The apartments are totally different to the other parts of the castle. As explained in the introducing tip about the castle, they were completely redeveloped in the 19th century by the wealthy Bute family, who created their dream castle here. The rooms are so colourful, luxurious and opulent that it almost does hurt the eye of today's visitors. Of course the Bute family did not do this themselves - it was rather architect William Burges, who is responsible for many buildings around the area. Both William Burges and the Marquess of Bute were lovers of the Middle Ages and all other kinds of history and cultures, and Cardiff Castle was to be their ideal medieval castle, where all their ideas and dreams about the past met, in order to create a place to escape from the present that seemed dull and empty to them. It did not matter that it was all fantasy, and nothing realistic about it.
If you buy the Essential Ticket, it is possible to wander around some of the apartments by yourself. If you really are interested, I suggest that you pay a couple of pounds more and buy the Premium Tickets. You can then take part in a guided tour of the apartments that also includes several rooms that are closed to Essential Ticket holders. The tour takes about 50 minutes - it sounds long but I found it very entertaining.
What I really liked about this is that the guide pointed out so many things I otherwise would have missed. Although the rooms are nice to see because of their luxury, what I liked much more was the rich symbolism. Almost every detail holds a meaning - nothing was done without a special purpose. The guide also told us many anecdotes and stories about the Bute family. Well, it seems that they were quite decadent and of course they lived in a wealth and luxury that is almost unbelievable to normal people.
It is allowed to take pictures in the apartments, but only without flash.
Picture 1: This is the banqueting hall which was created to look like a medieval hall - or like Burges and Bute imagined a medieval hall. It is a big room with a wooden balcony for the musicians on one end, and paintings and decorations all over it.
Picture 2: Detail of the Winter Smoking Room - a wall-frieze of people collecting apples, symbolizing autumn.
Picture 3: The nursery is decorated with many pictures of children's stories, like Jack and the Beanstalk, Robin Hood, the Fables of Aesop, Aladdin, and different fairytales. Red Riding Hood is depicted here.
Picture 4: Another detail of the Winter Smoking Room - a fire place that depicts a quote from Virgil and scenes from a medieval court.
Picture 5: This is the Arab Room, a Moorish style room decorated with gold leaf and made of marble and sandalwood. It was used as a Drawing Room for the women of the family and their female guests.
Of course there was also a separate Summer Smoking Room! ...as well as different bed rooms, a library, a rooftop garden, dining rooms and bath rooms. They are all decorated differently, and yet in a similar style, with lots of gold leaf and marble, wall-friezes and paintings. The symbolism draws from all kinds of sources - mythology of different cultures, fairytales, astrology... And also lots of scenes from the bible and Catholic faith, as the Bute family were Roman Catholics.
I must say that I still have not decided if I like all of this or not - but I have never seen anything like it before.
Cardiff Castle is one of Wales' leading heritage attractions and a site of international significance , it is located at the heart of the capital within parklands and at first it does not look like the Castle's fairly modern looking walls and fairytale like towers could conceal over 2,000 years of history.
A Roman fort was probably established at the end of the 50s AD in what is now Cardiff, well placed on a strategic site that afforded easy access to the sea. Some archaeological excavations made during the 1970s indicate that this was only the first of four forts, each a different size that occupied the present site After the Norman Conquest, of south Wales the Castle's keep was built, upon the site of the Roman fort (remains of the Roman wall can still be seen today in the Visitors centre).
The site was originally divided into inner and outer wards, separated by a huge stone wall. The first keep on the motte was erected by Robert Fitzhamon, the Norman Lord of Gloucester, and would have been constructed from wood as would many of the early defences. Not long after many more medieval fortifications and dwellings followed The Castle passed through the hands of many noble families in the following centuries until in 1766 it was passed by marriage in to the famous Bute family.
It was the 2nd Marquis of Bute who was responsible for making Cardiff into what was once the world's largest coal exporting port, On his death the Castle and Bute fortune was passed to his son John,( the 3rd Marquis of Bute), who by the 1860s was reputed to be the richest man in the world.
It was the 3rd Marquis of Bute who employed the genius architect William Burges to transform the Castle lodgings were he created some lavish Victorian Interiors.
When the 3rd Marquis died in 1900 aged just 53 the castle had been transformed into a ‘Welsh Victorian style of Camelot’ now being regarded as being of international significance. Despite some huge death duties on the estate, the 4th Marquis completed many of the restoration projects that his father had started which included the reconstruction of the old Roman wall.
The Bute family continued to stay at the Castle throughout the 1920s and 30s, Until when the 4th Marquis of Bute died the family decided to give the Castle and most of its parkland, (now known as Bute Park), to the city of Cardiff.
