PUBLISHED BY Paula
N orth Wales is a beautiful fusion of naturally charming Welsh countryside and raw historic monuments. The perfect destination for a last-minute weekend break , North of Wales feels as far from a city as you could possibly get.
Climb mountains, revisit history and experience the breath-taking views over the Irish Sea whilst relaxing and taking in the fresh coastal air. A romantic and adventurous destination, North Wales is a dream for those trying to get away from day-to-day life for a short break.
Snowdon by Train
Snowdon is the highest mountain in England and Wales and offers arguably the best view in North Wales. Don’t worry if you haven’t brought your hiking boots with you, journey to the top in style from Llanberis on the Snowdon Mountain Railway all the way to the summit. Sit back and relax as the traditional train winds up the mountain side bringing you beautiful views of the Welsh countryside.
We spoke to the team at Snowdon Mountain Railway who told us what it is like summiting Snowdon by rail: “Let Snowdon Mountain Railway take you on the journey of a lifetime to the rooftop of Wales and experience this unique rail journey to the summit of the highest mountain in Wales and England.
“From the first views of the waterfall plunging into the gorge below at the start of the journey, to the breath-taking sights over the sheer edge of Rocky Valley, every moment is memorable. On a clear day the views stretch as far as Ireland from Hafod Eryri, the Summit Visitor Centre.
“Pushed by an original Swiss steam locomotive from 1896, the heritage carriages on our Heritage Steam Service are accurate reconstructions of the Snowdon Mountain Tramroad & Hotels Co Ltd observation carriages of 1896, meaning that today’s visitor can enjoy the same experience our ancestors did as they journey through the clouds to the Yr Wyddfa, Snowdon.”
How long does this take? Roughly 2 ½ hours from start to finish, including a 30-minute stopover at the summit.
Snowdon by Foot
If you are feeling more adventurous, you can don your walking boots and climb Snowdon. Enjoy the view as you ascend the mountainside and be able to tick ‘climb a mountain’ from your bucket list after your descent. Climbing Snowdon is an adventure all in itself.
As one of the three highest peaks in the UK you would expect people who climb Mount Snowdon to be seasoned hikers, but in reality, it is possible for most people to hike the mountain. If you are moderately fit, climbing Snowdon is within your reach. The average trail takes 6 hours from top to bottom, and the terrain can vary from gentle inclines to steep rocky paths. With walks between 5 and 10 miles the hike can be as long or as short as you want, and you can stop at the summit visitor centre for a cup of tea and a short rest.
How long does this take? Roughly 7 hours if you spend 30 minutes at the summit and allow a little extra time for snapping some photos along the way. Most easy routes are estimated to take 6 hours.
Conwy Valley Railway
If you are looking to sit back and relax whilst absorbing the beautiful surroundings, then the Conwy Valley Railway is a great option for you. The line is almost 27 miles long and offers one of Britain’s most beautiful railway experiences.
The line involves many of the main towns and attractions in North Wales. Starting in Llandudno and ending in Blaenau Ffestiniog, you travel through the heart of Snowdonia and through the laid-back countryside. Spend a glorious hour and a half riding the train end to end or get off at any of its stops to explore one of the lovely villages and towns it serves.
How long does this take? Roughly 4 hours, including 3 hours end-to-end travel and an extra hour to explore one of the stops.
South Stack Lighthouse
The perfect activity for walkers and photographers. South Stack Lighthouse is on a small island north of Anglesey at the very North West tip of Wales. This idyllic lighthouse is one of the most photogenic parts of the region. Built in 1809 to warn ships of the rocks below, the lighthouse is almost 28 meters high and stands proudly over the Irish Sea.
Descend the 365 steps down the mainland cliffs to get to the lighthouse. Once there you can tour the former engine room and even climb to the top. It’s a wonderful place to experience the rugged Welsh coast and see some beautiful seabirds including guillemots, razorbills and puffins. You can even pick up some bird food in the visitor centre.
