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A Wales Road Trip

Since I relied so heavily on the Rick Steves' podcasts and the various message boards for tips and advice on planning my trip to Wales, and since it feels like such an untapped location in terms of message board resources compared to other travel destinations I thought I would share my road trip earlier this summer.

First off, I drove. I had never driven on the opposite side of the road, I don't drive stick, and while I'm a good driver I'm by no means a pro with a comfort level for taking a stab at something like driving in a foreign country. But I did it. After mapping out the places I wanted to go, both in-person friends, and helpful RS tipsters indicated that public transportation, even at its height during the summer, probably wouldn't work for travel goals. I had to make a decision between cutting my list down to accommodate out of the way public transport and wait times, unreachable locations, or pay an exorbitant amount for tour guides to drive me around every day.

I flew into Heathrow and took the train from Euston to Chester and then switched to the Wales line in Chester to Llandudno Junction - Conwy is an optional stop so I had to get off in Llandudno Junction since that day it apparently wasn't optional. Buses to Conwy pick up in Llandudno Junction as do cabs, but the bus schedule would have had me waiting for quite a while and by that point I'd been traveling for too many hours to be willing to wait. I took a cab to my hotel in Conwy.

I game-planned out a kind of tight schedule - but only a few parts of it were truly binding (pre-bought tickets).

Conwy is an adorable seaside walled town. My hotel had a pub/restaurant downstairs and rooms upstairs. It was quiet and the smell from the restaurant did not travel up. My room was a on a corner so I had castle views on one side and castle wall and hill views on the other - and a good breeze since it was hot.

My first day I had planned originally on only visiting Conwy Castle, since I got in around 2 pm, but the day before I had checked closing times and was able to juggle a few things by starting with lunch in town across the street from Plas Mawr - the Elizabethan merchant's house. This was SUCH a cool historical home to visit - particularly since my original purpose for visiting Wales was to attend a book conference that has a book based in Elizabethan times. I was able to get a view of what the characters in the books would have experienced, seen, lived in while there. Also, the original owner's love of Greek iconography really translated into some ....interesting... replications in the main hall. Plas Mawr is part of CADW so I was able to pick up the CADW 7 day explorer pass. The explorer pass lets you visit CADW eligible facilities for no additional charge for seven days (doesnt have to be consecutive) in a 14 day period. Both Plas Mawr and Conwy Castle are eligible facilities.

Conwy Castle was open to 6 pm for summer hours so I was able to do all of Plas Mawr and their self-guided tour in an hour and have slightly over 2 hours to visit Conwy Castle. I suppose if you have kids and want to do the castle scavenger hunt you might need more than 2 hours, but I was solo and more efficient and able to climb 7 out 8 towers and read most of the historical markers with rest time to spare. Conwy is STUNNING and in great shape for an Edward the 1st castle. Plus its location on the coast of Conwy leads to stunning views of the hills and water and harbor and the bridge over to Llandudno Junction. Doing 7/8 towers worth of stairs on top of the other walking and climbing that day probably wasn't the smartest idea in terms of pacing myself but its doable.

TBC in comments

Posted by
36 posts

After the castle I walked the village a bit and then grabbed a drink down by the waters edge. Most things in town close at 5 (which was hard for an American used to a very different tourist atmosphere in the US) so there wasn't much else to do by that part. Lots of families hanging out and crabbing or eating fish and chips by the water - so for my first real solo female travel experience it felt safe and comfortable.

Day 2 had me picking up the rental car and starting the driving experience. I was picked up by Enterprise who were great to work with, and nice to have a familiar company to deal with in a foreign country. I had requested a smaller economy car but ended up with a bigger luxury car which was a terrifying start but the car and I survived (except for knocking over 2 garbage barrels my 1st two days). I was picked up by Enterprise and brought to their Llandudno Junction facility and then visited the Victorian seaside town of Llandudno and road the Great Orme tram, walked around, and had lunch, then drove to Bodnant Gardens and then finally to Betws y Coed. I wish I had more time to finish walking the full gardens at Bodnant (though I saw most in 1.5 hours) or more time in Betws y Coed - I got a chance to do quite a bit of walking but having gotten there around 5 most shops were closed. The towns natural sites were lovely and still able to visit in the early evening.

Day 3, still using Conwy as a base, I drove down to Llangollen by way of the Horseshoe Pass. Along the way I visited Valle Crucis which was stunning, and had lunch at the scenic Ponderosa - complete with sheep hanging out in the parking lot. Horseshoe Pass is amazing - you have 2 route options - the main road and a one lane (death defying to me) option with the split occurring right at the Ponderosa. I did the main route and even that got steep and curvy at times. I wish I had been able to take more pics but time was limited ( a consistent theme on my trip). I was able to walk around Llangollen, grab some ice cream, catch the kids celebrating the end of the school term by jumping off the bridge into the River Dee, and then went up to Plas Newydd and the house of the Ladies of Llangollen and their imitation Jacobean manor. The house isn't giant so you can complete it fairly short order if you're in a time crunch, and there is a self-guided option. All of the intricate wood work that was pulled from other locations to use in their decor was stunning, their story very interesting, and their connection to various people in history like Wellington fascinating. Also, their taxidermied cat might be haunting the place, or at least the glitch in my electronic tour guide gave me that impression :) Finally I ended up at the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and canal - but it was after 6 so none of the long boats were running. It was very peaceful though and I enjoyed the walk across the Aqueduct - but probably not for the folks afraid of heights.

