Wales is the United Kingdom’s second-smallest country after Northern Ireland, but despite its small size, it has a lot to offer for history buffs.
The country boasts over 400 Castles that serve as significant historical sites and popular tourist attractions.
Contrary to popular belief, most castles in Wales are English rather than Welsh because they were constructed during the Middle Ages to keep the Welsh under English rule and to oversee and protect the surrounding areas.
Here are the top 10 castles in Wales that you can visit, appreciate, and learn about their history.
1. Caernarfon Castle
Caernarfon Castle is one of the most outstanding structures from the Middle Ages and a UNESCO World Heritage site. King Edward I and his military architect built the 13th-century gigantic castle on a former Roman fort as part of Edward I’s exertion to seize Wales.
Caernarfon Castle features impressive fortifications. Its medieval-style walls and towers are as thick as 6 metres in some parts. A large curtain wall with eight towers surrounds the castle and would have reinforced its defence.
The castle has two main gatehouses, the King’s Gate and the Queen’s Gate, and four principal towers, the Black Tower, Chamberlain Tower, Eagle Tower, and Queen’s Tower. The Eagle Tower is one of the castle’s distinctive features, which is a large circular tower with a diameter of nearly 30 metres.
2. Raglan Castle
Raglan Castle is a mediaeval castle in the Welsh county of Monmouthshire. It represents one of Britain‘s best examples of late mediaeval military architecture.
Sir William ap Thomas, the Blue Knight of Gwent, constructed the castle in the fifteenth century. His son William Herbert, who later rose to the position of Earl of Pembroke, later renovated it.
The castle is renowned for its impressive hexagonal towers: the Great Hall, the Solar Tower, and the Bear Tower. It has a keep in the centre and three curtain walls, but the west wall is missing. There are also a few towers along the walls and at least 17 other buildings within the castle grounds. The magnificent fortress underwent significant renovations in the late 16th century, including installing a new hammer-beam roof.
Raglan Castle is an excellent site to stroll and take in the scenery due to the beautiful park and gardens surrounding it. It is a fantastic place to explore and get insight into the long history of its structure.
3. Cardiff Castle
Cardiff Castle is a medieval castle situated in the heart of the city of Cardiff. It is one of Wales’ top heritage attractions, initially built during the Roman era. This makes this historically important castle more than 2000 years old!
The castle is known for its spectacular walls, towers, and battlements. It features a distinctive Victorian Gothic interior, which includes exquisite plasterwork, delicate mosaics, and elaborate stone carvings.
The interior of Cardiff Castle combines various architectural styles, including Georgian, Mediaeval, and Islamic styles. Such a combination highlights the castle’s extensive history and the multiple eras of restoration throughout the centuries.
4. Pembroke Castle
Pembroke Castle, located in the Welsh county of Pembrokeshire, is a reminder of the wealth and power of the Earls of Pembroke in the Middle Ages. The castle has a long history dating back to the 11th century when the Normans constructed it, and the Earls of Pembroke then renovated it in the 13th and 14th centuries.
Pembroke Castle is renowned for its magnificent defences, including a massive circular keep and a large inner ward. The keep contains a substantial cylindrical tower with a remarkable stone dome. The towers and walls, constructed using limestone in the manner of the Middle Ages, are thick and high, with crenellations.
Pembroke Castle lies in a naturally defensive location, which would have made it a strategically important place during its history. It is built on a rocky ledge that extends into the Milford Haven estuary. So, it would have been difficult for attackers to reach by land. The castle’s keep is also situated at the top of the ledge, giving it a dominating view of the surroundings.
5. Penrhyn Castle
Penrhyn Castle, located in the village of Llandegai, is one of the most beautiful Welsh castles. It was formerly home to the rich industrialist Pennant family. The castle was rebuilt in the 19th century in the neo-Norman style, using round arches and towers, battlements, and turrets.
It is a magnificent mansion rather than a castle, so it lacks the conventional defences seen in castles, such as walls, towers, and moats. It only features ornamental parts like battlements and turrets that give it a castle-like look.
