Exploring North Wales - An adventure filled with beauty and history.
Updated: Nov 27, 2022
Smaller than Massachusetts, Wales (Cymru) is a small country with a massive passion for culture, nature, and its people. Situated in the southwest of Great Britain, Wales is known for its rugged coastline, mountainous national parks, distinctive Welsh language, and Celtic culture.
Wales is comprised of three regions, North Wales, Mid-Wales, and South Wales. North Wales encompasses the northernmost areas of Wales. It borders Mid Wales to the south, England to the east, and the Irish Sea to the north and west. North Wales boasts the highest peak in Wales & England, 250 miles of Coastline, and 3 out of 4 of the World Heritage Sites in the Country.
In just 13-days of exploring North Wales solo for the first time, my heart was captured and changed by the country I had been to so many times as a kid.
North Wales is in my blood!
I was born in Chester, England. So technically, I am English. However, Chester, though the majority of the Roman-built city is within England's territory now, is split by the North Wales border to the East. In fact, after the Romans left Chester in the 4th Century, England and Wales split into rival kingdoms. Chester probably lay within a northern Welsh kingdom. However, the Saxons invaded in the 7th century, and in about 617 AD a battle was fought at Chester between the Welsh and the Saxons. The Saxons won and Chester fell into their hands. The Countess of Chester Hospital, where I was born, is just 2.2 miles from the North Wales border. My maternal grandfather was born in Ewloe, North Wales. Both my maternal grandmother (Nan) and my paternal grandmother (Nonna) still live in North Wales seaside towns today.
Fun fact: The Chester Football Club grounds (Soccer stadium) are located in Wales, while the stadium car park is in England. This caused massive tension during the Covid-19 shutdowns due to Wales having strict no-gathering rules, but England having different rules.
Getting to & Around North Wales
Flights from US and Canada - the easiest and closest airport to fly into will be Manchester International Airport. From Manchester, you can reach North Wales in about an hour and a half by rental car, train (takes about 2-3 hours due to many stops), and/or private transfer services. Liverpool does have an International terminal, but it is much smaller which will mean more expensive tickets.
I flew Aer Lingus from San Fransico to Manchester with a layover in Dublin. This was an overnight flight leaving San Fransico at 5:45 pm and arriving in Dublin at 11 am (+ 1 day). Due to my experience with delays and cancellations on my trip to Italy in the summer, I chose to have a 3-hour layover in Dublin. This was the second time that I had flown this flight to Manchester with Aer Lingus and both times I was very impressed with the staff, services, and timeliness of the flights. Most of the other popular airlines (American, United, Delta) fly direct to Heathrow, London, then on to Manchester. Due to Heathrow being so busy and typically prone to delays, I'd recommend avoiding Heathrow unless you have plans to visit London first.
Tip: Book your flights directly with the Airlines to avoid hassle and hidden fees from third-party websites (Expedia, Travelocity, etc.) When you book with a third-party website, the airlines will often tell you that you must go through the website for any changes, upgrades, and questions. Also, the flights may appear cheaper on these sites, however, the flights often are not refundable, do not include a checked bag, and do not allow seat selection or changes without fees. I booked my flight directly with Aer Lingus during a Summer Sale, not only did the flights work out to be less expensive than the same flight on Expedia, but my checked bag was included and I was able to select my seats free of charge.
Train - When not on strike, the train is a great way to get from one place to another in Wales. Compared to the USA, the train fares are low but the trains are very clean and comfortable. Transport for Wales is the official transportation system set up by the Welsh government. I found their app and website to be very user-friendly. Tickets for travel can be purchased at the station or in advance. https://tfw.wales/
Bus - Arriva Bus is the leading provider of bus transport in the UK and throughout Europe. I utilized the Arriva Bus a few times during my trip. The app is up to date with live bus times/arrivals, and you can also purchase your ticket in the app. Tickets can also be purchased from the driver when you catch the bus for the first time.
Car Hire - There are a number of car rental companies throughout the Country. Europcar seemed to offer the best rates as well as a larger inventory of automatic transmission vehicles. However, many towns have local car rental companies that offer both private cars and rental cars.
The adventure in North Wales begins - Penryhn Bay
My home base for my time exploring North Wales was at my Nan's flat in the small town of Penryhn Bay, just 3 miles from the seaside holiday resort town of Llandudno. Penryhn Bay offers a few local shops, a parish church, a seaside promenade, and an amazing footpath over a headland known as the Little Orme. During my downtime in Penryhn Bay, I walked along the seaside promenade from Nan's flat to Rhos on Sea (the next town over) and stopped at the tiny Saint Trillo's Chapel (11 feet by 8 feet stone chapel on the foreshore) to leave a donation and prayer for my late Papa. It was often very windy along the shore and I was amazed by the size of the waves that would crash up over the promenade in some areas.
