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If you’re planning a trip to North Wales, you’ll want to make sure you include some of the best things to do in your itinerary. From exploring castles and hiking through Snowdonia National Park to taking part in outdoor activities like zip-lining and kayaking, there’s plenty to keep you busy in this beautiful region.
1. Scale a Mountain at Snowdonia National Park
Snowdonia National Park is one of the most popular tourist destinations in North Wales, and with good reason. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or just looking for a scenic walk, there are plenty of trails to suit all abilities in Snowdonia, with no fewer than 15 mountain peaks over 3,000 feet1 (source: Wikipedia) for serious hikers as well as many smaller mountains and hiking routes.
Of course, the most famous mountain to hike in Snowdonia is Snowdon which is the tallest mountain in Wales (and England for that matter). There are several routes to the top with some more challenging than others, but most tourists take the Llanberis Path which is also where you’ll find the option of travelling right to the top by steam train.
2. Take a Canal Boat Across Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is a feat of engineering that carries the Llangollen Canal across the valley of the River Dee.
You can walk across the canal with various parking spots available in the nearby village of Trevor. There is no circular walk so expect it to take around half an hour each way from the car park. There’s also a visitor centre you can stop by to learn more about the aqueduct’s history.
However, I’d recommend you experience the canal from the waterway itself. Visit Llangollen Wharf Boats in the town of Llangollen itself and you can hop on a motorised canal boat for a 2 hour trip across the canal and back for around £15 per adult. The same company also offers horse-drawn canal boat tours, although these don’t go across the aqueduct.
Alternatively, if you fancy trying your hand as the captain, head a little further down the canal to Chirk where there are several companies offering self-drive canal boat trips such as Black Prince and Crest Narrowboats.
3. Ride the Ffestiniog Railway
The Ffestiniog Railway is a 13.5-mile (22km) long heritage railway that runs through Snowdonia National Park from the harbour town of Porthmadog to the village of Blaenau Ffestiniog. It holds the record as the world’s oldest narrow-gauge railway and is one of the top activities in Wales.
The railway first opened in 1836 to transport slate from the quarries in Blaenau Ffestiniog and quickly became known as the ‘little train that could’ due to its ability to haul heavy loads up steep inclines.
Nowadays, the railway is a popular tourist attraction with visitors coming from all over the world to ride on one of its vintage steam trains. There are various different services to choose from. I recommend the Woodland Wanderer which is a 1960’s style service that runs from Porthmadog to Tan-Y-Bwlch and back, with an hour break to visit a lake and tea room. These services run every day, often several times per day.
If you want to see more of the countryside, there is an additional section of railway that continues on past the foot of Snowdon, all the way to Caernarfon known as the Welsh Highland Railway, a journey along the entire track can take up to 7 hours. See all of the services here.
4. Spot Wildlife on Puffin Island
Puffin Island is a small island off the coast of North Wales which is home to a variety of seabirds, including Atlantic puffins (which the island is named after). Breeding season is between late April and early August, so this is the best time to visit if you want to see puffins as well as other marine birds such as common guillemots, razorbills, and kittiwakes.
Although there are the ruins of a medieval settlement at the top3 (source: CADW), today, the island is uninhabited so it’s not possible to stay there, instead, you’ll need to take an island cruise from Anglesey to experience the island.
A Puffin Island cruise with Seacoast Safaris from Beaumaris lasts around 80 minutes and includes a dedicated guide who will show you the highlights. This costs £18 per adult.
5. Visit the Iron Ring of Castles
North Wales is home to several castles, many of which were built during the medieval period by the English as a way of controlling the Welsh, these are often referred to as the Iron Ring of Castles.
The most famous of these is undoubtedly Edward I’s castle in Conwy Castle (shown above) which was built between 1283 and 1289. The castle is remarkably well-preserved and you can even still see some of the original furniture inside.
Other castles in North Wales worth visiting include Caernarfon Castle, Beaumaris Castle, and Harlech Castle which together with Conwy, are a single world heritage site and described by UNESCO as some of the finest and most complete examples of late 13th century and early 14th-century military architecture in Europe4 (source: UNESCO).
All four of these castles can be visited without a guide, but if you want to learn more about their history, it’s best to opt for guided tours. I can recommend the three castles tour where you’ll take a minibus around North Wales visiting castles, lakes, and beautiful villages.
6. Explore the Finest Gardens in Wales at Bodnant
Bodnant Gardens is a National Trust property in the Conwy Valley and one of the most beautiful gardens in Wales. The garden was created over two centuries by five successive generations of the same family and today, it covers 80 acres with a variety of different gardens to explore including a Japanese garden, herbaceous borders, and even a Laburnum arch which is covered in golden flowers in May5 (source: National Trust).
