15 Fascinating Castles to Visit in Wales

15 Fascinating Castles to Visit in Wales

Travel back in time and be blown away by Wales’ many magnificent castles.

A land of legends and dragons, Wales has a long and interesting history. The scene of many conflicts, the lush landscapes are scattered with the remains of ancient castles, erected to keep invaders at bay and protect the nation. There are estimated to be more than 500 castles across Wales, with some in especially good states of preservation. No journey to Wales is complete without visiting a castle or two; here are some of the best to add to your bucket list:

1. Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle is a huge and imposing fortress in North Wales that dates back to the 1280s. Its location was chosen as a strategic spot for defending the area when the Prince of Wales started an uprising. It stands on the site of a much older Roman fortress. Soaring towers rise up from the high walls, and there are many slits that soldiers could fire arrows through at the enemy while hiding in safety. You can explore small passageways, climb narrow staircases, soak up the views from atop the high walls, and be awed as you gaze up at the mammoth castle from the inner courtyards, It’s often said to be one of the most impressive castles in the UK, if not the entire world!   

2. Conwy Castle

Image credit: Mélanie

Built under the orders of King Edward I, Conwy Castle is widely believed to be among the most awesome castles constructed during the former monarch’s reign. Situated on a gigantic rock, the magnificent castle provides amazing views of the beautiful landscapes of Snowdonia. The huge castle cost an immense amount of money to build, and no expense was spared in creating a sturdy fortress to protect the lands and intimidate invaders and unruly subjects. Accessed by a suspension bridge, tall towers, sweeping halls, small chapels, rooms previously used by royals, and high battlements are a few of the castle’s cool features.

3. Harlech Castle

Image credit: Markus Trienke

Located in Gwynedd, Harlech Castle is another Welsh marvel that’s steeped in legends of old. The views of the castle along with the mountains and the coast are breathtaking. Built some 700 years ago, the medieval fortress stands in a decent state of preservation. Gigantic gateways lead into the complex building, with a number of portcullises to add further protection. The foundations remain of dwellings within the safety of the now-ruined outer walls, and you can see the innovative lifeline of the “Way from the Sea”, a long staircase that leads from the castle grounds all the way down the rocks and to the waves below. A gate guarded the top, and the steps allowed cargo ships to supply the castle in relative safety.

4. Bodelwyddan Castle

Image credit: Jean Mottershead

Now split into a hotel and areas that are open to the general public, the elegant Bodelwyddan Castle is sure to be a highlight of any trip to Denbighshire. Constructed in the 1460s as a fine manor house, it boasts stunning architectural details and takes you on a journey back through Wales’ rich past. Surrounded by lush gardens, the beautiful castle is fully intact, thanks to various restoration projects over the years. There’s a museum inside today that houses works of art and items related to the castle’s history.  

5. Caerphilly Castle

Image credit: Nicole Rugman

Located in South Wales, the enormous Caerphilly Castle is the biggest fortress in Wales. Built in the 1300s, it followed ground-breaking concentric designs and was considered to be a military masterpiece. Portcullises were once housed in the outer walls, ready to chop down unauthorized persons who tried to storm the castle. Walkways on the high walls and passageways provided easy access around the immense site, and the inner walls were almost impenetrable. Most of the high towers still stand proudly today, though one leans precariously, showing the ravages of time.

6. Chirk Castle

Image credit: Andrew Smith

A glorious jewel near Wrexham, North Wales, Chirk Castle provides sublime vistas of the beautiful Ceiriog Valley from its hilltop location. A fine feature in the area for almost seven centuries, the castle was eventually converted into a lavish residence. Used as a stately home for many years, it is surrounded by well-tended lawns and beautifully manicured gardens. The grounds also contain a number of statues, and it’s easy to spot regal fleur de lis symbols and grand coats of arms.

7. Rhuddlan Castle

Image credit: Jonny Williams

Rhuddlan Castle is an atmospheric ruin in Denbighshire. Although it’s not one of Wales’ headline castles, a trip here is still full of wonder and a sense of history. It’s rarely busy and you can soak up the ambience in relative peace and quiet. Plus, the views are incredible! The Welsh flag flaps in the wind atop one of the towers and foundations of buildings like a chapel, homes, and a kitchen remain inside the crumbling walls. The castle is thought to date back to at least the eighth century.

