Favorite Places: The Glorious Cardiff Castle in Wales

Aug 15, 2015

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Our weekend series ”Favorite Places,” features beloved travel destinations, attractions, restaurants, hotels and more from different members of the TPG team. Earlier this year, TPG Travel Editor Melanie Wynne took a whirlwind trip through Europe that started in Cardiff, the capital city of Wales. There she visited one of the best-preserved historical structures in the country, the splendid, formerly private home known as Cardiff Castle. (All photos by the writer.)

It’s safe to say that Cardiff Castle has been through a lot. Once a Roman fort and a Norman prison keep, the castle was burned to the ground in 1400, rebuilt roughly 20 years later, passed around by the Tudors, and by the mid-1600s, had become a neglected ruin. In the late 1770s, the castle was given to John Stuart, the 1st Marquess of Bute, who set about building a massive and continuing family fortune in Welsh coal production.

Quite the stroke of luck for the castle, as it turned out.

Some of the 16th-century flavor of Cardiff castle has been retained — but it was the 1800s when things *really* got good.
Some of the 16th-century flavor of Cardiff Castle has been retained, but the Bute family brought change in the 1800s. (They weren’t able to fix the rain, though.)

About 80 years later, John’s enterprising great-grandson, John Patrick Crichton-Stuart (the 3rd Marquess of Bute) was flush with cash and ready to remodel. And whoa, did he remodel. Hiring the best architects and craftsmen from all over England and Wales, he set about transforming Cardiff Castle into a Neo-Gothic stunner that’ll make you dream of a life where everything is done by hand, to your exact specifications — and money is no object. There were no credit cards in those days, but let’s just say he could have earned a lot of sign-up bonuses while paying for these renovations.

Below those wooden shelves are cabinets that were designed to hide booze and cigars.

Most of the details in this room — where the Marquess stashed booze and cigars for his male cohorts — were carved either from plaster or wood.

These figures are hand-carved from hardwood and then hand-painted.
These figures were hand-carved from hardwood and then hand-painted.

Here’s a closer look at those hand-carved, hand-painted/-gilded wooden figures on the hearth, which illustrate Bute’s interest in medieval lore.

This room was meant to be a private sanctuary for women. Suits me just fine.
This room was meant to be a private sanctuary for women. Suits me just fine!

The wife of the 3rd Marquess was a big fan of Middle Eastern design, so her husband built her a gilded palace within a castle where she could hang out with her ladies.

The children had a lovely playroom, as well — and a beautiful dollhouse.
The children had a lovely playroom, as well — and a beautiful dollhouse.

The four Bute children weren’t forgotten, and had a playroom that attempted to bring to life every imaginable nursery rhyme at the time. They were generally free to roam the hundreds of acres that belonged to the castle in the 19th century. (I’d probably settle for that dollhouse.)

The castle's dining room isn't too shabby, either.
The castle’s dining room isn’t too shabby either.

Hungry for more? The dining room/great hall here is amazing. It regularly plays host to weddings and visiting dignitaries (such as President Obama).

Even the staircases here are out of this world.
Even the staircases here are out of this world.

Ever wanted to drift down a winding staircase with great ceremony? You can definitely do that at Cardiff Castle. (I speak from personal experience.)

The 3rd Marquess of Bute was into libraries, and built himself a marvelous one.
The 3rd Marquess of Bute built himself quite a library.

The 3rd Marquess of Bute was really into languages, learning and especially libraries. In his version of the castle, he built himself a marvelous one.

Please note the title with "Kelly's." ;-)
The title in the center is a hot read.

The gorgeous books here could keep you occupied for days/weeks/months.

In addition to wood inlay, carving, painting, stonework, gilding and more, the castle features some impressive mosaics (like this one, which expresses real Welsh spirit).

If you’ve never been to Wales, the cute, bustling capital of Cardiff is a wonderful place to start. A roughly 20-minute connecting flight or two-hour drive from London’s Heathrow (LHR), it has several points hotel options, such as the Park Plaza Cardiff and Cardiff Marriott, both of which are walking distance from Cardiff Castle.

The castle entrance fee is £12 (about $19) for adults and £9 (about $14) for kids ages 5-16, but I’d definitely spring for the additional £2-3 (about $4-5) per child or adult for a 50-minute guided tour of the house. You’ll see more of the family’s private rooms (some of which are pictured here) while a well-schooled docent shares funny/interesting anecdotes with you in an amazing Welsh accent. (Trust me, the charming, lilting dialect is at least a quarter of the reason to visit this gorgeous country.)

This tourist-attraction entrance fee is categorized as entertainment, so remember that you’ll get 2x points per dollar when you use cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Citi Premier Card.

I hope you have a chance to visit Cardiff and Wales someday —  if you’ve already been, please share your own favorite Welsh places in the comments below!

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