the largest island in England and Wales
a land of scenic mountains and coastline
Gateway to Snowdonia
Rolling hills and historic towns. Consists of the unitary authorities Wrexham, Flintshire, Denbighshire.
Cities and towns
North Wales has many picturesque towns. Below is a list of the most notable. For others, please see specific county articles.
- 2 Blaenau Ffestiniog (Gwynedd) — Slate mining town where visitors can take a train underground at Llechwedd Caverns. Also the northern terminus of the narrow gauge Ffestiniog Railway.
- 3 Caernarfon (Gwynedd) — dominated by its castle and medieval town walls. A symbolic seat to represent English power in North Wales.
- 4 Colwyn Bay (Welsh: Bae Colwyn) (Conwy) — a former resort town that has a small zoo, a twice weekly market, some antique and book shops, a terrific sweeping bay and a dilapidated pier. Hosts under-21s' International Rugby in a lovely park.
- 5 Conwy (Conwy) — medieval, fortified town with impressive castle and quaint shops.
- 6 Dolgellau (Gwynedd) — a picturesque market town with gold in its surrounding hills and an annual World Music Festival.
- 7 Denbigh (Welsh: Dinbych) (Clwyd) — a pretty market town and one of the most historic towns in North Wales.
- 8 Llandudno (Conwy) — genteel Victorian seaside resort.
- 9 Llanfairfechan (Conwy) — unspoilt seaside resort between Penmaenmawr and Bangor.
- 10 Tywyn (Gwynedd) — popular seaside resort with miles of sandy beach. Home to the famous Talyllyn Railway.
- 11 Wrexham (Welsh: Wrecsam) (Clwyd) — a county and the largest settlement in North Wales; ironically a town although it is over 5 times the size of the 'city' of Bangor.
- 1 Snowdonia National Park (Welsh: Parc Cenedlaethol Eryri) – great hiking territory, which includes Wales' highest mountain. Eryri (Snowdonia in Welsh) is the second largest National Park in England and Wales. This area has links with Arthurian legend. For example, the wizard Merlin's dragons supposedly lived at Dinas Emrys, a place name which means "Emrys' City" ('Emrys' being an alternative Celtic name for Merlin).
Three of Wales' five AONBs are in North Wales.
- 2 The Isle of Anglesey (Welsh: Ynys Môn) – Is one of the most distinctive, attractive and varied landscapes in the British Isles. Anglesey was designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1966 in order to protect the aesthetic appeal and variety of the island's coastal landscape and habitats from inappropriate development. The AONB is predominantly a coastal designation, covering most of the island's 125 miles coastline (including Ynys Llanddwyn, a tidal islet off the main island). It contains rocky headlands, golden beaches, dunes, heaths and fine green countryside. Some of the beaches are recognised as being among the best in Europe. The AONB supports a wealth of wildlife such as choughs, grey seals, sea lavender and silver studded blue butterflies. There are also many areas protected for their nature conservation value, such as Newborough Warren National Nature Reserve, and several Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
- 3 Llŷn AONB (Welsh: Penrhyn Llŷn) – The peninsula sticking out westwards into the Irish Sea, beyond Snowdonia, in the north-west of the country.
- 4 Clwydian Range AONB (Welsh: Bryniau Clwyd) – A range of hills running southwards from the coast at Prestatyn to Llandegla, in Denbighshire in the north-east of the country, close to the border with England. The highest and best known hill is Moel Famau, and many of the hills are the sites of Iron Age hill forts.
North Wales is bilingual. While almost 100% of the people you meet can speak and understand English, you are also quite likely to hear Welsh being spoken, especially as you travel further west within the region. According to the census of 2005, 68.7% of the people in Gwynedd can speak Welsh. You're least likely to encounter Welsh speakers on the north coast east of Conwy.
Mainline train services within North Wales are run by Arriva Trains Wales.
- The North to South Wales Mainline Links Cardiff with Shrewsbury, Wrexham and the North Wales coast, via Chester. Services are operated by Arriva Trains Wales from Cardiff to Holyhead, with Virgin Trains operating services from Wrexham to London Euston.
