Think of Wales and you probably picture green, rolling hillsides, beautiful coastline, pretty market towns, and.... castles. Some say that Wales has the most castles per square mile of anywhere in the world. Whether you want to indulge your childhood imagination of kings, knights and battles, quietly ponder on the tyranny of past leaders and invaders, or marvel at the ingenious feats of engineering from a pre-mechanised world; you'll never be far away from a castle in Wales. From deserted ruins on a remote hilltop, to near-fully intact imposing fortresses standing proudly in a town centre, we've put together a list of five of our favourite castles to explore in Wales.
1. Chepstow Castle
Standing proudly at the southern gateway into Wales, this is Wales' oldest castle at 950 years old. It's also the oldest surviving stone castle in Britain (post-Roman). Age aside, it's the precarious location, perched on a narrow strip of land on the banks of the river Wye that impresses. Once inside, the sheer size of the great tower is unfathomable. Interesting to note is the perhaps symbolic use of tiles from a nearby Roman settlement in the construction of the walls of the great tower. There are some great photo vantage points from the upper Barbican looking back down, and also from the wine terrace looking up. Chepstow itself is a pretty town to explore, with a great little museum and lots of nice places to eat. Travel a few miles upriver and you'll reach the picturesque ruins of Tintern Abbey.
2. Caerphilly Castle
Caerphilly castle lies a few miles north of Cardiff, and is Wales' largest castle, and second largest in the UK after Windsor. We like to take a moment to consider the need for such a huge fortress in this area - the physical remains tell you of the military might of the Normans, but it was the serious threat from the native welsh princes which led to the castle being built. Caerphilly's scale is impressive, and it's concentric design is easy to understand - it looks like a castle you might draw. Approaching the castle over a series of bridges over the moats, don't miss the leaning tower (apparently it leans at an angle greater than the tower of Pisa). The great hall is impressive - probably one of the largest non-royal halls ever built in Britain. Nowadays it is a popular place for weddings, so may not always be accessible on your visit. Our favourite part of the castle is the Braose Gallery - initially a defensive wall walk, later it was enclosed, which gives it a secret passageway feeling. Kids love running through the passage way, and its pretty fun for big kids too!
3. Carreg Cennen
If Chepstow is the oldest, and Caerphilly the largest, then Carreg Cennen might be described as the prettiest. Tucked away in the rolling countryside of Carmarthenshire, in the west of the Brecon Beacons National Park, Carreg Cennen stands in ruins on top of a hill; a perfect defensive position. There was likely a native welsh fort here before the mid 1200's, when it was overtaken by English invaders. It changed hands several times before finally falling into ruin. Aside from the location, the coolest thing about this castle is the underground tunnel that leads to a natural cave - just remember to bring a torch and mind your step - and head! If the climb up the hill to the castle has worked up an appetite, we recommend a visit to Wright's Food Emporium in Llanarthne.
4. Harlech Castle
Harlech Castle holds some of the most important welsh history as well as a stunning location. Set up on a rocky outcrop overlooking Cardigan Bay, with views to the Snowdonia mountain range and Lleyn Peninsula. It is one of the medieval castles of King Edward I, which along with Caernarfon, Beaumaris and Conwy, make up an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The castle saw much action over the years, and in the early 1400's was seized by the newly proclaimed Prince of Wales, Owain Glyndwr. If you have a head for heights, climb up the narrow staircase leading to the wall walk that takes you around the castle. There are amazing views out to sea and over towards the Snowdonian mountains.
5. Dolbadarn Castle
Very little remains of this Welsh castle - just a footprint of the buildings that would have stood here during the 13th Century. Dolbadarn was built by Llewelyn the Great, to protect the kingdom of Gwynedd. It stands at the foot of the dramatic Llanberis mountain pass, in the shadow of Mount Snowdon. An amazingly intact round keep remains - and is said to have been used as a prison for Llewelyn's own brother, who he kept captive here for 20 years. There's so much to do in this area you're spoilt for choice. Caernarfon Castle is a short while away, or if you're on the trail of Welsh castles visit nearby Dolwyddelan.
Have you been to Wales? Which is your favourite castle? Let us know in the comments below >