Exploring Cardiff’s Castle

I’d been to Wales. I’d been to three of the four UK capital cities, but until this summer I’d never been to Cardiff. Husband needed to venture to the south of Wales for work, an opportunity to see Cardiff and a weekend away was on the horizon. It was seized. Top of the list of Cardiff’s attractions, I discovered, is its castle – that was our first stop. We found it easily – the whole of the city centre almost seems to be clustered around the castle walls. Donated to the city in 1947, before that it was the ancestral home of the Bute family. If you are a Cardiff resident entrance is free. If, like us you’re not, the entrance fee is more than reasonable.

06.23.11 - Cardiff Castle

06.23.10 - Cardiff Castle

Inside was not what I expected and not how I expected a traditional Welsh castle to look. It is more like a collection of little castles centered around a green area and is spacious and lovely. Two thousand years of history to soak up – from the Norman motte and bailey shell keep built around 1081 to the 13th century Black Tower entrance gate, then there’s the fort where William the Conqueror’s eldest son was imprisoned by his brother and on top of all that the grandest of houses built in the 1420’s and made over by the Marquis of Bute in the 19th century. History galore.

06.23.61 - Cardiff Castle

We headed first to “The Firing Line”, a small but well organised and interesting museum about Welsh regiments and soldiers. Most intriguing for me  the Royal Welsh Fusiliers always have a regimental goat!

06.23.14 - Cardiff Castle

We watched a film about the castle and its history, bit of a wow moment when the screen lifted up at the end to give a panoramic view over the central area outside. Time then for our guided tour – we paid £3 extra each for this and got a 50 minute guided tour of additional castle rooms you don’t see on the normal entrance ticket. Well worth the small extra charge, this was my castle highlight, our visit would have been incomplete without it. We got to see the living quarters of the third Marquis of Bute, the richest man in the world when he lived here in the 19th century. He lavished a significant sum on the castle and created, with the help of his eccentric architect William Burgess, a wildly flamboyant interior – it has to be seen to be believed.

06.23.42 - Cardiff Castle

What a treat to wander with our guide through all the rooms – a Gothic fantasy made real. The whole place is stuffed to the rafters with Gothic architecture, religious symbolism and astrology symbols. It also had all the mod cons of the Victorian era – this was the second house in Wales to have electricity and there was running water in the ensuite bathroom. We started in the Winter Smoking Room in the clocktower, saw the Bute children’s nursery with fairy tale paintings covering the walls and entered Lord Bute’s boudoir. How he ever got a wink of sleep in there with all that detail going on in the tiniest bed ever is beyond me.

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06.23.28 - Cardiff Castle

06.23.29 - Cardiff Castle

06.23.31 - Cardiff Castle

There was a Roman roof garden and the most amazing banqueting hall with heraldic shields, an incredible fireplace and a minstrel’s gallery. This is where royalty and important people are still entertained when they come to Cardiff.

06.23.38 - Cardiff Castle

The Bute family’s “small” dining room, used when no guests were visiting, had a table with a hole in the centre – designed so a living vine could be slotted through it, allowing diners to pluck fresh grapes as they ate.

06.23.40 - Cardiff Castle

We finished in the incredible library with our tour guide and were encouraged to retrace our steps if we wanted to view the rooms again at our leisure. That we did. Tour complete we went back outside and with our trusty hand-held audio guides explored the grounds. Lovely views, dare I say though that the stadium (home of beloved Welsh rugby) looks like it is right on top of the castle and does not enhance the panorama.

06.23.47 - Cardiff Castle

06.23.44 - Cardiff Castle

06.23.46 - Cardiff Castle

06.23.49 - Cardiff Castle

We climbed multiple steps to the keep, walked the walls and found the network of tunnels where, during the air raids of World War II two thousand people from the city were able to take shelter. Sound effects played as we walked through – eerie but incredible.