There are several trails to follow as you make your way around the garden including a family trail and a plant hunter trail for those hoping to explore Bodnant’s famous collection of plants. Expect the best rose gardens you’ve laid eyes upon, lily pools and lots of herbs.
After exploring outside, there are two tea rooms nearby to enjoy a well-deserved drink and a locally-sourced snack.
7. Visit Portmeirion, an Italian Village in North Wales
Portmeirion is a village located in North Wales that is famed for being built in an Italian style. It was designed by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis who wamnted to show that a beautiful landscape could be developed without running the surrounding scenery6 (source: Portmeirion).
Today, Portmeirion is a popular tourist destination, with around 170,000 visitors each year. As well as the beautiful architecture around the town, there are restaurants, cafes, shops, and even a spa so you can easily spend the day there.
One of the best ways to explore the village is with a guided tour which is included in the entry fee so be sure to take advantage of this.
If you want even more of Portmeirion, it is possible to stay there with two four-star hotels and self-catered accommodation, although as you’d expect, it’s very pricey and I think one day is plenty of time to spend there.
8. Spend Some Time on the Llyn Peninsular
The Llyn Peninsula is a must-visit for any traveller to North Wales. This beautiful area is home to some of the region’s best beaches, as well as picturesque villages and towns.
To make the most of your time on the peninsula, be sure to visit Abersoch – a popular spot for watersports lovers – and the stunning medieval castle of Criccieth.
9. Play Golf 500ft Below the Ground at Llechwedd Slate Caverns
Llechwedd Slate Caverns is a disused slate quarry which has been turned into a tourist attraction in Blaenau Ffestiniog.
The Deep Mine tour takes you 150m (500ft) underground on Europe’s steepest cable railway to see the original caverns and learn about the history of the quarry. The cavern is fitted with special lighting effects for an immersive experience and you’ll also see how it’s now used to make cheese7 (source: Visit Wales).
10. Get a Selfie at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch
Yes, that’s the name of a real place in North Wales, and it holds the record as the longest place name in Europe and one of the longest in the world8 (source: Conde Nast). Although locals simply refer to it as Llanfairpwll or Llanfair P.G for ease.
There’s no prizes for guessing the top attraction in this village. Yep, it’s getting a selfie with the sign.
11. Walk the Wales Coastal Path
Wales is home to some of the most beautiful coastlines in Britain with dramatic cliffs and breathtaking views (in my 100% unbiased view as a Welshman). Back in 2012, the Wales Coastal Path was officially opened, one of the only paths in the world that allows you to walk around the entire coast of a nation9 (source: Welsh Government).
With around 870 miles (1400km) of coastline, the coastal path is one of the biggest and best things to do in Wales, although it would take at least seven weeks to walk the entire route10 (source: Wales Coastal Path) so start maybe pick one part to begin.
12. Zip Down the Fastest Zip Line in the World at Zipworld
Zipworld in North Wales is one of the most popular adventure activities in the region, and for good reason – it boasts the fastest zip line in the world; Velocity 2.
The Velocity 2 zip line can reach speeds of up to 100mph (160km/h). And, unlike most other ziplines, you can go down in the superman position making it an adrenaline-pumping experience with panoramic views of Snowdonia.
If you’re looking for an adrenaline-fuelled day out, Zipworld is the perfect place and should definitely be on your list of things to do in North Wales.
13. Catch Some Waves at Hell’s Mouth
Wales is home to some beautiful beaches including many that are perfect for surfing. Although most of the top surfing spots are in the south of the country, there are a few gems in the North too such as Porth Neigwl, also known as Hell’s Mouth.
The beach is a haven for surfers with its big waves and clean water. Even if you don’t surf, it’s still worth checking out as it’s one of the most beautiful beaches in North Wales.
14. Visit One of the World’s Top Beach Bars, the Tŷ Coch Inn
If you’re looking for a place to relax and enjoy some food and drink after a day of adventure, the Tŷ Coch Inn should definitely be on your list. This beach bar was voted the third best beach bar in the world11 (source: BBC) and it’s not hard to see why.
The Tŷ Coch Inn is located right on Porthdinllaen beach with stunning views out to sea, when the sun shines in Wales (this happens very occasionally) it’s one of the best spots to be. As well as serving food and drink, the bar often has live music making it the perfect place to relax and enjoy the sunset.
