When it comes to Welsh castles there are a number of fascinating places just waiting to be explored. Highlights include Beaumaris Castle, Caernarfon Castle, and Caerphilly Castle. Other popular sites tend to include Conwy Castle, Raglan Castle, and Harlech Castle.
Though they may be imposing military constructions, these sites are often incredibly picturesque and are among the most popular places in Wales to visit. Wherever your travels take you, we’ve compiled a fantastic selection of fortifications in Wales with our editor’s picks followed by a few hidden gems you don’t want to miss.
The stunning Beaumaris Castle is a striking medieval fortification located on the Isle of Anglesey. Built by Edward I, this was the last of the king’s ring of castles which he constructed to affirm his conquest of Wales. Over the centuries the castle played an important military role, being besieged and captured by Prince of Wales Owain Glyn Dwron in 1403 before being retaken by the English in 1405. Charles I also used it as a base for moving supplies and troops during the English Civil War.
Today, these picturesque ruins remain a popular draw with tourists and Beaumaris is among the top Welsh castles to visit.
Caernarfon Castle is an imposing and picturesque medieval stronghold built by Edward I. Grand and commanding, Caernarfon was an impressive mix of fort, royal home and seat of political power. Through the centuries Caernarfon has fared very well, remaining in an exceptionally good state of preservation and standing today very much as it would have hundreds of years ago.
The castle has also continued to play host to important events, including the investiture of Prince Charles as the Prince of Wales in 1969. Today, the site is one of the most popular Welsh tourist attractions and offers exhibits and tours.
Caerphilly Castle is a vast thirteenth century Anglo-Norman stronghold built to defend against Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd.
Begun in around 1268, it took approximately three years to complete and its massive medieval battlements and thirty acre span made Caerphilly one of the most impressive – and formidable – castles of the time. Today, visitors can tour Caerphilly Castle and enjoy two on-site exhibits about its history.
Conwy Castle is the medieval military masterpiece of architect James of St. George. Constructed under the orders of English king Edward I and built between 1283 and 1289, Conwy was one of a ring of strongholds that the monarch commissioned to establish his dominance over Wales. This huge military fortification would later be the subject of a siege by the Welsh and would be garrisoned in several conflicts over the centuries.
With monumental towers and turrets and its position over the Conwy estuary, Conwy Castle stands today as an incredibly picturesque and impressive site. It is one of four welsh castles built by Edward listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Raglan Castle is the dramatic ruin of a 15th century castle built by Welsh nobleman Sir William ap Thomas.
His son, William Herbert, completed Raglan Castle where it met its end during the English Civil War.
Harlech Castle is a dramatic medieval stronghold and one of the most impressive fortifications in Wales. This strategically key castle was often at the heart of conflict in the area. In 1404, Harlech was subject to a siege and captured by rebel Welsh forces led by Owain Glyndwr. Glyndwr would hold the castle for four years, housing a parliament there.
The site would also play a role in the Wars of the Roses, when it was laid siege by the Yorkists and eventually taken from the Lancastrians. This event was the inspiration for the song Men of Harlech. Today, Harlech Castle is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a popular place to visit.
Cardiff Castle is an iconic medieval fortification with a history stretching back hundreds of years. The site of this famous castle was originally home to a succession of Roman forts, initially built in the mid first century AD. In the eleventh century, the Normans built first a timber then a stone castle on the site of these Roman fortifications. Over the centuries the castle was updated and altered on several occasions and under the Victorians the site was expanded and renovated further, creating a luxurious and grand complex.
Today, visitors can tour the castle’s opulent apartments while the shell of the stone keep can be seen and the reconstructed Roman wall is also visible.
Despite being in a somewhat ruined state, Denbigh Castle is a pretty castle ruin in Wales which dominated the local skyline and is very much worth seeing. Orignally constructed in around 1282 atop the ruins of a Welsh fortification, Denbigh castle is one of the ring of castles built by King Edward I. Edward invaded Wales in 1277, defeating its leader, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (Llywelyn the Last) and then proceeded to encircle it with imposing castles.
Today, the ruins of Denbigh Castle form a dramatic sight and the remains still have discernible curtain walls and a well preserved gatehouse.
Nestled in a tranquil spot amidst the Welsh Countryside, Manorbier Castle is a pretty, partially-ruined Norman fortification which overlooks the scenic coastline. The castle has largely avoided conflict in its history, suffering just two minor assaults, one of which was during the English Civil War.
Today, Manorbier is located in a beautifully unspoilt corner of Wales and sits atop a hill overlooking the beach. The beauty of Manorbier and its surroundings provide a contrast with its past – as Manorbier under the de Barris would have played an important role in subjugating the Welsh population after the Norman conquest.Visitors can explore various stairs, towers, rooms and battlements and even the dungeons and hidden passageways which lurk under the fortress. There are also a number of historical displays and life size waxwork figures on display.
Powis Castle was built by Welsh princes in the early thirteenth century and the site has broadly survived the passage of time in excellent condition.
Having been the home of the noble Herbert and Clive families, Powis and its vast gardens are now open to the public. Within Powis Castle is the Clive Museum, which houses pieces from India.
Rhuddlan Castle was one of the iron ring of strongholds built by Edward I in his conquest of Wales. Construction of Rhuddlan Castle began in 1277 and it was built in a concentric style.
Today the pretty ruins of Rhuddlan Castle are open to the public.
Kidwelly Castle has overlooked the river Gwendraeth and the town of Kidwelly since 1106, shortly after the Norman conquest. Originally intended to defend Norman – and therefore English – rule against the Welsh, Kidwelly Castle fell several times during revolts in the twelfth century. But it stood firm when besieged in 1403 by Owain Glyndŵr, the Welsh prince who led a powerful uprising against English rule.
Due to its place at the centre of several military engagements, Kidwelly underwent several repairs and improvements throughout the High Medieval period and was constantly adapted to deal with the various threats it faced. The castle’s current form principally developed between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries and has remained largely constant ever since. Originally a wooden fortification, it was rebuilt in stone and continually improved over this period. It still remains today as a much-valued fixture of the Welsh countryside and a fascinating insight into the country’s medieval past. So well-maintained is the exterior that it was used as a location for the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.