All photos © Hannah C.
One afternoon, I decided to hike from Nan's flat up to the summit of the Little Orme. You can experience the hike with me in the video below!
Llandudno, situated between two headlands (the Great Orme & The Little Orme) is the largest seaside resort in Wales. Dating back to the Victorian period, as early as 1861 Llandudno was being called 'the Queen of the Welsh Watering Places'. Two miles of brightly colored Victorian hotels & town-houses line The Parade frontage of Llandudno's North Shore ending at the ornate pier. I spent a few afternoons in Llandudno as there are many activities you can do. I walked along the seaside promenade from the North end near The Little Orme to the pier at the other end. I then strolled along the pier taking in the view of the town, Great Orme, and Irish sea from the end of the pier. On another occasion, I walked into the center of town to do some shopping along Mostyn Street. There are so many great little shops along the street where I purchased some Welsh gifts for family and friends.
Exploring Llandudno, North Wales - My recommendations for things to do!
Visit the Great Orme Summit - For spectacular views of Conwy, Penryhn Bay, Angelsey, and the Irish Sea, head up the Great Orme. This huge lump of limestone was formed in the Bronze Age when its malachite-rich ore supplied copper throughout Europe. The summit of the Great Orme can be reached by car, tram, cable car, or on foot. I had planned to hike to the summit of the Great Orme from Llandudno during my visit, however, due to time constraints, I decided to take the vintage Great Orme Tramway from town to the visitor center, then hike to the summit monument from there. Opened in 1902, the Great Orme Tramway is a fun and historical means of reaching the top of the Orme. I was delighted as the tramcar ascended the Orme through the winding streets passing cute little homes and even a Pub. Continuing up into the landscape of the headland, I saw the famous goats of Llandudno and gazed in wonder at the amazing views as we left the town behind us. Once at the visitor center, I hiked around the exterior of the Orme, sharing space with more goats and hundreds of grazing sheep. I then hike back down the Orme and caught a local bus back to Penryhn Bay.
All photos © Hannah C.
2. Walk the Alice in Llandudno Trail - Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, enjoyed spending her summer holidays in Llandudno as a child. A walking trail has been created with 35 stops at various town stops and Alice In Wonderland-related sculptures.
3. Stroll along the Victorian Pier & Take a ride on the Big Wheel! - First opened in 1877, the Llandudno Pier is Wales's longest pier & the UK's fifth-longest, and a must when in Llandudno. The pier offers food stalls, shops, an arcade, and the newest attraction; the Big Wheel, which stands an impressive 70 feet tall. (for more info: The Llandudno Pier) One afternoon, after having a delicious Afternoon Tea at The Lemon Tree (an Alice in Wonderland-inspired tea room in town) I took Nan along the Pier for a breath of fresh sea air. As we walked along, she told me that she had not been on the Big Wheel before. After some assistance from the helpful staff, I was able to get Nan onto the ride, and up we went. What a view!
Just a stone's throw from Llandudno, Conwy is a walled town and the center of Conwy County. The town and its impressive Castle stand on the west bank of the Conwy River. On a clear day, the Castle can be seen from the top of the Great Orme. I took the Hop On Hop Off bus from Llandudno for 13 to Conwy on a bright sunny morning. The bus dropped me off in the center of town. From there, I walked the main streets lined with little local shops, purchased authentic Welsh Cakes from the Conwy Bakery, and sat in the park across from the Castle to eat them. The way of life in these small market towns is so vastly different that what I experience in the USA. Life seems to be calmer, takes a slower pace, and seems centered around heritage and history. It was here eating Welsh Cakes alone in the park that I felt a sense of rest. No one was judging me, I felt like I fit in this place. After taking some time to meditate on this feeling, I walked along the sidewalk toward the riverfront. Here, I watched as the fishermen towed in their lines for the day as kids chased away seagulls while their Mums held their ice creams. What a life!
Exploring Conwy, North Wales - Things to do!
1. Visit Conwy Castle - The Castle was built by Edward I, during his conquest of Wales, between 1283 and 1287. UNESCO considers Conwy Castle to be one of "the finest examples of late 13th-century and early 14th-century military architecture in Europe", and it is classed as a World Heritage Site. I have been to the Castle before, but it had been many years. walk through the fortress grounds as well as climb staircases to the top of the battlements. The views of the town and surrounding areas are incredible. An adult ticket costs approximately £11.10 (as of November 2022). For more information: Visit Conwy
All photos © Hannah C.