Day 4 I said goodbye to Conwy as my base and headed south and west with stops at Llanrwrst - I was hoping to see Llewellyn's grave at St. Gwrst but the church was closed for repairs and I was short on time for seeing Saint Gwydir which is supposed to be a lovely church on the grounds of Gwydir Castle (and hotel?) but I did have time to stop at Dolwyddelan Castle on A470 - a very scenic road filled with valleys and slate hills as you make your way thru Snowdonia. The castle, attributed to Llewellyn, is just a keep - a single tower, in the middle of sheep filled hills. It's a steep hike up some stairs and the hill to the keep but stunning views if you make the trek. Lots of sheep around and lots of sheep poop - so watch your step when making your way to it ;)

TBC

Posted by
98 posts

I’m enjoying your trip report and looking forward to the rest of it. Thank you for sharing your trip details with us!

Posted by
36 posts

Thanks for the comments! Pesky things like sleep and work got in the way.

Day 6 - I checked out of my Porthmadog hotel and drove to Criccieth Castle - I had intended to just take some external pics and walk around for a few, but I realized Criccieth was on my CADW explorer pass and since I had already intended to stop in Harlech later in the day and using up one of CADW pass days, I may as well get some more use out of it. Criccieth is much smaller than the other 2 and was busy since it was a Saturday morning. The views of the harbor and coast of Criccieth are gorgeous though and given how small it was easy to squeeze in. Then I had mapped out three potential beaches on the Llyn Peninsula to visit, but since I had a bit of a late start, and spent so much time in Criccieth I had to prioritize so I went to Porthdinllaen. Porthdinllaen is a remote village on the north side of the peninsula, and you have to park in Morfa Nefryn at either the National Trust parking lot or the golf course further up the road. You then walk the mile or so to the village on the beach if tide is low or thru the golf course. You can't drive to the village unless you are a resident there - I believe the whole thing is owned by the National Trust. There are maybe 10? buildings in total, of which one is the Ty Coch Inn - recently voted one of the best beach bars in the world. It's really a small traditional pub but RIGHT on the beach. Visitors grab their pint and food and sit on the beach or the stone wall separating the two. Lots of people bring their boats right up to the beach as well. It was packed despite being overcast and cool, but a great friendly atmosphere, affordable lunch, and the experience was just so unique that I'd def. recommend it. Apparently in winter the pub isn't reliably open so be sure to check before making the hike.

I then drove to Portmeirion which I had heard so much about - the fake Italianate resort village had a weird Disney-esque vibe but was so pretty and colorful and strange that it's a must visit to me. It was much smaller than I anticipated and I was able to walk the whole thing in about an hour. I kind of wish I had a booked a night there since after closing the guests have singular access to the grounds. Also, their hydrangea game is STRONG if you have a green thumb - great to see and photograph.

Then headed south to Harlech Castle - another of the Edward I seaside defensive castles. The castle and the village are on top of a very high hill overlooking the coast. I got there at 5 and luckily had an hour to explore the castle but most of the village shops were closed so I could only walk around. A word of note - the hill to get up to the castle is insanely steep and windy - so much so that it had been named the steepest hill in the world by Guinness World Records folks (signs were still up in the town). Luckily I had mapped out most of my roads on google maps before hand so I knew how bad the road was (for a foreigner) and I mapped out an alternate route bringing me into the village further down the road and walking into the center of town. If you walk outside the town a bit towards the public parking lot (car park) there is a tiny park on the side of the hill the village is on with a few memorial to town residents but a PERFECT view of the castle in the distance with the hills of Snowdonia for a backdrop. Highly recommend for pictures.

Next I spent two hours driving south out of Snowdonia along the coast, Barmouth, and then the A487 (great scenic route and highly recommend) past Cadair Idris (a perk for a Susan Cooper fan like myself), and through the Mach Loop - a series of valleys with stunning views but also used for jet training. There are schedules online of when the jets will be flying and apparently you can take it in from the road side or get a closer view climbing up some of the hills. Sadly Saturday, when I was driving, wasn't one of those days.

TBC

Posted by
849 posts

This all sounds lovely. I wish RS tours covered Wales more than just the 2 days on the Best of England tour. I would sign up in a heartbeat!

Posted by
5817 posts

I wish the tour actually mentioned it goes to Wales in its title. Calling it “Best of England” not “Best of England and Wales” is just rude.

Posted by
36 posts

Catching up!

Emma - I agree it's weird also on the recommendation page for food and accommodations there is no Wales option (or Scotland or N. Ireland) just England.

