Road Trip Sights – castles of Wales

Wales is a perfect place for a road trip. There is never very far to drive between interesting places to visit, the roads are mostly quiet and scenic, and they have “castle-ish” castle ruins spread throughout this stunning little country.

We started in the North after crossing the border from Liverpool and it wasn’t long before the hunt was on in earnest to find some of the best castles of Wales.

While the history and scenery will appeal to everyone, kids will also be amazed when you tell them about the real armour-clad Knights that once walked the grounds. And there are plenty more great family activities across the UK when you are all castled out.

rhuddlan 1

Our first experience was at Rhuddlan Castle. With a history dating back to just after the first Welsh War, Rhuddlan was erected by Edward I around 1277. It was the sheer thickness of the walls that stays with me, making me wonder how anything was ever able to penetrate them.

Surrounded on 3 sides by natural waterways and with a view for miles, it is easy to imagine the inhabitants of Rhuddlan Castle feeling extremely safe from the threat of invasion.

rhuddlan 2

Our next stop was to be the most famous castle in North Wales, however, we were amazed at the number of small ruins scattered throughout the countryside. Most were only the remnants of guard posts or gates but one was simply magnificent.

We could not discover the name of this Castle nor find any way to approach it. That didn’t make it any less jaw-dropping or memorable.

mystery castle

By this time the excitement of experiencing these incredible pieces of history was truly bubbling away, and the next stop was anything but a letdown. The largest and most famous of the northern Castles, the place where Prince Charles was crowned Prince of Wales, and a massive display of power by Charles I when it was built around 1283, Caernarfon Castle.

caernarfon 1

Caernarfon is built on a Point, which means it is almost entirely surrounded by water, making it an imposing proposition to any who contemplated an attack. The Romans had also noticed the strategic significance of this location using it as a Fort centuries earlier. The town displays an interesting mix of Roman and medieval British architecture.

Our next Castle of note is arguably the most famous of the Welsh Castles, Cardiff Castle. It was somewhat disappointing that Cardiff Castle has ownership that keeps it separate from most of the others in Wales.

We had purchased a Pass which gave us entry into a large number of Castles across the country, but on trying to enter Cardiff we were informed they required an entry fee and are not part of the Pass. It was decided not to spend the extra as we felt equally good or better experiences were available on the Pass.

cardiff 1

Peeking through the gate revealed little as it appeared there was not much to see barring the central structure. My impression was Cardiff Castle has impressive walls that contain little more than open land. I could be wrong but am not disappointed at refusing to pay to enter.

cardiff 2

Just before crossing the South Wales border back into England, we discovered one more Castle, and this one proved to be my favourite. Raglan Castle had everything you would hope for from a visit to a medieval ruin. Plenty of walls standing, a moat, stunning scenery, and the ability to explore and climb without restriction.

raglan 2

Raglan Castle is the baby of the group at a little over 500 years old but has a rich history linked with the English civil war in the mid-1600s. Raglan Castle started to fall into ruin and the land owner allowed stewards to remove the stone from the Castle to maintain other buildings across the estate. This was the perfect way to end our Welsh Castle tour and has left us wanting more… maybe Ireland next time.

raglan 1

Have you visited any Welsh Castles? Do you have a favourite?

Dean Williamson
Dean Williamson
Dean is the main creative force behind Reasons to Visit. A road trip veteran with over 35,000 miles of driving in more than a dozen countries. He has also worked in the Australian travel and tourism industry for the past 10 years.

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  1. Such robust and beautiful castle that have stood through the test of time. No wonder the castles of wales are tourist’s favorite. When I will be in the region, I will like to follow on your trails and visit as many of these as possible.

  2. I have been to Wales twice now. Just for short trips though. And haven’t seen anywhere near to enough. It is several hours drive from London and only warrants a tri for several days. But will need to go there for a week at some point. The castles look amazing! It’s funny I think Wales s completely undervalued by a lot of people Thank you for sharing x Kat I

    • It’s funny to hear the different attitudes towards distance between Aussies and our English cousins. We would drive five hours up the coast for a weekend getaway or eight hours to the Gold Coast for a lone weekend, while Brits seem to see that as a major vacation distance. I hope you get to see it again soon Katharina.

    • I’m sure I’ll do and England road trip one day Alexis. But when I had to decide which way to drive from Liverpool to London it had to be Wales, and I was thrilled with my decision.

  3. The castles look so beautiful – straight from a fairy tale! I would love to go back to this region of the world and see so much more than I was able to previously 🙁

    • The castles were the highlight Nic, but some of the scenery was also breathtaking. We spent a night in the village of Betws-y-Coed and it was perfect!

    • I had no idea there was a Welsh population in Patagonia, how random. I did not even try any pronunciation in Wales, especially when I visited Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyllllantysiliogogogoch!

    • I’m the same. You learn some history at school, you see movies, but to realise you are standing in the actual place history occurred is special.

  4. I love castles, so I guess Wales will be the next place to be 🙂 I had no idea there were so many ruins of castles left in Wales. I particularly love the castle in the 3rd photo, that one looks huge and amazing!!

    • When you finally get there Sabine, make sure to buy the Pass at the first castle. It not only saves you a lot of money on entry fees but also comes with a location map and brief history of each castle. You will love it!

  5. First I have to say this is the first article I’ve read from your blog and I LOVE your blog name! Secondly, awesome castle shots. I can’t wait to go to these places myself, they are so beautiful even in ruins.

    • Thanks Natasha, you are the first person to make any reference to the blog name! Your imagination will run wild when you visit, with scenes of Knights in battle running through your mind.

    • Thank you Emily. As good as the photos may be, they do not express the atmosphere when you are standing on a tower or looking through an archer’s window.

    • Absolutely Damien, I love great natural landscapes as much as the next guy but when they have an actual castle as well… every boy has dreamed of being at Knight at some time in their life and this brings those childhood dreams to life.

  6. There is something special about Wales – I think it is the light, the mist that gives it a mysterious aura. I have been there years ago, to Bettsgelert. It was sooo out of the way, so hard to get to, and so beautiful.

    • I agree about the “something special” Claudia. I loved everything about Wales, from the little villages, the ruins, the scenery to the traditional pubs and Inns.

    • I think a lot of people bypass Wales when the visit the UK Lexi. It always seems to be about London, a bit of Scotland, and the Ireland if you have time. But Wales is truly beautiful and deserves some time to explore.

    • Thank you Amanda. The most interesting thing for me was reading the history while you are standing there and trying to comprehend the fact medieval battles took place on the very spot on which you stand.

  7. What great pictures, and what a great idea – Castle Hunting! The “mystery ruins” are very pretty as well. I love the idea of being able to drive through the country and see buildings that are soaked in hundreds of years of history. Thanks for sharing! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • We had a lot of fun in Wales and I would love to get back there and slow the pace. We only had 7 days which was nowhere near enough. The castles are amazing but also small towns, unchanged for hundreds of years, stunning country villages, and the traditional Inns and Pubs. We loved every minute.

  8. My family spent a summer in Britain and it felt like my dad dragged us through nearly every blasted castle ruin in the kingdom. Only a few stand out in my memory, Harlech, Caernarfon and Cardiff among them. Of the three, Cardiff was my favorite, probably because its interior is so sumptuous. If you google “cardiff castle interior images” you might regret giving it a miss. Perhaps Cardiff Castle needs to market itself better at the door. 😉

    • I didn’t know that about Cardiff Linda. I probably would have passed anyway as I had just been through Italy and France, and we had seen more than enough stunning interiors through the Palaces and Cathedrals. I’m more about imagining the castle during battle rather than the Ball.


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