The Best 19 Castles to Visit in Wales (Listed by Popularity)

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Wales, despite being the smallest nation in the United Kingdom, has a long and illustrious history, as well as rich customs. 

Castles have played an important role in its history and can be seen all throughout the beautiful Welsh countryside. Wales has over 400 castles, making it the country with the highest density of castles per square mile of land anywhere in the world. Most of these towering and spectacular structures were constructed after Wales was annexed by England in 1283.

You simply cannot visit Wales without adding at least one of these breathtaking beauties to your bucket list. This post will tell you about the ten most beautiful castles in Wales, along with another ten less well-known but worth a visit as well!

The order of the list is based on Google search volume of each castle = popularity.

1. Caernarfon Castle

Across the courtyard of Caernarfon Castle and out to sea.
Across the courtyard of Caernarfon Castle and out to sea. James Petts from London, England, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Caernarfon Castle, also known as Carnarvon Castle, is known across the globe as one of the outstanding structures of the Middle Ages. This majestic medieval fortification, with its distinctive polygonal towers, served as the official house of Edward I and the birthplace of his son, who later became the first Prince of Wales. 

This fortress-palace on the banks of the River Seiont is part of a World Heritage Site that includes Edward I’s other castles at Conwy, Beaumaris, Harlech, and other sites in Wales.

Today, it serves as an important tourist destination. It’s large enough that you can spend a full two hours there without visiting the same section twice. Visitors also like taking a stroll through the gardens to enjoy a bit of sunshine on a good day … or the Welsh rain, if they came prepared!

2. Cardiff Castle

The medieval octagon fort at Cardiff Castle.
The medieval octagon fort at Cardiff Castle.

If you wish to go back in time and learn about Wale’s 2000-year history, Cardiff Castle is the place to visit. This 11th-century Norman castle was built on the site of a Roman fort. The ruins of the Roman fortifications can still be observed from inside the castle.

It eventually became a dream playground for a wealthy patron who transformed the castle into a Victorian Neo-Gothic palace. The Roman wall, panoramic views from the medieval keep, and the opulent interior of the castle apartments are all worth seeing while you’re here.

Aside from all that, Cardiff Castle is also known for its Welsh Banquets, which mimic the festivities in a historically accurate fashion. Cardiff is also used to host other events, such as outdoor film screenings and theatre performances.

3. Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle’s walls hold secrets of ages.
Conwy Castle’s walls hold secrets of ages.

The 700-year-old Conwy Castle, one of the greatest medieval forts in Britain and one of the most magnificent castles in Europe, was erected by Edward I as one of his ‘Iron Ring’ strongholds during his conquest of Wales. Experts believe that the original construction cost around a whopping £15,000 back in the day.

Thanks to the reconstructed spiral stairs in the castle’s major towers, you can walk around the battlements of Conwy Castle in one continuous circle. It is now considered one of the world’s most beautiful castles with two barbicans and eight massive circular towers on the outside. Conwy’s limestone walls are derived from the same sand & limestone ridge that the castle stands on. It is absolutely a lovely castle in the interior as well, with a plethora of magnificent chambers to explore.

4. Beaumaris Castle

A winter view of Beaumaris Castle.
A winter view of Beaumaris Castle. Beaumaris Castle flickr photo by alh1 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-ND) license

This Welsh architectural gem is a 13th-century concoction that was built on the behest of Edward I during his expedition to conquer the northern part of Wales. It has a long and rich history of various uprisings, sieges, and renovation works carried out over the course of the centuries. It was even held by Charles I during the English Civil Wars.

Beaumaris is labeled a work of “vanity” by many historians, as its considerable budget was almost the equivalent of the royal treasury at the time. The most notable part about this castle is its absolutely symmetrical concentric planning. Its sturdy stone architecture and strategic location made it one of the best fortified castles in the area at the time. Today, surrounded by lush green lands, it is a classic tourist destination.

5. Caerphilly Castle

Caerphilly Castle from across the lake.
Caerphilly Castle from across the lake. Rob the moment profile, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the heart of Wales, this walled castle with two lakes is the biggest in the country and is often regarded as one of the many outstanding medieval castles in Western Europe. If it appears familiar to you, it’s most likely because you’ve seen it in the BBC television program Merlin.

It was built by Gilbert de Clare in the 13th century as part of his struggle to preserve control of Glamorgan. It was the site of intense conflict between Gilbert and his successors, as well as the local Welsh kings, throughout that time period. It is known for its amazing water-defense systems and large gatehouses. The 15th century saw it abandoned and in a state of perpetual decline. Today, it’s an amazing tourist destination that is managed by the Welsh heritage agency.