We spoke to Tobias, blogger and photographer behind Tales From The Shore who told us why he loves North Wales and South Stack Lighthouse: “The landscapes of Snowdonia are nothing but stunning. There is an incredible variety of sceneries, mountains, lakes, forests and coastlines. Sleepy villages und picturesque bridges over little rivers, massive mountains looming at the horizon. For me as a photographer it was just amazing to see all these types of landscapes literally an hour away from each other.
“Holy Island near Anglesey was definitely one of my favourite places, the view over the cliffs and the lighthouse is absolutely incredible. And obviously Snowdonia National Park, the winding roads through the mountains are just beautiful.”
He also offered a few tips for anyone heading to North Wales: “I would definitely recommend a car. You're going to be much more flexible. Also, the weather can be quite unpredictable, particularly when driving through the more mountainous areas, so I would bring some waterproof jackets and hiking boots.”
How long does this take? 1-2 hours, make sure to take in to consideration the vast number of steps and high winds!
This medieval fortress stands proudly on the Caernarfon harbourside. Caernarfon Castle is an excellent place for history lovers. The gorgeous castle was created by King Edward I and is unlike most in that its towers are not circular. The site has long been home to battle stations, with a Roman fort being the first to stand there, and then a Norman motte and bailey castle before Caernarfon Castle came to be.
The castle is steeped in history and very large and well preserved, and there are plenty of chances to learn about the castle’s history. Once you have paid you can leave and return on the same day, so if you get tired mid-way through or fancy a break you can pop out for some lunch and then come back.
How long does this take? 2 hours, this will give you time to properly explore every nook and cranny that Caernarfon Castle has to offer.
This magical seaside village keeps drawing tourists back for one reason - its atmosphere. Portmeirion is a lovely place to wander around, maybe grab a cup of tea or coffee and enjoy an Italian feeling village in the North of Wales. Many people will know this place from 60’s TV show ‘The Prisoner’, and others will simply know it as the exceptional seaside village it is today.
The unique buildings that create the town are one of the reasons people love this village so much. The brightly-coloured houses with painted shutters and doors make you feel as though you have gone to the Mediterranean rather than North Wales. This lovely village is straight from a story book and enchants all of its visitors.
How long does this take? 3-5 hours, this gives you time to take a walking tour, explore the area and go to a restaurant or café for a meal. There is even a train tour around the gardens included in your ticket price.
If Caernarfon Castle is something you are excited to see you should also add Harlech Castle to your list. The history of the castle is so well known that the anthem ‘Men of Harlech’ often chanted at rugby matches and played by regimental bands, is said to be about a siege on this castle.
Just like Caernarfon, Harlech Castle is full of Edward I’s trademark warren-like corridors through the castle walls. In fact, it is reported the castle only cost King Edward I £8,190, a true bargain!
If you have a penchant for adventure, then Zip World is the place for you. Offering some of the UK’s best adventure experiences it is a great way to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and try something new. There are three sites all around North Wales that include zip wires, coasters, underground trampolines and much more.
Try Europe’s highest five-seater swing, the fastest zipline in the world, or even Bounce Below and jump from net to net in an old mining cave. These adventures are some of the world’s best and are all available in the North Wales countryside.
How long does this take? 2 hours, this will give you time for most of the adventures, you can visit the FAQ to see exactly how long each adventure takes.
The Great Orme Tramway
The Great Orme Tramway is Britain’s only cable-hauled public road tramway. It’s been open since 1902 and still climbs the 1500m country park at Great Orme. Start your journey at Victoria Station and then climb to the Halfway Station and take in the exhibition before ascending to the summit.
The breath-taking views at the top of the ride are the main reason this is such a great activity. On a clear day it’s possible to see as far as the Isle of Man, Blackpool and the Lake District. Choose a single ticket and walk back down to take in the countryside air.
How long does this take? 4 hours, this gives you some time to enjoy the views at the top and grab a drink.
The whole town of Llandudno is a picture-perfect attraction but one of the best parts is the Llandudno Pier . It is Wales’s longest pier and offers superb views, great food stalls and traditional seaside fare. Relax and wonder down the pier, grab an ice cream and browse the stores.