- The North Wales Coast Line links Manchester, Crewe and London (in England) with the northern seaside resorts of Rhyl and Prestatyn, the city of Bangor, the isle of Anglesey and the port of Holyhead. Through-tickets to Dublin (Ireland) are available, which include the ferry from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire. Services are run by Arriva (from Manchester) and Virgin Trains (from London and Crewe)
- The beautiful Cambrian Coast Line runs from Shrewsbury (in England), across Mid-Wales through Machynlleth, and through the coastal towns of Tywyn and Barmouth, through the south part of Snowdonia, Harlech and Porthmadog, and along the south coast of the Lleyn Peninsula to Pwllheli.
- The Chester to Birmingham Line Is operated by Arriva and sees hourly services from Chester to Birmingham via all mainline stations in Wrexham County.
- The Borderlands Line runs between Wrexham and Bidston (Birkenhead), linking various Flintshire towns and villages with the Wirral, and Wrexham.
- Regular ferry services operate between Holyhead and Ireland, (Dublin and Dun Laoghaire), and is provided by two carriers. Stenaline and Irish Ferries both offer multiple daily service between the two ports for passengers and vehicles. Bookings can be made through their respective websites.
There is an air service connecting RAF Valley in Anglesey to Cardiff International Airport in South Wales. For flights from other destinations, Manchester and Liverpool airports (across the border in England) are the closest bet, or Birmingham airport for the Cambrian Coast area.
The main roads into North Wales from England are the A55 which runs along the north coast, connecting with the M56 and M53 near Chester, and the A5, which leaves the M54 at Shrewsbury and heads west to Betws y Coed and then north-west to Bangor.
From South and Mid Wales the A470 runs south to north through the centre of the country, from Cardiff to Llandudno via Dolgellau and Betws y Coed, while the A483 runs south-west to north-east, from Swansea to Wrexham and on across the border to Chester. The A487 runs along the coast to Aberystwyth, Cardigan and St. Davids.
Note that only the A55 is a dual carriageway, and that overtaking on the other A-roads is not always possible. If time is of the essence, it is generally a good idea to travel on the A55 as far as possible. If not, the other roads are much more scenic.
- National Express operates coach services to North Wales from around the UK. Services terminate at Wrexham and Holyhead.
- Traws-Cymru cross-Wales services come from Cardiff and Swansea in the south via Aberystwyth or Brecon
(See also Get In above for details of lines into and across North Wales)
- The Conwy Valley Line stretches from Llandudno Junction along the Conwy Valley to Blaenau Ffestiniog, and connects with trains on both the North Wales Coast line and the Ffestiniog Railway.
- The narrow-gauge Ffestiniog Railway connects the Cambrian Coast line at Porthmadog with the Conwy Valley line at Blaenau Ffestiniog
- Another narrow gauge line, the Welsh Highland Railway will shortly re-open, connecting Porthmadog to Caernarfon via Beddgelert
- Traws Cymru cross-Wales services converge at Dolgellau, from Bangor in the north-west and Wrexham in the north-east.
- Services operate across Gwynedd, with longer distance services to Wrexham and Chester
There are a number of castles from the 12th and 13th centuries spread across North Wales. These date back to the time of the battles by the Welsh Princes of Gwynedd to resist the rule of King John, and more significantly, King Edward I of England. Most of the castles are in the care of Cadw, the historic environment service of the Welsh Assembly Government.
- Beaumaris - at the eastern tip of Anglesey. The final part of Edward I's "Ring of Steel" around North Wales, provocatively located immediately across the narrow Menai Strait from Garth Celyn, the seat of the Princes of Gwynedd.
- Caernarfon - planned seat of Edward I's power in Wales. Located in the town of Caernarfon
- Castell y Bere - Last stronghold of the Welsh Princes, and their most impressive fortress. Stunning location in Bro Dysynni.
- Chirk - Built in 1295, this National Trust Property is located in the Wrexham County.
- Conwy - built by Edward I to control the strategically significant town and river of the same name.