Day 6 cont.: The night of my 6th day I ended at an old estate outside of Aberystwyth to change things up from my pub/b&b combo stays the prior nights. It was a beautiful mansion, well preserved (and maybe a former home to the Holy Grail??), really great food (albeit a bit pricey) though a bit creepy with the pet cemetery on the grounds (though sweet, just a little weird, particularly the one pet headstone that had a giant hole behind it. White Muff might be having his Walking Dead moment...)

Day 7 I left for Devils Bridge - a series of bridges over a waterfall outside of Aberystwyth. Because I was already in a remote location GPS defaulted to a country road - and by country road I mean a dirt road thru a farm where I had a traffic jam with a cat. Apparently the hedge rows were even too much for the cat to deal with. So that was a strange experience. The farm road pops out onto the A4120 - which has amazing views of most of the Rheidol Valley and a few spots to even pull over. The speed limit/twisty-narrow-road combo was a bit stressful so if you're like me and prefer going slow, it was helpful to pull over and convenient excuses for picture taking. So Devil's Bridge has 2 options once you arrive - you can do a ten minute walk down the steps (SO MANY STEPS) and back up just for views of the bridges and falls, or a longer 45 minute walk with more scenic views. I had a busy schedule (as usual) so I just did the 10 minute walk - still got great pictures and up close with the bridges and falls. ALSO - you don't have to drive there - there is a steam train that runs to and from Aberystwyth to Devil's Bridge which is supposed to be a great ride thru the Rheidol Valley - limited trip times though.

From Devil's Bridge I drove to the boardwalk/pier area of Aberystwyth. Aberystwyth is a much bigger college and coastal city than what I had experienced so far in Wales. Lots of colorful Victorian buildings and you can also take a tram up to the top of the cliff overlooking the beach and city. It was a Sunday, but very busy on the boardwalk. The weird part was that not much was opened for restaurants or shops - even though it was a sunny July day in a beach side town packed w/tourists. It was explained to me that it is really primarily a college town and it was outside of term, but it still seemed weird given how many people were there how many of the businesses around the strip were not open. I was going to grab lunch there but none of the places I had bookmarked ahead of time were open so I headed out of town for my next stop headed south - Aberareon - a much smaller, but equally colorful seaside town. Every building was pastel or bright colors, there were two pubs overflowing with people, and a popular ice cream stand (The Hive) where the ice cream is made with honey and highly recommended by every blogger I found in my research so that was a must have (two thumbs up for me). The parking in Aberareon was difficult - the parking lots limited and the spots NARROW. But it was a beautiful weekend day so this made sense. I had another 5 or so villages and towns along the coast I had hoped to do quick stops thru but I had booked a spa treatment at my next hotel so I was on a time crunch.

Next up was driving straight down to Saundersfoot in Pembroke where I met up with one of my good friend's who moved to the UK and ended my solo travels. We did some spa time at St. Brides Hotel and Spa (amazing - high up overlooking the beach and town of Saundersfoot -and an infinity pool!) then walked around Saundersfoot - which doesn't take long as its small but with everything you want in a beach town - arcade, beach side pubs, live music, and a donut stand right on the beach - open even at 9 pm and they were fresh and delicious so another def. thumbs up from me.

TBC

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36 posts

Still going! I didn't realize how much I had to say about the trip until I started.

Day 8 - We had a long list of places to tentatively visit and started with the closest and worked our way out. Leaving from Saundersfoot we drove to St. Govans Chapel in Bosherton. The Chapel is built into the side of a sea-side cliff - invisible from the parking lot until you start decending the stairs. The views of the cliffs and ocean are gorgeous and the church is tiny but interesting to explore inside and out. To get there you have to drive thru a part of a military base and you are supposed to keep an eye out for red flags meaning their firing that day. We saw the red flags but kept going and luckily St. Govan's was open but we weren't able to cut across to other sight seeing locations that we had planned on as there is a guard blocking the cut thru road. Parking was free, the walk down to the church short so its a very convenient stop.

Second destination was Pembroke - given how many castles I had already been to and how many more we planned to visit we decided to skip this one for internal tours and did a walk around the external perimeter of the castle and even got to see the cave in the back under neath the castle that sort of set it apart from the other locations I had been to. Pembroke is not a part of CADW. We walked around the town a bit and there was a great looking bakery we considered going in, but St. Mary's Church vestry was open and there were parishioners serving cake and tea as a fundraiser. It seemed like such a unique opportunity to do something less touristy so we went in and spent some time having tea and talking to the church ladies. They were super sweet and helpful with tips on where to walk in town.

