Wales, known for its rugged coastline, mountainous national parks, and distinctive Welsh language, is also famous for its magnificent castles. With over 600 castles dotting the landscape, North Wales, in particular, boasts some of the most impressive medieval structures in the world.

History buffs and casual visitors alike may ponder which fortress holds the title of the best castle in North Wales. The answer isn’t straightforward, as each castle has its own unique charm and story.

These ancient stone sentinels were often built by English monarchs as symbols of their power, especially during the reign of Edward I in his conquest of Wales. The grandiosity of these structures can be seen in their imposing battlements, intricate gatehouses, and labyrinthine corridors.

From the awe-inspiring walls of Conwy Castle to the world-famous Caernarfon Castle, set within a stone’s throw of the Menai Strait, each offers a window into medieval life and the turbulent history that shaped Wales.

Each castle carries a narrative—one of battles, sieges, and political intrigue. Visitors can explore chapels, towers, and banquet halls, as well as enjoy breathtaking views of the Welsh landscape from the ramparts. While castles like Beaumaris and Harlech are renowned for their architectural prowess, remnants such as Dolbadarn hold a more ruinous beauty that captivates the imagination.

Key Takeaways

  • North Wales is a treasure trove of castles each with a storied past and a variety of architectural styles.
  • Castles like Caernarfon and Conwy stand out as monumental accomplishments of medieval engineering and control.
  • These castles provide insight into historical events and offer stunning scenery for exploration and photography.

The Mighty Monarchs and Their Castles

In North Wales, the landscape is littered with grandiose reminders of past monarchs’ ambitions and the complex history of conquest and resistance. These castles, primarily resulting from a colossal architectural chess match in the 13th century, serve as stone and mortar memoirs to powerful kings and princes.

King Edward I’s North Wales Fortress Trail

King Edward I, keen on securing his conquest over North Wales, orchestrated an iron ring of castles in the 13th century, which today stands as some of the most impressive medieval fortifications in Europe.

  • Conwy Castle: A bastion of Edward I’s might, overlooking the River Conwy.
  • Caernarfon Castle: Not only a fortress but also the symbolic seat where the first English Prince of Wales was proclaimed.
  • Harlech Castle: Perched on a cliffside, this castle boasts a history as dramatic as its rugged setting.
  • Beaumaris Castle: The last and quite possibly the most technically perfect of Edward’s Welsh castles.

One could say that Edward was somewhat of an overachiever in castle-building, giving his masons and architects quite the job security.

Llywelyn the Great and Native Welsh Castles

Before Edward I embarked on his Welsh castle spree, Llywelyn the Great made his mark as the Prince of Wales with his own fortifications. They may not have had the same budget as Edward’s projects, but they had heart!

  • Chirk Castle: The only castle from Edward’s era still inhabited today, but Llywelyn’s presence still whispers through its halls.
  • Dolbadarn Castle: Symbol of Llywelyn’s power, its sturdy round tower keeps watch over the Llanberis Pass.
  • Dolwyddelan Castle: Llywelyn’s likely birthplace and a strategic stronghold indicative of native Welsh fortification.

They say Llywelyn the Great didn’t play around when it came to securing his realm—well, except maybe hide and seek behind the castle walls.

Architectural Wonders and Ruins Aplenty

North Wales is a grand stage where the drama of history meets the finesse of medieval architecture. Castles with towers reaching for the skies, heavy stone battlements, and concentric rings of defense tell tales of military might and architectural innovation.

A Study of Towers and Ramparts

Medieval builders in North Wales certainly didn’t believe in subtlety. Conwy Castle, a World Heritage site, boasts of towers that provide panoramic views and ramparts that have stood the test of time.

These towering structures weren’t just for show; they played a critical role in defense, allowing archers to spot and attack from a distance. Let’s not forget the moat, which was essentially the castle’s first line of ‘wet’ defense, repelling unwanted visitors with its watery embrace.

