North Wales Holiday Planning Guide
Passionate about being Welsh, residents of North Wales fiercely preserve their language, music, and history. The region’s dramatic landscapes, which notably include the highest peaks in Wales and England, attract hikers, cyclists, and adventure-seekers of every description. Your trip may also include a ride on some of the country’s most scenic heritage railways here. Despite its relatively small size, North Wales has many historical attractions to fill your travel itinerary. It is home to two World Heritage sites, which include a series of well-preserved Edwardian castles dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries. The Welsh spirit is strong here, and most residents use their mother tongue, but don’t be afraid to ask for directions: Everyone also speaks fluent English and will be more than happy to converse in it.
Places to Visit in North WalesGwynedd
: Most famous for encompassing the vast and beautiful Snowdonia National Park, rugged Gwynedd is also a hotbed of traditional Welsh culture and language.Denbighshire
: Home to enchanting castles, charming market towns, and sandy beaches, the compact county of Denbighshire offers a surprisingly diverse array of attractions. Llandudno
: With its long beaches, imposing mountains, and elegant Victorian architecture, Llandudno is truly the "Queen of the Welsh Resorts"--a title it has held since 1864. Anglesey
: The country's largest island, the Island of Anglesey is packed full of ancient sites, protected coastline, and picturesque Welsh-speaking villages.Conwy
: The region's rich history appears alive and well in Conwy, Britain's most complete walled town, where a World Heritage-listed castle dominates the skyline. Bangor
: Bustling with students during term time, the small coastal city of Bangor boasts a historic cathedral and Gothic university buildings. Wrexham
: North Wales' largest town, Wrexham serves as the region's shopping and nightlife capital. Caernarfon
: Generally regarded as the center of Welsh culture, the historical importance of Caernarfon is evident in its mighty castle and old walled town, while the fashionable marina area offers international restaurants and hip bars. Llangollen
: The perfect base for those who want to get back to nature on their North Wales vacation, the small town of Llangollen is ideally situated for hiking, cycling, and whitewater rafting.
Things to Do in North Wales
Popular North Wales Tourist AttractionsGreat Orme
: Towering over Llandudno, a trip up the iconic Great Orme headland not only includes sweeping views but a chance to see historic North Wales attractions that span millennia, including a Neolithic burial chamber and Bronze Age mine. Watch for native birds and butterflies as well as wild Kashmir goats in this designated site of special scientific interest. Portmeirion Village
: A taste of the Med in northern Wales, Portmeirion Village was designed to look like a town on the Italian coast, with brightly painted buildings that host boutiques, restaurants, and hotels alongside a central piazza. Caernarfon Castle
: When Caernarfon Castle was built in 1238, it was considered one of the finest fortresses Wales had ever seen and very little has changed since then. Visitors are invited to explore the formidable fortifications' passages and take in views of Snowdonia from its towers. Llandudno Pier
: Opened in 1877, Llandudno Pier was the place to see and be seen in Victorian society and its graceful architecture from the era often features in period dramas today. Snowdon Mountain Railway
: The Snowdon Mountain Railway has been climbing Wales' tallest mountain for over 100 years, granting millions of visitors access to stunning scenery and far-reaching views. National Slate Museum
: Set inside retired workshops from the 1900s, the Welsh Slate Museum provides an insight into the country's industrial heritage by showcasing the history of slate and exposing the daily life of Wales' quarrymen. Great Orme Tramway
: Providing both a scenic and relaxing way to ascend Llandudno's huge bluff, the Great Orme Tramway, opened in 1902, serves as a beloved piece of local history. Conwy Castle
: Considered by UNESCO to be one of Europe's best examples of military architecture from its time, the 13th-century Conwy Castle encompasses a great hall, chapel, and private chambers. Promenade
: Llandudno's pedestrian-only Promenade abounds with traditional British seaside fun, and features a bandstand, swimming pool, theater, and more. Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways
: Operated by the world's oldest railway company, the the steam locomotives of Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways traverse verdant forest and mountain foothills.
Planning a North Wales Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in North Wales with Kids
With its wide-open spaces, immersive historic sites, and friendly locals, North Wales is well suited to family vacations. Snowdonia National Park
is an obvious choice for families who want to sample some of Britain's premier natural delights and outdoor activities. While you may want to steer clear of long hikes into the mountains with little ones, you can all enjoy the area's gentler forest strolls, scenic cycle paths, and numerous adventure centers. Alternatively, stay in compact Llangollen
, where you can choose from white-water rafting, climbing, and horseback riding For a more relaxing holiday in North Wales, consider Llandudno
as a base. The seaside town is a well-established family destination, with amusement arcades, Punch and Judy puppet shows, and wide sandy beaches where you can spend the day for free.
