10 of the Best Castles in North Wales
With more than 100 castles in North Wales to discover, the region is a utopia for history buffs. This corner of the country boasts some of the best-preserved strongholds in Europe, many with heritage status. Not to mention more than 1000 Iron Age forts strewn across the hillsides.
Planning a castle-hopping trip to North Wales? From iconic UNESCO World Heritage sites to hidden gems, read on for our countdown of the best castles in North Wales.
Unmissable castles in North Wales you need to visit
1. Conwy Castle
Walk in the footsteps of King Edward I at Conwy Castle. This medieval monument was built in the 1200s and is one of four North Wales castles commissioned by the monarch. Moreover, you’ll love a spectacular setting overlooking the River Conwy, framed by the mountains of Snowdonia. From the moment you catch sight of the castle, you’ll see why it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Climb the spiral staircases up the towers to the battlements. From here you can walk a full circuit around the castle. The views are incredible, with Snowdonia in the distance and the maze-like streets of Conwy at your feet. There’s no doubt you’ll find the sheer size of the castle breathtaking. Plus, you’ll also find it hard to believe that the entire complex was built in just four years. No arguments here – this is one of the best castles in North Wales.
After more than 700 years, the medieval royal apartments are in fantastic condition too. Speaking of which, if you want to travel like a monarch don’t miss our guide to the most luxurious boutique hotels in Wales. From the moment you check into these properties, you’ll feel like Welsh royalty.
Fun fact: While today Conwy Castle is mostly grey and black, fragments of lime render on the stone walls tell us the stronghold was once white. Use your imagination to picture brightly-coloured banners and flags flying from the battlements.
There’s plenty to keep the kids entertained too, including medieval re-enactments held in the castle courtyards. Narrow servants’ passages connect many of the rooms and are always fun to explore. Conwy Castle also features rooms like the Watching Chamber. Equipped with a personal bathroom, royal residents used this chamber to watch church services in complete privacy.
Looking for more fun things to do around Llandudno and Colwyn Bay? From the charming Victorian Pier to the Great Orme Tramway, don’t miss our guide to the best activities and attractions in the area.
2. Caernarfon Castle
Around the world, people celebrate Caernarfon Castle as one of the greatest Middle Ages strongholds ever built. The enormous fortress sits on the banks of the River Seiont and features dramatic proportions. Without a doubt, it’s one of the best castles in North Wales.
Like several other iconic castles in North Wales, it was built by King Edward I. The castle took almost 50 years to complete and boasts a watertight defence system, including sheer curtain walls and a gargantuan gate. And while the castle was designed to endure assault, it doesn’t compromise on style. Features like intricate brickwork, carved stone eagles and polygonal towers give Caernarfon Castle postcard appeal.
Within the castle is the Royal Welsh Fusiliers Museum, where you can learn more about the legacy of the historic British Army regiment. Next, enjoy lunch at Coffi Castell, an atmospheric café directly opposite the stronghold. Or sip locally roasted coffee and savour fresh-baked scones while taking in sweeping views over the Irish Sea.
3. Moel Arthur
Moel Arthur may not have the grandeur of castles like Conwy and Caernarfon but it’s fascinating, nonetheless. The Iron Age hillfort towers over the Clwydian Range at a height of 450+ metres. It’s more than 2500 years old, which means there’s some serious history to soak in there. Of all the hillfort castles in North Wales, it features some of the largest banks and deepest ditches. You can really get a feel for just how well Iron Age hillforts served their purpose.
Look closely on the crown of the hillfort and you can see the remains of a Bronze Age burial mound. There’s also evidence of quarrying on the lower northern slopes. This suggests the hill was explored in the fleeting Cilcain Gold Rush.
4. Beaumaris Castle
In terms of design, you may well find that Beaumaris is the most impressive North Wales castle. Edward I constructed it as part of his campaign to capture North Wales in the 13th century and the entire castle is practically symmetrical. Together with his master architect, Edward I envisioned a castle unlike any other. The enormous citadel was designed with four defensive rings, including soaring stone walls and a water-filled moat. Hundreds of arrow loops stud the outer walls and are designed to ward off enemies.
Despite lofty ambitions, construction ground to a halt in the Madog ap Llywelyn uprising between 1294–95. The castle was never completed, and the six great towers and southern gatehouse remain unfinished. However, this didn’t stop it from earning UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The scale of this castle is incredible and it remains one of the finest examples of military architecture in the country. Definitely one of our favourite castles in North Wales for history buffs.
And, if you want to enjoy lunch in the shadow of the mighty castle, you’ll find picnic tables dotted around the grounds. The public Wi-Fi also makes it easy to update your social accounts and share photos from your visit.
Travelling to North Wales with a pet? Don’t miss our roundup of the best dog-friendly holiday cottages in Anglesey. The island is a great base to explore some of the top castles in North Wales, including Beaumaris.
5. Harlech Castle
With sweeping views over the Irish Sea, Harlech Castle is one of the most dramatic coastal fortresses in the entire country. Of all the North Wales castles built by King Edward I, Harlech is one of the most interesting. It is perched on a rocky crag and like Caernarfon, Conwy and Beaumaris, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Famed British architect Master James of St George designed the castle, which features a sophisticated ‘walls within walls’ defence system.