Next up was Solva. Solva, while small, ended up sucking up a larger portion of the day. Solva is a small town/village on the coast. Solva is a bit weird in its set up because half the town is at the foot of a cliff and the rest of the town is at the top of the cliff. The town sits at the mouth of a river, basically in a deep valley with a cliff on either side of the harbor. In theory, you should be able to do everything in the lower portion - park, eat, shop - but even though it was a Monday, the public parking in the lower part of the village was full so we kept driving and found more public parking - in the upper part of the village. Getting down to the lower village was quick because...it was down hill. But it was v. steep so I knew returning was going to be...fun. We walked around, had lunch at a small cafe right on the water, then mapped out a short 1 mile loop walk (the Gribin coastal walk) that would take us down a small part of the coastal path with great views. 1 mile sounded easy enough. We decided to grab some welsh cakes at a shop in town first (Mamgu - huge selection of welshcakes - sweet and savory - so good - highly recommend) as "hiking" snacks and set off for our short walk. The walk is very steep - up hill for about 5-10 minutes, then flattens out a bit as you walk to the tip of the cliff and there is even an iron age fort, then down a steep hill across a pebble beach then back up the steep hill from an opposite end of where you started. Somewhere around the iron age fort it started raining and neither of us had bothered to bring our rain coats even though it was very cloudy - so not our smartest choice? We hiked the rest of the route in the rain, which wasn't the greatest conditions but at least it wasn't cold. Ended back at the cafe where we ate - dried up a bit inside, left to hike back up the steep hill that leads to the upper village and got stuck in rain storm #2 before we made it in the car. The rest of our travels were just a bit soggy.

TBC

Posted by
36 posts

Day 8, cont.

After Solva we made it out to St. David's but about 5 minutes before 5 so we were pretty sure we were out of luck on seeing St. David's Cathedral. We walked over planning another perimeter walk only, only to realize that Evensong started in a few minutes. We went inside, and listened to the choir music for a bit. I ended up walking around the church and exploring the small historical artifact museum and the other chapels, without having to worry about bothering the choir in their enclosed space, while my friend stayed for the whole performance. I had visited a lot of cathedrals and abbeys on my prior trip, but never got to experience Evensong so it was a great added element to this visit. We then walked around the city (the smallest in the UK I believe?) which took no more than 30 minutes with a slow pace.

We considered getting dinner in St. David's but needed (or at least wanted) to check into our next place in Tenby before 9 and time was ticking so we had to cut off any other stops which was a bummer but we still had a very full day.

In Tenby we checked into our small B&B outside the walls, and walked a short 5 or so minutes into the heart of the coastal town. Tenby is booming by comparison to some of the other small villages. Also set high on a cliff overlooking the sea (bay?) it has the huge colorful victorian buildings mixed in with much older buildings, a mix of shopping and restaurants and pubs and history like the connection to Henry the VII and the Tudor Merchant's House. Even though we checked in around 830 we had plenty of time to explore the town with a few of the shops staying open later and plenty of restaurants open on Monday evening. We walked the harbor length and most of the town before grabbing burgers and checking out the Tenby Brewing Co. (tucked down a small alley - be sure too look for it!) before calling it a night.

In the AM of day 9 we again went back out and explored the town, seeing everything by daylight this time (or as much as the cloudy, rainy, overcast day could be called daylight) - and walked out over to the fort and down the beach. We then left for Cardiff which was our base for the next five days.

Once in Cardiff we checked into our high street hotel, which was a GREAT central location, though the parking was a bit tricky because cars aren't allowed on High Street (though this did make for great walking). We met up with another friend and headed straight out to St. Fagans. St. Fagans welsh history museum had been on every must visit list and it makes sense - every single element of welsh history - from the neolithic to the more recent 1980s can be found on the museum grounds. Given how spread out everything is we probably covered half the grounds in 2 hours. I'd love to go back and explore some more. Once the museum closed it was only 5 and since we only had 2 more days with the car decided to some more exploring rather than head back into the center of Cardiff. So after some consideration we headed out to the Gower Peninsula and down to Worm's Head. By this point it had stopped raining but was still cloudy. The views were STILL stunning. The beach is so remote but long and dramatic with a single farmhouse overlooking the water. The cliffs heading down to Worm's head were EXCEPTIONALLY windy - so much so that one of my friends - clearly the smarter one - lectured me to stop trying to get pictures so close to the edge out of concern a gust was going to push me off. The one thing I was very sad about was that it was high tide so you couldn't walk the length of the rocks via Devil's Bridge. Just a good excuse to head back out there some day.

TBC

Posted by
1832 posts

Many thanks for writing all this as I was one of the people who answered some of your queries.

I read that you could not enter the military range at St.Govans. A pity as about a 7 minute walk W is Huntsman’s Leap - a huge crack in the cliffs.

When going from Tenby to Cardiff, I would suggest that the National Botanic Garden of Wales - just E of Carmarthen, would have been worth a stop. Not sure why you drove from Tenby to Cardiff to then head W again for a day trip to Gower. (Gower could have been done en-route). City centre hotels such as the one you had in Cardiff are fine of using public transport but not so good if with car due to parking issues and complicated one way systems.

Posted by
279 posts

A minor pedantic note. “narrowboats” cruise the canals of the United Kingdom. “Longboats” brought the Viking raiders to Britain. In either case, crossing the Pontcysyllte aqueduct by narrowboat is quite an adventure.