Open every day except 25 December, 26 December and 1 January
March - October: 9am - 6pm (last tour 5pm)
November - February: 9am - 5pm (last tour 4pm)
Cardiff Castle is located in the heart of the city, next to Bute Park and close to the main shopping drag. It is enclosed by a tall wall, making entry into the grounds an exciting experience.
Buy your ticket at the street front shop/ticket office, deciding if you just want access to the grounds (£3.50 - Aug 06) or access to all areas, as part of a tour (£6.95 - Aug 06). Then you enter through the castle gate and you are in the large, grassy inner courtyard.
This lovely courtyard area is quite unique, with its green lawns, shady chairs and tables for picnics, and best of all, its resident peacocks!! The birds just wander about, posing for the occasional photo and calling out to their friends across the yard. There were some cute baby peacocks too.
The castle itself is made up of several sections - I particularly liked the cute Norman Keep, which sits on a little hill, and the interesting clock tower. Under the main house of the castle is a tea room which is housed in the oldest part of a castle. We didn't eat here, but it is well worth a look. There are also a couple of museums in the grounds (which you can visit without having the full priced ticket).
Oh, and they don't take the grounds tickets from you, so you can always wander in later the same day if you want a second look....not sure if you are actually supposed to, but we did ; )
Cardiff Castle is Cardiff's most popular visitor attraction, and therefore one of the most visited places in Wales.
What I liked best about Cardiff Castle is that it is rather a mix of different castles. Of course this is true of almost all European castles, but in Cardiff it is much more visible than usually. The oldest part are the remains and a bit of reconstruction of a Roman gate.
You then have, which was my favourite part, a Norman keep in the middle of the castle. This was constructed in the 12th century. About a century later, the black tower at the entrance was built.
The main house dates from the 14th century, but it was renovated in the 19th century by the Marquess of Bute, and the Clock Tower is also from that time. Its mock-gothic appearance is very different from the medieval parts of the castle. The latest transformation are the tunnels beneath the castle which served as air raid shelters during World War Two.
In the 19th century, the Marquess of Bute was one of the richest men in Great Britain, and it was him who changed the small fishing town of Cardiff into the biggest coal-exporting harbour of the world. He and his family did not only shape and develop the castle, they did so with this part of Wales altogether. As they were so incredibly rich, they just bought Cardiff Castle as a holiday home (they were originally from Scotland). Together with architect William Burges, the Marquess transformed it into a luxurious fairytale castle, an unbelievable Victorian fantasy. It was indeed just like a toy to the Bute family - they did everything they wanted with the castle and made their personal fantasies come true for millions and millions of pounds, just to spend a few weeks there during the summer!
In 1947, the Bute family left Wales, and as they had enough money anyway, they just donated Cardiff Castle to the city.
I enjoyed my visit here very much. It was a beautiful, sunny day and it was so nice to walk around the different parts of the castle, and enjoy the green lawns and the splendid buildings. What is important to keep in mind, though, is that Cardiff Castle is by no means typical of a Welsh castle - they usually are very different, and much more down-to-earth (and often in ruins) than this stylish fairytale one. So please keep that in mind when you visit Cardiff, and if at all possible, also visit another castle in the countryside of Wales :-)
The usual entrance fee (Essential Ticket) includes some of the apartments of the Bute family, and the castle grounds, that is the Norman Keep, wartime tunnels, battlements, castle centre etc. There is also a Premium Ticket which is a little more expensive, but includes some additional castle apartments and a guided tour of the apartments. I decided to do this and did not regret it, but more about this in the castle apartments tip.
Picture 1: The mock-gothic Clock Tower
Picture 2: A part of the main house
Picture 3: The Black Tower, the entrance gate from the 13th century
Picture 4: A view of the Norman Keep and the Roman gate in the background
Picture 5: Walking on the battlements
Admission fee: £11 for adults (£14 premium ticket), £8,50 for children (£10,50), £9,50 concession (£12,00)
Opening times: 09.00am to 06.00pm - castle apartments open at 09.30am, first Premium Tour at 10.00am, film show and café close at 05.00pm, last admission to castle apartments at 05.00pm, apartments close at 05.30pm
If you visit Cardiff for one day, then Cardiff Castle is a must. It is right in the heart of this busy city, so very easy to find! It was a home of the Marquises of Bute, who more or less ruled Cardiff throughout the second half of the C19th with the millions they earned from coal exports.