A steep staircase known as the ‘Way from the Sea’ climbs the cliffside. And no, Edward didn’t build it for taking dips in the sea! During sieges, the staircase allowed ships to deliver fresh food and water to the castle. It’s much easier to access Harlech Castle today thanks to a spectacular ‘floating’ bridge.
6. Cae Drewyn Hill Fort
Caer Drewyn overlooks the stunning Vale of Edeyrnion and is one of the best-preserved hillfort castles in North Wales. It’s perched on a natural escarpment and offers a fascinating glimpse of Iron Age defence systems. Dry stone walls and ramparts loop around the three-hectare site. This is unusual, as most castles from the Iron Age feature simple ditches and earthen banks. The hillfort remained useful well into the 15th century when Welsh king Owain Glyndwr used the site to rally his troops.
As well as appealing to history buffs, Caer Drewyn is a rewarding castle for nature enthusiasts. In fact, researchers have identified more than 60 types of lichen on the hillfort walls, including several rare species. On the hunt for more nature-themed activities in North Wales? Check out our guide to the top 10 country parks in North Wales for nature lovers, with some in the heart of Snowdonia National Park and others tucked away in the Conwy Valley.
7. Dolbadarn Castle
Dolbardarn Castle is the masterwork of Llywelyn the Great, a 13th-century Welsh prince who wanted to showcase his power. It overlooks a glacier-carved lake called Llyn Padarn and guards the entrance to Llanberis Pass. The pass offers a safe passage through the Snowdon and Glyderau massifs. This made Dolbardarn Castle an important link in the Kingdom of Gwynedd’s defence system.
Today, visitors flock to gaze up at the enormous round tower, which stands more than 15 metres tall. Unlike many of the grand castles scattered across North Wales, Dolbardarn is simple and solitary. For many people, this is what makes it one of the best castles in North Wales. Dogs are welcome, making Dolbardarn Castle a great activity for travellers with pets.
8. Gwrych Castle
While Gwrych Castle resembles a genuine stronghold, it was built as a folly by Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh, a 19th-century High Sheriff. Follies were extremely popular in the 18th and 19th centuries and were built purely for decoration. The more extravagant, the better! Gwrych Castle may not have held off armies, but it definitely deserves a spot in our countdown of the best castles in North Wales.
It watches over the pint-sized village of Abergele and features an impressive Victorian Gothic façade, complete with fortified towers. Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh built the folly to honour the ancestors of his mother. Though like many castles in North Wales, it’s taken on multiple roles over the centuries.
During WWII it played an important role in Kindertransport, a strategic operation to rescue Jewish children from territories controlled by Nazi Germany. In the 1970s, its owners reimagined the castle as a medieval-inspired attraction, complete with jousting tournaments and sumptuous banquets. More recently, ITV selected it as a filming location for the hit TV show, I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!
9. Dolwyddelan Castle
Discover the legacy of Llewelyn the Great at Dolwyddelan Castle. The stronghold was built in the 13th century by the beloved ‘Prince of the Welsh’ to control the route between Conwy and the Snowdonia Mountains. The setting is spectacular and the castle commands far-reaching views over the Lledr Valley.
Historians also maintain it was a power move. By erecting a castle on one of the most important North Welsh trade routes, Llewelyn the Great made it crystal clear he was the undisputed ruler of the region. Today the castle is in ruins, but that only adds to the atmospheric setting.
We’d recommend accessing the castle via the scenic walking trail. It’s a great way to stretch your legs and immerse yourself in the stunning landscapes. With the rugged mountains in the distance, it’s easy to see why Dolwyddelan gained popularity with landscape artists in the 19th century. And of course, why it’s one of the most popular castles in North Wales amongst locals and visitors.
10. Penrhyn Castle
Penrhyn was built in the 19th century and is one of the newest North Wales castles on our list. Acclaimed architect Thomas Hopper designed the Neo Norman façade and enlisted the help of local craftsmen to bring his vision to life. Today the castle is owned and operated by the National Trust. Tickets unlock behind-the-scenes access to the castle. You’ll be dazzled by lavishly decorated rooms filled with antiques and tapestries.
Penrhyn Castle may be beautiful but behind the grandeur, there’s a dark past. Exhibits explore the link between the castle and the transatlantic slave trade fuelled by Jamaican sugar magnates. You can also learn about the Great Penrhyn Quarry Strike of the early 1900s. It saw Ogwen Valley workers rise up against Lord Penrhyn and demand better wages and working conditions. The violent protests changed the face of North Wales forever and Penrhyn Castle had an important role to play.
Allow time to stroll around the beautifully kept grounds and flower-filled gardens. Master gardener Walter Speed is credited for designing the beautiful gardens that surround Penrhyn Castle. Over the course of almost 60 years, he transformed the grounds and helped make Penrhyn one of the best castles in North Wales.
Castle-hop across North Wales
With so many incredible North Wales castles to visit, why wait any longer to plan your history-soaked trip? While iconic strongholds like Conwy and Beaumaris are absolutely worth a visit, we’d also recommend getting off the beaten track.
North Wales is strewn with ancient Iron Age hillforts like Moel Arthur and Caer Drewyn, as well as lesser-known gems like Dolwyddelan. The distances between castles in North Wales are short, making it easy to visit multiple strongholds on the same day. Or if you’re feeling really fancy, you could even stay in a castle in Wales!