15. See the Tallest Waterfall in Wales
With a total height of 73m (240ft) across three drops, Pistyll Rhayadr is the tallest waterfall in Wales and a must-visit destination. The waterfall is even featured in the Seven Wonders of Wales, an old poem that has since become a bucket list of things to do in Wales.
The waterfall is located near the village of Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant in Powys and barely makes it into Wales being just 12 miles from the English border. There’s a car park right next to the base of the waterfall along with a small B&B and a cafe that only seems to be open during peak tourist seasons.
If you want to get out and explore the surroundings, there are several different walks starting from the car park including one that goes to the top of the waterfall through nearby forests and a slightly longer walk that passes by the old lead and silver mines in the area. There’s a full map in the car park with each of the walks explained.
16. Visit Anglesey’s Lighthouses
Anglesey is home to several different lighthouses, each with their own unique history and character. The most famous of these is probably South Stack lighthouse (shown above) which was built in 1809 to protect ships from the dangerous rocks below.
Nowadays, the lighthouse is a popular tourist attraction with a cafe, Visitor Centre, and even a bird-watching hide. When visiting South Stack lighthouse, you’ll also get to climb the stairs up the lighthouse tower for panoramic views across the sea. Although keep in mind that it’s located down a 400-step descent which you’ll need to climb back up again after.
Another one of Anglesey’s lighthouses worth visiting is Twr Mawr which translates as ‘Great Tower’. It was built in 1873 and still acts as an operational lighthouse although it’s now automated.
The Lighthouse sits on a small island called Ynys Llanddwyn which has a place in Welsh folktales as the home of St Dwynwen, the patron saint of lovers. Find out more about visiting Twr Mawr lighthouse here.
17. See the Red Squirrels at Plas Newydd
Plas Newydd is a country house on the Isle of Anglesey that’s famed for its red squirrels, the only native population of squirrels in the UK 12(source: Visit Anglesey). Efforts to conserve the squirrels on the island have helped drive the numbers up, this has included habitat management and managing the population of grey squirrels13 (source: Red Squirrel Trust Wales).
The Plas Newydd estate has been managed by the National Trust since 1976 and is open to the public all year round. As well as being able to spot red squirrels, there are also beautiful gardens to explore, along with the house itself which is open for guided tours.
18. Go Kayaking on Llyn Padarn (& Visit Padarn Country Park)
Llyn Padarn is a large lake found in Snowdonia National Park, and it’s one of the most beautiful places in North Wales. You might recognise it as this is where you’ll find the famous lone tree shown in the image above.
The lake is surrounded by mountains and forests, making it a popular spot for hiking, mountain biking, and horse riding. But nothing beats getting out onto the lake itself with a kayak or paddleboard. Both are available for self-hire from Snowdonia Watersports Centre starting at £25 for 2 hours. They also have giant paddleboards that can hold six people!
If you’d prefer an experienced local guide out on the water with you, Paradise adventures offer a 2 hour guided kayak tour where they take you around the lake showing you the best spots and stopping off at some of the lake’s attractions such as the slate museum and Dolbadarn Castle. All equipment is included plus the guide for £45 per person.
Next to the lake is Padarn Country Park where you’ll find walking trails, museums, monuments, and a cycling track. It’s also a great place for a picnic or a BBQ in the summer months. The park is owned by the local council so there is no entrance fee, although you will need to pay for parking if travelling by car.
19. Marvel at Swollow Falls
Swallow Falls is located in the village of Betws-y-Coed in Snowdonia National Park. The falls are made up of three main drops, the first of which is around 50 feet high.
While Swallow Falls is right next to the roadside and easy to reach by car (park by the Swallow Falls Hotel), the best way to experience the falls is by taking one of the walking trails that lead you right to the base of the falls.
One of the most popular trails is the Swallow Falls Trail which is a gentle 2.5-mile walk that starts and ends in Betws-y-Coed. This trail will take you through some of the most stunning scenery in Snowdonia, so be sure to bring your camera!
20. Watch the Sunset in Caernarfon
Caernarfon is one of my favourite towns in North Wales. Whilst it’s full of great attractions, the highlight of my time here was simply enjoying the view of the sun setting from the Anglesey Arms, a pub in the old port customs house which is right next to Caernarfon Castle.
There are plenty of other things to do in Caernarfon too, including visiting the historic castle where the Prince of Wales is invested, riding the highland railway which starts/ends here, and taking a boat cruise down the Menai Strait.
Kieren is the founder and editor-in-chief of Wales Guidebook. Originally from rural Mid-Wales, he has lived all over the country from Cardiff to Wrexham. A true Welshman, Kieren created this site to share his passion for Wales and help others discover this beautiful country.