Think of Snowdonia in North Wales and chances are images of high, rugged peaks – epitomised by Snowdon itself which, at over 3,500 feet, is the country’s highest – spring to mind; and quite rightly, because these majestic mountains are a major draw for tourists.
But this region – designated a national park in 1951 – has much, much more to offer visitors as I discovered on visiting the area with my wife and two kids, aged 12 and six. In fact, I was surprised just how much there was to see and do; so much so, that we intend returning because we couldn’t fit everything in!
We were guests of Attractions of Snowdonia, a partnership of 30 top attractions. Whatever the weather, there is more than enough to keep you busy and Attractions of Snowdonia gives you the best of what the area has to offer. Set against a backdrop of outstanding natural beauty, you can explore medieval castles, historic houses and elegant parks and gardens. Visit galleries and museums, learn about myths and legends and go deep underground to discover our mining past. Take a train journey through the mountains or have an action-packed fun day out with the children. Snowdonia is bursting with exciting and unique attractions, making it a perfect destination.
We found our various ports of call so interesting that we spent more than expected at each – that must be a good indication of why Snowdonia is, in my view, an excellent destination for family holidays.
Take the National Slate Museum (free entrance), sited under towering slate mountains within the Victorian engineering workshops of Dinorwig Slate Quarry. I’ll be honest now and admit that I didn’t expect to spend much time there, perhaps just a whistle-stop tour, but we stayed ages. What was pleasing is that the kids loved it, too.
Make sure you see the demonstration of slate-splitting by quarryman Evan Wyn Thomas. Having worked in the quarries most of his working life, he has many stories to tell and with his excellent and often humorous standard of delivery, the demo is very worthwhile.
Other highlights included wandering around furnished quarrymen’s cottages from the past, affording us a glimpse of what life was like for the quarry workers and their families, checking out the huge waterwheel and enjoying a scrummy lunch at the café.
The museum’s beautiful location (there is ample paid parking) on the shores of Llyn Padarn is shared with plenty of other attractions. Instead of joining the throngs of visitors clambering on the train heading up Snowdon from the nearby station, we jumped aboard a narrow-gauge steam train at the Llanberis Lake Railway. We took a five-mile round trip along the lake’s edge and admired views towards 13th century Dolbadarn Castle and Snowdon. It’s a delightful ride.
If you’re holidaying with kids, make sure GreenWood Forest Park commands a prominent position on your itinerary. This award-winning park has earned many plaudits and was voted Best Family Attraction in North Wales for 2011, 2012 and, again, in 2013 – and it doesn’t take long to understand why.
The park’s main season is March-November, but the café and Enchanted Woodbarn (indoor soft play area) remain open throughout the winter. It strives to combine “elements of fun and adventure with learning for both children and adults” and offers “maximum entertainment on a green theme”.
I agree, it’s a very eco-friendly park with around 400 trees planted each year since opening its gates in 1993. There are lots of interesting fact boards dotted around the park informing you that, for example, 130 cubic metres of rainwater are harvested annually and used for flushing the park’s toilets.
The park is aimed primarily at three to 12-year-olds but adults and children alike will enjoy visiting. Among the many rides and forms of entertainment, our favourites were The Great Green Run, where you zoom down 70 metres on a sledge, Longbow Archery, Jungle Boats and the Green Dragon Coaster, reputedly the world’s first people-powered rollercoaster! It’s a 20-person, five-car train travelling a 250-metre long track, including a 360 degree horizontal loop and reaching 25mph.
No trip to this corner of the UK is complete without a trip to Portmeirion, a unique coastal resort open all year (except Christmas Day). For fans of Sixties’ TV programme, The Prisoner, starring Patrick McGoohan, this picturesque village will be very familiar because it’s where the series was set. But you don’t have to be a fan of the show to enjoy this attractive and, in some ways, bizarre little place.
It was designed and owned by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, a Welsh architect who wanted to prove that a fantastic setting could be developed without ruining the area. He spent five decades building Portmeirion and what a fine job he made of it. Colourful, secretive, mysterious are just some appropriate adjectives when describing this Italian-influenced resort.
As well as strolling around the village and admiring the gardens and buildings, spare time to undertake a forest or coastal walk because the views are certainly worth it.
When it comes to finding a place to stay within easy reach of the aforementioned attractions, try the three-star Celtic Royal Hotel in the coastal town of Caernarfon. A fine hotel within minutes of the town centre, it boasts 110 smart ensuite bedrooms with tea and coffee-making facilities, hairdryers and TVs; art deco bar; 16-metre swimming pool with a jacuzzi-style bubble pool, sauna and steam room; leisure club and decent restaurant.
There is a free car park for guests while inside photos of old Caernarfon adorn the lobby walls. A grand wooden central staircase leads up to two floors but wherever you are, there are always plenty of plush, comfy sofas on which to relax. Throughout our stay, we found the staff knowledgeable and always willing to help.
While you’re based at the hotel, grab the opportunity to explore historic Caernarfon. Its main attraction is the impressive castle, a medieval building and World Heritage Site, but spend an hour or so strolling along the seashore, visiting the shops and side streets.
Snowdonia certainly has something for everyone and is an ideal destination for family holidays; whether you take your hiking boots or not, you won’t be short of things to do.
www.museumwales.ac.uk, tel: 029 2057 3700
www.lake-railway.co.uk, tel: 01286 870549
www.greenwoodforestpark.co.uk, tel: 01248 671493
www.portmeirion-village.com, tel: 01766 770000
www.celtic-royal.co.uk, tel: 01286 674477
For information on Snowdonia, visit www.attractionsofsnowdonia.com