6. Harlech Castle

The remains of Harlech Castle’s grand towers.
The remains of Harlech Castle’s grand towers. Harlech Castle flickr photo by wwarby shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Harlech Castle, located on top of a rocky outcrop, was previously linked to the sea by a canal off of the moat, but this is no longer the case since the water has retreated, leaving the castle somewhat stranded. 

The castle was built by Edward I and was involved in the Wars of the Roses. The absolute resilience of this castle can be witnessed by the fact that it resisted a whopping 7-year siege in the 15th century without ever succumbing. Supplies were bought into the castle via a stone stairway that met the ocean at its base. This victory made it a popular subject of many old songs.

Today, Harlech Castle enjoys a pretty location that is appreciated by vistors for its extensive views of the stunning surroundings.

7. Pembroke Castle

Pembroke Castle standing tall atop its hill.
Pembroke Castle standing tall atop its hill. Athena Flickr, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As you approach this massive castle encircled by a gorgeous mill pond, your eyes are likely to be delighted. The most fascinating thing about the location is that it’s built over a large cave, known as the Wogan Cave. The current building was originally built on the site where a previous Norman castle existed.  The castle was extensively repaired during the Victorian times and is dominated by the complicated gatehouse on the exterior, followed by the massive circular keep once you enter. 

The medieval walled town of Pembroke, which developed around the castle, also features a number of antique and fascinating Norman structures. With free hourly guided tours available, you can learn about the history of this castle–famous as the birthplace of the Tudor Dynasty–while you explore the underground grotto and other features of the castle.

8. Chepstow Castle

Chepstow Castle in winter sunlight.
Chepstow Castle in winter sunlight. Pam Brophy, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located high on a limestone cliff above the River Wye, the magnificent Chepstow Castle is a history lesson in stone that has been lovingly conserved throughout the centuries. 

The town of Chepstow was the residence of some of the richest and most powerful individuals of the medieval and Tudor eras for more than six centuries. In addition to being one of the first stone castles to be erected in Wales, this now-derelict Norman stronghold, with its broken town walls, is also considered to be the first ‘real’ castle/fortress to be built in Wales. 

Pass through the original 800-year-old doors of Chepstow Castle to explore how castles have developed to deal with increasingly more deadly weapons – and the grandiose goals of their owners. There is no better site in Wales to do so than here.

9. Powis Castle

Powis Castle and grounds on a sunny day.
Powis Castle and grounds on a sunny day. Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)., CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Powis Castle is known for its world-renowned garden terraces and is a must-see for anybody visiting the area. The castle was the medieval fortification of the Welsh Princes of Powys, who held onto their realm despite threats from their powerful rivals in England and Gwynedd. 

Powis is home to an incredible collection of paintings, sculptures, furniture, and tapestries. The 17th-century gardens were designed by the renowned architect William Winde. The combination of Italian terraces and Dutch water gardens is exemplary and still inspires to this day. With solar-powered greenhouses, the castle is still home to some amazing flora. These days, you can even buy yourself a plant at the castle shop. You may be shocked by what you discover when there. Everything has a fascinating tale to tell that deserves to be heard.

10. Raglan Castle

The grand entrance facade of Raglan Castle.
The grand entrance facade of Raglan Castle.

This 15th-century Welsh masterpiece of a castle is the last of its kind in Wales. Built on the behest of William ap Thomas in the 15th century, this castle has seen many partial reconstructions and has had many additions made to it by changing owners over the course of the centuries. It even went through a devastating siege in the 17th century, yet still survived to tell the tale.

Raglan is a serene tourist destination, boasting tranquil countryside surroundings and a wealth of architectural detailing that one can get immersed in during the tours. Many television shows have also been filmed there, including several episodes of Merlin. It’s definitely a great place to visit if you’re looking for some culturally significant downtime in Wales.

If you are a castle enthusiast, you must take out the time to visit these equally spectacular castles in Wales as well:

11. Penrhyn Castle

Ivy-covered but standing strong: Penrhyn Castle.
Ivy-covered but standing strong: Penrhyn Castle. bvi4092, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This Norman castle dates back to the medieval times, when it was built in a tower-keep style. It was majorly refurbished in the 19th century into a country house by English architect Thomas Hooper. He completely transformed the original look into something new and improved.

Today, Penrhyn Castle is home to some of the most attractive gardens in the world. From pretty picnic areas to whimsical woodland walkways, you can enjoy a number of outdoor activities there. There are also children’s play areas, even dogs are welcome in the grounds of this castle.

12. Castell Coch

Adorable Castell Coch, hidden away.
Adorable Castell Coch, hidden away.

In the heart of forest Fawr, a vision of a fairy tale comes to life as Castell Coch, also known as the ‘Red Castle,’ emerges from the old beech woodlands. However, the grandeur of its massive towers, with their characteristic conical roofs, draw bridges, and rich interiors, is merely a fraction of the beauty that lies beneath.

