Whilst we were in New Zealand, James and I were doing a lot of walking and we decided that this was something that we wanted to continue whilst back in the UK. Top of our list was tackling Snowdon, something that I had never done and that James had when he was a lot younger. Combined with a desire to see more of the UK, it wasn’t long until a plan to go on holiday to North Wales was formulating, and that’s where we headed last month. Armed with our trusty AA walks book (which I can definitely recommend!) and some waterproofs, we didn’t have a clear idea of what we would be doing before we arrived and as such our itinerary was a little sporadic and involved a lot more driving than needed. I’ve refined it a little to share it with you here, but we did do everything I’ve recommended.
Day 1 – Caernarfon
The weather wasn’t looking so great for our first day so we decided to head for a town where we could take cover if the weather got too bad. Whilst it started off wet, this was actually the worst of the rain we experienced whilst we were away so we couldn’t really complain!
In order to see the best that the town had to offer we followed the Exploring Caernarfon walk in our book which promised us “town with sea views” and “riverside woodland”. The walk took us around the dock where we could see views across the Menai Strait to Anglesey, round by the castle and then along the Welsh Highland Railway Line for a short stint. We also went past Segontium Roman Fort and felt like we’d taken in most of what the town had to offer.
The best recommendation in the book was heading to The Blackboy Inn on Northgate Street. This is an award winning 15th century pub with oak-beamed ceilings, beautiful wall murals and an excellent Sunday roast. We were very full afterwards, but so glad we’d followed the guide.
Nursing our food babies, we headed on to explore Caernarfon Castle – the first of many castles on our trip. We were soon racing up and down the stone steps in the towers to see more views of Anglesey, and views towards the misty mountains of Snowdonia. The short film which was played in one of the castle rooms was an excellent introduction to the history of the area, and gave all the castles we visited a little more context.
Day 2 – Aber Falls
With better weather promised on day two, we headed across to the tiny village of Abergwyngregyn for a circular walk to see Aber Falls. It is a fairly easy path which is clear to follow and clearly a favourite of dog walkers in the area. I really love waterfalls so as soon as I saw a picture I knew I wanted to visit and it was worth it.
After the walk we decided to drive back through Snowdonia, stopping first at Llanberis to pick up a map for our Snowdon hike, and then at the very pretty village of Beddgelert for a wander around some of the craft shops. If I’m in the area again I’ll try and stop at Beddgelert in the sunshine, although it was still beautiful in the rain.
Day 3 – Llandudno and Conwy
Checking each morning where the weather was looking best in order to plan our day ahead, we decided to set out to Llandudno to go up The Great Orme. My little car just about managed the steep slope up! We ate lunch at the top (the cafe wasn’t great so I’d suggest bringing a picnic) whilst taking in the sea views. We then took the rather pricey cable car, the longest passenger cable car system in Britain, down to the town to take in the views. I enjoyed our leisurely ride but we were short on time so didn’t get off and wander around the town at all, which I would recommend doing on your visit.
From here we set off to the pretty coastal town of Conwy to visit our second castle of the trip. With the castle dominating the front of the town, cute cottages and lines of boats in the marina, it was hard not to fall in love with Conwy. Once we’d explored the castle, we set out to find the smallest house in Great Britain, which was located on the sea front. We didn’t go inside but as it made me look tall I imagine it is pretty tiny! After treating ourselves to ice cream (when by the sea…) we walked around the town walls, which are one of the best sets of medieval defences in Europe. They are steeper to walk along than the roman walls of Chester or York but provide beautiful views and allow you to see the castle from all different angles.
Day 4 – Anglesey
With yet another castle in our sights, we headed off to the seaside town of Beaumaris to explore the technically perfect castle. Had the weather been better, we probably would have stayed and explored the town for longer as it looked quite nice, but instead we decided to head across to the other side of Anglesey island to South Stack Lighthouse.
I’d heard that there had been orca spotted from South Stack so was hopeful we’d get to see some exciting marine life, but we weren’t in luck. However, if you like birds then this is definitely the place to come and there are RSPB guides on hand to assist you with your bird spotting. We set out for a walk up and around Holyhead Mountain for another opportunity for some views.
