Did you know that Wales has some of the most well preserved castles in the whole of Europe? In fact there are over 600 castles in the country with 32 in North Wales, so whether you want to explore them with friends or family there’s plenty of action-packed history and culture to discover, and here’s our guide of Castles that are well worth a visit:
Conwy Castle is our nearest castle and one of the finest surviving medieval fortifications in the UK so it seems the perfect starting point for your tour of discovery.
Conwy Castle was one of ten in the region built by King Edward I in the 13th Century, and with two imposing gatehouses, soaring curtain walls and eight enormous round towers, it’s not only impressive but was also one of the King’s key fortresses.
Step inside and you’ll discover a great bow-shaped hall, chambers and a kitchen, with a secluded inner ward with private chambers and a royal chapel, and it has breathtaking views across mountains and sea. Like Caernarfon Castle, Conwy is also part of the fortified walls around town. These are three-quarters of a mile long and guarded by no less than 22 towers and are rated as one of the finest in the world.
Caernarfon Castle is renowned for holding Prince Charles’ Investiture in 1969 and it is another of King Edward I’s feats. Built on the banks of the River Seiont and the Menai Strait, Caernarfon Castle is a large and imposing fortress with World Heritage status.
When constructed it was intended as a seat of power and as a symbol of English dominance over the Welsh, so as well as the Castle the King also built a town which was incorporated into the strong walls of the site. Unlike any of his other fortresses, Caernarfon Castle was built of colour co-ordinated stones in bands and has polygonal, rather than round towers with the Eagle Tower being the most impressive.
The Eagle Tower along with the Queen’s Tower, Chamberlain Tower and Black Tower were all for accommodation built on several storeys with each having a self-contained chapel. The Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum is now housed in two of the Castle’s towers.
Harlech Castle is without doubt spectacular as it sits majestically high on a rock above a sea cliff and was built by King Edward I for the purpose of keeping a watchful eye on the mountains of Snowdonia. It boasts two rings of walls and towers and was impregnable from almost every angle although it had a secret weapon, a 200ft long stairway which still leads from the castle to the cliff base giving direct access to the sea and crucial supplies.
Recently a floating bridge has been installed which connects the castle with a brand new visitor centre and makes access to the castle truly accessible to everyone.
Criccieth Castle was originally a stronghold of the native Welsh princes, but was later captured by King Edward I who subsequently developed it further and remodelled a tower for stone-throwing engines!
The castle stands on a headland between two beaches overlooking Tremadog Bay and it was badly burnt in the 15th Century with many of the walls taken down so there isn’t the detail of other castles to see but it’s worth a visit for the views – to Snowdonia, along the Llyn Peninsula and even across to Harlech Castle.
Beaumaris Castle on Anglesey was the last castle to be built by King Edward I but unlike all the others it was never completed, yet it is still rated as being technically perfect.
Flanked by fields, the castle is a classic walls within walls plan with 12 tall towers with symmetrical wall, two gatehouses overlooked by an inner ward with two large D-shaped gatehouses and six massive towers.
The inner ward was designed to contain ranges of domestic buildings and accommodation and although today it is partially surrounded by a water filled moat, back then you would have been able to reach the south gate by ship.
Denbigh Castle was built by King Edward I but is now sadly a ruin although it’s worth a visit for the commanding views across the Vale of Clwyd.
Flint Castle was one of the first castles to be built in Wales by King Edward I. Its most impressive feature is a solitary round tower isolated from the rest of the inner ward and features in Shakespeare’s Richard II. This is a free site to visit.
Rhuddlan Castle, another of King Edward I’s symmetrical castles has seen much bloodshed due to its strategic location to the English border. When this was constructed, the King had the River Clwyd diverted for over two miles to provide a deep-water channel for ships to bring supplies. The remains of a defended river gate still exist in the outer ring of the walls.
Bodelwyddan Castle was built in 1460 as a manor house but was reconstructed as a castle in the 1830s. It has had a chequered past being used as hospital for wounded soldiers in the First World War, a girls private boarding school from 1925 to 1982, an art gallery and part of is now a hotel, but the historic house and grounds are managed by a charitable trust which are open to the public.
Chirk Castle was built in 1295 as one of King Edward I’s chain of fortresses and went into private ownership in 1593 until 1988, and is now managed by the National Trust. The Castle sits on a hilltop with views over the Ceiriog valley to the south and is noted for its gardens of yew hedges, herbaceous borders, rock gardens and terraces which are and surrounded by 18th century parkland.
Gwydir Castle at Llanrwst was started in the 14th Century and has been rebuilt by various owners, and although it’s called a castle it’s really a fortified manor house, and has had a recent restoration of both the house and garden so it’s worth a visit to see the collection of early furniture and the impressive grounds. It’s also reputed to be one of the most haunted houses in Wales.
Penrhyn Castle is a 19th Century neo-Norman castle outside Bangor. Run by the National Trust it is filled with an outstanding collection of paintings, as well as fascinating items including a one-ton slate bed made for Queen Victoria. The stable block also houses an industrial railway museum and a model railway museum.
There are also a number of castle ruins dotted around the region which you might want to add to your list:
Aberlleiniog Castle at Llangoed, Anglesey was built two hundred years before King Edward I built his iron ring of castles! This is a free site to visit.
Bere Castle at Abergynolwyn in Gwynedd was built in the early 13th Century and was the last castle to fall during Edward I’s invasion into Wales. Legend has it that if you spend the night on the mountain you’ll wake up the next morning either as a poet or a madman! This again is a free site.
Caergwrle Castle at Caergwrle near Wrexham was built by Dafydd ap Gruffydd between 1277 and 1282 but after launching a rebellion against the English the castle was ruined and captured by King Edward I who then rebuilt it but it was later abandoned due to fire damage. Visiting is free.
Dinas Bran Castle (Hill of the Crow) in Llangollen is a steep walk as it’s situated at the top of a hill but it overlooks the Dee Valley and Llangollen. This is a free site.
Dolbadarn Castle at Llanberis is above Llyn Padarn. Dating back to the 13th Century you can view the round tower which encloses a complex series of chambers which legend says is where Llywelyn ap Grufudd imprisoned his brother. Entry is free.
Dolwyddelan Castle at Blaenau Ffestiniog is the birthplace of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth.
Ewloe Castle at Deeside is reputed to have been constructed in around 1210 by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth. This is a free site to visit.
Holt Castle at Holt, near Wrexham was built between 1282 and 1311. The castle is also known as Chastellion or Castrum Leonis from the lion sculpture above its gateway. Much of the stone was taken to build Eaton Hall in Chester between 1675 and 1683. The ruins of the castle can be explored, as well as discovering the sandstone blocks in the walls of Holt village. This is a free site to visit.
Explore one or more of these castles for an unmissable and legendary holiday in North Wales with one of our Special Breaks.