The mountains of Snowdonia provide the most dramatically beautiful scenery in all of Wales, boasting lush green valleys, craggy peaks, thundering waterfalls and shimmering, tranquil lakes. Millions of visitors are attracted to Snowdonia each year, and many come to climb Mount Snowdon, the tallest peak in Wales, or to hike through the 823-square-mile national park. But aside from its awe-inspiring natural beauty, this mesmerising region has so much more to offer…
So whether you’re into history or hiking, want an exhilarating trip that gets your heart racing, or prefer a laid-back, leisurely break, here are nine things to see and do in Snowdonia.
1. Take a stroll through Portmeirion
We might not be able to have a Mediterranean holiday just yet – so why not visit the village of Portmeirion instead? You may not think a village in North Wales could make you think you’re in Italy, but once you set eyes on the beautifully bizarre Portmeirion, you’ll probably swear you’ve somehow stumbled onto the Amalfi Coast!
Built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975, Portmeirion is a small and vibrant Mediterranean-style village perched beside the River Dwyryd. A picturesque jumble of colourful Riviera-inspired houses, gothic towers, pavilions and ornamental gardens, Portmeirion is, according to The Rough Guide to Wales, “a gorgeous visual poem”, and wandering around this stunning yet peculiar place is a great way to spend a day.
Aside from the architecture and gardens of the village itself, Portmeirion also has a hotel, a spa, restaurant, tearoom, and plenty of shops – and its sandy beach is a lovely place to catch some rays on a fine day. To find out more about this unusual village, head over to the Portmeirion website.
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2. Visit the National Slate Museum & Llechwedd Slate Caverns
Between the early 1800s and the 1960s, slate mining was one of the key industries in North Wales, and today, two of the region’s most popular attractions are devoted to it. The fascinating National Slate Museum is located in Llanberis, and exhibits restored 19th-century slate workshops, complete with foundries, forges, steam locomotives, and the largest working water wheel in the UK.
The museum also has a terrace of recreated houses that date from the Golden Age of Slate (1861), the Penrhyn Strike (1901), and the closing of Wales’ last quarry (1969), so you can get an excellent insight into what it was like to live as a slate miner during those times. The museum is currently open and admission is free, though you need to book in advance: you can do that here.
If you’re interested in what life was like for miners – and what it felt like to work inside the ground – you may also want to visit the Llechwedd Slate Caverns at Blaenau Ffestiniog. Though the caverns are currently closed, they’re expected to reopen on the 17th May, and the Deep Mine Tour is highly recommended. During the tour you’ll be lowered 500 feet into the mountain, and thanks to light projection, reality technology and special effects, you’ll be transported back in time, and get to experience the underground world of a Victorian slate miner with almost unsettling realism!
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3. Enjoy all that Bala Lake has to offer
On the eastern edge of Snowdonia, in the region of Penllyn, is the lovely Bala Lake, which, at over four miles long and a mile wide, is the largest natural lake in Wales. On a sunny day, the lake is a great spot to kick back and enjoy some peace and quiet, but if you’re feeling more energetic, it’s one of the best spots in Wales to get stuck into sailing, kayaking, canoeing and swimming (though, do keep an eye out for the lake’s resident monster, Teggie!).
At the foot of the Aran and Berwyn Mountains beside the lake is the historic market town of Bala, where there are plenty of good restaurants, cafes, and pubs to eat at, as well as interesting shops to potter around in. Another popular tourist attraction here is the Bala Lake Railway, where you can hop on an old fashioned steam locomotive that runs along a narrow-gauge railroad. The ride takes you along the lake and through a spectacular region of Snowdonia National Park, so don’t forget to bring your camera – and don’t forget to book in advance, too!
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4. Visit the village of Betws-y-Coed
If you love pottering around pretty villages, relaxing in tearooms and wandering through museums, then a visit to Betws-y-Coed should definitely be on your Snowdonia to-do list. Located in the heart of Snowdonia National Park, and surrounded by the beautiful Gwydyr forest, Betws-y-Coed means “the temple in the wood”, and luckily, this old stone village is just as charming as its name suggests.