Underneath the majestic remnants of a 13th-century castle, which was previously used as a hunting lodge by the brutal Marcher lord Gilbert de Clare, you can still see the remains of the Norman construction that was here before.

13. Carew Castle

Carew Castle across water.
Carew Castle across water.

The culturally significant site of Carew Castle has been occupied ever since the Iron Age. The castle that we see today was first erected in the 11th century. Ultimately, it was leased to the National Park Authority in 1983. 

Carew Castle is special because not only is it home to some very rare plant species, but is also said to be haunted by some very precocious ghosts. It also boasts a restored Tidal Mill on the grounds and tourists can even enjoy a fun buggy ride on the circular walkway.

14. Chirk Castle

Chirk Castle stands tall today.
Chirk Castle stands tall today. Beryl Allcoat / Chirk Castle, Main Approach

Designed as part of Edward I’s line of strongholds around North Wales, Chirk Castle was built by Roger Mortimer de Chirk in the late 13th century. 

In 1910, Thomas Scott-Ellis, 8th Lord Howard de Walden, fell in love with Chirk Castle and arranged a lease with the Myddelton family, which lasted until 1946. Meanwhile, the castle was being used as a wedding venue.

Visit the Castle and learn how this Welsh fortification was transformed into a beautiful family residence, complete with richly decorated chambers that show 400 years of changing taste. 

15. Rhuddlan Castle

Rhuddlan Castle in ruins.
Rhuddlan Castle in ruins. Llywelyn2000, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Designed by the architect James St. George, Rhuddlan is one of the very first castles to feature a concentric inner layout. The diamond shape of this castle’s layout was unique in its own right, but it also gave it the privilege of being one of the most secure strongholds in the area.

Although in ruins today, Rhuddlan is still a great historical destination and visited by hundreds of tourists on a regular basis.

16. Dinefwr Castle

Dinefwr Castle’s remaining walls.
Dinefwr Castle’s remaining walls. Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If fairytale castles were real, Dinefwr would be the best of them all. Located between the National Nature Reserve and an 18th-century deer park, this castle enjoys a lovely location. Overlooking the river Twi, Dinefwr was one of the primary seats of power for southern Wales.

Today, it is owned by the Wildlife Trust. Although the castle is in ruins, it is no less majestic. It is an excellent place to plan a nice family gathering or a romantic day with your partner – especially if you want some serene time in the great outdoors.

17. Dolwyddelan Castle

Dolwyddelan Castle aop a Welsh craig.
Dolwyddelan Castle aop a Welsh craig. Jeff Buck, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The first half of this castle was built in the 13th century by the Welsh Prince Llywelyn the Great, while the second story was later added by Edward I. Through the years, it passed ownership through several hands, until one lord added a proper drainage system around the 15th century.

Dolwyddelan Castle has also made an appearance in the movie Dragonslayer. Its ruggedly mountainous backdrop is not just picturesque enough to appear on the big screen, but also makes for a pretty tourist hub.

18. Skenfrith Castle

The remains of a Skenfrith Castle tower.
The remains of a Skenfrith Castle tower. Davidmholmes51, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This 12th century ruin belies Norman might in its origins. It was reconstructed in 1267 at the hands of the first Earl of Kent, Hubert. Although King Edward I stripped the castle of its military importance, it still painted an impressive picture.

It wasn’t until the 16th century that Skenfrith Castle actually fell into a state of disuse. Welsh National Trust took ownership at the beginning of the 19th century. It is definitely a site worth visiting if you’re a history buff or simply want a serene outing surrounded by lush greenery.

19. Bodelwyddan Castle

Beautifully maintained Bodelwyddan Castle.
Beautifully maintained Bodelwyddan Castle. Tanya Dedyukhina, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This romantic castle has all the amenities of a modern hotel, and is definitely a place worth staying if you want some cultural immersion. Originally the Humphrey family’s 15th century manor house, this castle was opened to the public as a museum, but later closed and was put up for sale. This did not include the independently-run hotel.

The castle and grounds remains closed to the public today (excepting hotel visitors).

Conclusion

Wales is an amazing place to visit, there are so many beautiful spots to visit in this area that it really is a hidden treasure. Having said that, it might be difficult to narrow your choices down to just a handful when travelling across the nation. This is especially true when it comes to discovering the top castles in Wales to visit. We wish you good luck in your choice!

Zunaira Ghazal
Zunaira Ghazal
Zunaira is an architect and designer on paper, but a writer at heart. She’s got a Bachelors in Architecture and a passion for traveling, both of which combine in her writings about timeworn castles and fortresses that have withstood the tests of time and stand proud to this day.

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