Located in Cardiff, Wales, Cardiff Castle is a Medieval castle with Victorian Gothic-Revival elements, open to the public as a museum offering World War II-era exhibits, guided tours, and public event programming. According to archaeological excavations, the first Roman fort at Cardiff was established sometime around 50 A.D. on a site with convenient strategic access to the nearby sea.
Four forts occupied the site of present-day Cardiff Castle until a motte-and-bailey castle was constructed in the 11th century by Norman conquerors of the area. The castle was expanded throughout the following centuries and used as a fortress during several conflicts between Anglo-Norman and Welsh forces, including the 1404 revolt of Owain Glyndwr. When the castle was acquired by Richard de Beauchamp in 1423, Beauchamp performed extensive renovations on the castle’s west side, including the construction of an octagonal tower.
After the Wars of the Roses, the castle passed hands through a number of noble families, including the Herbert and Bute families. During the reign of the Second Marquess of Bute, the city of Cardiff became one of the biggest coal exporting ports in the world, and by the time the castle was passed to the Third Marquess of Bute, John, in the 1860s, he was reported to the richest man in the world due to his connections to the coal industry. Renovation on the castle continued into the early 20th century, when much of the castle’s land and commercial interests were sold or nationalized. During World War II, the castle was used for air raid shelter space, and following the Third Marquess’ 1947 death, the property was transferred to the care of the City of Cardiff, which converted into a museum, interpretive center, and space for the National College of Music and Drama.
Permanent Exhibits and Attractions
Today, Cardiff Castle is open to the public as a living history museum and interpretive center, offering a variety of guided tour packages and public special event programming. As one of Wales’ most prominent and most-visited heritage attractions, the castle has a reputation as a historic site of international significance. More than 2,000 years of Welsh history are preserved as part of the museum complex, which offers a variety of historic exhibits preserving the site’s use as a military fortress and air raid shelter during World War II.
A number of areas within the castle have been restored to their original historic condition, including the Castle Apartments, which feature design elements created by artist and architect William Burges during the castle’s occupancy by the Third Marquess of Bute. Historic design elements include stained-glass window pieces, marble sculptures, elaborate wood carvings, and hand-painted murals. The castle’s Clock Tower has also been restored to its historic condition, standing as one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks, and Burgess’ Animal Wall, one of the most-photographed attractions in modern-day Cardiff, is visible on the castle’s grounds.
House tours are available daily for a nominal upgrade fee from standard castle admission, embarking every hour and lasting approximately 50 minutes. Rooms showcased include the Winter Smoking Room, Lord Bute’s Bedroom, the Nursery, and the Rooftop Garden. Free audio guides are also available for self-guided castle tours, offered in 10 languages and featuring narration excerpts by BBC anchor Huw Edwards. Sign language and large print script audio guides are also available, and a tour for visually-impaired visitors is offered in English and Welsh.
The castle’s Firing Line interpretive center commemorates 300 years of Welsh military history, spanning from the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 through present-day conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Historical exhibits are offered on the history of the Queens Dragoon Guards and the Royal Welsh forces, as well as the country’s participation in major national and international conflicts. The castle’s World War II-era Wartime Shelters are also preserved, which formerly held up to 1,800 people at a time with dormitories and amenities during air raids. Other important historical sites preserved within the castle complex include the 12-sided Norman Keep, which may be climbed and explored by visitors, and the preserved remnants of the first Roman fortress, known today as the Roman Wall. A historically-accurate Trebuchet replica is also on display on the castle’s grounds.
Ongoing Programs and Events
A variety of special tours are offered by Cardiff Castle, including Castle Ghost Tours, Curator Tours for groups, which focus on the architectural and design elements William Burgess contributed to the castle’s modern-day appearance, and a Film Location Tour, which showcases areas of the castle used in BBC television series such as Doctor Who and Torchwood. Family-friendly activities and demonstrations are offered at the castle campus, including a Family Trail interactive tour. A variety of educational opportunities are also offered for primary and secondary school groups, including curriculum-incorporated field trips and in-classroom outreach programming. Public special events include traditional Welsh Banquet festivities, mead tasting events, and a Castle, Cruise, and Cream Tea tour package event that includes a river cruise and a tea event hosted at Cardiff’s Norwegian Church.
Castle St, Cardiff CF10 3RB, UK, Phone: +44-0-29-20-87-81-00