Familiar Faces, Fresh Experiences in Llŷn and Eifionydd
Here, we’re focusing on a corner of North-west Wales – specifically the Llŷn Peninsula, Cricieth, Porthmadog and the Vale of Ffestiniog. Although it’s only a small part of Eryri (Snowdonia), every inch is packed with things to see and do.
You may well be familiar with this part of Wales. But there’s something to be said for revisiting an old friend. Relaxing and reviving with no hidden, unwelcome surprises, it’s high on convenience and low on travel hassle (who enjoys airports nowadays?).
We’re not suggesting that this is a place where you simply sit back and watch the world go by (you can if you want to, of course). Llŷn, Cricieth, Porthmadog and Ffestiniog are brimming with attractions, activities and experiences – everything from heavyweight heritage to communities that support a thriving local culture, all set amongst an inspiring outdoors rich in wildlife and natural beauty.
There’s something here for all generations. Come by yourselves and get to know us even better. Or travel with family or friends.
Here are just a few of the places and experiences you won’t want to miss.
Sit back and let the train take the strain. As a hub for three heritage railway lines, Porthmadog is just the ticket. The Welsh Highland Railway is the longest historic route in the UK, running 25 miles/40km to Caernarfon via the spectacular Aberglaslyn Pass and the picturesque village of Beddgelert. Book a seat on one of the luxurious First-Class Pullman carriages for a timeless taste of Orient Express-style luxury.
Its sister, the Ffestiniog Railway, is the most scenic in Europe according to Which magazine. We think you’ll agree when you ride the world’s oldest narrow-gauge line. Originally built to transport slate from the quarries of Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog, it chuffs along a dramatic route through mountain tunnels as it traverses the UNESCO-recognised Slate Landscape of North Wales.
If you’re pushed for time, take a ride on the more compact Welsh Highland Heritage Railway. This friendly, largely volunteer-staffed line carries you from Porthmadog to little Pen-y-Mount station. Once you reach your destination, there’s an engaging, hands-on railway heritage museum to explore, plus a gift shop packed with rail-related goodies and cosy café. There’s even a miniature railway to ride (provided you haven’t already filled your appetite for trains).
Slate has been quarried in Eryri for centuries, peaking in the Victorian era when demand for it in housebuilding went global. With its yawning quarries and deep, dark mines, Blaenau Ffestiniog was at the heart of the slate industry, earning the nickname ‘the town that roofed the world’. It’s also a central part of the Slate Landscape of North Wales, one the UK’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Take an immersive trip into Eryri’s industrial past on the Deep Mine Tour at Zip World Llechwedd, the massive former quarry now reborn as an adventure and heritage attraction. The tour takes you 500ft/152m below ground (via a ride on the steepest cable railway in Europe) into a spectacular subterranean world. You’ll explore a network of caverns laid out over 16 levels – including one now used for maturing the famous local cheese.
If you have kids in tow they’ll love the Zip World experience as they zoom above the jagged slate landscape.
Perched on the coast at the end of a twisting road on Llŷn’s northern side, Nant Gwrtheyrn is another former industrial site that’s enjoying a new lease of life. This little village, once a busy quarrying centre, was abandoned in middle of the 20th century.
Rescued from ruin, the village is now home to a language and heritage centre teaching Welsh to novices and experienced speakers alike. Even if you’re not planning on learning the local tongue, it’s a rewarding place to visit. You’ll be wowed by a spectacular cliff-backed location as you stroll past rows of restored miners’ cottages, explore the village’s industrial past, and discover local myths and legends.
More than words
Here’s a place that might well be new to you. Perched on a hillside above the lake of Llyn Trawsfynydd, Yr Ysgwrn is a unique cultural attraction that packs a lot into a comparatively small package.
It’s the former home of poet Ellis Humphrey Evans (better known by his bardic name Hedd Wyn). The family’s old farmhouse is now a visitor centre that celebrates one of Wales’s most significant literary figures, giving an inspiring insight into our cultural traditions.
It’s also a time capsule of rural life in the early 20th century, with the farmhouse’s cosy kitchen restored to exactly how it would have looked in Hedd Wyn’s day. Finally, it’s a moving exploration of the impact of the First World War on the communities of North Wales, told through the stories of 33 local men who went off to fight.
These stories are made even more poignant by the fact that Hedd Wyn himself died at Passchendaele during the war. He was posthumously awarded the bard’s chair, the top prize at the 1917 National Eisteddfod, for his most celebrated work, Yr Arwr (The Hero).
Work of art
Soak up some culture (and stunning sea views) at Oriel Plas Glyn-y-Weddw in Llanbedrog on Llŷn’s southern side. Housed in an ornate 19th-century mansion, it’s the oldest gallery in Wales and a showcase for our lively arts scene.
Inside, you’ll find airy galleries featuring a shifting programme of exhibitions from artists working in paint, pencil and ceramics. Outside, the leafy grounds are adorned with striking sculptures and criss-crossed with paths (one of the walking routes even links up with the Wales Coast Path).
Plas Glyn-y-Weddw’s new café is also worth a visit. This glittering dome – shaped like a giant silver sea urchin – is filled with natural light (and tasty dishes made from fresh local ingredients).