Posted by
36 posts

Thanks for the comment wildflower! Had I not rec'd it I would have completely forgotten I left off on this. :) In answer to James's question about backtracking, we were headed to Cardiff to pick up a friend who was meeting me there for a conference occurring in Cardiff later in the week. We had game planned for a bunch of locations around Cardiff but decided on going to Gower as a last minute decision. Thanks for the clarification on narrowboats, Mike! I always get the two confused when describing them.

Day 10 sent us north w/ a planned road trip to Tintern Abbey. This is north of Cardiff along the England/Wales border. In fact for a brief period I believe the road cut into England & then back into Wales. The trip was mostly highway, but at the point we got off the main road we found ourselves detoured. Nothing we could find online was providing the correct alternatives to get to the abbey. We called the abbey visitor center & one of the staff people gave us a backway to get to the abbey. The back way was chockful of very narrow lanes, hedgerows, steep dropoffs & at one point a long delay because someone was dropping off their kid at a house but there was only enough room for one car & they had stopped in the road for a nice long chat. So basically, I don't know if the road work is done all these months later - but I'd suggest double checking ahead of time to make a game plan.

The Abbey is stunning, set in a pretty valley & we had great weather w/ sun peaking behind clouds & the abbey ruins. While there were plenty of people there, it was spacious enough that you could walk around in peace & read the historical bits & soak in the atmosphere. I think we were there for at least an hour, using the historical markers throughout. No cafe at this CADW site, but there is a pub very close by.

Our 2nd stop for the day was Hay on Wye. I had wanted to try to stop at the Skerrid Mountain Inn but because of our unexpected detour, we were already behind by an hour. So future trip stop for sure. The road to Hay on Wye was mostly pretty & scenic w/a few tight spots along the way. The town was busy for a random summer Wednesday. We found parking at a large lot on the outskirts of the center of town & wandered around a handful of the used book shops including Murder & Mayhem and Richard Booth's that I can recall. The 3 of us are HUGE bookworms so the town was definitely our happy place. I didn't end up buying any but both of my friends found some great souvenirs. We had lunch at a small cafe called The Granery which had a good selection of fast options & dessert, w/ both vegan & non-vegan options. Since it was so nice out we tried to sit outside but the bees were pretty vicious & we ended up back indoors. We ended the day with ice cream from Shepherds which is apparently a very popular option in Hay on Wye as the line went out the door.

Our 3rd stop was all the way on the other side of Brecon Beacons & provided a beautiful scenic drive through the northern most edge of the national park & then Google Maps redirected us unexpectedly down through the park. I have tried to replicate where we went by looking at the map but I honestly couldn't tell you. It was beautiful, took us past cattle grazing areas so there was a bit of dodging sheep, with just AMAZING views. We were under a time crunch to get to Carreg Cennen so we weren't able to stop much - def. worth the time. Carreg Cennen itself is a castle set up on a steep hill with surrounding views of the hills and valleys of the national park. The visitor center/parking is on a private farm so you have to abide by their time rules. I saw complaints online about the owners - but IT IS private property so I you follow the rules. The hike up took 12-15 min. We only had 25 min or so but could have easily spent over an hour - it has a dungeon! The owners then gave us hand written directions to their fave nearby pub in Llandybie - Red Lion where we grabbed drinks before heading back.

Posted by
1105 posts

Glad I found this report! I was hooked from the start because I also struggle with the dilemma of wanting to get off the beaten path but hating to drive, so your successful adventure earlier this year is encouraging.
Your report is a pleasure to read and a great illustration of how well things can go when there's a good match between one's interests and the destinations, with prior research done well.

Posted by
36 posts

Reading thru all these I realized I completely skipped over the second half of day 4 and all of day 5 - so this is def. out of order - I guess doing this in chunks wasn't my best idea :)

On day 4 After driving to Dolwyddelan I continued on down the A470 thru Snowdonia which was stunning. From rolling hills, to slate hills, into Porthmadog was gorgeous. It was also the hottest day of the year in the UK (ever? I can't remember but know records were breaking in some England towns), and driving into Porthmadog I was surrounded by mountains in the distance and the harbor, as well as sheep and cows cooling off in the marshes. (There are sheep everywhere and I mean EVERYWHERE). Rather than go straight to my b&b, I stopped at the Ffestinogg and Welsh Highlands Railway - one of the few things I had pre-booked. I had a Pullman car first class ticket to ride up in the steam train from Porthmadog to Caernarfon. The train was lovely and old fashioned and they had decent sandwiches and juices/waters/etc. but I sprang for Prosecco since it felt right for the setting. The only downfall was that only the top of the train windows extended outward and there is def. no AC on an old steam train so it was SWELTERING. As the train went north a bit in cooled down particularly in the shade but I was def. jealous of people we could see from the train cooling off in the Aberglaslyn Pass. The train goes thru woodland areas and rolling fields, in a tunnel, over the gorge, past lakes, and then into the steeper hills of Snowdonia until you reach the walled town of Caernarfon.