The 'new' wing (with its fantasy towers and turrets) was designed by architect William Burges for the Third Marquis. Building began in the 1860's. It shows the fashion for looking back to early European Gothic architecture (think of the British Houses of Parliament for example). The interiors are painted beautifully with illustrations of wildlife, plants, myths and legends. Rumours are that Burges designed with the help of Victorian 'recreational' drugs!!
To make your visit complete, the foundations of much of the 'new' Castle are built on Roman walls. From Castle Street you can clearly see the different wall materials. There is also a 12th century 'motte & bailey' fort in the heart of the Castle grounds. This was the original heart of the castle, with a great hall, where the lord retreated at times of war. In 1404 the famous Welsh prince Owain Glyndwr captured this castle!!
There are peacocks strutting their stuff in the grounds, an exotic dinner for the lord - my next door neighbour used to look after the castle's birds!
For entrance admission to the fantasy Castle including guided tour, is currently about 14 GBP (with reductions for students and the elderly). No photography allowed on the tour!
STOP PRESS: I revisited Cardiff Castle this weekend with a friend. The prices have shot up! Standard adult entrance ticket is now 11 GBP! However, things have improved massively too; there is a new grass-roofed 'Interpretation Centre' and also in May 2011 the passageways inside the castle walls were opened to the public. You could certainly spend half a day in Cardiff Castle if you wanted!!
Cardiff Castle was built on what was originally a Roman fort probably dating back to 50AD, remains of a Roman wall can still be seen today. The Castle passed through the hands of many noble families until in 1766 it was passed onto the Bute family, the 2nd Marquess of Bute was responsible for turning Cardiff into the Worlds greatest coal export port. The 3rd Marquess of Bute was reputed to be the richest man in the World at the time and was responsible for the lavish decorations which adorn the state rooms. Following the death of the 4th Marquess of Bute, the family decided to give the Castle and its' surrounding parkland to the City of Cardiff.
The state rooms are magnificent & not to be missed. There is also a new addition to the Castle - an interpretation centre which opened in June 2008, it offers a great start to your visit where you can take in an exhibition and film presentation or relax in the coffee shop after you've walked your socks off!!
If you walk past the Castle entrance towards Bute Park (away from the shopping centre) you can see a series of stone carved animals along the Castle walls. (see last two pics). These used to scare the life out of me when I was younger & on a day trip to the big City!!
The Norman Keep is the distinctive building in the middle of the castle grounds. It is a perfect motte-and-bailey castle, meaning a keep on a mount of earth, surrounded by a ditch. This was the first motte-and-bailey castle I ever saw, so I was very fascinated!
It was constructed in the 12th century, when the Norman conquerers lived here and took control of this part of Wales. Construction already began in 1091, when Robert Fitzhamon, who was a Norman lord, wanted to defend this area and built his castle on the old Roman site.
You can enter the Norman Keep over a long and steep staircase and see the inner courtyard of it, as well as a few rooms which are of course empty. From the high walls you have a great view of the surroundings - the castle grounds and buildings as well as parts of the city.
I used the audio guide here and it helped me a lot to understand how this motte-and-bailey-castle worked. What I found especially interesting were the wholes in the walls of the courtyard. I did not notice them before, but the audio guide pointed them out and explained that they were used to fasten big wooden beams that served to support wooden buildings within the courtyard. Thus, the courtyard was occupied by lots of bigger and smaller wooden buildings. From then on, I noticed those holes in all the castles I visited! :-)
You can see the courtyard in picture 4, and the holes in picture 5.
The only thing I remember from my first visit in Cardiff (in 1996) is the castle! No surprise of course because it’s the landmark of the city and we visited again although this time I gave to it all the time needed (15 years back I was more interested about the pubs of the area). It’s hard to miss it as it is located in the city center next to the busy commercial streets (Queen street is 1’ away).
First we visited the Interpretation Centre where there is an Introductory exhibition with timeline and lot of information about the castle, then we saw the short film presentation (7’ long, nothing special but good to get you into the mood) and we took our audio guide (included in the price) and a map of the grounds.
Then we started walk around the walkways, we took numerous pictures while we were listening to the audio guide, we admired the view of the city and at the end we visited some of castle rooms.
There is also a cafe with outdoor seating and a gift shop. You can do the castle in about an hour, it’s not big but if read all the signs or take the special tour you will need an extra hour.
Cardiff Castle is an authentic castle but in reality we can see the combined work of more than one period while some other buildings missing due to explosions etc The history of the castle goes back to Roman period when it was built as a fortress when Cardiff was along the main link between Caerleon and Carmarthen. Although we saw the 10acre fort on the video there’s nothing to see with your eyes from that period (mid first century AD) except the base of the later Norman walls.
