Talk about getting away from it all. Snowdonia is truly one of the most extraordinary corners of Britain. It’s like someone’s grabbed a giant handful of Alps, and plonked them on the west coast of Wales - near the beaches, which was thoughtful of them.
Mountains are a Snowdonia must do
Snowdon is the highest point in Wales, and everyone should experience the thrill of standing on its summit at least once in their lives. There are several routes up, most of which are manageable for all the family if you’re all reasonable fit (though we wouldn’t recommend the famous Crib Goch arête, which is more advanced).
You don’t even have to walk, though: just take the Snowdon Mountain Railway to the summit, where the Hafod Eryri visitor centre will do you a cup of tea which comes with complimentary views all the way to Ireland.
There are plenty of other family-friendly peaks to pick. Teenagers love climbing Tryfan, partly because it looks like a giant stegosaurus at the side of the A5, and also because you can knock it off in three hours flat, up and down.
Cader Idris is another beauty, an extinct volcano that looms up between the twin estuaries of the rivers Dyfi and Mawddach. Aberdyfi – ‘aber’ means ‘mouth of a river’ in Welsh – is a classy fishing village that marks the southern edge of Snowdonia’s coastline. From here, it heads north through family-friendly resorts Tywyn and Barmouth, past Britain’s largest campsite at Shell Island – whose beach, as the name implies, is the ideal places to gather shells.
The coast is just as stunning
The Llŷn Peninsula has three distinct ‘sides’: the sheltered resorts of its south coast are ideal for sailing, powerboating and windsurfing, notably at Pwllheli and Abersoch. Out on its tip, the more exposed beaches of Hell’s Mouth and Aberdaron are great for surfing. The north coast is wild and hardly developed, and sprinkled with magical coves and the unique Whistling Sands at Porth Oer.
Quite apart from the mountains and beaches, Snowdonia has plenty of man-made attractions, too. The castles, for instance: Norman whoppers like Caernarfon, Harlech and Conwy, built to keep the Welsh in check. Or native Welsh castles, like the wildly romantic ruins of Dolbadarn, Dolwyddelan and Castell y Bere.
There’s fascinating industrial heritage in places like National Slate Museum, Sygun Copper Mine and Llechwedd Slate Caverns. Old industrial sites are put to imaginative new use at the Centre for Alternative Technology, or King Arthur’s Labyrinth, or Go Below Underground Adventures.
There’s some of the world’s best mountain biking at Coed y Brenin, and at Antur Stiniog’s centre in the mining moonscape of Blaenau Ffestiniog. We’ve got white-water rafting all year round at the National White Water Centre near Llyn Tegid in Bala - where there’s also one of the area’s half-dozen steam railways.
The best bit is how close this all is; less than two hours from Birmingham, and just a couple more from London. But a completely different world.