A visit to Wales’ capital city really wouldn’t be complete without a tour of Cardiff
Castle. It’s believed that the site was used by the Romans as early as the 1st century AD, with the remains of a 3rd century fort visible in a few spots – including inside the visitors’ center and cafe area.
Normans constructed the first part of the castle in the 11th century on top of the remains of the old Roman foundations. This edifice still stands in the middle of the final castle walls, and is known as a motte-and-bailey design. Such castles have a keep atop an earthen motte (large, steep
hill) along with an enclosed bailey (courtyard). Visitors can climb all the way to the top of the Norman keep – be prepared for lots of steps, some of them rather steep. The view is worth it, though. Not to mention the ability to revert back to childhood and imagine yourself leading the defense of the castle against marauders and barbarians at the gate…even if the barbarians now are tourists shuffling over from their tour bus!
The ensuring centuries saw the castle expanded and remodeled more than once by the noble families who owned it. The castle indeed served its military purpose with some frequency. In time, the fortification was used for purposes its original builders would never have imagined – air raid tunnels were dug out of the medieval walls during World War II.
During the 19th century the castle lodgings were significantly enhanced with stained glass, carvings, murals, and all sorts of fancy stuff. Eventually, during the 20th century, the castle and grounds were given to the city of Cardiff. For some time it served as the home of the National College of Music and Drama.
Admission is quite reasonable at £12 (about US $20) for adults and £9 (about US $15) for kids aged 5-16. These prices allow access to the entirety of the castle grounds except the interior of the castle apartments. This costs £3 or £2 extra for adults or kids (about US $5) but provides a professionally guided tour lasting about an hour…something that is certainly worth the small difference.
We purchased the entire package with the guided tour of the apartments and definitely are happy to have done so. The gentleman who gave us the tour was very informative and had a good sense of humor about him. I’ve posted a few pictures but none of them really do justice to the beauty and intricate detail of the interior. I guess it’s not hard to have a fabulous interior decorator when you’re one of the wealthiest families around, eh?
Then we proceeded to spend a couple of hours exploring the castle grounds and climbing up the Norman keep. I was thrilled that there are daffodils blanketing so much of the lawn and hillsides. We had come at just the right time to see my favorite flower in bloom!
The WW II air raid shelters are quite well done. They have replicas of the items and fixtures that were used by the shelter occupants. A recording of appropriate background noise, radio programs, and the like adds a little bit of realism.
Naturally the visitors center holds a well-stocked gift shop, and my wife and daughter found plenty of souvenirs and such. Across the street from the castle entrance one can find plenty of souvenir shops, too. The basement of the gift shop area houses a small Welsh military museum (no additional cost to enter) so be sure to give that a look as well.
We ate lunch at the cafe on site, with decent prices (for a museum/tourist attraction cafe) and selection.