8. Castell Coch

Image credit: James Stringer

A more modern construction than many of the other castles on this list, the fairytale-esque Castell Coch is a charming sight in the village of Tongwynlais, South Wales. Built in the 19th century in a Gothic Revival style, the castle stands on the site of a much older fortress, which is thought to have been destroyed in the 1300s. Perhaps more akin to a handsome French chateau than a typical British castle, the striking building has opulent Victorian interiors with gorgeous period furnishings, décor, and art.  

9. Gwrych Castle

Image credit: Hefin Owen

A striking structure in Conwy, it is thought that the original Gwrych Castle (believed to have been built by the Normans) was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s army during the English Civil War. The present Gothic-style castle dates back to the early 1800s. During its heyday, the magnificent castle had more than 120 rooms, a decadent marble stairway, and 19 towers. Having passed through several owners and suffered from neglect and decay, the historic building is now derelict.

10. Criccieth Castle

Image credit: Peter Jennings

Perched atop a craggy hill and built at the turn of the 1200s, Criccieth Castle looks over the ocean. Historians and archaeologists can’t agree which country built the various parts of the now-ruined marvel which displays both Welsh and English remains. Access to the ruins is along a steep path and through a gigantic gatehouse with two enormous round towers. The insides are fairly simple in comparison, and the site bears the scars of several battles from times gone by; look closely and you’ll notice rocks charred by fire among the collapsed walls.   

11. Beaumaris Castle

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Completed in the early years of the 1300s and built by King Edward I, Beaumaris Castle is rather unusual in that it does not occupy the site of an earlier fortress. The large castle was built entirely on a new piece of land. It was the biggest and last castle to have been built in Wales by the English king. It has a concentric layout with almost perfect symmetry. A headline attraction on the Isle of Anglesey, the Norman-French name means “fair marsh”. Despite its imposing stature and strong defences, the castle was only really called into action during English Civil War. Encircled by a moat, the outer walls have two gates and 16 towers. You can marvel at the magnitude of the expansive interiors and explore the inner passageways within the walls.  

12. Caldicot Castle

Image credit: Andrew Smith

Situated near Chepstow in South Wales, Caldicot Castle is a delightful castle that sits where a much older defensive structure once protected the area. Carefully restored, it’s a terrific example of a medieval fortress. The high walls, complete with arrow slits, are more than 2.5 metres thick and a verdant motte surrounds the site. The turret once had a dungeon at the bottom, reached by passing through a tiny trap door, and you can climb to the top of the keep for splendid views.       

13. Swansea Castle

castles in wales

Image credit: Tom Bastin

Swansea Castle has now been surrounded by modern structures, with all the trappings of a major city sitting around the cliff-top castle. The ruins that can be visited today were once part of a much bigger complex, with the castle having reached its zenith at the end of the 13th century. The outer walls have cross-shaped arrow holes and arched windows, some with bars, while there are small peepholes in the towers too. You can also see what’s left of the cells from when the castle was used as a prison for people in debt.     

14. Ruthin Castle

Image credit: Jim Linwood

The original Ruthin Castle was built in the 13th century on the site of an old Iron Age fort. Parts of the outer walls remain, built on a sandstone ridge and overlooking the lush valley. After the Civil War, the castle was rendered unusable to prevent it being used for military purposes in the future. A newer stately building was constructed much later as a gorgeous heritage hotel that incorporates original walls into its design. Today’s graceful castle is often used for fancy weddings and special functions.

15. Pembroke Castle

castles in wales

Image credit: Dave Price

A large and mighty Norman fortress in Pembrokeshire, Pembroke Castle can trace its history back to the late 11th century. Despite being attacked many times, the castle never fell. The keep, with its high round towers that flank a tall archway, is an impressive and formidable sight. A fighting platform used to be located at the top of the four-level structure. There are nooks and crannies to explore, and you can also walk along the walls, imagining how grand the castle would have been in its glory days.

Touring castles big and small is a great way to understand more of Wales’ tumultuous history as well as admiring the glorious architecture and taking many incredible pictures. This is just a small selection of the country’s many awesome castles; you’re never too far away from a splendid castle when travelling around Wales!

About Author

Sarah W
Sarah W

Sarah W is a travelling cat-lover who enjoys exploring places that are a little bit quirky or away from headline attractions. Favourite things include delicious falafel, snuggling under a thick duvet, (badly) belting out karaoke at the top of her lungs, and, of course, her family, friends, and furry pets.


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