The Norman's invasion happened in the 11th century when they build a new fortress (1091) that gave the castle the shape we now see (you can see the motte in the middle right after passing the main gate).
During the 13th century Gilbert de Clare refortified the castle to defense against a Welsh rebellion by strength the curtain wall and the construction of Black Tower.
The next century passed to Despenser family until 1321 when it was besieged by marcher lords (they killed Hugh Despenser as Edward II too) but later passed again to Despenser family and some years later to Richard Beauchamp that added the western curtain wall and the Octagon Tower. The castle passed from several different royal families until Civil Wars(1642), the castle felt in decadence until 1776 when it passed to the Butes who develop the city of Cardiff in general.
During the Victorian era (in 1868) a lot of renovations took place, when John Patrick Crichton Stuart(3rd Marquess of Bute) and his architect William Burges (both lovers of medieval period) renovated the exterior of the castle and turned it into a medieval palace, you can see the chapel, the library, rooms with marble fireplaces etc Apart from the Castle Apartments the beautiful Clock Tower is eye candy for sure although it seems not to fit with the stonework of the castle (the clock is full of colorful artwork)
It is open daily (except 25&26/12, 1/1) 9.00-18.00 (November-february 9.00-17.00)
The entrance fee is £11 if you want to tour the castle on your own (the audio guide is included) but there is also a special ticket(£15.00) that includes a 50’ tour with an expert guide and additional castle rooms
During World War Two, the tunnels beneath the castle were used as air raid shelters. These tunnels could provide shelter for more than 1,800 people and were seen as the safest shelters in the city. When the tunnels were transformed to shelters, the walls were breached at four places to provide entrances, and special ramps were built to allow access. There were not only rooms with benches to sit (as I imagined), but also dormitories, kitchens, small shops and a first aid station.
Some parts of the tunnels are open for visitors to the castle and you can walk through them. I found this a very moving experience, and very frightening. It is quite dark, and the sounds of warplanes and falling bombs as well as original radio announcements about the war are constantly played. I cannot imagine how it must have been here during the war, with so many people looking for shelter...
I just walked through on my own, but there are also guided tours provided.
The second picture shows one of the kitchens where food for the people was prepared.
East of the main entrance, you find the castle centre, consisting of the Education Centre and the Interpretation Centre. It is here where you can pick-up an audio guide, and there is also a café and gift shop.
On the first floor of the centre, there is a small exhibition about the history of the castle, and you can watch a short film explaining the history. I think that this film is done quite well, considering that it is done without any language - so everybody can understand it. I especially like the ending, but I cannot tell you or it will be spoilt for you :-)
In the basement of the centre there is the Regimental Museum about the Welsh Regiment, explaining where in the world and in which conflicts they fought, and showing the usual array of weapons, uniforms and medals. But there were also some surprising things, as the piece of the Berlin Wall shown in the picture. It was collected by a member of the regiment in Januar 1990 close to the Brandenburg Gate, as the accompanying letter says.
Usually there is also an exhibition about a piece of a Roman Wall located here, but this was under renovation when I visited and was therefore closed. I think I caught a glimpse of the wall, but I am not entirely sure.
Picture 1: Piece of the Berlin Wall in the Regimental Museum
Picture 2: Collection of medals in the Regimental Museum
I start my description of the different castle parts with the Roman gate. It is located at the far side from the entrance, behind the Norman Keep, and so visitors go there very late during their visit - but of course it is the oldest part of the castle!
The Romans came to this area in 55 A.D. when they fought the Silures tribe, and there were at least four successive Roman forts on this site at different times. There is a theory that the name Cardiff developed because it means Castrum on the Taff, Fort on the Taff. The remains of the fort were only found in the 19th century, when the renovation of the castle under the Marquess of Bute started. More excavations were done in the 1970s, and today there is the reconstructed Roman gate located at the walls on the north side of the battlements. There is a line of red bricks indicating where the original gate ends and where the reconstruction begins - I think that this is a good idea! You can see it better in picture 2.
The history of Cardiff Castle dates back to the Roman times about 2000 years ago, when the castle used to be a fortress.
The huge walled grounds contain the remains of a 12th century Norman keep which offers magnificient views of the city.
In the late 18th century the third Marquis of Bute started a complete restoration of the complex and turned the interiors of the buildings into palaces.
Cardiff Castle stands in the city centre of Cardiff at Castle Street. It can be reached on foot from the Central Railway Station in about 15 minutes.
Address: Cardiff Castle, Castle Street, Cardiff CF10 3RB