- Criccieth - Welsh-built castle near the eastern end of the Lleyn Peninsula
- Dinas Bran - atmospheric ruin on a hilltop near Llangollen
- Dolbadarn - Welsh-built castle situated between Llyn Peris and Llyn Padarn lakes, close to the town of Llanberis
- Dolwyddelan - Welsh castle, in the village of the same name on the main A470 road between Betws-y-Coed and Blaenau Ffestiniog. Reputed birthplace of Prince Llywelyn the Great. The Disney film Dragonslayer was filmed here.
- Flint - Edward I's first castle in Wales, in the far north-east close to the English border in Flintshire. Part of William Shakespeare's play Richard II is set within Flint Castle.
- Harlech - Another of Edward I's "ring of steel". Looks menacingly across Tremadog Bay at Criccieth Castle.
- Rhuddlan - in the small town of the same name, south of Rhyl. The remains of an older Motte and Bailey castle, Twtil, can still be seen in the grounds of Rhuddlan Castle.
- Plas Newydd - National trust property located in Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, Anglesey, Wales
- Erddig Hall - National Trust property located on the outskirts of Wrexham
For many visitors to North Wales, the main draw is the number of historic steam railways in the area. Some, such as the Bala Lake Railway and Llangollen Railway, run on stretches of lines that were part of the national railways network until the infamous "Beeching cuts" closed many lines in the 1960s. Others, including the Talyllyn and Ffestiniog Railways, were built by mine or quarry owners to transport their goods (usually slate) down to a port or to a mainline train station. Most of the railways are owned and run by societies of volunteer enthusiasts.
- Bala Lake Railway
- Ffestiniog Railway, runs from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog
- Llanberis Lake Railway.
- Snowdon Mountain Railway Runs from Llanberis all the way to the summit of Mount Snowdon, Wales' highest mountain
- Talyllyn Railway Tywyn. The world's first heritage railway and inspiration for the Ealing comedy film The Titfield Thunderbolt. Features in the popular Railway Series of childrens books by Rev. W Awdry as the "Skarloey Railway".
- Welsh Highland Railway Porthmadog - Caernarfon
- Conwy Valley Railway Museum, Betws-y-Coed
- Fairbourne Railway
- Rhyl Miniature Railway, The oldest miniature railway still running in the UK.
- Gypsy Wood Park, Caernarfon - UK's largest miniature G Scale garden railway.
- Local Adventure Activities. Why not enjoy the rugged natural surroundings by trying out some Sea Kayaking, Rock Abseiling, Cliff Jumping, Sea Level Traversing, Gorge Scrambling or even Mountain Horse Riding. Some local instructors include Shaggy Sheep Wales Activities or ComeAndTry.com.
- Gypsy Wood Park, Caernarfon - An outdoor attraction well worth a visit on a sunny day. Its a relaxing attraction, with the UK's largest miniature G Scale garden railway and a great family day out with children who love animals.
- Indoor Karting, Caernarfon - If the weather isn't up to much you could always visit the Redline Indoor Karting centre at Cibyn Industrial Estate.
The Wales the True Taste campaign has been very successful in promoting the use of local ingredients in recent years, and even fairly low-key restaurants and pubs will often have a sign telling you where all of their ingredients are sourced.
Perhaps the most high-profile local ingredient is lamb, and you certainly won't spend long in North Wales before you see your first sheep! Artisan cheeses abound, look out for the Snowdonia Creamery range, among others. Fresh, local seafood can be excellent, especially on the Lleyn.
There are a number on independent breweries across North Wales, brewing a range of traditional ales. Porthmadog based microbrewery Purple Moose (Bragdy Mws Piws) is well worth looking out for.
Wrexham Lager has re-launched after over a decade and the owners have re-introduced the much loved recipe, which was discontinued when Carlsberg-Tetley took over the brewery. The owners of Wrexham Lager are hoping to bring back the original logo as soon as they possibly can.
- The wild mountains and moorland of Mid Wales, and it's spectacular west coast.
- Liverpool and Manchester, two bustling cities in North West England, are both within very easy reach of North Wales.