You can even go to Leisure Island at the promenade end of the pier and have a go on the arcades. Bring your two pence pieces or try your luck on the claw machines and feel the nostalgia of this traditional arcade.
How long does this take? 1-2 hours. Although it depends how sucked in you get to the coin pusher!
The Seahorse Restaurant, Llandudno
If you are looking for fine, fresh seafood then The Seahorse Restaurant in Llandudno is a great place for dinner. With fresh seafood from the coastline and an informal relaxed atmosphere the Seahorse is perfect for a date night, or a nice meal with friends.
We spoke to the team at The Seahorse Resturant, who told us some more about their story: “The Seahorse Restaurant has been in our ownership for 15 years now and our motto is, ‘Food cooked with love, thought and care’. Don, chief proprietor has been a chef for 42 years and trained at The Piccadilly in Manchester and has worked at Manchester United and City and cooked for royalty too!
“Gill, his wife, makes all the desserts and is also a professional actress appearing in numerous TV programmes, feature films and stage productions. They were boyfriend and girlfriend at the age of 12 attending the same school in Manchester and re-met again 17 years ago on ‘Friends’ Reunited’.
“We would recommend our locally-sourced fresh fish dishes and meats. Wherever possible we use local suppliers and from time to time even catch fish ourselves!”
Bryn Williams, Port Eirias
Bryn Williams is a renowned Welsh chef and you can visit his beach front restaurant, café and bar on the North Wales coast. The menu is full of local, welsh produce, and seafood takes centre stage, as it should on this fantastic coastline.
Perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner you can experience fine dining here any time of the day. One look at the menu will leaving you salivating, with dishes like rump steak, mushroom, watercress, salsa verde and pomme anne or daily-catch fish fingers, fries, crushed peas and tartar sauce.
Sosoban and the Old Butchers, Menai Bridge
If you are looking to treat yourself to something unforgettable then Sosaban and the Old Butchers could be place for you. This Michelin-star restaurant is located within a historical butcher’s shop and brings a unique dining experience to any entering its doors. Enjoy the series of dishes they create using the best locally-sourced produce available and let them take you on a unique culinary journey that changes every day.
Suggested 48-hour schedules
For the adventurer
Start your weekend tackling Snowdon by foot, slowly meandering up the mountain and back down, stopping for a cuppa in the middle. Then dress up and head to Sosoban and the Old Butchers for an adventurous food experience.
The next day go to one of the Zip World locations on experience some of the best adventure in North Wales. Finish your trip by going to see the South Stack Lighthouse and watch the sunset before heading home.
For the history fanatic
North Wales is the perfect place to experience history, and with so many historic sites it’s worth waking up early to make good use of your time. Get to Caernarfon Castle and spend your morning exploring the warren on corridors and towers. Then, once you are done there stop in Caernarfon for some lunch before heading to Harlech Castle. In the evening go to The Seahorse Restaurant and experience proper local food in a relaxed atmosphere and talk over wine about everything you have learnt that day.
The next day head to Portmeirion and be transported in to another world. Spend your time exploring the shops and streets of this unique Italian-style town. Take the train and tour at your own leisure, stopping for lunch in one of the cafes. If you have time spend the rest of your day at South Stack Lighthouse and watch the sunset.
For the relaxation lover
This is the perfect weekend for you to relax. Wake up late and head to Bryn Williams for your breakfast. Then hop on the Conwy Valley Railway and meander through the Welsh countryside, taking in the sites. Once you have ridden the train end-to-end spend your afternoon and evening in Llandudno, eating ice creams on the pier and watching the sun go down.
The next day wake up early and head for the first train up Snowdon. Pass the hikers as you journey up the mountain with no effort and once you reach the top go to the café and enjoy at hot drink at the summit. Once returned to ground level take the Great Orme Tram and experience history.
Image Credits: Snowdon Mountain Railway, Tobias Keip, The Seahorse Restaurant, © Crown copyright (2018) Visit Wales.