The Exchange Hotel's Guide to Exploring Cardiff Castle

A Guide to Exploring Cardiff Castle from Exchange Hotel

Cardiff Castle

Wales’ capital has a rich and interesting past which can be explored by paying a visit to the top historic Cardiff landmarks – most of which are not far from the Exchange Hotel!

Being one of Cardiff’s oldest buildings, the Exchange Hotel allows visitors to pay a visit to Cardiff’s rich and interesting past. Our stunning grounds are set in what used to be the hub of Cardiff’s coal trade in the 19th century.

We’d like to explore one of Cardiff’s most prominent historic gems and help our guests do so by providing a detailed guide to Cardiff Castle, it’s history and what the building is used for today.

A Timeline of Cardiff Castle’s Residents

Cardiff Castle
(Source: Shutterstock)

First came the Romans in 55 AD who set up camp where the River Taff neared the Bristol Channel. They built extensive forts and stayed until the early 5th century. Next, the Normans moved in and began fortifying the castle grounds by building the Keep.

The castle then began passing from family to family beginning with the de Clare’s in 1217. As Lords of Glamorgan, both the elder and younger Gilbert de Clare made the castle grounds strong by building the first defensive structures.

A Dark Spell at Cardiff Castle

A dark part of Cardiff’s history came next. This was at a time when the castle was filled with betrayal and death after the Younger Hugh Dispenser brutally murdered one of Cardiff and Wales’ most respected figures, Llywelyn Bren.

The revolt, led by Bren, came after English administrator Payn de Turberville of Coity was tasked with the care of Cardiff Castle after Gilbert de Clare’s death. He began terrorising the people of Glamorgan. When Bren’s pleas to King Edward to stop the tyrant were ignored and threatened with a trial for treason, he took to arms against English rule.

Cardiff Castle
(Source: Shutterstock)

His fight was lost and he bravely turned himself over in 1316 under the conditions that his men were spared. Then, in 1318, Bren – now a prisoner of war – was turned over to the Younger Hugh Despenser who proceeded to execute him inside of Cardiff Castle.

This blatant murder strengthed the resolve of local Lords and led to a baronial revolt in 1321 against the Despensers’ and King Edward II.

It wasn’t until 1326 that a successful rebellion led by Roger Mortimer led to the capture of Despenser and the eventual overthrowing of King Edward II. Despenser was executed in the same brutal fashion as Bren, and the estates were all returned to the control of Bren’s six sons.

By 1416, Cardiff Castle was still a stone version of the Norman Keep, with battlements and interior walls surrounding it. After the disappearance of Owain Glyndwr in around 1415, the new occupiers of Cardiff Castle, the Beauchamps, decided to begin building a more comfortable residence in the style of Rose Tower in Windsor Castle.

The King of the Castle

(Source: WikiCommons)

In around 1480 Cardiff Castle became home to the future King of England Richard III. The Duke of Gloucester was made first Lord of Cardiff after marrying Ann Neville, daughter of Richard Wawrick who later became known as “Wawrick the King Maker”.

Richard III was the official protector of the crown until young Prince Edward came of age to take control of the realm. Before Edward came of age, however, proof was provided that rendered his or his younger brother’s claims to the throne illegitimate.

A public vote was cast and in 1483 Richard, Duke of Gloucester, became King of England. The arrival of the Tudors at Cardiff Castle came after Richard III was defeated in battle. Cardiff Castle and the estates that came with it had been absorbed by the crown and were therefore not passed onto the Neville family heir but instead granted to Jasper Tudor, the King’s Cousin, in 1486.

Cardiff Castle
Stained glass image of the King and Queen found in Cardiff Castle, United Kingdom. (Source: WikiCommons)

After this, Cardiff Castle remained under royal control until the arrival of the Herbert’s in 1551. During this time, Cardiff Castle was modernised and became a high-class residence of the times. Civil War broke out in 1642 and Cardiff Castle sustained heavy damage and so was abandoned as a home.