06.23.51 - Cardiff Castle

06.23.52 - Cardiff Castle

06.23.54 - Cardiff Castle

06.23.55 - Cardiff Castle

06.23.56 - Cardiff Castle

06.23.60 - Cardiff Castle

There really is something for everyone here. Stacks of history, the most fabulously flamboyant and lavish castle interior, gorgeous grounds with oodles of space to run around, castle ramparts and to top it all some original air-raid shelters. We were so surprised how much there was to see and do – what a great day out.

37 thoughts on “Exploring Cardiff’s Castle

  1. I’ve never been to Cardiff. The castle looks really fascinating. I had no idea the Butes owned it. They really did just own everything, everywhere. I love that detail of the table with the living grape vines in its centre. Furniture only the really wealthy would ever need. Great photos.

    • I was really surprised at how much I loved Cardiff – and this castle!! We’d tagged along on a work trip and although normally I research the life out of every trip, we just winged it here, planned to visit the castle but didn’t really know what to expect and were blown away! The Butes only spent a few weeks here every year apparently – too many other places to choose from!!

    • We had such a great day out here – I definitely recommend it, so much to see and do and it’s all completely fascinating, the interior is just amazing. Always the way too – things familiar and close tend to be bottom of the list for days out!!

  2. I love a good castle and this looks like a beauty, stadium encroachment aside. I haven’t been to Cardiff but it’s on my list. We’ll be in Ireland in April and many of the castles there are crumbling. This one looks to be well maintained

    • It is wonderful – those interiors completely blew me away, I’ve never seen anything quite like that before. It is really well preserved and a bit of a mixture, some ruins but some incredibly intact parts. I’ve been to one castle in Ireland – in the north near the Giants Causeway and it was completely ruined – still romantic and mesmerizing though!! Looking forward to reading about your trip.

  3. This looks an amazing place to visit Joy! I’ve been to Wales many times growing up, as we went on family holidays there, but only once to Cardiff a few years ago though we didn’t look round the castle. Monsieur Le Chic’s family mainly hail from south Wales so his dad wanted to show us his childhood places in the valleys and we just stopped briefly down by the bay in Cardiff from what I can remember. We had the 2 girls with us they would have been teenagers but were still very interested! I must tell Monsieur about the castle as one day when we have more time (which won’t alas be on our next trip) he’d like to spend some time touring round Wales and reconnecting with his roots. Sadly his father passed away following a road accident only about 18 months after he took us on that Welsh valley tour so I have poignant memories of that day. I would definitely love to visit the castle as Monsieur and I both love anything historical 🙂 I do love the idea of a regimental goat too! The 3rd Marquis Of Bute certainly lived in a grandiose manner! Have loved this post thanks for sharing and have a great rest of the week 🙂

    • Such a sad story about your father-in-law Rosemary – I can see you must have some bittersweet memories of Cardiff. It is a great castle and definitely worth exploring when you have enough time. We had such a wonderful day out, there is something for everyone, but my favourite part had to be the interior – just incredible and the guide who took us around was superb too. Hope your week goes well too!!

      • Thanks Joy 😃 It was good that we did the trip that day though especially for my girls as they could see where their grandad grew up 😃 Monsieur Le Chic says he’s driven past the castle but doesn’t remember if he went inside or not! He says Cardiff has changed so much in the past few years as it used to be very run down. Certainly we’ll check out the castle if we go back there which am sure we will at some future point! 😃

    • I’d been to the north before as well Suzanne but this was my first trip to Cardiff – I was really impressed. The castle is quite different to those I’d visited in north Wales, we had such a great day out, so much to see and do!

  4. This is an amazing place to visit. Your pictures are spectacular and the photo of the stairs reminded me how steep they were when we were climbing down them (with a 2 year old in arms). Yikes! I didn’t know about the WWII connection. That was very interesting and I think we might have to go back to experience it. We loved Cardiff and walking around the park that is near to the castle. Great post!

    • We had a great day out there Kirsten – totally agree, it is an amazing place to visit. All credit for making it down (and up!!) those steps with a little one – tough going just by yourself!! The air raid shelters are easily missed – we were the only people there but definitely worth seeking out if you’re ever back there.

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