The fantastic landscape and fascinating history North Wales has to offer mean that there’s always a fantastic attraction just round the corner. From the sheer cliffs covered in rare seabirds to the sandy beaches and crystal clear oceans to the jagged summits and deep gorges of Snowdonia, there’s always something to keep you entranced by magical North Wales.
The island of Anglesey (Welsh: Ynys môn) is home to many attractions and makes for ideas cycling country, as it’s one of the few areas in the whole of North Wales to be substantially flat! Here you’ll find the ancient cromlech of “Bryn Celli Ddu”; which predates Stonehenge and is one of the best preserved ancient monuments in Europe. Anglesey also boasts some of the best beaches in the whole of North Wales, though the water is often cold! To the north-western point of the island, just outside the seaport town of Holyhead is the South Stack. Here on the sheer crags, you’ll find many nesting seabirds including Guillemots, Gannets, Razorbills, Puffins and (occasionally) Peregrine Falcons. On the south-western coast is the tiny island of Llanddwyn, which is only reachable by foot and during low tide. According to legend, St. Dwynwen was an early Christian who took refuge on the island, building the first church there. To this day, she is the Welsh patron saint of love, perhaps the equivalent of the English “St. Valentine”.
Anglesey is easily accessed by one of either two bridges spanning the Menai strait – the older “Menai Bridge” lies to the north, whereas the southerly “Brittania Bridge” was built by Robert Stevenson as part of his Irish postal railway. Nearby is the town of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch – the second longest place name in the world.
The university town of Bangor lies in a steep-sided valley leading up from the Menai strait. Its cathedral is the oldest continually-used place of worship in the UK, dating from the 5th century AD. Here you’ll find the University of Wales and the Deiniol shopping centre, as well as many cafés selling traditional Welsh snacks. Thomas Telford’s famous Irish postal route, the A5, passes nearby to Bangor on its way from London to Holyhead. It’s along this road that you can see some of the most stunning views of Snowdonia, including the Carneddau, Glyderau and Snowdon ranges.
East of Bangor lies the small village of Abergwyngregyn (translated as: Estuary of white shells). A moderate walk from the town leads to the feet of the Carneddau mountains, where the spectacular Aber Falls cascades elegantly down the cliff faces. Abergwyngregyn is also a portal for many of the walks into the mountains, being a great starting point for hikes up Foel Fras, Foel Grach, Carnedd Llewelyn, and for strong walkers, Carnedd Dafydd and Pen-yr-ole-wen.
The A55 dual-carriageway runs along the coast of North Wales, and between Menai Bridge and Conwy offers spectacular views of Snowdonia to the south and the Great Orme to the east. It passes through many tunnels as it clings to the sheer coastline, bypassing the sleepy quarry towns of Llanfairfechan (trans: Little St. Mary’s) and Penmaenmawr (trans: Large headland). On the clearest days, the Isle of Man can be seen across the Irish Sea from the beaches here.
Conwy is one of the most historic and beautiful of all Welsh towns – its three bridges span the river gracefully from its ancient castle, stretching from which are the famous walls which circle right the way around the town, dating from 1283. Conwy is often bustling with visitors; either enjoying seafood and sunshine on the quay or browsing through the town’s many neat little shops. The walls are open most days and can provide a fascinating elevated walk, though care is advised in wet or windy weather. The statue in the town square is that of Llewelyn the Great (Welsh: Llewelyn fawr) a famous defender of Wales during the times of English invasion in the 13th Century.
Just across the bridge over the river Conwy is an RSPB nature reserve and a multiplex cinema complex. This area offers spectacular views of the Carneddau to the west, and it is here that the A55 (Chester – Holyhead) intersects with the long and winding A470 (Cardiff – Llandudno).
A short drive up the A470 leads to Llandudno, the Queen of Welsh resorts. Llandudno is perhaps the best known of all Welsh towns and is an ideal place to stay as a base to visit North Wales as a whole. Detailed information on Llandudno can be found elsewhere in the blog, including this page on the History of Llandudno.
Over the little Orme are the towns of Penrhyn Bay, Colwyn Bay and Abergele. Colwyn Bay boasts many shops and a bustling main street, lined by famous gabled buildings. The beaches here are popular with tourists, and a short drive south up the many lanes leads into the Cambrian hills; a vast and rural green landscape interrupted only by tiny villages.
Driving towards Rhyl, the long bank of round hills visible ahead is the Clwydian Range. These hills were once the border between England and Wales, verified by King Offa of Mercia when he built a long dyke along the summits, stretching from Prestatyn all the way to Chepstow, on the Severn in south Wales. These hills make excellent walking country, and though are far safer than the peaks of Snowdonia offer equally impressive views of Liverpool, the Cheshire Plains, and the Welsh mountains. The deep and flat Vale of Clwyd lies at their feet, home to the historic and beautiful towns of Rhuddlan, St. Asaph, Denbigh and Ruthin. Above Ruthin is ‘Moel Famau’, which at 1818 feet is the highest summit in the Clwydian range, easily recognisable by the square structure visibile on the top, which was once part of a tower commemorating the Jubilee of King George III. The summit offers spectacular views of the Northwest of England and is easily reached from a car park at Bwlch Penbarras, just a few miles to the east of Ruthin.
The town of Rhyl, located on the estuary of the River Clwyd (welsh: Afon Clywedog) is often described as a ‘mini-blackpool’, with its arcades, shops, activity centres and theatre. It has been another popular tourist destination for over 100 years, first pioneered by Victorian workers to satisfy their cravings for sun, sea and sand for a few weeks a year. Nearby are Towyn and Kinmel Bay, highly popular with static caravan owners.
A few miles further east from Rhyl is the large town of Prestatyn – famous Prestatynians include Carol Vorderman and John Prescott. The beach here is particularly fine, and just a few miles up is the ‘Point of Ayr’, giving magnificent views of the Wirral and the North Wales coast. Its lighthouse is particularly photogenic as it slants out of the sand, making appearances on many local postcards as a famous landmark.