Things to Do in North Wales with Kids
It's the great outdoors that makes North Wales such an appealing vacation destination, and there are plenty of ways to experience it at its best with your children. GreenWood Forest Park (Gelli Gyffwrdd)
is an ideal day out for those with younger kids, with mini-tractors, mazes, swing-ropes, and more in a picturesque woodland setting. Meanwhile, Coed y Brenin Forest Park
boasts excellent bike routes, an adventure playground, and stroller-accessible walking paths. Scenic tourist trains, such asSnowdon Mountain Railway
and Llangollen Railway
, are an easy and fun way to reach beautiful and remote destinations that won't tire out little legs. To learn more about the region's rich history, include some castles on your North Wales itinerary. Fairytale-esque fortresses such as Harlech Castle
, will get your kids' imaginations racing as well as teaching them about Britain's storied past.
Tips for a Family Vacation in North Wales
Although gas can be pricey in the British Isles, it is worth renting a car for the duration of your North Wales vacation. Local public transport is infrequent at best, with many rural attractions rendered inaccessible without a your own mode of transport. What's more, the cost of buying a ticket for each member of the family can soon add up. Wet weather is an important consideration regardless of what time of year you visit. Make sure to pack plenty of rain gear for the kids, and note nearby shopping malls and movie theaters in the event of inclement weather.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in North Wales
Cuisine of North Wales
Equipped with ample coastline, strong fishing culture, and numerous fisheries, the immense popularity and excellent quality of seafood in North Wales should come as no surprise. Steamed clams regularly appear on menus while Anglesey
is the best place to dig in to oysters, lobsters, and crabs. The North Wales shoreline boasts one of the region's finest delicacies, salt-marsh lamb, which features lambs reared in coastal areas, such as Harlech
, and feasting on saline-rich vegetation, giving the meat a distinctive sweet flavor. Generally found in more upmarket restaurants, the lamb may be seasoned with sea salt from the Menai Strait. After a long day of sightseeing in North Wales' wind and rain, warm up with a hearty bowl of lobscows. This beef and vegetable stew is traditionally popular among fishermen and quarrymen.
Shopping in North Wales
Though it's a far cry from the UK's premier retail destinations, a shopping trip in North Wales can yield unexpectedly good results. The region's independent stores, farm shops, and markets sell a diverse assortment of locally made and grown products, often sold by friendly business owners up for a chat. Brand name goods are available in all towns and cities, but for the most complete collection, visit Wrexham's
town center or Llandudno's mall
Know Before You Go on a Trip to North Wales
History of North Wales
North Wales boasts a long and rich history characterised by fierce defiance to foreign rule. For almost a millennia, the region was known as the Kingdom of Gwynedd. The powerful state emerged in 5th century, following the retreat of the Roman Empire and arrival of the Saxons to Britain. At its height, the Kingdom was known as "King of the Britons" and ruled most of Wales. The rugged Snowdonia National Park
region formed the nucleus from which the realm was led, utilizing the mountains as a natural defenses.
In 1066 the Normans arrived in Britain, seizing large portions of North Wales. However, a Welsh revolt in 1094 forced out the rulers and the strength of the Kingdom Gwynedd was restored. By 1200 Llywelyn the Great was the powerful ruler of the realm; he built several castles, including Dolwyddelan
, to secure his power and protect the route to Snowdonia. King John of neighboring England was unsettled by Llewelyn's strength and led a successful military campaign against him. Though Llewellyn was humiliated, he managed to secure the allegiance of other prominent Welsh leaders and fight against total subjugation. The Welsh became united politically and a peace treaty was signed between King John and Llewellyn in 1211.
However, Wales' peaceful relations with its powerful neighbor didn't last long. King Edward I led two campaigns against the Welsh, which included the capture of swathes of North Wales and the battlefield death of then-Welsh ruler Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1282. Disorganized and demoralized, Wales finally fell to Edward's conquest in 1283, beginning a long period of English military rule. In an effort to maintain his dominance over the land, Edward I commissioned a series of impressive fortifications that still stand today and can be visited on your North Wales trip, including the mighty Caernarfon Castle
and Conwy Castle
. His son was born at Caernarfon in 1284 and later became the first Prince of Wales.
