Castles in Wales
You can't go far in Wales without seeing a castle: there are more than 600 of them. From crumbling ruins in fields to vast medieval fortresses with rich and violent histories, these castles rank among the most impressive in the world.
The first great wave of castle building arrived in England with the Norman Conquest in 1066. When the descendants of those first Anglo-Norman kings invaded Wales 200 years later, they brought with them their awesome skill and expertise. Through deviousness and brutal force, King Edward I (1239–1307) won control over the Welsh lords in the north and wasted no time in building mighty castles, including Caerphilly and Conwy, to consolidate his power. These became known as his "ring of iron." Wars came and went over the next few centuries, until, rendered obsolete by gunpowder and the changing ways of warfare, castles were destroyed or fell into disrepair. Only in the Victorian age, when castles became hugely fashionable, was there widespread acceptance of how important it was to save these historic structures for the nation.
Bailey: open grounds within a castle's walls.
Battlements: fortified ledge atop castle walls.
Keep: largest, most heavily defended castle building.
Moat: water-filled ditch around castle.
Motte: steep man-made hill on which a castle was often built.
Portcullis: iron drop-gate over entrance.
Welsh naturalist Thomas Pennant (1726–98) called Caernarfon Castle "that most magnificent badge of our subjection." Built in 1283 on the site of an earlier castle, it’s the most significant symbol of Edward I's conquest of Wales. It’s also the best preserved of his "ring of iron" and, along with Edward's Beaumaris, Harlech, and Conwy castles in North Wales, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. North Wales
Near Cardiff, this is the largest castle in Wales, and the second largest in Britain after Windsor Castle. Caerphilly's defenses included a man-made island and two huge lakes. The castle was ruined by centuries of warfare, although modern renovations have recaptured much of its former glory. Kids love it. South Wales
Though the capital's titular castle has medieval sections, most of it is, in fact, a Victorian flight of fancy. Its most famous occupant, the third marquess of Bute (1847–1900), was once the richest man in the world, and his love of the exotic led to the bizarre mishmash of styles. South Wales
Carreg Cennen Castle
The great views over the countryside are worth the steep hike to this bleak, craggy cliff-top fortress in the Brecon Beacons. This medieval stronghold was partially destroyed during the Wars of the Roses in the 15th century. Some interior rooms, hollowed out from the mountain itself, survive intact. South Wales
Imposing, if partially ruined, Conwy Castle with its eight towers captures like no other the feeling of sheer dominance that Edward I's citadels must have had over the landscape. The approach by foot over the River Conwy, along a 19th-century suspension bridge designed by Thomas Telford, makes for an awesome view. You can walk the ancient walls of Conwy town, which has places to eat and shop. North Wales
The boyhood home of Henry VII, the first Tudor king, Raglan is a small but impressive 15th-century castle, surrounded by a steep moat (one of the few in Wales that’s still filled with water). Largely a ruin, it’s relatively complete from the front, making for some irresistible, fairy-tale photo ops. South Wales
Fodor's Trip Planning Ideas
- Fodor's 100 Hotel Awards: Check out the winners of 2013
- Weekend Getaways: Fodor's Recommends the Best Weekend Escapes in the US
- Great American Vacation: Find Your Next U.S. Trip with Fodor's
- 80 Degrees: Fodor's Helps You Find Your Best Beach Vacation Spots
- Best of Europe: Fodor's Picks the Best Places to Visit in Europe