2. Visit the Smallest House in Great Britain - The minuscule home (floor area measures 10 x5.9 ft) was created in the 16th century and remained in use until 1900, when the current owner (a man of 6ft 3 inches) was forced to move out as the home was deemed unfit for human habitation. Tours of the home are available daily for £1.50 (adult).
Situated on the River Dee inland, Llangollen is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site along eleven miles of canal from Gledrid to the Horseshoe Falls via the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. There is something for everyone in Llangollen from a stroll along the riverside promenade, train rides, shopping in the main street, canal boat rides (horse-drawn canal boats as well!), or hiking to the beautiful Castell Dinas Brans. Nan and I spent 24 hours in Llangollen and I definitely will be going back for a longer visit in the future. Getting to Llangollen was half the fun. It was my first time driving in the UK, and boy did I get the full experience. From motorways to single-lane winding country roads with sheep-free grazing on either side. I loved every minute of it! There is just so much to see and do! The town itself got very busy with both locals and visitors in the afternoon, but the morning was quiet and I took a relaxing walk along the promenade and up to the canal. If I had had more time, I would have spent at least a day walking the canal trail. That will have to wait until next time.
Exploring Llangollen, North Wales - Things to do!
1. Hike to Castell Dinas Brans - This medieval castle was probably built in the 1260s on the site of several other earlier structures, including an Iron Age hillfort. I highly recommend doing this hike at sunrise to experience the view of the "Dragons Breath" (morning mist/fog) in the Valley from the top. This is what I did and the sight of the mist in the valley as I climbed the hill was breathtaking. From the hilltop, you can join a number of other trails with panoramic views. (Trail Map) One thing I noticed about hiking/walking in the UK, is the lack of "no trespassing" signs in the pastures and fields. To get to this trailhead, I found myself walking through a pasture with grazing sheep. I wasn't trespassing, the signs for the trail clearly took me this route, and this is totally normal and expected throughout the UK. Nature is for everyone here, and people seem to share the land for the enjoyment of all. I never saw any litter. People take care of the land and trails. To give you more understanding of the scene as I walked in the morning light to the top of the hill, think of Jane Austin's Pride & Prejudice. Remember when Elizabeth Bennet took that early morning walk through the fields, and Mr. Darcy came to meet her by chance? That moment in the Kira Knightly movie version always catches my breath. The swell of the music as Mr. Darcy walks towards here. Walking through these fields is just like that scene. Green grass, ferns, and animals all around you. Quiet, Tranquill, yet music swelling in my head!
All photos © Hannah C.
2. Have a meal at The Corn Mill - converted from an old mill as the name suggests, this riverside traditional Pub/Restaurant offers amazing food and amazing views of the white waters of the River Dee. They offer an outdoor deck as well as upstairs and downstairs dining areas. Dogs are welcome on the deck as well as in the downstairs dining area. It is highly recommended that you book your table in advance. (The Corn Mill)
3. Take a canal boat tour over the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct - The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct pronounced Pont – ker – sulth – tay, is the Welsh name for ‘the bridge that connects’. This Aqueduct is a navigable aqueduct that carries the Llangollen Canal across the River Dee. The 18-arched stone and cast iron structure was completed in 1805 and is listed as a World Heritage Site. Visitors to Llangollen can take a 2-hour canal tour from the town to Froncysyllte, where the Aqueduct stands. 2 Hour tour tickets for an adult start at £15.50. More information.
Continue exploring North Wales ...
There are so many amazing places to visit in North Wales, some that I have been able to experience and some that I have on my bucket list. Here is a few of the towns/attractions that I would recommend checking out while you are in the area.
Betws-y-coed - the gateway to Snowdonia - hiking, shopping, waterfalls, and dog-friendly forest trails. I want to open my tea room and bakery here! One can dream, right?
Caernarfon - a royal town and home to Caernarfon Castle where the now King Charles III was invested as Prince of Wales in 1969.
Snowdonia National Park - Home of the mountain of Snowdon, the highest mountain in England and Wales at an elevation of 3560 ft.
Dyserth Falls, Grieg Fawr & Gronant Dunes - For a beautiful & peaceful walk to the seaside via a spectacular fairy tale waterfall, take the Dyserth - Prestatyn Walkway from Dyserth Falls to the Gronant Dunes. My Nonna lives in Prestatyn, I took a weekend to visit her during my trip and walked the Gronant Dunes in Prestatyn one afternoon, then took the Walkway to Dyserth Falls the following morning. I did take a detour to summit Graig Fawr, a hilltop that overlooks Prestatyn, Dyserth, and Rhyl along the way. It was a very clear morning and I was able to see all the way to the Little & Great Orme!