Top castles to visit in Wales on holiday

Days out, Family, Educational

Posted by Kate Atkin on 18th February 2022

Carew Castle

 

Wales’ history is studded with battles, invasions and valiant defence in times of war. Echoes of its fascinating past resonate through the centuries-old walls of its castles, with hundreds of Welsh castles still dominating the landscape today. While some fortresses are simply crumbling mounds on remote hilltops, around 100 of these castles to visit in Wales are beautifully preserved fortifications that stand proudly for all to admire.

From romantic ruins to mighty strongholds, follow our castle trail from north to south and take in the top 10 castles in Wales. Indulge your inner childhood imagination of kings, knights and ferocious battles, and marvel at the ingenious feats of engineering. The best castles in Wales are dotted all over the landscape, from coast to countryside. If you need somewhere to stay along your journey, just click the button below to browse our full collection of holiday cottages in Wales.

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Castles in Wales

Welsh Castles Q&A

There are 427 castles in Wales, according to Cadw, though some estimates cite the castle count at over 600!

Wales has experienced much conflict with England, dating right back to the Norman invasion. There were also spates of war within Wales itself, with Welsh principalities fighting each other. This frequent conflict, combined with plenty of strategic places to site castles on hilltops, mountains and the coast, resulted in lots of castles being built, often on the site of even older fortifications.

The most impressive castles in terms of size were built by the Normans after the 1066 invasion. Others were constructed by royal Welsh dynasties. The present Caernarfon Castle was built by Edward I; the original fortification on the site of Powis Castle was built by prince Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn; and Caerphilly Castle was built by Anglo-Norman Gilbert de Clare. Each has its own history, and many have been altered or rebuilt by successors on the same site.

Caerphilly Castle is the largest castle in Wales, and the second-largest castle in Britain (the first is Windsor Castle). It is three times the size of Wales' Principality Stadium and is a spectacular edifice, surrounded by water defences.

The oldest castle in Wales is Chepstow Castle, and it also has the oldest castle doors at 800 years old. Construction of the castle started in 1067, making it almost 1,000 years old!


Top castles in North Wales

Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle, Conwy

A foreboding fortification, Conwy Castle exudes grandeur and power in equal measure. It sits atop a rock overlooking the Conwy Estuary and Snowdonia, and while its dramatic exterior is bound to take your breath away, its impressive interior transports you back in time to the days of Edward I for whom it was built.

Considered to be one of the best Welsh castles and among the finest works by architect James of St. George, this is one of the most enchanting castles in North Wales and one of the finest surviving medieval fortifications in Britain. Given its prestige, it's no surprise that a visit is one of the most popular things to do in Snowdonia! Learn more about this Welsh castle’s rich history and explore its great halls, private chapels, royal chambers and enormous towers during a one-hour informative tour led by knowledgeable guides.

  • Price: As of 1 April 2022 - adults £11.10, family £36.30, children (5-17) £7.80, seniors £10.60, under 5’s free, disabled person and companion free
  • Facilities: shop, WCs, baby changing, assistance dogs only
  • Cottage nearby: Sunken Treasure, sleeps 2

Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle, Vale of Usk

Caernarfon Castle’s intimidating size is enough to strike fear into the hearts of any potential invader. Built for Edward I as part of his Iron Ring of Castles, the medieval fortress occupies a strategic location on the Menai Strait and was also used as a seat of power and palace. One of the largest castles in Wales, its mighty polygonal towers and imposingly high walls were certainly designed to impress.

This brute of a 13th-century fortress is among the most famous coastal castles in Wales and is more than deserving of its World Heritage status. As you climb its spiral staircases, peer through its arrow loops and murder holes, and wander through its mammoth battlements, you can’t fail to be struck by its formidable scale. Definitely one for your itinerary, and arguably one of the best things to do in North Wales.

  • Price: As of 1 April 2022 - adults £11.10, family £36.60, children (5-17) £7.80, seniors £10.60, under 5’s free, disabled person and companion free
  • Facilities: shop, museum, WCs, assistance dogs only
  • Cottage nearby: Bryn Afon, sleeps 4

Powis Castle

Powis Castle and Garden, Powys

This well-preserved medieval castle has seen many alterations over the years, and as such boasts modifications from several different periods. One of the most beautiful castles in Wales, Powis Castle’s extraordinary French and Italian-style gardens, which tumble down verdant slopes from its striking red stone walls, set it apart from other castles in North Wales.