  • Conwy Castle

    • Towers: Eight
    • Height: Up to 70 feet
    • Unique Feature: Royal apartments and a great hall
    • Status: World Heritage site
  • Beaumaris Castle

    • Known for: Perfect example of concentric design
    • Moat: Fully functional (and rather daunting!)
    • Status: Unfinished masterpiece

Concentric Designs and Military Might

They didn’t just stack stones and call it a castle. No, these medieval masterminds embraced the ‘castle-ception’ approach—castles within castles, walls within walls. Beaumaris Castle is the poster child for the concentric design, an architectural marvel with an outer wall so robust, it could give the inner wall a run for its money.

While the castle was never completed, it stands as a testimony to what could’ve been the ultimate military stronghold. Caernarfon Castle, on the other hand, wasn’t just a fortress—it doubled up as a palace and even a museum.

  • Caernarfon Castle
    • Design: Walls within walls
    • Purpose: Military stronghold and royal palace
    • Today: Houses the Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum

A Peek Into Castle Life

Exploring the best castle in North Wales affords a unique glimpse into regal splendor and the daily bustle of historical fortress life. Visitors can immerse themselves in the opulence of the Royal Apartments and imagine the everyday antics among the castle’s Ramparts.

Royal Apartments and Medieval Grandeur

The Royal Apartments in North Wales castles like Caernarfon are a showcase of medieval grandeur, a testament to the lifestyle of past monarchs. Here’s what visitors might encounter:

  • Ornate furniture that makes one feel slightly less regal on their IKEA couch
  • Voluminous tapestries on the walls, doubling as draft excluders
  • The unmistakable impression that medieval royals didn’t care much for minimalism

These chambers aren’t just for show; they’re living slices of history, sometimes hosting displays like the one at the Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum.

Everyday Life Among the Ramparts

Beyond the royal glitz, the castle walls whisper tales of the commonplace and quirky. Here are the finer details:

  • Shops and Cafes: The bygone era meets modern-day convenience with establishments to quench one’s thirst for both knowledge and coffee.
  • Gift Shops: Exit through the gift shop for a slice of the castle to take home—no looting required.
  • Info Points: Information boards scattered strategically, ensuring one doesn’t wander into a moat, metaphorical or otherwise.

With opportunities to explore from the lofty towers to the depths of the dungeons, visitors get a 360-degree view of medieval castle life, served with a side of whimsy.

Scenic Spots and Castle Grounds

In North Wales, the castles aren’t just historical, they’re a feast for the eyes with their sumptuous gardens and dramatic landscapes providing a backdrop that could make any camera blush.

Gardens, Grounds, and Gorgeous Views

One cannot simply visit these majestic remnants of the past without taking a stroll through the formal gardens of Penrhyn Castle. They lend themselves superbly for an afternoon picnic or a genteel game of “I spy… another stunning vista”. At Bodnant Garden near Conwy, every turn brings a new gasp of delight as visitors encounter meticulous plantings and views that stretch out to the Carneddau mountains.

  • Beaumaris Castle – Offers unobstructed views across the Menai Strait.
  • Castell Dinas Brân, Llangollen – Sits proudly atop a hill, with one seriously aerobic climb rewarding tourists with panting breaths and picturesque scenes.

Cozy Castles Nestled in Nature

Now let’s get to the really good bits. These castles don’t just stand; they nestle, they cuddle up with Mother Nature like they’re trying to win a “Best in Hugging” award. Caernarfon Castle peers out to the River Seiont, while Harlech Castle stands like a vigilant sentinel over Cardigan Bay.

  • Gwrych Castle, Abergele – This regal structure frolics in over 250 acres of gardens and grounds, with the Irish Sea winking at it from a distance.
  • Rhuddlan Castle – It cozies up by the banks of the River Clwyd, flaunting river views that the most seasoned of landscape artists couldn’t resist.

Among these tranquil spots and grand stone facades, visitors grasp why castles in North Wales are more than just tourist stops; they’re an invitation to witness a harmonious blend of history and natural beauty that even Mother Nature herself applauds with every sunset that graces their battlements.