The entrance to the castle is spectacular, with a vehicle passageway and large staircases leading to the main hall and other rooms. Inside the castle, you can find various paintings, tapestries, sculptures, historical relics, and furniture.
6. Beaumaris Castle
Beaumaris Castle stands in the town of Beaumaris on Anglesey Isle. It is the eighth and final Welsh castle built by England’s King Edward I in the 13th century as part of his exertion to conquer and rule Wales. The castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a notable illustration of mediaeval military architecture.
Beaumaris Castle is built in a symmetrical concentric design, with multiple layers of walls and towers arranged in a circular pattern to surround the central courtyard. The castle also features a grand gatehouse, a drawbridge, and a moat surrounding it. The majestic gatehouse tower is one of the castle’s 13 towers.
Despite being a mediaeval castle with an impregnable formation, Beaumaris castle lacks the distinctive frightening appearance often found in many other castles of the time.
7. Conwy Castle
Conwy Castle is another castle built by England‘s King Edward I in the 13th century as part of his exertion to seize Wales. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and looks straight out of a fairytale!
Conwy Castle is a majestic fortress with eight towers and a curtain wall encircling the entire town. The towers are over 20 metres tall, and the walls are over 2 metres thick in certain parts. The castle, surrounded by a moat, features a barbican, a fortified gatehouse, and two bridges allowing access to the building across the River Conwy.
Conwy Castle stands majestically on a rocky ledge above the River Conwy. Visitors can climb to the top of the towers for panoramic views of the town and its surroundings.
8. Harlech Castle
Harlech Castle is another majestic 13-century castle built by Edward I. Standing on a rocky ledge in the Irish Sea, this mediaeval fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular tourist attraction in North Wales.
Harlech Castle has been a reminder of the Welsh-English conflicts over ruling Wales throughout its history. It played a significant role in the Wars of the Roses, especially during the long-lasted Siege of Harlech.
Harlech Castle stands out for its well-preserved medieval military architecture and great fortifications. It features massive towers at each corner of its inner wall and a gatehouse with two much bigger towers on its eastern side. It also contains a drawbridge and a barbican, adding an extra protective barrier.
The castle was constructed in a way that benefited from the surrounding landscape as a natural defence. Its placement on a sheer cliff made it challenging for attackers to approach. Dry moats were also dug out of the rock on the opposing side to serve as a defensive feature.
9. Powis Castle
Powis Castle is a magnificent castle renowned worldwide for its fantastic garden. It was initially constructed in the 13th century by the Welsh prince Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn and was later enlarged and renovated by subsequent owners. Although built originally as a fortress for defence, Powis Castle evolved into a stunning royal mansion with magnificent surroundings and superb interiors.
The castle’s architecture is an exceptional blend of mediaeval, Elizabethan, and Jacobean elements. French and Italian architectural designs are evident in the terraces. The castle is also adorned with tapestries, paintings, and furniture in its halls and rooms.
Powis Castle’s beautiful gardens feature unique landscaping and centuries-old yew trees. It is one of the best Baroque gardens in the United Kingdom. People travel worldwide to view the exquisite terraces overflowing with colour and hanging yew trees.
10. Castell Coch
Castell Coch, located in Cardiff, is a Gothic Revival castle from the 19th century. It is sometimes referred to as a “fantasy castle” because of its unusual design and construction use of modern technology and materials.
Castell Coch stands out for its fairytale-like appearance in contrast to the bulk of Welsh castles. William Burges, a leading figure in the Gothic Revival movement, designed the castle and skillfully added woodcarvings, vibrant mosaics, and exquisite plasterwork.
The beautiful castle boasts an elaborate vibrant interior and a distinctive exterior with massive towers, crenellated walls, and steeply pitched roofs. It comprises four towers with conical roofs adorned with crenellations. The cylindrical turrets, ribbed vaults, and pointed arches add to its distinctiveness. The castle also features lovely gardens and terraces offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
Magnificent Castles in Wales and Other Countries!
You may confidently travel anywhere in Wales, knowing there is always a castle nearby ready to impress, instruct, or frighten you. If you liked this list of Welsh castles, you might also like to check out our list of the best castles in the UK, or you might want a scary tour into the haunted castles in Scotland!
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