You really can’t visit Wales without including a castle (or two) in your itinerary. This article will introduce you to 10 of the best castles in Wales with tips and background history and information.
You will find a handy map showing the locations of these Welsh castles at the end of the article plus links to more information to help you plan your trip to Wales.
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Guide to the best Welsh castles to add into your itinerary
In northwest Wales, on the banks of the River Seiont, architect James of St. George built Caernarfon Castle at the behest of King Edward I.
Construction started in the late 13th century and took 47 years to complete. The result is a grand castle with unparalleled architectural drama, making it one of the best castles in Wales to visit today.
Visitors will be awestruck by Eagle Tower — it has 18-foot-thick walls and three soaring turrets. You can also walk throughout the castle, up and down narrow and winding staircases and along the battlements.
Mind your step! The floors can be a little uneven but the climb up to the towers is more than worth it for the stunning views.
Beaumaris Castle in North Wales has the unique distinction of never having been finished. Begun in 1295 by James of St. George, the military architect extraordinaire of King Edward I, money troubles and Scottish skirmishes meant that by 1306, the castle was still incomplete.
By the 1320s, it was all but abandoned. It’s a shame, in that what exists today of the symmetrically designed concentric castle would have been extraordinary in its day.
Today, it’s a highly atmospheric place with plenty of half-constructed and crumbling walls, winding staircases and narrow passages, all surrounded by a moat.
The site also offers lovely views of the Snowdonia mountain range.
Cardiff Castle was built on the banks of the Taff River in the 11th century overtop a 3rd-century Roman fort.
It was originally a motte-and-bailey castle but was eventually reinforced with stone walls for defence. Like other castles during this era, it was traded back and forth between the English and the Welsh.
In the mid 18th century, Cardiff Castle was transformed by renown architect William Burges into the ornate gothic home of the third Marquess of Bute.
Today, this amazing castle is open to the public and visitors can tour the lovely grounds and landscaped parks or go inside to see the luxurious apartments.
In North Wales in Llandudno, on the River Conway, you’ll find Conway Castle. It was built for Edward I in the late 1200s on top of an imposing bed of solid rock, creating the ultimate show of English domination over the Welsh people.
The castle exhibited state-of-the-art military architecture of its day — with a defensive wall and imposing round towers.
Today, the walls and castle interior are largely preserved, making it one of the best Welsh castles to visit.
Take a tour and explore the eight towers, great hall and royal chambers. The view from the towers is amazing, but watch your step! The stairs are uneven and can be a little bit tricky.
Out of all of the places to see in Wales, Pembroke Castle may be the most magnificent. It has seen over 1,000 years of history, is the birthplace of King Henry VII and holds the distinction of never having fallen to the Welsh.
Located in the southeast, today it is the largest privately owned castle in Wales. In the last 200 years, remarkable efforts have preserved much of the castle, including the 80 ft. Great Keep, grand entrances, the stunning stone outer walls and much of the Great Hall.
There are many exhibitions detailing the castle’s rich history and visitors should plan to spend at least a few hours to explore the entire complex.
In the late 13th century, in Criccieth, Gwynedd, in North Wales, Llywelyn the Great stepped onto a rocky peninsula overlooking Tremaddog Bay and decided it would make the perfect place to build Criccieth Castle.
Throughout its life, this Welsh-built castle was occupied by both English and Welsh respectively, until the 15th century when it was destroyed by Welsh princes during the last Welsh rebellion.
Today, the picturesque ruins are one of the best places to visit in Wales. The views of the coastline and the town are second to none and the crumbling stone walls and historical exhibits on the grounds are thoroughly interesting.
Keep track of your travels around the UK with my UK bucket list checklist. Use it to help identify the places you want to visit and help with your UK travel planning too!
Carreg Cennen Castle
A few miles from Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire Wales are the ruins of Carreg Cennen Castle. Perched on a rocky hilltop with dramatic views of the valley and countryside beyond, the first Carreg Cennen castle was built in the 12th century but was rebuilt in the 13th century at the behest of Edward I.
Archeological evidence including Roman coins and prehistoric skeletons indicates that the location had probably been occupied long before either castle existed.
Visitors can park for free at the small farm on the grounds. Wear good shoes as the walk up to the castle can get slippery and boggy if there has been rain. Once at the castle, which is mostly ruined, the view is spectacular.
In 1430, in the country of Gwent, Sir William ap Thomas began building Raglan Castle. Known as the Blue Night of Gwent, Thomas wanted a defensive fortress but also wanted his castle to showcase his wealth and prestige.
The result was unlike many medieval castles, it had luxury apartments that were built around a manicured courtyard. It’s six-sided gatehouses, which are still standing, are unique among Welsh castles.
Although Raglan Castle is ruined, it is in good condition. After exploring the grounds, the cellars and the castle’s long gallery, visitors should make time to climb the Great Tower and take in the gorgeous views of the countryside.
Not far from Cardiff, situated in the county of Gwent in South Wales, is Caerphilly Castle.
Built in 1268 on the site of an ancient Roman fort, it was a defensive fortress and featured a unique concentric design, a novelty among British castles of the time.
It had an inner circle with rounded towers that were surrounded by an outer wall and guard house. Those, in turn, were surrounded by artificial lakes. By the 16th century, the castle was in ruins.
Beginning in 1776, however, interested parties began to protect, preserve and restore the castle. Today, visitors agree that Caerphilly is one of the most beautiful castles in South Wales and well worth visiting.
Among all of the castles in North Wales, Harlech Castle is one of the most popular and most scenic.
In 1283, the sandstone castle was built by James of St. George for Edward I. A rocky peninsula, overlooking Cardigan Bay was chosen as its site, the cliffs providing a natural barrier to protect the castle. It withstood centuries of battle but was eventually destroyed in the 1600s.
Visitors will be impressed by the views and the castle’s overall condition — it is not quite as far gone as some of the other castles in Wales. Walking the walls is great fun but might not be for those who are squeamish about heights.
Map showing the locations of the Welsh castles included in this article
The best castles in Wales and planning your visit
For more tips and inspiration for a variety of popular destinations in Wales pop over to my Wales Travel Guide which has all the information you need to plan your trip.
If you are still deciding where to visit (as well as all these amazing castles!) check out our guide to the best places to visit in Wales.
And finally, if you dream of spending the night in a castle you can! There are a number of castle hotel options in Wales. You can find them all in my guide to the best castle stays in Wales. (And if staying in a Scottish castle also appeals don’t miss my accommodation guide to 8 fairytale Scottish castles!)
Find more inspiration for your travels in my Wales Travel Guide which includes information about what to see, where to stay, how to get around, travel tips, recommended reading and more to make the most of your trip.