The capital of Wales, Cardiff is a great place to visit. It’s one I have frequented several times, usually to see gigs in the cities fantastic arena. The Millennium Stadium also draws many people of course, for the sporting and music events that it hosts. This post however looks specifically at Cardiff Castle, which is a real highlight in the city. I really enjoyed my visit there and it’s somewhere I definitely recommend. If you live in the UK it’s a great spot for a day-trip. Or weekend visit to take in some of Cardiff’s many great food and drink spots too. And if your from elsewhere then it’s somewhere I really recommend adding to your UK itinerary. I think it’s one of the most interesting castles in the UK. And we have a lot of Castles here so that’s high praise!
When you visit Cardiff Castle I advise giving yourself at least 3 to 4 hours, so you can really explore the site. It is a major tourist attraction so can get busy. I actually visited in November with my partner and it was pretty quite. Fortunately we got lucky with weather when we at the castle, but it did rain throughout the day.
For those interested the Castle is currently under the ownership of the City of Cardiff. It has been since 1947. This is the year it was given to the city by the Bute family, who had owned it since 1776. It has a long history and I will cover some of it in this post. Overall I hope to show you why Cardiff Castle is somewhere you should visit in the UK.
The Norman Keep
The most striking feature of Cardiff Castle is of course it’s Norman Keep. When you enter the Castle grounds proper it really attracts your attention, dominating the area. It’s the first thing we went to check out once we had bought our tickets.
There has been fortifications on this site as far back as 55 CE, when the Romans first built a fort here. It was then used intermittently for a few centuries. The Romans probably left around 400 CE. The site then came into use again towards the end of 1000’s, though Historians are unsure whether the Norman Cardiff Castle was first built in 1081 or 1091. This first date being when the Normans under William the Conqueror had been pushing into Wales. And the second being when Robert Fitzhamon invaded the area. He was a Norman Baron and Cardiff Castle became one of his key fortifications.
This keep would have first been built then it a typical Norman motte-and-bailey style. This is essentially a fort on a mound surrounded by a ditch filled with water. The initial structure being made of wood. Later on as the technology progressed the wooden structures were replaced by stone as you see here today. I enjoyed waking up the steps to the keep, and walking around it. You get some great views over the surroundings area, including northward towards the hills and mountains. Strategically Cardiff Castle was in a good location to protect both the coast and to against any forces coming down from the north. It’s interesting to look around the fortifications and imagine what life would have been like centuries ago here.
Cardiff Castle Apartments
When entering the castle you can’t help but notice a fantastic Gothic looking building to one side. These are the Cardiff Castle Apartments. The 1800’s saw significant investment by the Bute family in Cardiff Castle. Specifically from 1865 onward under John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute. He worked with the architect William Burges and the results are the fantastic buildings you see today.
The Castle Apartments are great to explore and admire. Look out here for the Arab Room, The Banqueting Hall and The Libary. All of them are full of impressive art and architecture. The Clock Tower is another of Burges great achievements. Check it out from the outside before you head into the apartments.
You can pay extra here to join a ‘House Tour’ that takes in further rooms. We didn’t do this, preferring just to explore the rooms included with a standard ticket by ourselves. Personally I loved the intricate details in the Arab Room in particular. I also really liked the art on display in the Banqueting Hall. And the Library had lots of wonderful images too. The picture below was taken in that room. It represents the ancient languages of Greek, Assyrian, Hebrew, Egyptian, and Celtic .
North Gate and Second World War Shelters
During 1900, under the ownership of the Third Marquess of Bute, the remains of the Roman North Gate was found. The Marquess had the gate and walls rebuild in the Roman style. What you see now is the result, the gate having been finally finished in 1922. It was actually built before that but was criticised as not true to the Roman form, so was redesigned.
Entering the tunnels from the side of the gate here you can walk underneath the battlements. These tunnels in fact have some historical importance of their own. They were used to shelter people during the Second World War from German air-raids. The blitz is of course a huge moment in British history, so I think it’s really interesting to be able to see where people hid form the bombs. Walking through the tunnels you can see wartime posters as well as listen to wartime speeches over the loudspeakers. You will see beds and supplies set up here, demonstrating what the situation was like back in the war.
Firing Line Museum
This museum located inside the main entrance, inside the area where you can purchase your ticket. It follows the history of Welsh Military Regiments, specifically the 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards and The Royal Welsh. This history spans the last 300 years and looks at their role across the British Empire and recent conflicts. There is detail about their deployments and roles they played. It was near closing time when we visited but it was worth a quick look to see some of the items on display. If you have an interest in military history then this is definitely somewhere you should devote more time too. I think it’s worth mentioning that the museum doesn’t look at the moral debate about British colonial past. It really just focuses on what these units were doing.
Walking the Battlements and around the site
You can walk along the walls here, looking out from the castle as well as across it’s interior. There is also replica of a Trebuchet here, one of the most deadly medieval instruments of war. And of course there is a model Red Dragon, to remind you that you are of course in Wales!
Thanks for reading this post about Cardiff Castle!
For information about opening times and prices you can visit the castles website. Find it here: https://www.cardiffcastle.com/
If your interested in reading more about Wales you can see my report on climbing Mount Snowdon here. And if you interested in seeing more Norman Castles there is a great one in York named Clifford’s Tower. I really recommend visiting that one too, I love it there! Please free to connect with me on social media. Find me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook!
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