I had not booked a return train since it was a bit pricey to see the same things in reverse and did not provide much time to site see in Caernarfon which is really a beautiful seaside town (village?). So in advance I had researched buses between Caernarfon and Tenby and found several within a 2-3 hour period that gave me options. I picked a bus time in the middle of the options so that I had back up buses to take if I missed the one I opted for. I walked around for a couple of hours, grabbed ice cream because that seems to be the thing to do for dessert in Wales in summer and I read great reviews of Scoops. I didn't visit the castle as I already had game planned to go back for a longer visit the next day. I used the time to just wander the streets and shops, grabbed a pint at the smallest pub in Wales - you can actually enjoy your drink at one of the few tables across the street with castle walls looming in the foreground - and I LOVED the umbrella covered Palace Street - an instagrammable jem.

Taking the bus was one of those opportunities to experience the community and less so as a tourist. First off - of ALL the places I went in Wales, I heard the most Welsh speakers in Caernarfon. Every where I went, I was greeted or asked questions in Welsh first until I answered in English and it was immediately apparent I was American (or Canadian was a usual second guess). Every menu, sign, bus schedule etc. was in Welsh first. So taking the bus was a full scale Welsh immersion. Our bus arrived about 15 minutes late so I waited with a wide variety of evening commuters - from senior citizens with full grocery bags to women in suits and teens and kids - and EVERYONE spoke Welsh. It was great to just sit back and observe and listen to the unfamiliar language. I did warn the bus driver as soon as I got on that I needed to stop in Porthmadog near a particular pub as I wasn't sure if every bus stop was a regular stop or request stop and he promised to put me on notice when it was the correct time to get off - so I was really able to just enjoy the trip w/out worrying to much about getting stuck. The bus trip was cheap and afforded me different but similarly beautiful views down thru Snowdonia (and all the sheep).

Day 5 tbc

Posted by
1832 posts

I can also recall it being hot in north Wales that when I got to Criccieth - had to jump into the sea to cool down!
The trains from London (Euston) do not stop at Conwy (Conway). Most Trains for Wales services do stop by request - tell the guard or hold out hand if waiting on platform.

You did your research well which meant you saw lots of interesting places. You will no doubt also have noticed the difference in the people between the Welsh speaking areas in the west and the mainly English only speaking areas in the east and south.

A series World’s Most Scenic Railway Journeys was recently shown in the UK on Channel 5. One of these programmes was about the Cambrian Line from Pwllheli > Porthmadog > Harlech > Barmouth > Aberdovey > Machynlleth > Shrewsbury. Well worth a view but I suspect that foreigners will not be able to see it due to copyright issues?
https://www.channel5.com/show/worlds-most-scenic-railway-journeys/

Posted by
36 posts

...and some more.

Ended that night with a pre-booked dinner at the inn I stayed at. Highly recommend doing this in the small towns of Wales given limited places to stay and eat and high tourist season. Also the places that serve food tend to stop between 8 & 9 pm so if you are an American like me, used to seaside tourist areas having much later hours, you need to plan accordingly.

Because it was hot, and my inn didn't have AC (common here), I had the window open and was just above the rowdier neighboring pub. So that was probably the one tough night I had sleeping in Wales.

Day 5 was cooler and cloudier. I left by 9 so I could get to Caernarfon Castle early. The drive between Porthmadog and Caernarfon was easy and the castle on the edge of town with ample parking so easy to navigate into. Touring Caernarfon Castle requires a bit more time as its bigger and more spread out. It also has the Royal military museum and information on Prince Charles' investiture in the 1960's. The views of the coast are stunning from the tower tops and you can stand on the same platform QE2 and Prince Charles did to waive to Welsh people after his investiture.
Having already visited Caernarfon the day before I didn't linger in town but rather headed straight out to my second stop, and second booked activity, taking the steam train up Mt. Snowdon.

Driving out of Caernarfon required a bit more concentration & navigating but went fairly seamlessly and the trip into Llanberis uneventful. I didn't stop for any sightseeing in town but went straight to the train station, planning on grabbing a bit to eat at the station but due to packed parking lots, was delayed making my way across the street. There is a small parking lot that is cheap that you can park in behind the station but that was filled already. There is a much larger privately owned lot across the street for more $$ (or insert pound symbol), and I was fortunate to find 1 of 2 remaining open spots. I knew going in this was a likelihood so I didn't even hesitate bypassing the smaller lot based on views from just initially pulling in. There are two different types of trains up the mountain - the diesel goes up more often but I booked heritage steam train. Though a bit pricey - I can't suggest it enough - the trip up was STUNNING. It was overcast at the VERY top so we did miss out on the best of the views but the rest wasn't shabby by any means. You can see the other peaks in Snowdonia, the coast, lakes, sheep everywhere, dozens & dozens of hikers - everyone was waving as we went by & vice versa. At the top there is a cafe which was swamped given how many people were climbing that day. We had just shy of a 1/2 hour at the top & I figured I'd miss this cafe as well given the time, but the line for food moved really fast & I was able to grab a sausage roll & head outside to check out the dramatic top of the mountain even if I couldn't really see more than 15 feet ahead of me. The crazy clouds & slate made for an eerie setting but VERY unique place to grab a quick lunch.