Passing through the hands of various heirs the dilapidated Cardiff Castle finally became Bute property in 1776, when the 1st Marquess of Bute took ownership.

Amazing Castle Apartments

It is because of the Bute family that Cardiff Castle is among some of the most impressive Cardiff landmarks in existence today. With the Bute family came power and prosperity to Cardiff. The Butes were responsible for transforming Cardiff from a sleepy humdrum town into the thriving hub of the world coal trade!

The Norman Keep and Roman Fortress became a fantasy Victorian Gothic dream palace for people to visit and a site which people still enjoy today. Together, the talents of architect Burges and desires of the Marquess of Bute produced the extravagant interiors and welcoming grounds that have been preserved in the Castle to this day.

The Nursery

The 3rd Marquess of Bute had four children and in response to this architect, Burges crafted a luxurious nursery within Cardiff Castle for the little Butes to play in.

As with other nurseries of the time, the Cardiff Castle Nursery had a table and chairs to dine from and take lessons at, as well as modern toys such as elegant rocking horses. The rest of the room stood apart from the norm with intricate frescoes of popular children’s stories of the age depicted on the walls.

Roof Gardens

Perched atop Bute Tower were the stunning Cardiff Castle roof gardens. One of the most visually striking Cardiff landmarks in existence, the rooftop gardens were designed with inspirations from all over the world.

Cardiff Castle
(Source: WikiCommons)

Iron columns, painted tiled walls and mosaic floors made Cardiff Castle’s roof gardens a true feast for the eyes.

The Arab Rooms

Found inside the Herbert Tower, The Arab Room was built as a social space for the ladies of the house. Burges perhaps unintentionally gave the apartment a distinctive harem feel.

Cardiff Castle
(Source: WikiCommons)

The intricately carved ceiling is the rooms most striking feature yet the rest of the rooms décor is heavily influenced by the architects travel experiences abroad and the Marquess’ extravagant tastes.

The Banqueting Hall

Cardiff Castle
(Source: WikiCommons)

The Grand vaulted ceiling of the Banqueting Hall is adorned with gilded angels and complemented by marbled finishes and quirky turreted fireplaces.

The Library

Cardiff Castle
(Source: Michael Miley/WikiCommons)

Access to the stunning library can be gained by the impressive octagonal staircase, the only stairwell designed by Burges in the whole castle. Original furnishings include carved bookcases that line all the walls complete with intricate details such as small animals, birds, and insects.

Marquess of Bute’s Bedroom

In one of the last extensions to Cardiff Castle lay the Marquess’ plethora of bedrooms. A lavish apartment decorated with precious stones and minerals, these quarters reflected the wealth of the Marquess through his success in the mining industry.

The mirrored ceiling and opulent furnishings made this rooms glint and gleam in the daylight – and there’s even said to be a clever installation in the ceiling mirrors which reflect the name John in Greek, for both John the Marquess and John the Baptist. These are just a few examples of the extravagant details that lay within the castle, and there are plenty of other rooms and hidden parts of the impressive castle to see on your tour.

What Goes on Today at Cardiff Castle?

Thanks to the luxurious interior of Cardiff Castle, VIP events, dinners, and tours are hosted here almost daily.

There are reenactments of the stories and tales associated with the castle and its rich and interesting history, as well as more modern events and occasions such as outdoor and underground cinema nights!

Cardiff Castle
(Source: Shutterstock)

Other popular reasons to visit Cardiff Castle include the regular ghost tours of the castle grounds given by expert guides, music festivals, and recreated medieval jousts and battles.

During your stay at the Exchange Hotel, visiting the top Cardiff landmarks is easy. We’re in the heart of the city, making it possible for you to explore the history of Cardiff at your leisure.

Make your reservation to stay at The Exchange Hotel today. You can also call and book a stay in Cardiff on 0151 601 8801 or email We have plenty of fabulous accommodation offers that are suited to couples, families, and groups of friends!