In 1400, a nobleman from North East Wales, Owain Glyndwr, began a rebellion against King Henry the IV in an attempt to establish an independent Welsh state. He captured Harlech Castle
and shortly after crowned himself Prince of Wales. Nonetheless, the English forces were able to recapture Wales just a few years later and quell the rebellion. Wales would remain a part of the English empire and a later a constituent country of the United Kingdom.
The Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries affected North Wales profoundly. Prior to the Revolution, the region was reliant on agriculture for wealth and employment but the growth of industry quickly, particularly slate quarrying, transformed the lives of many of North Wales' residents. You can learn about the slate industry in depth by including the National Slate Museum
in your North Wales itinerary. World War I saw saw a great reduction in the industry while the Great Depression and World War II led to the closure of many quarries.
Landscape of North Wales
Looming over much of this region, mountains can be considered North Wales' most defining natural feature. Snowdonia National Park
, in the west boasts the highest peaks in England and Wales, with Mount Snowdon reaching 1,055 m (3,560 ft). Nature reserves and wide-open spaces are plentiful in this rural region with protected areas, such as The Dingle (Nant y Pandy) Nature Reserve
and Pwllycrochan Wood
, making it easy to observe the area's rich flora and fauna.Wherever you find yourself on your tour of North Wales, you're never too far from the sea. The region's dramatic coastline not only forms central part of its landscape but is responsible for much tourism in the area. Just off the shore lies Anglesey
, Wales' largest island, separated from the mainland by the Menai Strait.
Holidays & Festivals in North Wales
North Wales, like the rest of the UK, observes major public holidays, many of which are important dates in the Christian calendar. If you're North Wales vacation overlaps with New Year's Day, Easter, or Christmas, you should expect a large build-up to these dates, and businesses will close for a couple of days during the celebrations. Saint David's Day, held on March 1, honors Wales' patron saint and in its modern iteration is a celebration of all things Welsh. When sightseeing in North Wales during this time, you may notice people wearing daffodils, the national flower, and leeks, the national vegetable, pinned to their clothes, and some people will be completely decked out in national dress. Colwyn Bay
, and several other towns hold a parades, while Denbigh
holds a lively St. David's Day Festival. A number of Welsh heritage sites offer free entrance on this day.
Food and drink festivals are also held throughout the year, providing an excellent opportunity to sample the region's produce. In May, a Land and Seafood Festival is held on the Llyn peninsula and Wrexham
holds a food festival. September is a great time to sample the region's beers, with the Anglesey
Beer Festival and Real Ale Trail taking place. The Gwledd Conwy
Feast, a two-day festival in October, is one of the premier foodie events in the country.
North Wales Travel Tips
Climate of North Wales
Like the rest of the UK, North Wales experiences a maritime climate that often brings wet, cloudy, and windy weather. Summers are generally warm and winters are mild, making June to August the best time of year to visit for outdoor activities. However, these hotter months coincide with the UK's school holidays, meaning attractions are likely to be busy. If possible, plan your North Wales trip for May or September to enjoy pleasant weather without the crowds. Though coastal areas are windy, they are considerably warmer and receive more sunshine than the mountainous uplands. Higher parts of Snowdonia
have an average annual temperature of just 5 C (41 F) . No matter what time of year you visit or what sites you include in your North Wales itinerary, be sure to take a sweater and rain jacket.
Transportation in North Wales
A wide range of transportation options are available to help on your tour through North Wales. A main train line runs along the coast, connecting major towns and cities such as Rhyl
, and Holyhead
. The Conwy Valley Line runs from Llandudno
to Blaenau Ffestiniog
, making it one of the UK's most stunning rail journeys. Intercity buses also operate throughout the region, taking longer than the train but often costing less. If you expect to do lots of travelling during your North Wales vacation, consider purchasing an Explore Wales Pass for one or eight days. The pass grants unlimited access to mainline train services and many bus routes along with discounted entrance to some tourist attractions. Local transportation, however, is lacking and those interested in visiting the region’s more remote sites will need to hire a car or to cycle for convenient access. Lôn Las Cymru, or National Cycle Route 8, is a beautiful long-distance journey that includes Porthmadog
, and Holyhead
Language of North Wales
Though English is spoken by nearly all the residents of the region, North Wales is considered the heartland of the country's ancient Gaelic language, referred to as Welsh or Cymraeg. Gwynedd
has the highest proportion of Welsh speakers in the country, with Caernarfon
boasting the highest proportion within that area. However, there's no need to bring a phrasebook, as even in areas where Welsh is used on a daily basis, visitors are not expected to know any. Throughout your North Wales holiday, you will notice that road signs are bilingual, using both Welsh and English.