This year has been all about the scenic landscapes of the UK – Skye, the Outer Hebrides, the Lake District, and finally, we made it to Wales to check out whether Snowdonia National Park really is as beautiful as the rest of them.
Spoiler alert: it is.
But first, we had a couple of towns in North Wales to check out before we even set foot in Snowdonia.
Ash & I arrived in Wales a day early, having booked a house in Conwy with a couple of friends from the Friday. We had been planning to stop somewhere on the way on Thursday, but then I found a beautiful B&B, also in Conwy, that’s set in a gorgeous chapel!
This was the bar area, but we stayed in a vestry room! The whole place was really beautiful and welcoming, and we’d stay here again next time we visit North Wales.
Book a night at Gwynfryn B&B here (affiliate link)
Conwy is on the north coast of Wales, near the popular beach towns of Llandudno and Colwyn Bay, close enough to visit the Isle of Anglesey while we were there (you’ll see further down that there was a Very Important Place that I wanted to visit in Anglesey), and most importantly, just on the edge of Snowdonia National Park. It seemed like the perfect place to base ourselves, and indeed turned out to be a really lovely town in its own right.
We spent our first night wandering around the outside of the castle, grabbing dinner in a great little pub called the Erskine Arms, and checking out some walls. Walls, you ask? Turns out Conwy is, unbeknownst to us at the time, part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site! The site covers both Conwy and Caernarfon, two beautiful Welsh towns fortified with town walls encircling the entire town centres. Both are also home to really incredible castles, although Caernarfon wins out on this one.
The final selling point for me was this – the smallest house in Britain!
Naturally, we found time to go in there with our friends, and let me tell you, it was a squeeze for four of us – yet apparently six people used to live in there! There’s even a tiny upstairs bedroom. It’s well worth the £1.50 entry fee just for the novelty, and you even get a little fairground-ride-style ticket to keep.
There’s also a fantastic butchers in town where we picked up some sausage and bacon rolls for breakfast – at £4.50 a pop, they seemed extortionate until we realised how much they’d packed into them! One of the best breakfast rolls I’ve had, so I highly recommend. There are also loads of delicious pastries and cakes at the Popty bakery which are hard to resist!
I’m really glad we got to spend an extra night there, as it gave us the chance to explore a bit more of the area, especially as our main focus was the nearby national park.
In the morning, we had time to pop over to the other walled city of Caernarfon, somewhere I had shamefully never really heard of while Ash was keen to go. (It’s not often Ash knows more about a place than I do, so I’ll give this one to him!)
I LOVED Caernarfon. We didn’t spend too long there, but we’ve resolved to come back to go into the castle. As it happens, the castle was in a lot of scaffolding anyway, so it was just as well that we didn’t make the effort to go this time around. I was quite content wandering around the gorgeous town square anyway, struggling to get photos to show just how bloody massive the castle actually is.
The Longest Town Name In The World
We actually went to Anglesey to visit this place later on in the day, before we headed back to Conwy, so this post is going a little out of chronological order, but it keeps all the Snowdonia stuff together nice and neatly for the rest of the weekend.
I am, of course, talking about… *takes a deep breath and brushes up on pronunciation*
I typed that from memory*.
There really is not much to do in Llanfairpwll (as it’s shortened to for convenience) so this was really just a quick pit stop to take some obligatory photos. Which, naturally, I was more than happy to do.
The literal translation is “St. Mary’s Church in the hollow of white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio near the red cave”, but the meaning behind the name is certainly more… hollow. It was supposedly a publicity stunt back in the 1880’s to become Britain’s longest railway station name!
(It’s also no longer the longest place name in the world – that accolade goes to Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu in New Zealand, but I think I’m right in thinking that it’s not a town, therefore this is still the longest town name?)
Our first foray into Snowdonia didn’t take us deep into the national park – we decided to meet our friends at Llanberis for lunch before heading out to a quarry. Not quite what you might have in mind in a scenic national park, but we were going there for a very specific, adventurous reason. Intrigued? Keep reading!
