Bala: the heart of the Welsh lake district

Our biggest lake is the centrepiece of the perfect family holiday location. Surrounded by mountains, rich in culture, and within easy reach of North Wales’ main attractions, Bala is ‘real’ Wales at its very best. And let’s not forget, a unique species of fish...

If you have kids of your own, Bala’s an exciting place to visit. Wales’s biggest natural lake, Llyn Tegid (or Bala Lake) is here, sandwiched between Snowdonia and the Berwyns, and overlooked by its own mini-massif, the Arenig mountains. 

In other words, the ideal spot for an outdoorsy family holiday, in a properly Welsh bit of Wales (we do LOVE showing off our ancient Brythonic roots). So here’s how to make the most of your hols here:

Stay on a farm

A spring lamb in a field

Spring lamb, Snowdonia by Lee Bell

Hill farming is a tough business, so a lot of traditional farms have diversified into tourism (there are tons of examples on the Farmstay site). Most farms around Bala are run by families who’ve farmed here for – well, for ever, so by staying on one you’re plugged instantly into what makes rural Welsh-speaking Wales tick. In our experience, they’re also lovely warm people who can knock up a spectacularly calorific (but worth it) farmhouse breakfast. 

Jump in a lake

Two canoes on Bala lake

Bala lake, Snowdonia Mountains and Coast  by Alyson Bainbridge

Or glide serenely across it - up to you. Bala Lake, or Llyn Tegid, is the biggest natural lake in Wales at around 5km long, and up to 1km wide. As well as being pretty to look at (and swim in, if you’re hardy enough), it’s a top place for watersports including canoeing, kayaking, sailing, windsurfing – anything that’s not motor-powered, basically. The lake is home to unique species of fish called the gwyniad, the only one of the lake’s 14 species you’re not allowed to fish for. The lake also supposedly has its own legendary monster (nicknamed Tegi) but we’ve been unable to verify this. Sorry.

Take the train

A train running alongside Bala lake

Bala lake railway, Snowdonia by Wales on View

The old Ruabon-Barmouth railway line used to run alongside the lake, until it was axed in the 1960s. Within a few years, local enthusiasts rebuilt it as a narrow-gauge line using old locos that had hauled slate in the nearby quarries. The resulting Bala Lake Railway is a delightful 8km jaunt along the lake’s shores, from Llanuwchllyn to Bala. 

Climb a mountain

Walking through the hills of Snowdonia

Hiking in Snowdonia by Jan Gottweiß

But which to choose? To the west, there are the mighty peaks of Snowdonia, obviously. To the east, the Berwyns have an isolated grandeur. But if you’re going to do one, we’d go for Arenig Fawr, on the principle that it’s a) at 854m, the highest thing you can see on the horizon, and b) a really, really good walk. We also like the fact that it was painted obsessively, to the point of madness, by a group of artists in the 1910s. For a full list of local trails to suit all ages and abilities, have a look at Go Bala’s splendid website.

Ride the rapids

Trees over the Tryweryn River

White water rafting on Afon Tryweryn, Snowdonia

The National White Water Centre  is here for a reason: water is regularly released from the dam into the River Tryweryn, giving predictable rapids all year round. They run family rafting sessions suitable for anyone aged 10 upwards, along with other kayaking and canyoning adventures.

Go to town

Bala High Street in Snowdonia National Park

Bala town, Snowdonia by GoBala
The district of Penllyn – which means ‘head of the lake’ – is sparsely dotted with tiny towns, of which Bala is the biggest (or rather, the ‘least small’). It’s certainly got all the banks/pubs/shops/cafes that you’ll need for a holiday, including an award-winning butchers. There’s a properly Welsh feel to the place, which has a couple of cultural claims to fame: the Bible Society was inspired by a local farm girl, Mary Jones, who in 1800 walked 25 miles here – barefoot – to buy a copy of the Welsh Bible. There’s also a prominent statue of the Victorian parliamentarian Thomas Ellis, who was an early advocate for Welsh home rule. 

Further afield

Family eating ice cream in Portmeirion

Family eating ice cream in Portmeirion, Snowdonia

As a strategic base, Bala is pretty unbeatable, with a whole range of North Wales tourism hotspots – places like Llangollen, Chirk, Lake Vyrnwy, Betws y Coed, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Portmeirion, Ruthin – no more than 45 minutes’ drive away. Oh, and one of Britain’s best restaurants, Tyddyn Llan, is just up the road. Perfect.

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