Many visitors come to Betws-y-Coed to admire the ruins of Pany Mill, as well as the 15th-century Pont-y-Pair bridge, a five-arch stone bridge that straddles the River Llugwy. Other draws are the Conwy Valley Railway Museum and the Motor Museum – both must-visits for motoring enthusiasts. The Railway Museum is packed with railway artefacts and boasts a one-mile long miniature steam railway, whereas the smaller Motor Museum showcases unusual cars over the years.
The countryside outside the village is also gorgeous, and the Fairy Glen nature reserve is a lovely place for a country walk. Close by you’ll also find the famous Ty Hyll – or “the Ugly House”. Dating from the 15th century, and believed to have once been a hideaway for robbers, this charming stone cottage is anything but ugly. Today it serves as a tearoom, Pot Mel, where you can enjoy a cup of coffee, a hearty lunch, or a traditional Welsh cream tea.
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5. Climb Mount Snowdon
At 1,085 metres, Mount Snowdon isn’t only the highest peak in Wales; it’s also one of the most popular mountains to climb in the country – and for good reason. The views from the summit are spectacular, and on clear days, you can see as far as the Peak District, the South Pennines, the Isle of Man, and even Ireland and Scotland. Legend has it that Snowdon’s summit is also the burial place of the terrible ogre Rhita, who was killed by King Arthur.
Climbing Mount Snowdon is an experience you’ll remember for years to come, but you’ll need to be prepared for a hard day’s trek. There are several paths you can take, though the Pyg and Miners’ tracks are the most popular routes. Both start from the Pen-y-Pass car park, but the Miners’ track is somewhat gentler, weaving its way around several lakes before beginning the steep climb to the summit. The Pyg track is steeper, though it rejoins the Miners’ track for the final climb.
Whichever route you decide to take, you should allow yourself at least six hours to complete the walk, and make sure you’re dressed appropriately for the conditions (there’s little shelter from the elements on the way).
To find out more about climbing Mount Snowdown, you might want to have a read of this guide by Visit Wales.
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6. Check out some popular waterfalls
There are many beautiful waterfalls throughout Snowdonia, but two of the most popular – and impressive – are Conwy and Swallow Falls. Both waterfalls are set among pristine woodland that’s teeming with wildlife, and both are close enough to the village of Betws-y-Coed that you could easily spend half the day enjoying the village and the other half exploring the nearby waterfalls.
Swallow Falls is located by the River Llugwy in an area of outstanding natural beauty, and set among a backdrop of beech, conifer and birch trees, it’s a lovely place for a stroll. As the longest continuous waterfall in Wales, Swallow Falls is especially impressive after heavy rain (not that hard to come by in this part of the country!). You can view the falls from above the river, or if you fancy heading to a more challenging vantage point, there are steps leading down to a platform by the river edge.
Conwy Falls is located in the beautiful Conwy Falls Forest Park, and set in a deep gorge, it won Countryfile magazine’s landscape of the year in 2017. The falls have a fish pass, to help salmon and trout reach their breeding grounds upstream, and there’s plenty of other wildlife to be found here too: keep an eye out for ducklings, dippers, wagtails and otters. There are many paths and viewpoints to explore throughout the park, and if you’re peckish after your stroll, there’s a good cafe on site too.
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7. Go castle hopping
If you enjoy visiting old castles, you’ve come to the right place, as the whole Snowdonia region is peppered with historic castles. One of the world’s best surviving medieval castles is Conwys Castle, which was built on the order of Edward I in 1283, and designed to be an imposing symbol of the newly established British rule. The castle’s formidable towers, fortified gates, and curtain walls are built upon a narrow outcrop – and thanks to restored spiral staircases, you can walk a full circuit around the battlements, where you can enjoy sensational views across the mountains and sea.
The town of Conwy itself is also a pleasure to explore. This world heritage site has a picturesque harbour and plenty of good shops, pubs and restaurants (which should reopen from May 17th). Do bear in mind that to visit the castle you have to pre-book.