But first, LLANBERIS. Llanberis is the first place we saw in Snowdonia, but it has probably remained my favourite. From the moment we pulled up to the view over the lake and up to Snowdon itself, the highest mountain in Wales, I knew I was going to love it.
After some photos from the car park, I had a tree to find. The most scenic tree in Wales? Quite possibly.
Then some kayakers appeared just as the water reflected, leading to one of the best photos I’ve ever taken.
Our friends were due to meet us soon, so we headed back into the town and found a cute café called Pete’s Eats. I’d been eyeing up the delightful sounding Rumdoodles, but it turned out they’re more of an outdoor shop with coffee. Instead, we got the biggest omelettes I’ve ever seen in my life, which was handy as our friends were running late by this point so I saved them some of my mega omelette.
Eventually, we gave up and had to leave, a quarter of my omelette still looking sad on my plate (and now looking about the same size as a normal omelette), and with minutes to spare our pals screeched to a halt in the car park.
“I hope you’re not hungry,” I said, gesturing back towards the cafe, “because I’m really sorry but we’ve got to go!”
Zip World – the fastest zipline in the world
One reason for booking the trip to Wales in October was the fact I’d bought vouchers for Zip World. During lockdown, they ran a very, very rare sale for 2 for 1 tickets on all their activities and I snapped them up for the zipline the second I saw them. Zip World have four locations – one in the aforementioned quarry, one in a forest (or fforest in Welsh), one in a cavern, and one in South Wales. The first three are all in Snowdonia.
Each one has really unique activities – underground trampolining at the caverns, tree top adventures and a giant swing in the forest, and the fastest zipline in the world from the top of a quarry.
The zipline was SO, so much fun!
You do a mini one to start with as a warm up, which takes you down to where the quarry truck is waiting to take you all the way up to the top of the quarry.
We’d been a bit worried about our phones, so unfortunately I have no photos of the view from the top, but Zip World do offer the loan of a camera with video for only £15! In my opinion, it’s WELL worth the extra nominal fee. Check out my video above for how it went!
For the record – it’s no issue to take your phone or other bits and pieces. There’s a pocket in the front of the jumpsuit, and once you’re laying flat, the jumpsuit is so tight that nothing will fall out! There are lockers however, if you do want to leave valuables behind.
On our last day, we also did the giant swing at Fforest, and when we woke up to rain on the Saturday morning, I was tempted to book the trampolining in the caverns so that we could do all three locations in a weekend!
Instead, we headed into Snowdonia in the hope that the rain would stop.
Unfortunately, the rain did not stop.
We drove down to one of the main towns of Snowdonia, Betws-y-Coed, and discovered a charming although very touristy wee town that oozed beauty. In the rain, we headed where any sensible person heads: a café*.
And where better than one that proudly displays THIS sign?
*you probably thought I was going to say a waterfall or something, and I wouldn’t put it past me, but I was with actual (sort of) sensible people**.
**as if I have any sensible friends.
We also wandered into the train station, where we found a thought-provoking art exhibition made from rubbish from the ocean.
Unfortunately, I had to concede that the day would be a bit of a write off, but that was alright because the weekend was as much about spending time with our friends as it was seeing Wales. After a stroll, we headed back to our house to play games and have a few drinks. What are wet weekends for, after all?
Anyway, I’m sure you don’t want to hear about our escapades on Mario Party, so let’s skip straight through to Sunday.
A loop of Snowdonia
Sunday started with a normal series of events: pack up, check out, and head on out to throw ourselves through the air on a giant tree swing.
I have to admit a lot of the activities on offer at Fforest look REALLY fun, from the tree top adventures to an awesome wee alpine coaster! I’d love to go back and do some more.
The sun had come out and we found ourselves back in Betws-y-Coed afterwards for a wander around the incredibly pretty waterfalls by the bridge. We hadn’t walked this far up the day before, so it was a good thing we had come back!
From there, we spent the day driving around a big loop of Snowdonia.
