Whether you’re in West Wales for a winter break or a summer holiday, visits to our historic sites are a real highlight – a wonderful day out whatever the weather. Here are our top 5 of the must-see heritage sites in Pembrokeshire, each with different attractions to inspire your imagination and fill your day with fun.
Come and visit a real live Iron Age village! Set high up on a hilltop and surrounded by woodland and lovely countryside, Castell Henllys is an example of living history and particularly fun for families, as well as amateur and not-so-amateur archaeologists! These huge roundhouses with their central hearths and thatch roofs reaching almost to the ground are archaeology brought to life, with the excavated structures recreated exactly where they once stood thousands of years ago.
Once part of the Demetae tribe, the village would have originally been a community of up to 100 people. It consists of four roundhouses and a Granary. Now set among 30 acres of woodland and river meadows, the site includes a children’s play area, maze and riverside picnic site. There is prehistoric livestock grazing around the site, including Iron Age pigs, and local wildlife includes otters, bats and swallows.
Activities include baking bread Iron Age-style, learning how to wattle and daub, spear-throwing, storytelling, costumed guided tours and experimental archaeology. The Visitor’s Centre features some interactive exhibitions, a shop and a café. The hillfort is accessed up a steep track from the Centre but there is disabled parking closer to the site and a site vehicle also aids access. Open Monday to Friday, Young Archaeologist Club members go free!
For more details: phone 01239 891319 or visit Castell Henllys website.
St Davids Cathedral
Perfect for rainy days and with much to explore, this site is steeped in Welsh Christian history. A church has been here since the 6th century when St David founded a monastery. Work started on the present cathedral in 1181, with the Bishop’s Palace built 1328-47. In its history it has been attacked by Vikings, visited by William the Conqueror and Henry II, and suffered during the Restoration under the reign of Henry VIII.
Notable features include Edmund Tudor’s tomb near the high altar and the West Front, rebuilt by Nash. The Cathedral once held the relics of St David and St Justinian, but these were confiscated along with the jewels from St David’s shrine in order to prevent any “superstitions” from forming.
The Treasury displays artefacts associated with worship in the cathedral, including Bishops’ rings and croziers, many dating to the 13th and 14th centuries. The Library contains a leaf from a 12th-century manuscript and its oldest book dates to AD1505.
The Cathedral and its recreated Cloisters are set within the Cathedral Close, itself surrounded by 14th-century walls that once included four Gatehouses. The Tower Gatehouse is the only one to remain and now houses the collection of archaeological stonework related to the site, with the Bishop’s Dungeons below it.
Other interesting structures to explore are the 13th-century Bell Tower and its ten bells, and the striking remains of the Bishop’s Palace, adjacent to the Cathedral. This extensive building includes a beautiful oriel window, decorative stonework, plasterwork, staircases and medieval tiles still visible amid the ruins.
Open from 9.00-5.30, depending on winter services. Regular guided tours in the summer, further tours available on request. The Cathedral Refectory serves home-made refreshments. Disabled access and facilities, with a wheelchair for hire at Reception.
For more details: phone 01437 720202 or visit the St Davids Cathedral website.
One of the most spectacular castles in West Wales, this is an exciting day out for all the family. Set on a promontory half-surrounded by the waters of the Pembroke Estuary, this site provides a glimpse into medieval castle life. Once the birthplace of Harri Tewdwr in 1457, later Henry VII of England, there are lots of features to discover, with several stories still standing and many roofed sections still intact.
The site dates from the 11th century, with the inner bailey the first feature to be constructed by Arnulf de Montgomery in 1093. The Castle was reconstructed entirely in the 12th and 13th centuries in stone by William Marshall, who later became Earl of Pembroke in 1189.
It has withstood sieges by the Welsh in the late-11th century and later by Roundheads and Royalists in turn, and is the only castle in Britain to be built over a cave, the natural stone Wogan Cavern. Other features include the Gatehouse with its barbican and three portcullises, and the Great Keep, as well as many corridors and staircases to explore.
