If you love exploring historic castles and fortresses, the UK’s mighty and unapologetically intimidating and daunting Caernarfon Castle should definitely be on your list. Located in North Wales in the town of Caernarfon (sometimes also spelt as Caernarvon), it is one of the grandest and most impressive castles in the whole of the UK. A great place for kids as well as adults, take a step back in time and discover this well-preserved defensive architectural gem.
Here’s a bit of what you can expect from a visit to Caernarfon Castle:
A glorious legacy from the past
Built on the site of an earlier castle, Caernarfon Castle dates back to the 11th century. Near to the water, the castle was once at the administrative heart of North Wales. Constructed on the orders of King Edward I, despite its outer grandeur, you may be surprised to learn that some of the interiors were never actually finished. Nonetheless a formidable structure, Caernarfon Castle came under attack several times in the past. Besieged, ransacked, and captured, the castle has a long and rich history. It was last used during war in the mid-1600s, having played a role in the English Civil War.
Having been neglected and allowed to fall into disrepair, the sadly decaying and once powerful castle was, in the latter years of the 19th century, restored to showcase some of its former grandeur. Since its reconstruction, the castle has again been used for significant, albeit more peaceful, events, such as the investiture (formal ceremony to bestow a rank or honour on a person) of the Prince of Wales. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is a very popular tourist attraction in Wales.
Interesting and unusual architecture
There are several architectural features of Caernarfon Castle that set it apart from other castles in Wales, and indeed, around the UK. Firstly, the earlier castle’s motte (mound) was included in the design for the present castle, resulting in a shape similar to the figure 8. The stones used in the castle’s construction are also different to those that were used to build other castles, even those that were built at around the same period of time. The Queen’s entrance is higher than ground level, uncommon for castles from Edwardian times.
Look at the grand towers and you’ll notice that they have angular walls, in contrast to the normal rounded towers that are typical of the UK’s castles. Even if you’ve visited many castles throughout the British Isles, you’ll still find features that set the wonderful Caernarfon Castle apart from others.
Great opportunities for explorations
Climb up onto the walls and walk around the castle’s perimeter, enjoying the grandiose structure from all angles and perspectives. Gaze down onto the lush green grass in the central inner area, and snap a selfie with the robust walls as your background. Peer out through holes intended to let marksmen take their aim and admire the detailed glassless windows. Get high (literally!) and wind your way up the narrow spiral stone staircases up the towers and descend the dark steps to make your way through the inner walls, stopping to poke around in various nooks and crannies. The amount of hidden passageways and stairwells is really quite impressive!
Do note that whilst there is a ramp available to access the main entrance, many parts of the castle aren’t accessible for those with mobility problems. Additionally, you will be limited to the ground level if you are visiting with a child in a pram or pushchair. Mind your head, as many of the ceilings are low, and watch your step on uneven surfaces.
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Good views from up high
The higher you venture up the castle’s walls and towers, the better your views become. You can see the small fishing harbour next to the castle, complete with quaint boats bobbing on the waters. You will also have a good view of the city walls, which connect with the tower, as well as local churches and the other buildings that make up the city; see a soaring church spire rising proudly above the patchwork of rooftops. The distant mountains, hills, and fields add to the picturesque vistas.
Interesting exhibitions and displays
Caernarfon Castle is home to a small museum, the Royal Welch Fusiliers Regimental Museum. Spread over several floors within one of the castle’s main towers, admission to the museum is included with the general admission fees for the castle. With pictures, portraits, uniforms, weapons, and more, you can learn all about the oldest infantry regiment in Wales.
You’ll find an interactive display about the castle’s history in the Eagle Tower, and other displays include those related to the investiture of the current Prince of Wales (Prince Charles) and some curious casts of half-heads of a former king.
Planning your visit
Caernarfon Castle is located right at the heart of Caernarfon; it is just a short walk from anywhere within the centre of the small town. If you’re looking for a place to stay in town, Caer Menai is recommended.
Admission costs 7.95 GBP (approximately 10.50 USD) for adults, and 5.60 GBP (approximately 7.40 USD) for children, seniors, and students. Family tickets, valid for up to two adults and three children, cost 21.50 GBP (approximately 28.40 USD). Do note that you can leave and re-enter the castle with the same ticket on the day of purchase, so if you want to grab lunch in one of the charming nearby pubs and then return, feel free to do so.
The opening times of the castle vary according to the season, so do check the official website before visiting.
There are toilets onsite, and you’ll also find a small gift shop selling items such as books about the castle, postcards, commemorative mugs, key chains, and more.
Caernarfon Castle is an arresting and formidable sight that is absolutely not to be missed when visiting North Wales!
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