Top Six Historical Sites in Wales

By: Belinda Bobko Frost

Here is an interesting fact about my new home country of Wales.  The country of Wales, part of the United Kingdom, is closest in size to the US state of New Jersey. (Wales: 8,022, sq miles, New Jersey 8,721 sq. miles.) But even more interesting that that is that it is believed that Wales is home to more castles per square mile than any other country in the world?  It’s true!

As a new American expat, I love that I now reside in a country where castles and historical ruins dot the landscape.  So, with that I would like to share with you my Top Six Historical Sites in Wales, many of which off the beaten path (meaning less tourists!).

  1. Chepstow Castle

    Chepstow Castle in South Wales has extensive grounds with plenty to see.
    Chepstow Castle in South Wales has extensive grounds with plenty to see.

    Chepstow Castle, located in Chepstow is about 40 minutes from Cardiff and with plenty of other sites to see in the vicinity, the drive is worth it.  Approaching the castle, it doesn’t seem to be as big or looming as other Welsh castles.  But quickly this impression is corrected when you unravel the length of this castle. Climbing up the turrets you see how massive the grounds are.

    Claim to Fame: The oldest wooden castle doors in all of Europe, at over 800 years old.  (Not too shabby, right?)

    Best for:  Explorers who like to climb steep stairs for amazing Welsh views.

    My Personal Tips:
    • I would recommend about 1 hour to see Chepstow, there is a good amount of walking around on these grounds.

    • Parking at Chepstow Castle, has a public car park near the castle that is free parking on Sunday, for all day! (Who doesn’t like that?)

    • The grounds of Chepstow Castle is very steep.  Make sure to wear sturdy shoes, they are best to navigate steep paths and slippery steps.

  2. Castell Coch

    Castell Coch is located about 15 minutes from Cardiff, easily accessible off of the M4.  I spotted the castle perched on the hillside and it reminded me of a Disney-like castle, with the high turrets and impeding forest surrounding. Although the castle was built in 13th century, the reconstruction became a “pet project” of a wealthy marquess John Patrick John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, who also rebuilt Cardiff Castle.

    Claim to Fame: A few Doctor Who episodes have been filmed on location here.   (If that’s your thing of course.)

    Best for: Those seeking a more restored castle.  The interior of this castle is stunning, with hand-painted details sprinkled everywhere.

    My Personal Tips:
    • Parking at Castell Coch is free.  In fact, there are two parking areas. When you arrive drive by the first parking lot to the upper, that way you will avoid trekking up a steep hill.

    • Castell Coch isn’t a very large castle, so it can be done in about 30-45 minutes.

  3. Caerphilly Castle

    Exterior of Caerphilly Castle, South Wales
    Exterior of Caerphilly Castle, South Wales

    When you think of a typical British castle, Caerphilly is what will come to mind.  A massive castle, moat, draw bridge, a great hall with plenty of winding staircases and views.  With construction dating back to the 13th century, there is plenty of history in Caerphilly.

    Best for: Anyone who wants to see a massive near complete medieval castle.  The restoration and conservation on this castle has been fantastic, and you can easily imagine what life was like.

    Claim to Fame: After Windsor Castle, Caerphilly is the largest castle in Britain.

    My Personal Tips:
    • Near Caerphilly Castle there is a budget friendly car park, £1.60 for two hours.  Bring some change!

    • The tower steps are slippery and claustrophobic at times.  Sturdy shoes are a must.

    • Caerphilly Castle is a monster, with plenty to see.  You will want at least 1 hour to explore the castle.

  4. Denbigh Castle

    Tour the walls of Denbigh Castle is a fun adventure!
    Tour the walls of Denbigh Castle is a fun adventure!

    Denbigh castle is located in Northern Wales, in Denbigh. (Go figure.)  This castle doesn’t have many bells and whistles, and it may get overlooked by bigger and more fancy castles like Conway or Caernarfon.  For me, that is even more reason to visit since it will be less crowded and busy.  When we visited we were the only ones there. (Granted it was January.)  Even still, I can’t imagine this castle flooded with tourists, so if you are looking for a castle that allows you to explore check of Denbigh.

    My Personal Tips:
    • Onsite there is a small car park, but if busy you will have to park in town as there isn’t much parking on the street.

    • Ask the CADW volunteer for the keys to the town walls. Unlike other sites, Denbigh has the town walls under lock and key, meaning they are in excellent condition.

  5. Tintern Abbey

    Spectacular and stunning Tintern Abbey in South Wales.
    Spectacular and stunning Tintern Abbey in South Wales.

    When Tintern Abbey, appears through the trees you know you have arrived somewhere special.  This abbey, dating back to the 12th century, is incredible feat of engineering and design.  I was mesmerized by the scale and the size of the building, and found myself able to walk the abbey multiple times seeing something new at each pass.

    Best for: Having a moment to reflect and to ponder.

    My Personal Tips:
    • Parking at Tintern Abbey is £3 for all day parking.  There isn’t any free parking in town, so bring change to pay.  But, the £3 can be credited in the Tintern Abbey shop or at a local coffee shop.

    • There are daily guide tours, check the CADW website for times.  If not doing a tour, plan on spending about 1 hour at the Tintern Abbey, you won’t regret it.

    • Arrive first thing to the abbey, if you can, there are less crowds and coach buses first thing in the morning.

  6. Caernarfon Castle

    At Caernarfon Castle, there is much to see and explore!
    At Caernarfon Castle, there is much to see and explore!

    Caernarfon Castle, in Northern Wales is wonderful as it is an amazing combination of medieval and modern history. Built by Edward I, this castle dates before the 12th century and let me tell you it is a beast. The castle grounds are expansive, and filled with countless spots to explore. And as for the modern history, in 1969 Queen Elizabeth II invests Prince Charles with the Prince of Wales coronet at Caernarfon. The castle has a fantastic display with all the royal goodies from the ceremony. (Worth seeing.)

    Best for: Anyone wanting a full castle experience spanning over 800 years.

    My Personal Tips:
    • I normally cringe at climbing the stairs up the towers, but here it is worth the climb at Caernarfon. The views from the castle walls are stunning. Oh yeah, sturdy shoes are a must.

    • Check the schedule of events for the castle. They do reenactments (in full costume) or evening "ghost" tours.

    • Plan on spending time in the actual town of Caernarfon. There is so much to see. Snag a sandwich or a coffee, and people watch!

About the author

Expat Blog ListingBelinda Bobko Frost is an American expat living in Wales. Blog description: Belinda is an American expat in Northern Wales. Blogging on becoming an expat, travel, being a new wife and much more.
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Contest Comments » There are 2 comments

Rachel wrote 9 years ago:

This is a nice summary of some historical sites in Wales. I really miss this country. Caernarfon Castle sounds amazing I'm looking forward to paying a visit here one day!

Bennett wrote 9 years ago:

This reminds me of many a school trip I took when I was younger! I loved castles and living in the UK growing up we always seemed to visit a castle on holiday, whether in Wales or elsewhere! My personal favourite on this list is Tintern Abbey :)

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