Two other castles that are absolutely worth a visit are Caernarfon Castle and Dolwyddelan Castle. Caernarfon Castle is considered to be one of the greatest buildings of the Middle Ages, and based on sheer size and architectural awe, it’s unrivaled. On the smaller end there’s Dolwyddelan Castle, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in setting; built between 1210 and 1240 by the medieval prince Llwelyn the Great, Dolwyddelan Castle stands alone beside Moel Siabod, surrounded by the rugged Snowdonia mountains.
While both these castles are currently closed, do check their websites if you’d like to visit, as the regulations in Wales are constantly changing and they may well open later in May.
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8. Take a trip on the Snowdon Mountain Railway
If you want to witness the jaw-dropping views of the Mount Snowdon trek but aren’t sure you fancy the hike, then why not take the Snowdon Mountain Railway? Built in 1896, Snowdon Mountain Railway is Britain’s only rack-and-pinion railway, and stepping into one of the steam trains’ authentic Victorian-era carriages is like stepping back in time.
This year Snowdon Mountain Railway is running a limited service, and their steam trains – which usually travel to the very top of the summit – have been withdrawn until 2022. However, their traditional diesel service is still running, and these old-fashioned trains head all the way to Clogwyn Station, which is located at the ¾ point on the mountain. You may not be able to spot Ireland from these trains, but you’ll still be able to marvel at breathtaking scenery nonetheless – as well as enjoy the experience of travelling in an authentic locomotive.
On the way you’ll cross viaducts, pass waterfalls, and travel past plenty of old ruins and medieval settlements. The mountain views are, of course, sensational, so don’t forget your camera! To find out more about the journey, head over to the Snowdon Mountain Railway website, and do bear in mind that due to limited availability, you’ll need to book tickets in advance.
The journey begins and ends in the lovely village of Llanberis, where there’s plenty to see and do: check out the Llanberis visitor website where you can find more places to stay.
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9. Go white water rafting
If you love a good adventure, then why not try a spot of white water rafting? North Wales is home to the fastest white water in the UK, and there’s nowhere better to experience the thrill of this watersport than Snowdonia. The National White Water Centre is widely considered to be the best place to raft, as the Tryweryn River provides around 9km of natural river to raft down.
Though white water rafting has a reputation for being suited to adrenaline junkies, many people like to try it because it allows them to really immerse themselves in nature – and feeling the power of the river in this way is a unique thrill you won’t forget in a hurry. Plus, the Tryweryn River is home to the most otters in all of North Wales, so this will be just as much a wildlife excursion as an exhilaratingly wild river journey!
If you’re not sure rafting is for you, you can always try a taster session – though if you’re keen to try something even more adventurous, you may want to give canyoning a go. Canyoning is essentially white water rafting without the raft, and entails floating and swimming through rapids, leaping down waterfalls, and abseiling down steep rock faces. Though this sounds intense, you don’t need to be especially fit to go canyoning, and because you’ll be led by an expert guide, and wearing a helmet and buoyancy aid at all times, it’s much safer than it sounds!
To find out about more white water rafting and canyoning centres in North Wales, head over to Go North Wales.
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With its towering craggy peaks, churning rivers and waterfalls, fascinating history and picturesque villages, Snowdonia is as interesting as it is beautiful – it’s no wonder that Lonely Planet placed it fourth in a list of best regions to visit around the world.
If you’re interested in getting active during your trip, you’ll be spoiled for choice, as Snowdonia offers some of the best walking, kayaking, canoeing and swimming opportunities in the country – though, if you’re looking for a more leisurely break, there are plenty of interesting museums, historical attractions and lively market towns to explore too.
If you’d like more travel inspiration, head over to the Travel section of our site.
Are you thinking about visiting Snowdonia this year? Or do you have any of your own Snowdonia suggestions to share with our readers? We’d love to hear about your experiences! Leave us a comment below, or join the conversation on the Rest Less community forum.