Inside, there is a treasure trove of art, statues, and exquisite furniture and textiles from Europe, India and the Orient. And outside, the famous gardens are adorned with scented flowers, dancing statues, a beautiful orangery and a medieval deer park.

  • Price: With Gift Aid - adults £15.40, children £7.70, family £38.50, family (1 adult, 3 children) £23.10
  • Facilities: two catering outlets, shop, WCs, baby changing, children’s quiz/trail, giant games on the lawn, assistance dogs only
  • Cottage nearby: Harp Cottage - Offa's Dyke, sleeps 5 + 1 dog

Beaumaris Castle

Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey

The perfectly symmetrical, moated masterpiece of Beaumaris Castle on the Isle of Anglesey is regarded by many as one of the best castles in Wales to see when travelling across the northern coastline. Though it was never completed, this towering 13th-century concentric fortress is one of the finest examples of medieval castle architecture, with its four successive lines of fortifications.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this North Wales castle is another beautifully designed structure by architect James of St. George during King Edward I’s reign and features a moat connected to the sea, round drum towers on every corner, vast grounds, and a wealth of atmospheric passages within the walls to explore. Explore more historical sites with our guide to National Trust places in North Wales.

  • Price: As of 1 April 2022 - adults £8.30, family £27.40, children (5-17) £5.80, seniors £7.70, under 5’s free, disabled person and companion free
  • Facilities: shop, picnic tables, WCs, dogs welcome (check website for any restrictions)
  • Cottage nearby: On the Straits, sleeps 4

Top castles in West Wales

Dinefwr Park and Castle

Dinefwr Park and Castle, Carmarthenshire

Cared for by the National Trust, the Dinefwr parkland encompasses a castle, deer park, nature reserve, and Newton House where you’ll find hands-on exhibitions. The ivy-clad ruins of Dinefwr Castle offer spectacular views out over the 800-acre park, and a range of walks allow you to explore and take in sights such as the deer rutting and some of the estate’s most spectacular wildlife.

Once among the most formidable of Wales castles, Dinefwr was the power base of the Kingdom of Deheubarth, which ruled for almost 300 years in the 10th to 12th centuries. Today, this Grade I-listed, scheduled monument is perfect to while away some peaceful hours, marvelling at its round tower, circular keep, and chamber block.

  • Price: free admission to the castle, although there is a car parking fee for non-members of Cadw. Additional prices for entry to Newton House.
  • Facilities: no facilities in the castle but in the NT Dinefwr Estate there is a tearoom, shop and WCs, and dogs are welcome (check website for any restrictions)
  • Cottage nearby: Severn Cottage, sleeps 6 + 2 dogs

Pembroke Castle

Pembroke Castle, Pembrokeshire

Standing alongside the Pembroke River, the oval shape of Pembroke Castle is a spectacular sight and encompasses within it a circular keep with impressive circular rooms. A new addition to the centre of the castle is a 1,000-metre square painting of Wales, which gives visitors a novel way to discover the location of some of the country’s most significant landmarks.

This giant fortress is one of the top castles in Wales and was the birthplace of Henry VII, the first Tudor king. Originally built at the end of the 11th century and rebuilt in stone a century later, it is also one of the finest Norman castles in Wales, with an endless labyrinth of passages, tunnels and stairways to explore. Free guided tours of the castle delve further into its tumultuous history and gripping stories, and there are fun family events scheduled throughout the year, including battle re-enactments, falconry displays, dragon days, storytelling, and even rock concerts.

  • Price: With Gift Aid - adults £9.35, children (3-15) £6.60, seniors £6.60, registered disabled £6.60, under 3’s free
  • Facilities: shop, café, WCs, dogs welcome (except for the café and shop)
  • Cottage nearby: Green Gables Lodge, sleeps 4

Carew Castle

Carew Castle, Pembrokeshire

Of all the Welsh castles, this one is certainly one of the most atmospheric, and makes for one of the best days out in Pembrokeshire. Sitting on an inlet alongside a 23-acre old tidal millpond and 18th-century mill in Pembrokeshire, Carew Castle was once a powerful Norman stronghold, before transforming into a grand Elizabethan mansion. High walls, huge mullioned windows and a splendid 11th-century Celtic cross are just some of its most prominent features.

