North Wales really does have it all - vast mountain scenery, moody ancient castles, pristine swathes of beach, friendly towns packed with history. You could easily spend a fortnight or more here. But if you don't have that long, we've put together this handy itinerary packed with suggestions.
You'll explore some of the many attractions among the foothills of southern Britain’s highest peak, mighty Snowdon. Then you'll head for the Llŷn Peninsula - the place for watersports and wild beaches, and Anglesey which is a mini-country of its own, with yet more beaches, castles, country houses and family attractions. Finally you'll stop at Conwy and Llandudno, two of the north’s finest towns.
Day 1 - Morning: Chirk Castle
The border between England and Wales has the richest concentration of castles in the world, and considering they were often built to keep us uppity Welsh in check, it’s ironic that we’ve now adopted them as beloved tourism attractions. Chirk Castle is a great example: built 700 years ago as part of Edward I’s ‘ring of steel’, it evolved into a Welsh stately home and is now in the care of the National Trust. The clipped yew hedges have something of In The Night Garden about them, and there’s also a children’s play area, giant-sized family puzzles on the lawn and regular battle re-enactment events.
Llangollen is still barely seven miles from the border, but with a name like that, you know for sure you’re in Wales. It’s a handsome little town with lots of independent shops, perfect for browsing. The river Dee burbles its way under the historic stone bridge and it’s a popular spot for canoeists. Several companies run thrilling rafting expeditions here, along with other adventure sports, wet and dry. Younger kids (and grown ups too!) will love taking a ride on the heritage Llangollen Railway. Lovingly restored steam engines puff their way along 10 miles of track through the leafy countryside to the town of Corwen and back.
Day 2 - Morning: Snowdonia
Betws-y-Coed is Snowdonia’s main road hub, but this pretty town is much more than just a picturesque crossroads. It’s great just for mooching around, and there are good, short-ish walks up to Llyn Elsi, or down to the Swallow Falls. If it's adventure you're after, zip up the road to Zip World Fforest which features treetop nets, zipwires, adventure courses in the trees and more.
Or did you bring your mountain bikes? If so, head for to Antur Stiniog at Blaenau Ffestiniog, where one of Wales’ most exciting mountain biking centres has been carved from the slate-mining moonscape. Younger children and non-bikers will enjoy a trip to pretty Beddgelert, where they can paddle in the river and see the grave of Gelert, a legendary hound whose tragic tale is either, a) totally true, or b) totally made up by a 19th-century innkeeper to lure tourists. We’re not saying which.
After mountain biking and zipwiring, you'll probably feel like changing down a gear. Portmeirion is the ideal place to head for. This extraordinary Italianate fantasy village was made famous by the surreally sinister 1960s TV series, The Prisoner. It’s a lovely place to while away an afternoon. You could start with a spot of lunch in one of several top-notch eateries. Then wander hidden trails through leafy sub-tropical gardens and explore the pretty streets and squares of the village. Better still if you fancy staying: they’ve got Hotel Portmeirion to choose from or 17 self-catering cottages. When the day-trippers have gone home, and the sun sets over the estuary, with the mountains looming behind, there’s really no place like it on earth.
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Day 3 - Morning: Llŷn Peninsula
The Llŷn Peninsula has almost 100 miles of coastline, with dozens of wild beaches and secret coves to choose from. The south coast offers the region’s best watersports, notably at Abersoch, while the north and western coasts are wilder and more rugged. Do stop for a walk on the ‘whistling sands’ of Porth Oer, which squeak as you walk on them (it’s one of only two beaches in Europe with this special type of sand). Then head for lunch at Caernarfon, home to magnificent Caernarfon Castle and the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway, which steams all the way down to Porthmadog along Snowdon’s western flanks.
Afternoon: Anglesey & the Menai Strait
There's enough on the isle of Anglesey to keep you busy for weeks, but we’re just doing the bit along Menai Strait down to Llanddwyn Island (which is arguably Wales’ most romantic spot, with a lighthouse and ruined chapel dedicated to the Welsh patron saint of love). On the way, take your pick between Plas Newydd country house, Anglesey Sea Zoo and Foel Farm, before heading back up the Strait to Beaumaris, which has another whopper of a castle, as well as some great shops and restaurants. If you have older kids in tow, blow away the cobwebs with some watery activities at the National Outdoor Centre at Plas Menai. You can explore the Menai Strait aboard a high speed RIB inflatable boat or try your hands at sailing.
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Day 4 - Morning: Conwy
Conwy Castle is another brilliantly preserved fortress with winding staircases to climb and craggy battlements to explore. The added bonus here is that it's set in a classic medieval walled town. Conwy is a friendly, likeable place, with a lively River Festival every summer. You can wander the narrow streets and browse the independent shops. See if you can find Great Britain's smallest house, tucked away along the quayside.
Just along the coast, Great Orme is the perfect place to let off steam before heading for home. This massive limestone headland rises steeply above Llandudno and offers epic views out to sea and across Llandudno Bay. Don't worry, you don't need to walk up. You can drive or take the historic Great Orme Tramway or cable car to the summit. There's lots to do when you get there including a visitor centre, nature reserve, pitch ‘n’ putt golf, play area, and dry ski slope. Carry on a bit further and you reach the Welsh Mountain Zoo at Colwyn Bay, whose exotic species include snow leopards, chimpanzees, penguins and Sumatran tigers.
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