When it comes to experiencing awe-inspiring history, Wales' majestic castles offer a remarkable journey into the past. Moreover, Wales also boasts a wealth of diverse attractions, from exploring its stunning landscapes to immersing oneself in its vibrant culture. In this guide, we've focused on the ten best castles in Wales for you to visit.
For sheer grey-stone solidity, nothing beats Conwy Castle, with its eight massive round towers arranged squarely on the banks of the Conwy Estuary. Completed in 1287, this “Iron Ring” edifice was finished in less than five years, complete with associated bastide town.
The two worked in symbiosis: the castle was kept supplied by the merchants who were protected by the mile-long ring of town walls. A walk along the walls still gives the best views of both castle and town.
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Carreg Cennen can be explored on one of the best road trips in the United Kingdom. It is the most romantically sited of all the best castles in Wales, perched on its craggy, limestone hill, often with mist swirling around the lower slopes.
There’s something wild and preternaturally Welsh about this isolated locale on the edge of the heather-purpled Black Mountains. On the south side, a steep cliff plummets down to the bucolic valley of the River Cennen below. You can descend the valley via a steep stairway tunnel cut into the cliff face.
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The ruinous state of Dinas Brân – or Crow’s Fortress Castle – high above the town of Llangollen, almost puts it out of contention as a castle. It is really just a short stretch of crumbling thirteenth-century masonry and a few vaulted arches, but there are few better places in Wales to watch the sunset.
As a golden glow settles over the bucolic Dee Valley you can ponder the English–Welsh power struggles that gave rise to this borderlands relic.
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More like a French chateau than a real castle, Penrhyn stands as a testament to nineteenth-century class divisions. While the workers hacked away at the nearby slate quarries, their masters created a compelling neo-Norman fancy, complete with a five-storey keep.
Everything here on a massive scale, from the 3ft-thick oak doors to the halls of fine art housing works by Canaletto, Gainsborough and Rembrandt. There's even an enormous slate bed, designed for Queen Victoria’s visit.
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Caernarfon Castle is both the most recognisable of the best castles in Wales and also the least typical. It eschews the ancient square form and rounded fortifications in favour of distinctive polygonal towers, the supreme development of “Iron Ring” architect James of St George.
The largely intact walls are riddled with passageways that eventually deliver you to the ramparts, offering fabulous views of the ancient town of Caernarfon and Snowdonia beyond.
Our tailor-made Great British Road Trip gives you an opportunity to explore Caernarfon Castle as well as the most iconic sites of the United Kingdom.
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Built on the site of a Roman fort and an earlier Norman fortification, the present Caerphilly Castle was begun in 1268. By the early twentieth century, the castle was in a sorry state, sitting amid a growing industrial town. In the late 1920s, the castle underwent an extensive period of restoration, followed, in 1958, by the demolition of houses and shops so that the moat could be re-flooded.
You enter the castle through the much-restored great gatehouse that punctuates the barbican wall by a lake. From here, a bridge crosses the moat, part of the wider lake, to the outer wall of the castle itself, behind which sits the hulking inner ward. Located here is the massive eastern gatehouse, which includes an impressive upper hall and oratory and, to its left, the wholly restored and reroofed Great Hall.
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The village of Raglan (Rhaglan) is lorded over by one of the best castles in Wales, whose ornate style and comparative intactness set it apart from other more crumbling Wales castles. The late medieval castle was constructed on the site of a Norman motte in 1435 by Sir William ap Thomas.
The gatehouse is still used as the main entrance. The finest examples of the castle’s showy decoration appear in its heraldic shields, intricate stonework edging and gargoyles. Inside, stonemasons’ marks, used to identify how much work each man had done, can be seen on the walls.
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Surrounded by water on three sides, Pembroke Castle proved impregnable for four centuries. During the Civil War, Pembroke was a Parliamentarian stronghold until switching to the Royalist side in 1648. Cromwell’s 48-day siege of the town only succeeded after he cut off its water supply.
Despite Cromwell’s battering and centuries of subsequent neglect, the castle’s sheer, bloody-minded bulk still inspires awe, even if it’s largely due to extensive restoration over the last century. You enter through the soaring gatehouse, home to some displays of the history of the castle. The walls and towers contain many walkways and dark passages that give ample chance to chase around spiral stairways into great oak-beamed halls.
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Criccieth’s only real sight is the battle-worn Criccieth Castle, dominating the coastline with what remains of its twin, D-shape towered gatehouse. This proved to be an irresistible subject for painter J.M.W. Turner, who captured it in several works.
Nowadays, it’s a great spot to sit and look over Cardigan Bay to Harlech or, in the late afternoon, to gaze down over the ripples of the Llŷn coast. There’s also an enlightening exhibition on Welsh princes just beyond the reception/shop area.
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A wooden castle was built here around 1106, rebuilt in stone in the 1270s and extended in the fourteenth century. On Castle Street, the main road through Kidwelly, a fourteenth-century town gate marks the approach to Kidwelly Castle.
Continuing through the massive gatehouse, which forms the centrepiece of the impressively intact outer ward walls, you can still see portcullis slots and murder holes, through which noxious substances could be poured onto intruders. Views from the musty solar and hall, packed into the easternmost wall of the inner ward, show the castle’s defensive position at its best, with the river directly below.
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A trip to the many castles of Wales is sure to delight any traveller interested in history. Ready to travel to Wales? Check out the Rough Guides to Wales.
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Top image: Conwy Castle © Richard Hayman/Shutterstock