Displays of medieval battle are staged here regularly, as well as jousting, swordsmanship, archery and falconry, so there’s always something new to see. The French tidal mill is also well worth a visit while you’re here.

  • Price: adult £5.50, child 4-16 £3.50, student or senior £4.50, family £14.50, annual pass/Carew resident/wheelchair user/carer free
  • Facilities: tearoom, WCs, picnic areas, dogs welcome (except for the tearoom)
  • Cottage nearby: Nash Lodge, sleeps 6 + 1 dog

Top castles in South Wales

Raglan Castle

Raglan Castle, Vale of Usk

A magnificent statement of a castle, Raglan’s majestic towers draw you in on approach to the gatehouse. Inside, the romantic ruins transport you back to the past, with tales of important dates throughout history including the failed destruction by Oliver Cromwell’s armies. This late medieval fortress is one of the most dramatic castles in South Wales and has been used as a filming location for an episode of BBC’s Merlin.

A climb up the spiral staircases to the top of the Great Tower offers incredible views of the moat below and the surrounding Brecon Beacons countryside. Admire the grand six-sided gatehouse, the mysterious gargoyles, the Closet Tower and Kitchen Tower, before delving into the dark cellars underground which were originally built to hold hundreds of casks of wine.

  • Price: As of 1 April 2022 - adults £8.30, family £27.40, children (5-17) £5.80, seniors £7.70, under 5’s free, disabled person and companion free
  • Facilities: shop, refreshments, picnic tables, WCs, baby changing, dogs welcome (check website for any restrictions)
  • Cottage nearby: Treworgan Court Coach House, sleeps 2

Caerphilly Castle

Caerphilly Castle, Caerphilly

The biggest castle in Wales and second largest in Britain, Caerphilly is impressive both in terms of size and its moat which lends it an almost fairy-tale appearance. An informative exhibition in one of the towers tells of the castle’s intriguing history and an audio-visual tour helps to set the scene as you wander around the extensive interior.

Often cited as one of the best castles to visit in Wales, and certainly among the top things to do, there are few sights quite as magnificent as Caerphilly Castle. The first truly concentric castle built in Wales, it was constructed in the 13th century on the site of an ancient Roman fort by Earl Gilbert de Clare as part of a campaign to conquer Glamorgan, and was then used as a model for Edward I’s castles in North Wales. A highlight is its iconic leaning tower that leans even more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

  • Price: As of 1 April 2022 - adults £10.10, children (5-17) £7.10, family £33.30, seniors £9.50, under 5’s free, disabled person and companion free
  • Facilities: shop, refreshments, WCs, baby changing, dogs welcome (check website for any restrictions)
  • Cottage nearby: Calon Cottage, sleeps 3

Chepstow Castle

Chepstow Castle, Chepstow

High above the banks of the River Wye, Chepstow is one of Wales’ most historically important castles and boasts the oldest castle doors in Europe! Over the years it has grown along the top of the cliff and now offers great views to its modern visitors. With towers to climb and lots of nooks to explore, the ruins of Chepstow Castle provide plenty to see, best discovered on a sunny day.

Constructed by William the Conqueror in 1067, this is the oldest castle in Wales at nearly 1,000 years old and has had a long and varied history being used as a castle, prison, and military garrison. From the upper barbican, there are some great photo opportunities, and there’s a regular programme of special events, plays and concerts throughout the year to provide entertainment for all ages. Discover more historical buildings and castles in South Wales with our guide to National Trust places.

  • Price: As of 1 April 2022 - adults £8.30, family £27.40, children (5-17) £5.80, seniors £7.70, under 5’s free, disabled person and companion free
  • Facilities: shop, WCs, dogs welcome (check website for any restrictions)
  • Cottage nearby: Secret Severn, sleeps 4 + 1 dog

From castle to cottage

Step back in time with a visit to one of these top castles in Wales. Whether you’re a couple looking to explore some romantic ruins together or a family with budding young knights and princesses, we’ve got lots of holiday cottages in Wales dotted amongst these mighty fortresses. Just click the button below to browse our full collection.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.