'Come to Sunny Rhyl!' declared the post-war railway posters, enticing visitors to North Wales with stylized images of wide, sandy beaches, and smiling, happy families playing by the seashore.
There's loads more for visitors to do in North Wales these days, and one of the best ways to get about is by train. No worries about traffic or roadworks; just chill out, watch the impressive scenery go by, and let someone else do the driving. Here are a few suggestions for some memory-making days out using the North Wales Coast Railway.
About the North Wales Coast Railway
The railway was originally built as a key route for passengers, freight and the Irish Mail service heading from the major English towns to Ireland via Holyhead and vice versa. The roads were pretty dire and dangerous at the time so the railway offered a safer and quicker alternative. By 1848 the line was fully open with regular trains linking the major towns and ports.
The line soon became popular with holiday makers who could now explore the shores and mountains of North Wales more easily. The towns along the coast grew massively to take advantage of the tourism boom. You can still enjoy the elegant Victorian and Edwardian promenades, piers and gardens today, as well as more exciting things to do like amusement arcades, funfairs and dry ski-slopes.
It can take you around two hours to travel the whole of the North Wales Coast Railway line between Shotton (the first station in Wales) or Chester and Holyhead. The line mainly follows the meandering coastline, running roughly parallel with The North Wales Way along the A55.
At Llandudno Junction, the scenic Conwy Valley Line links the coastal railway to Deganwy and Llandudno in the north, and down to Blaenau Ffestiniog further south.
What to do and see
From the train, sit back and enjoy views of spectacular beaches, seaside towns, magnificent castles and the rugged mountains of North Wales. As you head towards the Menai Strait, the iconic Britannia Bridge comes into view, waiting to take the train over to the Isle of Anglesey. Watch out for fighter planes zooming overhead near RAF Valley - it's one of the UK's fast jet flying training schools and a Search and Rescue base. If you want more than just a train ride, read on for more tips about some of the different places you can visit.
We have castles. Flint and Conwy castles are walkable from their respective railway stations - great for exploring as a family. Or you could build your own magnificent fortification on one of our sandy beaches. Family friendly Pensarn, Colwyn Bay and Penmaenmawr beaches are just over the tracks from their stations.
Go traditional with the full-on Victorian resort experience at Rhyl or Llandudno (change at Llandudno Junction). As well as tasty fish and chips by the seaside, there are museums, galleries, tramways, miniature railways and amusement arcades to keep all ages happy. Nearby, Deganwy and Conwy have marinas to wander round, championship links golf courses to play, and National Trust properties to explore.
Heading further west, enjoy a cultural day out in the university town of Bangor. Find out the history of the area at Storiel Museum and Art Gallery then enjoy a day mooching around the galleries, independent shops and cafes. Bangor Cathedral is very impressive.
If you want to explore further afield, catch a bus to Menai Bridge and take in the Menai Bridge Heritage Centre, the woodlands and waterfalls of Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens or book an exhilarating Rib Ride boat trip along the Menai Strait.
Another bus journey can take you to Penrhyn Castle, where you can absorb the history of this National Trust owned neo-Norman castle in all its splendour.
Once you're on Anglesey, stopping off at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (or Llanfair PG for short!) for a selfie next to the legendary station name is a 'must do'!
Rhosneigr is a lovely seaside village known for award-winning sandy beaches and watersports. It makes a great base to explore the area, and maybe tick off more sections of the Wales Coast Path around the island. Anglesey Golf Club is nearby, and it's not far from RAF Valley to watch the planes overhead. Llyn Maelog is wonderful for bird spotting and wildlife walks.
The end of the line is Holyhead, on the western-most tip of Anglesey. As well as the busy port, Holyhead is home to a wonderful Maritime Museum based in the old lifeboat station. If you want to explore further, check bus times and head over to RSPB South Stack Cliffs Reserve with its famous lighthouse.
Walking and cycling
The Wales Coast Path follows the railway line most of the way to Bangor. You can complete many of the sections using the train service and / or buses. Rhyl to Pensarn is a family-friendly 5 mile (8km) flat walk along the sea shore. Colwyn Bay to Llandudno (5.5miles/9km) takes you round the Great Orme with fabulous views over the coast. Conwy to Llanfairfechan offers two routes – along the coast (7.5m/12km) or a longer, tougher upland route over Penmaen Mawr which rewards you with stunning views across North Wales.
The Wales Coast Path website and the Rail to Trail website have a handy list of walking itineraries along the North Wales coast for more inspiration. Before you head out walking, make sure you're prepared. Adventure Smart UK has plenty of advice on how to ‘make a good day better’, and we recommend you read it before planning your day out.
There's also the Sustrans North Wales Coastal Route for cyclists - a designated trail between Holyhead and Chester. It shares a route with the Wales Coast Path for much of the way. You can take your bike on the train, although we recommend you book in advance to be sure there's space. Head to the Transport for Wales website for info on taking bikes on trains.
There are loads of bike trails to explore around Anglesey including Lôn Lâs Cefni and Lôn Lâs Copr (the Copper Trail). These are circular routes you can join following routes 5 or 8 from Llanfairpwll, Valley or Holyhead railway stations.
You can also do a circular tour of the Cambrian and North Wales Coast lines via the Shrewsbury to Chester line, the Conwy Valley Line and the Ffestiniog Railway. The Ffestiniog Round Robin rover ticket allows you to do it all in a day. Please plan and check train times carefully before you set out as it’s usually only doable during the summer timetable.
There are various rover ticket options to explore the railway over one or more days. Some include bus travel as well to really help you explore North Wales by public transport.