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Wales is home to some of the most visually striking castles you will ever see. As a place marked by continued historical conflict, Wales has an outstanding number of castles which date back as far as the Roman period.

Does Wales Have The Most Castles in The World?

Yes, Wales has the most castles per square mile than any other European country. It has 427 recognised castles or castle ruins, some of which date back as far as the Roman period. It’s also one of the smallest countries in Europe with an area of just over 20,000km2, which is why the figure is even more impressive.

Why Does Wales Have So Many Castles?

Wales has so many castles because it is a country that has been highly contested throughout history. Particularly in the Medieval period, those who ruled England sought to lay claim to the land1 (source: National Geographic).

The castles were therefore built by the Welsh to protect and defend their land as well as the English who managed to take over some of the country and built castles to establish their power.

There are a few different types of castles in the country:

Earthwork Castles:

  • There are two kinds of earthwork castles, motte and bailey castles and ringwork castles.
  • Motte and bailey castles were built on a manmade mound of earth (a motte) and at the base of the castle, there would have been a courtyard (a bailey).
  • Ringwork castles consisted of just a bailey, no motte. 

Stone Keeps:

  • Earthwork castles were often timber-framed castles, however, from the late 11th century and throughout the 12th century, these timber castles were rebuilt with stone.
  • For example, the stone keep would replace the timber tower that would have stood on the motte. A stone curtain wall would have been constructed to replace the wooden palisade and a stone tower would replace the bailey gate.
  • This is not to say stone towers were not built before this period – they were. Chepstow Castle in Monmouthshire is the earliest stone castle in Wales.

 Thirteenth-Century Castles:

  • During the 13th century, Welsh castles continued to develop. The stone walls built in earlier periods became thicker and stronger. Towers were added to curtain walls, gatehouses were built and drawbridges or normal bridges were constructed as a way to enter the castles. 
  • During this period concentric castles became popular. These were castles with two walls surrounding them in order to add another line of defence. The first example of a concentric castle in Wales is Caerphilly Castle.

Why Are Castles No Longer Built in Wales?

After the invasions of Edward I, the military need for castles faded somewhat. Although there were short outbursts of military action like the campaigns of Owain Glyndwr, the castles were not relied on like they once were.

Certainly, after Wales and England became one country because of the Acts of Union (1536-43) the country was at peace and the castles were not needed. However, castles were sometimes used as courts of law and the dungeons were used as prisons. 

Some of the rich families that owned these castles, during this period of peace, began to renovate these castles into comfortable places to live. This would often include adding more comfortable great halls or improving domestic buildings. 

Civil War

The military need for castles briefly resurfaced in Wales with the outbreak of the English Civil War (1642).

A number of the Welsh castles were refortified and used as royalist bases for troops. 

Castles Become Fashionable Again

During the 19th century, medieval architecture became fashionable and many wealthy people remodelled their houses to look like castles. An example of this is Castell Coch which was built between 1860 and 18802 (source: CADW).

Who Owns The Castles in Wales Now?

The castles in Wales are owned today by a number of organisations including councils (i.e Cardiff Castle), local organisations, trusts, and the Welsh government via their historic environment service named CADW (i.e. Harlech and Beaumaris Castle). Some castles in Wales are privately owned, such as Brecon Castle which has been turned into a hotel.

Which Welsh Castles Are Worth Visiting?

Of course, the argument for the best castle in Wales is entirely subjective, however, here is a list of the castles we think are worthy of the title and why.

  • Cardiff Castle: This list would not be complete without mentioning the castle of the capital city. Originally built in the 11th century you can explore both the Roman and Norman ruins of Cardiff Castle as well as the Georgian mansion.
  • Pembroke Castle: Pembroke Castle was the birthplace of Henry VII and was also built in the 11th century. It sits above Wogan’s Cave which is known to have been used by humans as long ago as the Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods. 
  • Powis Castle: Powis Castle is one of the very few medieval castles in Wales that did not at any point fall into disrepair. 
  • Harlech Castle: Harlech Castle is not only an outstanding ruin, but it is worth visiting simply for the views it provides of Snowdonia.
  • Conwy Castle: Conwy is another castle with Snowdonia as its backdrop and is described to have a magical feel to it. 
  • Raglan Castle: Raglan Castle is home to striking towers which make the fortress stand out in its surroundings and is not one to miss.
  • Laugharne Castle: Laugharne Castle is a medieval fortification famous for providing inspiration for Dylan Thomas who used the ruins to escape writer’s block. 
  • Caernarfon Castle: Caernarfon Castle was built by Edward I on the site of a Roman fort and is part of the coastal World Heritage Site.

Related Questions 

How Many Castles Are There in Wales?

According to the Welsh Government, there are 427 castles in Wales. However, most of these are ruins and some are just earthworks.

Does Wales Have More Castles Than Scotland?

Yes, Wales has more castles per mile than Scotland, although it’s unlikely that it has more overall (given that Scotland is almost four times the size of Wales). It’s difficult to say for sure because the Scottish government have not given clear figures for the number of castles in the country, estimates could put the final number anywhere between 500 and 3000.

How Old Are the Castles in Wales?

The oldest castles that still stand today in Wales date to the Norman period, or just before. However there is evidence that there were fortifications in Wales as early as the Roman period but they have not remained standing.

Molly is Wales Guidebook's expert on castles. She has a master's degree in history and studied at Swansea University where she learnt about Welsh history and it's many castles. Molly loves to get out and explore historical buildings in person, with Oystermouth, Cardiff, and Caerphilly Castles among her favourites. When not geeking out on castles, Molly likes to spend her time reading, exploring the countryside or in the gym.