Entertainment at Pembroke includes Living History days, Falconry, Brass-rubbing, Circus Days with juggling and stilt-walking, and opportunities to meet Baby Dragons from the Welsh Marches! Another striking feature is the Great Map of Wales, set out in the castle interior, and is great fun to run across. There are also Pythonesque plays, a Knight’s School, and Concert weekends that include ABBA Tributes and Jools Holland.
Facilities include a café for lunch – or bring your own picnic – and Castle Shop and Exhibition Rooms. Open all year round apart from 24-26 December and 1 January, see website for details. Group discounts available and well-behaved dogs allowed in on the lead (apart from shop and cafe). Children under 3 go free!
For more details: phone 01646 684585 or visit the Pembroke Castle website.
A short boat ride from Tenby Harbour off the Pembrokeshire coast, this site is perfect for those wanting a quiet and relaxing day out in a beautiful setting. Visit this modern working Cistercian monastery and learn about monastic life now and as it was in the past.
The island has been inhabited since the Stone Age and a monastery has been here for the last thousand years. You can visit the Old Priory and two medieval churches, St David’s and St Illtud’s, and there are regular monastic services each day, held in the Abbey Church. A Video Centre and free guided walks provide information on life on the island and its history.
Other attractions include the chocolate factory, where you can watch the monks at work and buy their chocolate, shortbread and fudge, and the Perfume Shop where hand-made perfumes can be tried and purchased. Alternatively you can enjoy a peaceful picnic on the sandy beach at Priory Bay, perfect for children, and take a walk through the pretty village or up to the Lighthouse for views across the Gower peninsula and towards Lundy Island.
Other amenities include the Post Office, with a museum detailing the history of the island and its inhabitants. The Tea Gardens provide refreshments all day and there are also baby changing and disabled facilities.
Opening dates and times are on their website. Tickets can be obtained from a kiosk in Tenby Harbour. There are frequent sailings each day with seasonal sailing times.
For more details: phone 01834 844453 or visit the Caldey Island website.
Carew Castle and Tidal Mill
The impressive Elizabethan facade of this former Norman castle stands out on the banks of Carew River estuary, viewed across the millpond by the Tidal Mill. Set in the peaceful countryside surrounded by pasture, resident bats have caused it to become a designated SSSI. This is a great opportunity to explore a medieval castle, take a walk, watch for wildlife and learn about the only restored Welsh tidal mill.
Carew Castle was first built in the Norman period in earth and timber, when Gerald de Windsor, the Constable of Pembroke Castle for Henry I, decided to build his own fortification. It was rebuilt in stone and later added to in the late-fifteenth century by Sir Rhys ap Thomas, with a large number of sixteenth-century additions transforming the castle into an Elizabethan manor. It was abandoned in 1686.
Surviving features include kitchens, chapel, towers and gatehouses, the Lesser Hall and the solar. The Lesser Hall was for entertaining, whilst the bedchamber above has a fireplace depicting Henry VII’s coat of arms. Elsewhere you will find the coat of arms of Prince Arthur and his wife Catherine of Aragon. The Elizabethan extension features large windows and the remains of the Long Gallery and there is an Elizabethan Walled Garden to explore outside. The site is also said to be haunted – by the beautiful Princess Nest, daughter of Rhys ap Tewder the King of Deheubarth, and by the ghost of a barbary ape!
Amenities include several beautiful picnic spots, Visitor Centre, The Castle Shop, The Mill Shop selling locally-milled flour, local honey and the equipment for crab-catching in the Mill Pond. This is also a good place to spot birds in the estuary, including kingfishers and sandpipers. Both shops sell refreshments. Nearby is an early Christian cross dedicated to Maredudd ap Edwin, an 11th-century Welsh prince.
Please see website for seasonal opening times. Disabled facilities and access to shops and Castle grounds, wheelchair available for hire. Free daily guided tours. Dogs allowed on a short lead.
For more details: phone 01646 651782 or visit the Carew Castle website.
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We’d love to hear about your visit to these (or any other) Pembrokeshire heritage sites. Let us know how you got on by adding your comments below.