If you happen to be visiting the United Kingdom, it’s worth your while to stop in Wales. Known as “rebel territory” for many years by the English, it’s now a safe, friendly, and charming area with intriguing historic sites and rolling landscapes. It boasts castles that are more than 2,000 years old. If you’re short on time, it’s recommended to concentrate your time in Cardiff, the capital. Cardiff, Wales is a small, quaint city that has medieval architecture alongside modern sports arenas, free Wi-Fi, and well-connected public transportation. Though rainy much of the year, in spring and summer the city is awash with brightly colored flowers and lush green spaces. Bute Park, surrounded by the castle and the river Taff, is a sprawling and stunning green space that is perfect for an afternoon picnic or a leisurely stroll. A short bus ride away is St. Fagan, an outdoor history museum full of historic replicas of homes and shops.
One of the city’s top attractions is Cardiff Castle, or Castell Caerdydd in Welsh. Originally built by the Romans in the year 55 A.D., the castle still stands strong and fortified in the city center after many years of upgrades and renovations. The first unique part of the castle is the wall surrounding it, aptly named the Animal Wall for the number of animal statues that are perched along the top. Stop to take some silly photos with the animals before going in. Next, enter the main door of the castle wall and purchase tickets to see the castle. Tickets are £12.00 for adults and £9.00 for children. A free audio guide is included in the cost. Inside the castle compound you will see the clock tower with its uniquely designed statues, the palace, the hilltop fortress, and inside the castle walls. The palace boasts some lovely architecture and furniture reminiscent of the era and plenty of artwork, and the colorful library has volumes of important books. Upon exiting the palace, cross the castle green and walk up the 50 stairs (be careful, they’re steep!) to the Castle Keep, where prisoners were kept, and take in the amazing view of the surrounding city and countryside. Take a peek inside the eerie long hallways of the castle walls and then walk along the outside of the left-hand wall to see the multitude of flags. To finish, visit the wooden trebuchet, firing line exhibition, and the stocks in the castle green. To spend a more leisurely afternoon at the castle, pack a picnic and sprawl out on the open grass.
Caerphilly Castle is also a must-see while you’re in Cardiff. Located just a short train ride away, it’s the perfect way to spend half a day. First, catch the train to Caerphilly from Cardiff Central Station via First Great Western railway. Tickets cost £8.00 roundtrip. When you arrive to Caerphilly, exit the station and walk toward the right. Pass the Irish Tymes Pub and continue walking along the main street until you see the castle in the near distance.
Caerphilly Castle was built by Gilbert de Clare in 1268 and is generally well-preserved, though not as much as Cardiff Castle. It still boasts thousands of visitors per year because it is the second largest castle in Britain. Walk along the moat and cross a small wooden bridge to enter the front door where there is a gift shop where tickets can be bought. Entrance to the castle costs £5.50 for adults and £4.10 for children. Take a map and a train guide where you can locate the times of the return trains to plan your stay accordingly.
Walking into the castle grounds you will see the first tower, jokingly named “The World’s First Luxury High Rise Apartments,” which is entered by crossing another wooden bridge. Each building in the compound can be entered, so take a look around and climb the narrow spiral stone staircases. There is no furniture remaining in the castle, so the rooms are bare, but walk around on the wide wooden floors and try to imagine what each room may have looked like. Climb to the top of each tower and look out across the rolling countryside below. In the center there is a great hall with more furniture and better preserved. Tip: If you happen to visit on Easter Sunday, there is a once-per-year market held inside the great hall with antique goods, tea, hot chocolate, and scones.
After making the rounds of the castle grounds, be sure to see the leaning tower. Part of one of the towers has begun to crack, and there are multiple theories about how the crack began. But the wall has remained standing. Walk all the way around the leaning wall where you’ll see a comical surprise – a giant wooden man holding up the wall with all his might! Finally, stop by the armory where there are wooden replicas of the original weapons that would have been used to defend the castle.
These are just two of the spectacular sights that Cardiff, Wales has to offer visitors. The city’s numerous historic sites, friendly townspeople, lush green landscapes, and hearty food will offer you a delightful experience and you’ll be sure to enjoy your stay there.