry Tudor, who would become King Henry VII following the War of the Roses.

The castle has been restored and is open for tours. Exhibitions of the intriguing past of the earls of Pembroke, who ruled the region with iron fists from the fortress, and the birth and life of King Henry are also available.

15. Cardiff Castle

Cardiff Castle

As ancient as Wales castles are, they were often built on even older settlements. Cardiff Castle was constructed in the 11th century on top of a Roman fort from the 3rd century, meaning it sits on nearly 2,000 years of history!

Over the next few hundred years, Cardiff Castle was fortified with walls and other structures to defend it against attacks. Even after the English Civil War, the castle continued to be renovated.

Now it’s a Gothic revival showcase with stunning interiors of murals, marble, and carvings. Cardiff Castle, once a fortress, then a fairytale home, is now a captivating museum in South Wales.

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16. Dolwyddelan Castle

Dolwyddelan Castle in Snowdonia, Wales
peresanz / Shutterstock

Dolwyddelan Castle, located in the gorgeous Snowdonia National Park, is one of Wales’ amazing architectural feats. Built-in the early 13th century and perched atop a natural rock outcrop with views of the Lledr Valley, this castle was meant to provide strategic defense against Welsh rebellion – now it stands as a beautiful reminder of strength and grandeur.

The most fantastic feature has got to be its impressive gatehouse, which was designed for an extra layer of protection. They used a drawbridge to ensure it always stayed secure and installed murder holes and arrow slits too.

Today, Dolwyddelan Castle is a top tourist attraction that welcomes adventurous explorers to discover the history and stories behind the walls. You can climb up the magnificent tower and marvel at the fantastic panoramas of the Welsh countryside while soaking in some serious learning with interactive displays and historical exhibits to deepen your exploration.

See Related: Most Beautiful Places in the United Kingdom

17. Kidwelly Castle

Front of Kidwelly Castle
cisko66 / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0

Kidwelly Castle is an exciting and stunning medieval fortress in Carmarthenshire, Wales. Its construction began during the Norman conquest of Wales in the late 11th century. Spanning approximately 800 years, this impressive structure has been strategically perched atop a ridge overlooking the River Gwendraeth to ensure optimum protection from its enemies.

In the 13th century, King Henry III granted the de Chaworth Family control. And in the 14th century, new features like a gatehouse and barbican were added for even more defense. Unfortunately, in the 16th century, it was abandoned and forgotten until rediscovered in the early 20th century. Nowadays, this incredible castle has been completely restored to its former glory.

You certainly don’t want to miss visiting Kidwelly Castle for anyone interested in Welsh history or medieval architecture. It’s open all year round and has a wealth of exciting exhibits, guided tours, and interactive displays that’ll help you learn much more about the castle.

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18. Penrhyn Castle

Skyline and architecture of Penrhyn Castle
bvi4092 / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0

Penrhyn Castle is a spectacular estate situated near Bangor in North Wales. Constructed by the wealthy Pennant family during the 19th century, it is now owned by the National Trust.

Its long history stretches back to the 15th century when a fortified manor house was built. Magnificent transformations gradually took place over many years – making Penrhyn Castle what it is today.

The National Trust is such an impressive charity organization – they put in so much hard work to safeguard 500 remarkable properties all over England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Can you imagine – castles, historic houses, gorgeous gardens, spectacular coastlines, and so on! All these places are here for people to appreciate and enjoy for generations ahead.

You’ve got to experience Penrhyn Castle. This spot is a must if you’re interested in Welsh history or architecture. Even better, it’s open year-round, and there are guided tours, exciting exhibits, and interactive displays to show you all about the castle’s great history.

Not only that, but there’s even more fun stuff around the Penrhyn estate – think beautiful gardens, a woodland walk, and a model railway museum.

Where to Stay When Visiting Castles in Wales

  • The Celtic Royal Hotel – When searching for a place to stay in the charming town of Caernarfon, check out The Celtic Royal Hotel. This place offers absolute luxury steps away from the majestic Caernarfon Castle (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site). From cozy rooms and suites and fine dining at their on-site restaurant to some serious pampering at their spa and fitness center – all with spectacular views of the mountains thrown in. And if that isn’t enough, you can also explore many shops, restaurants, and historic spots around town.
  • Royal Victoria Hotel Snowdonia – Tucked away at the core of Snowdonia National Park, Royal Victoria Hotel Snowdonia is your gateway to epic views and places abundant in the historical significance of North Wales. It’s just a short drive from charming Llanberis village and not too far from mighty Caernarfon Castle or the National Slate Museum. Accommodation is comfy, plus there’s a restaurant on-site too. Outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, and fishing – no matter what tickles your fancy – are all available at this fantastic location.
  • Tudor Lodge – Fancy a cozy little staycation? Then check out the super comfortable Tudor Lodge in picturesque Porthmadog. Just a short distance from Harlech Castle, this bed and breakfast has everything you need: spangly decorated rooms, a cozy lounge with an actual fireplace, and a garden to die for with lovely mountains chilling about in the background. Plus, you can explore the village’s plethora of shops and great eating spots, too – what more could you want?

Final Thoughts

Welsh castles are extraordinary because they are lovely displays of the historical complexity and the fierceness of the people of Wales, along with how advanced military architecture was all those years ago.

If you love history and the mysteries and romance of the medieval age, you must make these intriguing fortresses the center of your next vacation in Wales.

FAQ

What are the best times of year to visit Welsh castles?

The best times to visit the majestic Welsh castles are in the spring and summer months, between April and September. That’s when the weather is mild and the days are extra long, so you’ll feel like exploring every nook and cranny of the area around each castle. Plus, many castles host special events during this period.

What are some of the unique features of Welsh castles?

Welsh castles have fantastic architectural features and were built to be super strategic. There’s the excellent concentric castle design, with all those layers of walls and fortifications, not to mention the crenellations in their notched walls for defense. Then there’re the towers, turrets, and gatehouses for extra protection – plus drawbridges, moats – you name it. It’s like something from a fantasy world!

How do I get to the Welsh castles, and is there public transportation available?

Getting to and exploring castles in Wales is so easy! You’ve got so many options to choose from – you can drive there, take the train or a bus, or even get your rental car if you want to take control of your adventure. For some castles, there are even shuttle services available and parking spots for those driving. Climb aboard your castle express – let the journey begin!

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