Had we been able to give ourselves more time, I would like to have got outdoors a lot more, but as we only had a few hours left, the best way to see some of the best views in Wales was by car.
From Betws-y-Coed, we headed south down the A470. At some point, we turned off towards Beddgelert instead of carrying on all the way to Porthmadog, which is meant to be a lovely little town with a surprising tourist village nearby, Portmeirion, famous for looking like a Mediterranean Italian town. We didn’t have time to visit, especially as there’s an entry fee for Portmeirion so you’d really want to make the most of it if you do visit, so we skipped both towns in favour of more mountain views.
Beddgelert is another lovely Snowdonia village, similarly popular to Betws-y-Coed. I personally prefer Betws, but Beddgelert made for a really picturesque stop on the trip and we enjoyed a wander along the river. We somehow didn’t make it to Gelert’s grave – the town is named after the tragic story of Gelert, the faithful hound of Prince Llewelyn.
The story goes that in the 13th century, Llewelyn went out hunting, leaving Gelert to protect his young son at home. On his return, his son was missing and there was blood everywhere. Llewelyn quickly assumed the worst and killed the dog – and as Gelert lay dying, Llewelyn heard his son cry.
It gets worse – he soon discovered the body of a wolf, slain by Gelert while protecting the boy.
For being named after such a heartbreaking tale, Beddgelert is a beautiful village.
Looking at these photos now, I can’t really remember why I prefer Betws, but there wasn’t a whole lot to do in Beddgelert so we moved on fairly quickly.
Just along the road from Beddgelert, we drove along the gorgeous banks of Llyn Dinas (in case you hadn’t worked it out yet, “llyn” is Welsh for “lake”). I’ve seen photos of the lake reflecting in the sun, which we did not get at all, but it was still scenic enough for us to stop for a bite to eat. This would be a fab place to come with a picnic on a nice day!
The next lake we came to was Gwynant, one of the more famous lakes in Snowdonia. We didn’t really see anywhere obvious to stop alongside it (I’m sure there is, but we weren’t making much effort with the weather) so we kept going up, up, up hill, until we reached the Snowdon view point.
While beautiful, it was windy AF up here and I was glad not to be going up Snowdon itself.
The viewpoint is spectacular though, with Snowdon straight ahead of you and the view back over Llyn Gwynant behind you.
And just imagine living in that house below!
The one place I’d earmarked as a definite view point on our road trip was this double lake with a stellar view over towards to Snowdon.
Of course, it would have been much prettier if the weather had been more agreeable, but it was still a lovely sight. We did have to sit in the car in the rain for about ten minutes before it cleared up and I managed to get a nice photo!
From there, we could have turned along Pen-y-Pass and carried on to Llanberis, but instead it was a short drive back to Betws-y-Coed, concluding our loop, and sadly our time in Snowdonia as a whole.
Here’s a handy map pinpointing roughly everywhere we stopped in this post. Some of my favourite views were along the A470 but not at specific viewpoints so I’m not 100% sure where unfortunately. You will have to drive along that road to find out! 🙂
If it hadn’t rained so much on the Saturday, the only extra thing I would have done on this trip was climb Snowdon, which was very much on my list and I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to do it. You could argue that I could have done it anyway, but it would have been a miserable walk with no views from the top, so no – absolutely no point for me, even for the accomplishment.
However, I am in no doubt that we will get back to Wales. With a five hour drive to get to Snowdonia from Edinburgh and even London (I was REALLY surprised that it took the same length of time for our friends from Sussex to get there!), it’s not easily weekend-able, but definitely worth it for a few days! I’d very happily do a long weekend again, and there are plenty of other shorter walks I’d love to do next time, too, such as Tryfan mountain, some short walks around Betws-y-Coed, or some short trails around Llyn Ogwen.
As with so many of the UK trips we’ve taken in the past couple of years, we keep planning a “next time”, showing once again that we really do have a lot on our doorstep if we just take the time to explore it.
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