It’s a beauty
An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, to be more precise. The lovely Llŷn Peninsula is one of just five AONBs in Wales, receiving the accolade for its miles of unspoilt coastline and countryside, diverse wildlife and unique culture (around 70 percent of the peninsula’s population are Welsh speakers).
Take a dive into Llŷn’s deep heritage by making the National Trust’s Porth y Swnt visitor centre your first port of call. This innovative interpretation centre at Aberdaron on the peninsula’s western tip uses sound, light, sculpture and artwork to tell the story of this special place in endlessly surprising ways.
You’ll see the massive 8ft/2.4m glass bulb that once illuminated the lighthouse on Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island), peer into the past via periscopes loaded with historic images, and get your hands wet with Y Swnt – an interactive installation that lets you manipulate the swirling tides of Bardsey Sound.
If you want to explore further, take a trip over to Ynys Enlli, floating in the sea off Llŷn’s western reaches. Though measuring just 179ha/1.79 square km, this little landmass is incredibly rich in natural and cultural heritage. Known as ‘The Isle of 20,000 Saints’, it was an early seat of Celtic Christianity and still attracts pilgrims in search of spiritual solitude.
Designated as both a National Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest, Ynys Enlli has also become a haven for wildlife spotters. Bring your binoculars for a closer look at seabirds like Manx shearwaters, choughs and puffins – plus a 200-strong colony of Atlantic grey seals.
Most recently, the island has picked up a new accolade as Europe’s first International Dark Sky Sanctuary. When the sun goes down, the almost total lack of light pollution provides simply stellar views of the cosmos.
Little Llanystumdwy, just outside Cricieth, has had a big impact on history. It’s all down to the village’s most famous son, former Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who guided the UK through the First World War and played a key role in social reform.
Now a museum, the house where Lloyd George spent his childhood has been restored to how it would have looked when he lived there between 1864 and 1880. It’s packed with artefacts, paintings and pictures that tell the story of the great man’s life – including Lloyd George’s old writing desk and a copy of the Treaty of Versailles, the treaty that formally ended the First World War.
After his career in politics ended, Lloyd George returned to Llanystumdwy and died here in 1945. His impressive gravesite – designed by Clough Williams-Ellis of Portmeirion fame – stands on the banks of the River Dwyfor, a short distance from the museum.
All at sea
The wild waters surrounding Llŷn have plenty of stories to tell. You can hear some of them at Llŷn Maritime Museum in Nefyn, a fascinating collection of artefacts that illustrate the peninsula’s seafaring history. You’ll see navigation tools like compasses and sextants, detailed models of old sailing ships and postcards sent by crewmembers to family and friends waiting for them back home.
With sailing comes shipwrecks. The turbulent waters around Porth Neigwl (also known as Hell’s Mouth) on western Llŷn were the end of many vessels during the 18th and 19th centuries. Wander the sweeping beach and you’ll still see remnants of some of these ghostly wrecks poking out of the sand.
Standing in a dramatic spot on a rocky promontory above the sea, the romantic ruins of Cricieth Castle are the seaside resort’s focal point. Cricieth is unusual among the many fortresses of North Wales in that it was both built and destroyed by Welsh hands. Erected by native rulers Llywelyn ap Iorwerth and his grandson Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in the 13th century, it was demolished in 1403 by Owain Glyndŵr after falling under English control.
Though it’s on smaller scale than Cricieth Castle, Penarth Fawr near Pwllheli is every bit as impressive. Built in the 15th century, it’s a rare surviving example of the kind of house the local gentry would have lived in at the time. Its most striking feature is the central hall, a spacious living area with high ceilings supported by an elaborate arrangement of wooden beams and trusses.
You wouldn’t know it now, but the immaculate manor house of Plas yn Rhiw near Aberdaron was an overgrown ruin until the middle of the 20th century. It was rescued from neglect by three sisters (Eileen, Honora and Lorna Keating), who restored the building and reshaped the garden. What was once a tangled mass of brambles so high that it blocked the house’s front door is now colourful network of garden rooms enclosed in smartly clipped box hedges.
On the wing
Home to the first ospreys to breed in Wales for hundreds of years, the Glaslyn Valley is one of our most important natural sites. Since they were first spotted here in the early 2000s, around a 100 of these magnificent birds of prey have hatched and gone on to have chicks of their own.
Get a closer look at the ospreys at Pont Croesor, the community-run visitor and viewing centre at Prenteg near Porthmadog. You don’t have to be an experienced ornithologist to catch a glimpse of the birds – there are high-quality telescopes, hides and live camera feeds direct from their nests.
Make a splash
If you’re travelling with younger adventurers (or you’re just young at heart) you’ll find tons of fun things to do at Glasfryn Parc near Pwllheli. This all-weather activity centre caters to kids of all ages, with a range of options that runs from indoor soft play and ten-pin bowling to high-octane go kart racing, archery and clay-pigeon shooting.
Glasfryn really comes into its own when water gets involved. The ‘splash and crash’ aquapark (think water-based assault course) serves up gallons of thrills and spills. There’s also a unique cable-driven wakeboard system which is a great introduction for visitors new to this exciting watersport (and a blast for more experienced riders).
If you prefer to travel under your own steam, you can take to the water on a kayak or stand-up paddleboard, or keep your feet dry with a spot of fishing.
If you’re getting out and about in the great outdoors of Eryri, be sure to follow The Countryside Code for tips on how to enjoy our wide, open spaces considerately and respectfully.