Looking like a medieval castle, this famous landmark is 2,000 years old. Romans built a fort, Normans developed a military defense, and Butes turned it into a gorgeous romantic palace. Enjoy the Rooftop Terrace, take a lovely stroll along the castle walls, discover the secret shelters and don’t miss anything on your way. This route is a part of the "Get to know Cardiff" walk.
A brief history
The Fort was built around 55 AD and became a part of the greater Roman outposts system. It had strategic location, which was crucial in dealing with local warlike tribes. It was further rebuilt to resist the Irish pirates but abandoned after the Romans left Britain in the early 5th century.
The site stayed neglected before it was taken by Normans in 1091. As the army progressed through the Welsh territories, the administrative center was established in Cardiff. An old fort served as a basis for the modifications, such as a fortified keep. Later it belonged to different noble families but was left in obscurity after the Civil War in the 16th century.
The revival started in the late 18th century, thanks to the Bute family. Butes descended from Robert II, the King of Scotland, and made a great contribution towards the prosperity of Cardiff. The Castle was rebuilt in Romano-Gothic fashion combining an eclectic mix of decorative styles. It was presented to the city and the people of Cardiff in 1947.
plan your visit
→ Combine your visit with a special event. There's a good chance some fun activity might be happening – especially on weekends. For example, knights tournaments are run during summertime and it's something not to miss. So check the Castle calendar and arrive at the right time;
→ Outline the route using this interactive map. I'd definitely suggest visiting Castle apartments and climbing the Norman Keep all the way up to enjoy the view. The rest depends upon available time;
→ Learn the Castle stories from an expert guide. There are tours running daily - see details here;
→ Explore the Clock Tower. This tour is normally available on limited days throughout spring-autumn. Visit this page to confirm the dates.
During your visit
→ Visit the Firing Line Museum. For those interested in military arts, it's worth visiting an exhibition that depicts a history of special royal regiments in Wales. It’s located in the main entrance building, below the shop & café area. See more information here;
→ Watch a movie. If you're not going to take a guided tour around the Castle, you can still enjoy a movie about its history. The film show is run at the Interpretation Centre located in the main entrance building – use the stairs behind the ticket office desk;
→ Take a stroll along the Rooftop Terrace, Battlement Walk & explore the Norman Keep. Walk up the stairs passing the Interpretation Centre to get to the Rooftop Terrace, which is connected to the Keep via the Battlement Walk. A medieval landscape of the inner yard was not fully preserved due to grand modifications run by Bute family. But the panoramic view of the castle territory and the adjacent city centre area is great.
→ Discover Second World War Shelters. There’s a network of tunnels located beneath the Battlement Walk. They served as air-raid shelters during the World War II. Lord Bute, the owner of the castle at that time, allowed to redesign this area to host as many civilians as possible.
→ Explore the Castle Apartments. It’s the highlight of the visit. Creative experiments throughout the 19th century resulted in flamboyant and fancy interior designs. They are full of symbols, historical themes, and fantastic creatures. If you're exploring this part of the castle on your own – I recommend paying a special attention to the Library, Great Hall, and Arab Room.
The Great or the Banqueting Hall really stands out. The sculptural roof incorporates angels figures reminding of a church architecture. Murals on the walls illustrate the life and adventures of the Robert the Consul. He was the lord of the castle in the 12th century and initiated the construction of the Norman Keep to improve the defense.
Chimneypiece depicts Robert riding into a battle and his wife waving from the ramparts of the castle. A prisoner shown in the left bottom corner is a real hero as well. Robert Duke of Normandy, son of William the Conqueror, was imprisoned in the keep for over 20 years.
Another stunning place deserving your attention is the Arab Room, located in the Herbert Tower. William Burges, an architect, wanted to create a romantic space reminding of Arabic designs and harems. It was built in the 1880s as a drawing room for women. The ceiling covered with a pure gold-leaf is the most luxurious and complex element. It was so massive that the upper two floors were removed to accommodate it.
The Library is one of the most well-preserved rooms in the Castle. It’s pleasant and full of amusing elements of décor. For example, the fireplace portrays Moses surrounded by ancient languages - Greek, Assyrian, Egyptian, and Celtic. So-called “Darwinian Monkeys” settled around the doorway. One of them is stealing an apple from the Knowledge Tree, while others are looking into the Book Of Truth.
Outside the Castle...
The tour is not over as you leave the Castle. Make sure you explore the famous Animal Wall located on the left side of the Castle entrance depicting playful figures of various animals. Nine of them were designed at the end of 19th century by William Burges. They became so popular that 6 more were carved by the Scottish sculptor Alexander Carrick later. All are performed in the same fashion, but you can easily distinguish the originals having glass eyes in comparison to later versions.