Day 5 – Snowdon
If you like hiking and you are in North Wales then attempting Snowdon is a must. If you’re planning on walking up (you could take the easy way up and go on the mountain railway) make sure you do some planning before you go. There are multiple routes to the top and some are a lot more challenging than others. We waited until the end of the week as this was when the best weather was forecast. As it was, we still had some cloud at the top and on our way up, but it did clear so we were rewarded with some fabulous views.
We arrived before 8am to arrive at the Pen-y-Pass car park as we’d read in lots of places that it fills up really quickly and didn’t want to miss out on a space. we decided to head up the Pyg track as we felt like this would be challenging, without feeling impossible. I’m not a fan of ridge walks so wanted to try and avoid this where possible! After a steep initial climb the path levels out, giving you the opportunity to catch your breath and enjoy the views opening out around you. It then becomes steeper again as you head up the Zig-Zags to Bwlch Glas and this was the part of the walk that I found the most difficult, having to take regular breaks. Once you’ve reached Bwlch Glas it is a relatively easy final uphill to the summit, and you are likely to see the mountain train running alongside you.
The views at the top are beautiful if it is clear, and a little spooky if not. One thing I’d be aware of is that it is really windy at the top – at one point I was scared that I would get blown off. After taking in the view and your achievement I would recommend heading into the summit station for a toilet break and warm drink before considering heading back down.
We decided to head back down the Miner’s Track, which also takes you to Pen-y-Pass car park. It was quite steep going down initially and not very pleasant on the knees, but the path then flattens out and remains quite flat for the rest of the way.
As we’d started the walk quite early, we still had the rest of the day to play with once we’d come down so decided to drive to the pretty town of Betws Y Coed. Here we spent a gentle couple of hours walking around in the sunshine and going into a lot of walking shops. Before heading home we stopped off at the Fairy Glen, a local natural beauty spot.
Day 6 – Port Meirion
We were both aching slightly the day after walking up Snowdon so decided to take things a little easier the next day and headed to the Italian-style village of Port Meirion. I’d seen countless photos of Port Meirion and thought it looked beautiful so this was one of the things I knew I wanted to do whilst we were in North Wales. In reality, I sadly found it quite disappointing.
It was very attractive, but there wasn’t really that much to do. I can understand the attraction of staying there for a couple of nights as a novelty and being able to access all areas (some are closed to everyone except residents), but I wouldn’t allow the full day that we did as it doesn’t take that long to get around. There are a handful of shops, and some eateries where you can take a leisurely lunch, but beyond that there isn’t much to it. Perhaps we weren’t ready to adjust to a slower pace of travel after such a packed week!
Day 7 – Harlech
Before travelling home I was determined to fit in one final castle and so we set off down to coast to Harlech. I thought the exhibition in the castle was really good, and there were some lovely views from the walls out towards the Llyn Peninsula, and in towards Snowdonia National Park. Although small, the town itself looked quite pretty and if we had had longer I am sure we would have ended up on the beach!
Travelling around North Wales
Whilst some of the towns are accessible by train, and we did pass service buses, I’d definitely recommend travelling by car. This gives you more flexibility to do exactly what you want and also means you’ll have more freedom of choice over where you stay.
Where to stay in North Wales
There are lots of different options for staying in North Wales, from luxury hotels, to walkers hostels, to camping or cosy B&Bs.
We opted to stay in cottage just outside of Penygroes which was well located for everything that we wanted to do (and it had a sea view!). This meant we had a base to call home for the week and then it only took us about an hour’s drive to get to everywhere we wanted to go – and some of the drives are beautiful!
If you want to be located in a town then I’d recommend Caernarfon as we drove through it most days to get to where we wanted to go. It also has a range of different shops, bars and restaurants so there would be plenty to do in the evening.
Other things to do in North Wales
I was quite surprised by the sheer amount of things that you could do in North Wales. We packed a lot into our week but it felt like we had barely scratched the surface. We didn’t go to a beach, we didn’t experience some of the high adrenaline activities such as Zip World or white water rafting, and despite being so close we didn’t venture out onto the Llyn Peninsula at all.
I would definitely consider going back to North Wales for another week or long weekend to fit in some of the activities we missed out on this time.
Is there anything I’ve missed out of the itinerary that you would have included?