Gwynedd in Wales – encompassing much of the historic district of Caernarvonshire – is a county home to a huge amount of historical sites. The region, which has been inhabited since Celtic times, was occupied by the Romans in the late 70s AD. Their mark is still very present via the epic remains of the fort Segontium, which was designed to house around 1,000 infantrymen.
Later, following his conquest of Wales in 1282-1283, England’s Edward I annexed the English town which had previously been the principality of Llewelyn the Last. The famous Caernarfon Castle, which is regarded as one of the best-preserved medieval structures in the world, attracts tourists from across the globe.
Here’s our selection of 10 of the best historic sites to visit in Gwynedd.
1. Caernarfon Castle
Construction of Caernarfon Castle began following Edward I’s invasion of Wales in 1283, and was at last completed by 1330. To secure his hold on the rebellious country, the king encircled it with an ‘iron ring’ of castles which included Caenarfon, Conwy, Harlech, and Beaumaris. Grand and imposing, Caernarfon Castle was an impressive mix of fortress, royal home and political seat, with features echoing that of imperial Rome and Arthurian legend.
Today, Caernarfon is managed by Cadw and remains exceptionally intact, with visitors able to explore its vast walls and many towers. Entering through the atmospheric King’s Gate, its double towers and overlooking statue of Edward I may be admired, while inside the castle’s interior transports guests back in time to medieval Wales. A trip up its winding stone staircases to its battlements also allows for fantastic views over the town and River Seiont.
2. Segontium Roman Fort
Established nearly 2000 years ago, Segontium Roman Fort bustled with life for nearly 300 years. Founded by Agricola in 77 AD after he brutally supressed a rebellion by a native tribe, the fort was designed to hold around 1,000 auxiliary infantrymen and was linked by Roman roads to the main legionary bases at Chester and Caerleon.
Thanks to excavations uncovering coins at the site, it’s known that the Romans stayed at the fort until 394 AD, which makes it the longest-held Roman fort in Wales. It served the purpose of controlling access to fertile and mineral-rich Anglesey and defending the Welsh coastline against invasion from the Irish sea. Today, the ruins are open and able to freely visit.
3. Gelert's Grave
Gelert is a legendary dog associated with the village of Beddgelert (which translates to Gelert’s Grave). In the legend, Llywelyn the Great returns from hunting to see his baby missing, and Gelert with a bloodstained mouth. Thinking his dog had killed his baby, Llywelyn the Great kills the dog. However, he quickly finds his unharmed baby and realises that the dog had instead been defending the baby against a nearby dead wolf. Feeling great remorse, Llywelyn buried Gelert with great ceremony.
Though the story is a myth created to encourage tourism in the late 18th century, the tale of Gelert endures. Gelert’s Grave features two slate memorials with information about the legend written in both Welsh and English.
4. Caernarfon Railway Station
Caernarfon Railway Station is part of the West Highland Railway. It opened in 1997, but also operates a heritage steam train which is a popular attraction for locals and tourists alike, and takes passengers through many Welsh beauty spots.
For instance, the Gelert Explorer takes passengers through a number of scenic Welsh sites such as Snowdonia and Beddgelert. In Beddgelert (which translates to ‘Gelert’s Grave’) you’ll find the famous grave of Gelert. At the station itself, there is a gift shop.
5. Sygun Copper Mine
Formerly one of the main suppliers of minerals in Wales, Sygun Copper Mine is a Victorian copper mine located just outside Beddgelert in the Snowdonia National Park. Mining in the area has existed as far back as Roman times. These mines were left untouched until the Industrial Revolution, when they were unearthed and dug deeper into the hills because of a rising demand for copper. The mine was shut down in 1903 as it was no longer profitable.
In 1983, the mine was reopened and restoration work began shortly after. In 1986, it was opened as a tourist attraction that specialised in audio-visual tours of the underground works. Visitors can enjoy its winding tunnels and large colourful chambers that feature stalactite and stalagmite formations.
6. Caernarfon Town Walls
Caernarfon’s famous town walls, studded with eight towers and two gateways, appear nearly completely the same as when they were first constructed between 1283-1292 after the foundation of Caernarfon by Edward I. Extending for almost half a mile, the walls originally formed a blanket around the whole town.
Today, the walls are prominent and feature original architecture as well as later updates. Some of the best-preserved sections of the wall are visible just north of the East Gate. It’s recommended that visitors walk along the quay or the shady Hole in the Wall street.
7. Cae’r Gors
Welsh novelist and short story writer Kate Roberts has been unofficially titled in Wales as Brenhines ein Llên – or ‘The Queen of our Literature’. Roberts was born in 1891, and her work engages with themes including strong women, poverty and quarrying communities in north-west Wales. Roberts grew up in the humble quarryman’s cottage Cae’r Gors.
When Roberts realised that the cottage was derelict in 1965, she campaigned to save it, and in 2007 it was finally restored to the way it appeared during her childhood. Today, the cottage – complete with original books, clogs and a cloak – and the stunning scenery around it are enjoyed by both tourists and locals alike, while the heritage centre behind the cottage sheds more light on Roberts’ remarkable life.
8. Dinas Emrys
Dinas Emrys is a rocky and wooded hillock near Beddgelert. Rising some 76m above the river valley below, it is known for the small amount of Iron Age remains of a hillfort or castle structure that once stood there.
Today, the remains are a popular attraction. It is thought that a castle may have been erected there by Llewelyn the Last to guard the road to the mountain pass of Snowdon. Walls and ramparts that date to the middle ages are also visible. Excavations in 1910 and 1954-1956 reveal several periods of habitation at the site.