After returning back down I had read about a cafe that had great reviews nearby. I just hadn't read ENOUGH of the reviews to understand the only real way to get there was on foot & I tried to drive up to the Pen-y-Ceunant Isaf Tea House - which doesn't work because its actually on the start (or finish) of a trail up the mountain. So imagine my surprise & embarrassment when I got there, there was no parking & my only option was to drive further up the train & do a tight 3 point (or 5 point) turn to get back down the trail w/ all the hikers. Don't do what I did. Pay extra in your lot & make the trek up.

Then I went back into town and walked along the Llyn Padarn for views of Dolbaddarn Castle and King Arthur Excalibur sculpture. With sunny skies its worth the cheap parking fee in the lot along the lake. Then I made my way into town for a walk along the bright colorful buildings. TBC

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Day 5 cont.

Llanberis has serveral cafes that I could see right in the main downtown area, but I went for Snowdon Honey Farm & Winery in town, I had read great reviews and went in and sampled many of their meads. They have a huge variety and also a big variety of jams and honeys. Off the side is a tiny tea room and ice cream selection. Its a small place but the owners? staff? were very friendly and helpful.

My next stop was Beddgelert and I took the extraordinarily scenic A4086 to A498 thru the steep slate hills of Snowdonia with lots of peaks and valleys for viewing. It was a crazy busy day for hikers so most of the great spots to pull over were full and I was not certain on my parallel parking capabilities on the opposite side of the car so I kept driving, slowly, so I could soak it all in. I finally found a spot to stop further down, maybe 30 or so minutes outside of Llanberis to pull over and snap some pics of the stunning hills around the Pen-y-pass car park and again further down by Lookout car park and Llyn Gwynant. Some parts of the drive were narrow and a few short spots were single car from what I can recall but the road signs indicated who had the right of way and taking it slow and steady made the ride easy enough to manage.

Last stop of the day was Beddgelert which is such a lovely tiny town filled with stone buildings and surrounded by the dramatic views of Snowdonia. I grabbed some ice cream (sense a trend?) and took the walk along the Afon Colwyn out of town to Gelert's Grave, the local canine legend. Make sure to have an extra coin for Gelert's grave. The walk takes you thru fields and past a charming church and tiny graveyard with the mountains as a backdrop. It was only ten minutes out and another 10 back so I definitely recommend it for the views and history and folklore.

Finally back in town I discovered I was a tad too late for my dinner plans at the local brewery (high reviews there) and I was able to squeeze my way back into the restaurant at my inn so it wasn't a total loss because the food there was fantastic. While eating dinner a couple on bikes came into looking to see if there were available rooms. Apparently in late July every where they tried was full and the same for my Inn. So as I mentioned before I can't stress enough a) booking early dinner reservations but ALSO, def. book your rooms in Wales for July in advance. It was school break, peak tourism, and just lots of tiny towns with small inns and b&b's for the most part.

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98 posts

I love all of the details in your trip report. Thank you. I've been to Wales several times but discovered some new things I hope to do the next time I visit Wales.

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609 posts

Thank you so much for taking the time to write all this! I, too, will be solo traveling Wales next July and have opted for a car - visiting many of the same places as you. Your success and the tips will be helpful!

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36 posts

So happy to be of assistance with ideas and suggestions - also Travelmom - I'm so jealous of your impending trip! This time last year I was deep in the planning stages - I wish it was still ahead of me :)

Skipping back to the end, day 11 was officially the last part of the "road trip" before my conference - since we had to return the car to the Cardiff Enterprise by late afternoon we stayed close to Cardiff & ended up covering a series of castles which have been connected to one another through various local rulers and lordships - including the Earl of Pembroke & the Bute family. We started in Caerphilly Castle which was an easy drive until we got into the center of town then it was a bit tricky & since it was a sunny day (& school break) the town was packed and bustling as well as the castle which was hosting a family day with tons of activities for kids.

(As an aside, if I have kids some day, I will 100% bring them to Wales - every tourist place I went to from nature based activities like the rivers in Beddgelert and the train up Snowdon to the castles were designed to also appeal to kids - especially the castles!)

This was probably the busiest castle I visited given the family activities but we were still able to thoroughly explore it. It's a bit more touristy than the others with the faux dragon and sound effects, etc. but the moat was such a neat thing to see.

Heading to Coch was mostly easy w/ some narrow roads at the end & a step drive up to the castle which the bottom of my rental didn't appreciate but we made it up & i'm glad we did because it had such a fairy tale feel to it w/ the towers & elaborate detailed decor from the Bute family architect Burges. The wall art is unbelievable & WELL worth the visit. You can do the whole tour in well under 2 hours - its quite small compared to Caerphilly & Cardiff & there is a tiny cafe if you need a snack. We did the narrated audio tour tour - def. recommend.

