Exploring Snowdonia: A Visitor's Guide
Snowdonia is the name given to the mountainous area in the county of Gwynedd, a region boasting 14 peaks over 3,000 ft, including Snowdon itself (3,560 ft). Other lofty heights include Crib Goch (3,023 ft), Crib-y-Ddysgl (or Garnedd Ugain) (3,493 ft), Lliwedd (2,947 ft) and Yr Aran (2,451 ft). Visitors to the region have plenty of magnificent scenery to enjoy. The best view of the whole group is to be had from the village of Capel Curig, but the peaks can also be seen from Porthmadog and the Nantlle valley.
Snowdonia National Park
Snowdonia National Park covers some 823 sq mi and extends inland from the coast between Penmaenmawr and Caernarfon, by way of Bethesda to Bala Lake and Llanfairfechan. Access to the most popular part of this area, including Snowdon itself, is made easier by the Snowdon Mountain Railway, which starts at Llanberis. 'Eryri' is the Welsh name for Snowdonia, the Land of the Eagle, and it is one of the most popular hiking and climbing places in Britain due to its spectacularly rugged mountain scenery, beaches, dunes and valleys. Along with 50-plus lakes, the park features a rich cultural heritage that includes Roman remains, prehistoric circles, stonewalls and traditional farms.
Location: National Park Offices, Penrhyndeudraeth, Gwynedd
Hafod Eryri: Britain's Highest Visitor's Centre
From Llanberis at the base of Mount Snowdon a variety of well-marked trails branch out and enable visitors to become acquainted with the scenery, flora and fauna and geology of the region. There are also a number of relatively safe and easy routes to the summit that start here (those seeking a more challenging ascent usually start from Beddgelert and return to Pen-y-Pass, or vice versa). In addition to the magnificent views of North Wales and the Irish Channel, a highlight of the climb is Hafod Eryri, the spectacular visitor center at the summit. The uniquely designed granite building with huge windows offers sheltered views of the area. In addition to being the terminus of the Snowdon Mountain Railway, it also has snacks and beverages available and also provides information about the mountain. It can be busy at times due to the more than 300,000 visitors who tackle the summit each year, so a mid-week ascent is always a good idea.
Location: National Park Offices, Penrhyndeudraeth, Gwynedd
Editor's Pick Snowdon Mountain Railway
By far, the easiest method of getting up Snowdon is via the wonderful Snowdon Mountain Railway. This amazing narrow gauge railway steams up to the summit of Snowdon at a top-speed of little more than 5 mi, passing through Hebron, Halfway and Clogwyn stations. The views along this very steep route are wonderful, and many people use the train to carry them up the mountain just so they can walk back down. Afterwards, be sure to spend a little time in the main station in Llanberis, where you can enjoy refreshments as well as a movie about the journey up Snowdon (kids' movies are also shown). Discounted fares are available online, and be sure to check the railway's website prior to arrival for cancellations due to inclement weather (advanced bookings are always recommended due to the attraction's popularity).
Fares: Adults, £27; Children (3-15), £18
Location: SMR Station, Llanberis, Caernarfon, Gwynedd
Tiny Llanberis lies in a magnificent setting at the beginning of the stunning Llanberis Pass. The village is a popular starting point for hikers wanting to scale Snowdon along the Llanberis Path, and is also where the annual Snowdon Race to the mountain's summit begins. Nearby, you'll find the twin lakes of Padarn and Peris along with one of the largest pumping stations in Europe. Between them is Dolbadarn Castle, with an early 13th century round tower, while 2 mi away is lovely Bryn Bras Castle.
The fun Llanberis Lake Railway is an historic, narrow gauge steam train that will take you on a 40-minute trip alongside the lake for spectacular views of Snowdonia's mountains. Today, tourists travel in comfort and luxury along railway lines once used to transport the area's slate.
The National Slate Museum
Llanberis is also home to the fascinating National Slate Museum. Along with its restored workshops and machinery, it's also operates Britain's largest working waterwheel, built in the mid-1800s and an impressive 50 ft in diameter. Located at the much-mined Dinorwig quarry on spectacular Elidir Mountain, the museum offers a fascinating insight into an industry that did much to shape Wales and its people. The old Victorian workshops are still in place, while talks and demonstrations illuminate how slate was quarried before being shipped around the world as well as the harsh conditions faced by workers.
Location: Llanberis, Gwynedd
Quaint Beddgelert, a tiny village at the confluence of the rivers Colwan and Glaslyn, is one of the most charming little places in Wales. A favorite starting point for walks and climbs, the village is situated at the junction of three main roads. From Moel Hebog, a two hours' climb from here, there's a splendid panoramic view extending across to Cardigan Bay. One road from here descends to Caernarfon, another runs northeast through Nant Gwynant, the valley of the Glaslyn, one of the most beautiful in Wales. The town is also on the route of the restored Welsh Highland Railway, with regular connections directly to Porthmadog and Caernarfon. Another nearby attraction is the Sygun Copper Mine with its winding tunnels under the heart of Snowdonia, where you'll discover magnificent stalactite and stalagmite formations, and colorful caverns.
Betws-y-Coed and The Ugly House
The road running through the Glaslyn valley leads to the delightful little town of Betws-y-Coed ("the temple in the wood"). Situated in Gwydyr Forest at the junction of the Conwy, Lledr and Llugwy valleys, this popular holiday spot is crowded with visitors in summer out to enjoy the ruins of Pany Mill and the 15th century Pont-y-Pair bridge. The immediate surroundings are very beautiful, with the Fairy Glen, Swallow Falls and Conwy waterfalls. Nearby you'll find famous Tŷ Hyll, aka the Ugly House. Anything but ugly, this picturesque stone cottage is believed to date from the 15th century and may well have served as a hideaway for robbers (or so legend would have us believe).
Dolwyddelan Castle is located in Snowdonia on a ridge set against Moel Siabod. Built between 1210 and 1240 by Wales's most powerful medieval prince, Llwelyn the Great, it saw active service during the wars between the Welsh and Edward I before falling to English forces in 1283. A visit to this superb old fortress is worthwhile for the views alone, as well as the walks around the surrounding countryside.
On the eastern edge of Snowdonia are lovely Bala Lake and the little market town of Bala, a lively holiday place at the foot of the Aran and Berwyn Mountains. Its main attractions are the 4 mi lake itself, the longest in Wales, which offers ideal conditions for sailing and angling. Also a tourist draw is the Bala Lake Railway, a narrow-gauge railroad running along the shore of the lake and through a very beautiful part of Snowdonia National Park.
Address: The Station, Llanuwchyllyn, Bala, Gwynedd