A Complete Guide to Conwy Castle in Wales
Wales is peppered with more than 600 castles, ranging from beautifully restored Victorian fortresses to crumbling Norman strongholds. While each has its own unique charm, there’s no denying Conwy Castle steals the spotlight. Built by Edward I of England as a show of brute strength, the castle is set on a rocky outcrop and looms over the town centre.
With its soaring curtain walls and goliath towers, the castle unequivocally achieved its purpose of intimidating and oppressing the newly conquered Welsh. At the time it may have symbolised subjugation, however today it’s been embraced as an iconic Welsh landmark.
Stepping into the castle grounds, you’ll be transported to a medieval world of spiral staircases, hidden passageways and cavernous royal chambers. Don’t forget to pick up your audio guide, which really brings the Conwy Castle experience to life.
Planning to visit Conwy Castle? Whether you’re looking to dive into centuries of history, capture the perfect photograph or entertain the kids, we’ve created the ultimate guide for things to do at Conwy Castle in Wales.
A quick intro to Conwy Castle
Perched high in North Wales, Conwy Castle Wales has been standing guard over the ancient market town since the 1200s. The castle was built by Edward I of England during his Welsh conquest, with the king spending an eye-watering £15,000 on the construction of the stronghold. While today that would barely amount to a down deposit on a tiny London flat, at the time it was an enormous sum equivalent to around £45 million.
The castle remained a symbol of English strength and oppression until the 17th century, when it fell into disrepair after the Civil War. Thanks to the tireless efforts of historians and preservationists over the centuries, Conwy Castle Wales has been restored to its former splendour and is now one of the most impressive strongholds in Europe.
The jewel of the UNESCO World Heritage Site
Alongside Beaumaris, Harlechand and Caernarfon, Conwy Castle is one of the most impressive examples of 13th and 14th century military architecture on the European continent. Together, the quartet make up the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd UNESCO World Heritage Site. All have been incredibly well-preserved and offer a unique chance to step back in time and experience the reign of Edward I.
Top tip: The CADW app is a fantastic resource for tech-savvy travellers. Download the app for access to a digital Conwy Castle Wales guide that offers more information on the fascinating history and heritage of the castle. Want to look up a snippet of history? CADW-powered Wi-Fi is available throughout the Conwy Castle site and makes it easy to fact check that Edward I fact or Civil War date.
Admire the handiwork of James of St George
Even to the untrained eye, it’s impossible to miss the incredibly handiwork of James of St George while touring Conwy Castle. The chief architect of King Edward I, James of St George is celebrated as one of the most accomplished military architects of all time. Enlisting the finest architects in England, James of St George made the most of his £15,000 budget and created a masterpiece of soaring turrets, towers and battlements. The entire castle was completed in just four years, making it one of the most impressive feats of architecture in the world.
Top tip: As you’re circling the outer walls look for small holes in the stone. These were once used to create medieval scaffolding for the castle builders, though today they’re been reclaimed by local pigeons.
Not to be missed Conwy Castle experiences
- Climb the spiral staircases up the tower to the battlements for 360-degree views over the castle grounds and surrounding countryside. From the top you’ll enjoy stunning vistas of the Snowdonia mountains, Conwy River and postcard-perfect market town.
- Conwy Castle in Wales houses some of the best-preserved medieval royal apartments in Wales. Outclassing the apartments on show at the Tower of London, Conwy Castle offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of life as a medieval monarch. Don’t miss the cavernous King’s Great Chamber, where monarchs like King Edward I and Richard II once slept.
- As you explore the castle, keep an eye out for the secret passageways that link the rooms. These were used by servants to navigate the castle and fly under the radar.
- Stepping into the shell of the chapel, you’ll notice a hidden ‘watching chamber’ where royal residents could take part in religious services without making a public appearance. Very different from the highly publicised royal appearances made by the royal family today.
- The castle grounds are dotted with wooden benches where you can relax and take the time to soak in the views and atmosphere. Why not pack lunch and a flask of hot tea and enjoy a casual picnic in the grounds of Conwy Castle?
Top tip: Conwy Castle is incredibly atmospheric though it can get busy in the summer. If you’re an avid photographer, consider visiting early to beat the crowds and capture the castle in soft morning light. Visiting early also makes it easier to navigate the narrow battlements.
Circling the town walls
After touring the castle, lace up your boots and set off on a circumnavigation of the town walls. One of the most complete circuits in Europe, the walls stretch for more than three quarters of a mile and are studded with 21 towers and three fortified gateways. Climbing up on to the top of the walls unlocks a bird’s eye view over the winding medieval streets of the Conwy town centre. You’ll also get incredible perspective of the striking Conwy Castle.
Events at Conwy Castle
As well as welcoming visitors throughout the year, Conwy Castle Wales hosts a fantastic line-up of events. From living history experiences to family friendly festivities, here’s a glimpse at some of the events held at Conwy Castle:
- Living history experiences offer a chance to dress up as Welsh rebels and attempt to capture Conwy Castle from wealthy nobles.
- Kids love dressing up as spooky characters, carving pumpkins and exploring Conwy Castle by candlelight during Halloween events.
- See the stronghold transformed into a festive wonderland at Christmas events held at Conwy Castle.
- If you have time consider purchasing a combination ticket that gets you entry to Plas Mawr, a charming 16th-century townhouse a short stroll from the castle.
Top tip: Much of the Conwy Castle experience unfolds outdoors. If you’re flexible with your days, it’s worth planning to visit when the sun is shining. Not to worry if the weather’s not cooperating, Conwy Castle is still incredible in the rain and wild weather only adds to the drama. Just be sure to pack a rain jacket and umbrella so you don’t get soaked while prowling the battlements and wandering around the courtyards.
Conwy Castle tours vs independent exploring
It’s absolutely possible to tour Conwy Castle independently. Tickets are available to purchase from the information booth and include a fantastic audio guide. Another option is visiting Conwy Castle on a guided tour. You’ll find plenty of local operators offering guided tours of Conwy Castle, many including multiple stops at nearby sights like pocket-sized Quay House, picturesque Bodnant Garden and postcard-perfect Conwy Mountain.
Whether you choose to enjoy a self-guided tour of Conwy Castle or join a group excursion depends on your travel style and unique preferences. Either way, you’re guaranteed to fall under the spell of this magnificent medieval monument.
Need to know information about Conwy Castle
- Getting to Conwy Castle
With excellent road and rail transport options, getting to Conwy Castle is easy. There’s parking available directly outside the castle, as well as throughout the Conwy town centre. Another option is riding the train to Conwy Station, a short five-minute stroll from the castle.
- Opening times
While opening hours vary, Conwy Castle generally welcomes visitors throughout the year. There are occasional days when the castle may be closed so it’s best to check the website for the most up-to-date information.
- Admission to Conwy Castle
Most visitors pay a token admission fee to enter Conwy Castle. If you’re planning to visit several of the historic castles, forts and abbeys dotted across Wales, consider becoming a member of CADW, which gets you free admission to Conwy Castle as well as other iconic landmarks and historical sites. This includes fellow UNESCO-listed castles, Beaumaris, Harlechand and Caernarfon.