We headed back to Cardiff - said goodbye to our loaner - & walked back to the city center area & went straight to Cardiff Castle - this is really more of a complex when you factor in the castle, the walls, the keep... & basically the whole of Cardiff history in one location! From Roman walls, the Norman keep, the Bute/Burges updated castle w/ even more/better intricate wall art than Coch Castle - really fantasy level rooms that require so much time just to get a close look & examination - the WWII bunker...you really get such a huge cross of history. This requires hours. Truly hours, to get the full feel. You can do a guided tour or the audio tour. The guided tour gets you access to the roof garden and other parts of the castle. If you can, & have the stamina, climb the full way up the keep to the top - its a LOT of steep narrow stairs - but the roof top view extends far & wide around Cardiff.

Since this was entitle Welsh Road trip & the road trip bit was done - I'd just recap Cardiff which we did on foot (except for one cab ride) & say that staying in city center was awesome. There are a million restaurants & stores throughout the lovely arcades & access to museums. We got a great taste of the area, got lucky w/ a Premier league game at the stadium (complete w/pregame pub shenanigans), a free concert in Bute park (a Welsh band - but one that I followed in the US - so talk about timing!) - there was a charity soccer (football) tournament happening all week, the waterfront was lovely (we got a water view dinner table with no wait! this would NEVER happen in the US), a souvenir album from the oldest record store, & public street performances. Can't recommend Cardiff more. I feel like I just got a taste in five days and I need to return for more. Big thumbs up to Barker chain - loved Coffee Barker, Rum & Fizz, Barker Tea House & the best name - Gin & Juice. Also loved Madame Fromage, The Alchemist (my drink was brewed at my table and created a fog over our table - so fun), & The Potted Pig.

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One last final note that I ran out of room to include - as previously mentioned I did the 7 day CADW explorer pass. If you are going to be there at least 7 days (or even 5-7 days) and plan to visit a number of castles you should definitely consider this. You can use it 7 days out of a 14 day time period. They don't have to be consecutive. And you can go to as many CADW eligible facilities during those 7 days. I was careful to map out my locations, double check the individual admission fee and realized I had already balanced out the cost, I believe, by the time I visited Harlech castle half way thru my trip.

Day 1 of pass Plas Mawr (purchased here) and used at Conwy Castle;
Day 2 Valle Crucis
Day 3 Dolwyddelan
Day 4 Caernarfon Castle
Day 5 Criccieth Castle, Harlech Castle
Day 6 Tintern Abbey and Carreg Cennen Castle
Day 7 Caerphilly Castle and Castell Coch

While we did visit St. David's Cathedral we didn't make it into the Bishop's Palace. Several other CADW places were very nearby my stops but just didn't fit my schedule.

Thanks for following along!

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1832 posts

Looks like the spell ‘corrector’ change William Burges (architect of Castell Coch) into ‘Bruges’ - a city in Belgium.

I think that you missed the best tourist attraction in the Cardiff area = St.Fagans Castle & Museum - about 5 miles west of the city centre:>https://museum.wales/stfagans/about/

The National Museum of Wales - next to the City Hall is well worth visiting - especially if you are into art. A smaller museum called ‘The Cardiff Story’ is found in the middle of the city adjoining the tourist information centre in the old library.

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36 posts

Spellcheck did indeed want me to visit the city - edit made - thanks James!

St. Fagan's was actually in my day 8 notes - it got a bit messy with the order of the notes :)

My conference was at the National Museum so I completely forgot about it as it wasn't part of playing tourist because we actually would wander around during conference breaks and during our conference reception - but yes - it was a fantastic museum. Our reception was up by the impressionist art work - getting to see some of Monet's water lilies. was definitely a highlight.

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9 posts

Thank you for posting this. I really enjoyed reading it! I lived north of Cambridge for two years but, sadly, I never made it to Wales. I still want to, though. And your comments about the narrow roads and animal traffic jams made me smile & brought back memories. One time, I was stuck behind a man walking his two horses down the road. There was no way for them to get off the road, so he started jogging. It was still very slow driving. You definitely have to be patient when driving in the country.

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363 posts

Lovely to read this as a local. Sometimes I wonder whether to recommend Cardiff or not, so glad it got the thumbs up from you. Rum and Fizz is great!

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175 posts

It was so nice to read your trip report as it reminded me of our trip to Wales several years ago. It is so charming and there are so many beautiful castles to explore! If you haven't read it, my favorite book is called Here be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman. It is about Prince Llywelyn and you went to many of the places mentioned in the book. Also, check out this season(3) of The Crown. Season 3 episode 6 deals with Charles being crowned Prince of Wales at Caernarfon . Since you were there you will enjoy the episode.

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I agree with those said that RS tours should include more of Wales and be called Best of England and Wales. I am a fan of the TV series Torchwood and the book The Mabinogion, so I would love to pair 4-5 days in London with 3-4 days in Cardiff!