Snowdonia National Park - A Quick Guide to the Best Views in Britain

Cwm Idwal, Snowdonia, North Wales
Alan Novelli/Getty Images

Snowdonia National Park has some of the highest peaks and best views in Britain. It also can claim some of the oldest rocks on earth. This quick overview of Snowdonia superlatives should tempt you to this beautiful part of North Wales.

Snowdonia Claims to Fame

The jagged peaks of Snowdonia are among the most ancient rocks on earth. The local culture is also rather ancient, with music and poetry dating back to the Bronze Age.

About 65 per cent of the local population speak Welsh, one of the oldest spoken languages in Europe, as their mother tongue. Snowdonia also has:

Statistics and Superlatives About Snowdonia

Snowdonia National Park covers 840 sq.miles of northwest Wales, 570 sq.miles protected for conservation or special scientific interest. 20 per cent legally protected because of its wildlife. The park also has:

  • 90 summits above 2,000 ft. and 15 over 3,000 ft.
  • 9 mountain ranges covering 52% of the land
  • 1,700 miles of public footpaths, bridle paths and rights of way
  • 75 per cent of its area in private ownership with the rest owned by the Crown, National Trust, MOD, Forestry Commission, other public bodies.
  • The highest peaks are Snowdon (3,560 ft.) in the north and Cader Idris (2,929 ft.) in the south of the national park.

 

Main Towns and Villages

Most of Snowdonia's population - about 26,000 - is concentrated along the coast, between Barmouth and Harlech. The rest live in a scattering of small market towns.

This is a mostly empty, mountainous region with very few populariont centers. If you are touring or camping in Snowdonia, these are the key places for navigation, supplies and contact with others:

  • Aberdyfi  A pretty harbour resort where the River Dyfi meets Cardigan Bay. 
  • Bala One of the park's larger towns and a center for water sports swimming, boating, canoeing and rafting. 
  • Beddgelert Charming, small, stone built village that's tied to one of Wales's sadder legends. It's the burial place of the legendary Gelert, the faithful hound of Medieval Welsh Prince Llewelyn the Great who was killed by the prince by mistake.
  • Betws-y-Coed Gateway to Swallow Falls and the Fairy Glen, and one of the loveliest settings in North Wales
  • Dolgellau Another of the regions larger towns.A local man, Rowland Ellis, led a party of Quakers to settle in Pennsylvania in 1652, They named the town they founded after Ellis's farm, Bryn Mawr - which, in turn gave its name to a prestigious American college. 
  • Harlech Site of an impressive castle.

 

Castles

They say that Wales has at least one castle for every day of the year. Some of the most impressive are in Snowdonia. The area is dotted with ancient fortifications - some only ruins, some magnificent and at least one converted to a B&B!

  • Harlech
  • Conwy Just outside the park but worth a visit, this is a real fairytale of a Medieval castle.
  • Dolwyddelan Castle A ruin with amazing views.
  • Castell y Bere A lot Wales's castles were built by the English to subdue the Welsh, but these very substantial ruins are a native Welsh castle, probably built by Prince Llewellyn the Great.
  • Dolbadarn Castle Fabulous views of dramatic, craggy mountains from another of Llewellyn's castles. It's 50foot high, round keep is still very impressive. 
  • Gwydir Castle A privately owned, fortified Tudor House, the paneled dining room was recently returned from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's a B&B and open, in season, for day visits as well. In case you didn't know it, Henry VII, (Henry VIII's father and founder of the Tudor dynasty) was a Welsh nobleman.
  • Penrhyn Castle This National Trust property is a 19th century fantasy worth visiting for the contents, grounds and views

Read about more Castles in Wales

 

More National Trust Properties in Snowdonia

A selection of historic houses, gardens and countryside areas owned by the National Trust and open to the public include:

  • Aberconwy House 14th century townhouse in Conwy, believed to be the oldest in Wales.
  • Conwy Suspension Bridge Elegant suspension bridge, designed for Conwy Castle by Thomas Telford in 1826
  • Tŷ Mawr Wybrnant A 16th century farmhouse, birthplace of William Morgan, first translator of the bible into Welsh

 

Mountain Paths

There are nine mapped trails up Snowdon and Cader Idris all graded as hard mountain walks. Helpfully, the Snowdonia National Park website includes ascent and descent videos so that walkers can judge the level of difficulty for themselves. These are among the best. 

 

Other Paths

One of the best aspects of Snowdonia for walking enthusiasts is that there are paths and trails at all levels for all abilities. The Mawddach Trail, considered to be one of the best trails for cyclists as well as walkers in Britain, is among several easier walks suitable for people with limited mobility. The Snowdonia National Park Walking pages include hard, moderate and easy leisure walks, archaeological walks and accessible walks.

Getting Around by Car

Except for a stretch of the M4 in South Wales, Wales is motorway free. There are, nevertheless, good quality "A" roads that zig zag through the park. The A470 runs north-south through Snowdonia, intersected by the A5 (Betws-y-Coed-Bangor), the A494 (Dolgellau-Bala)and the A487 (toward Porthmadog and Caernarvon). Use the A493 and A496 for the beaches.

Driving is easy, and roads are usually quiet but they are not fast and you may be sharing them with cyclists, pedestrians and, occasionally, sheep. During the summer, on bank holidays and weekends, roads around Betwys-y-Coed can be busy.

Getting Around By Train

Check National Rail Enquiries for routes and schedules to these main rail stations within the National Park:

  • Barmouth
  • Porthmadog
  • Betws-y-Coed

and just outside it at the Snowdonia gateway towns of:

  • Bangor
  • Conwy

Three scenic railway services operate within the park:

  • The Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway between Porthmadog harbor and the slate mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog - the world's oldest operational passenger railway and between Caernarvon on the coast and Rhyd Ddu, a village on the slopes of Snowdon.
  • Conwy Valley Railway links the north coast to the heart of the park.
  • And the  Snowdon Mountain Railway, a truly magical way to climb to the top of Wales highest mountain in comfort and safety with spectacular views. 

 

The Snowdon Sherpa - The Best Travel Bargain in Snowdonia

Sherpa Buses crisscross the northern (Gwynedd)section of Snowdonia National Park, connecting villages, recreation areas and trailheads. A day pass, for unlimited, hop on-hop off travel on the day of purchase costs only £5 (£2 for a single journey).
More information and timetables for the Snowdon Sherpa.

 

Seven More Cool Things To Do in Snowdonia

  1. Get on your bike Mountain biking and cycling are is popular in the Gwydyr Forest near Betws-y-Coed.
  2. Have Tea in the Garden Visit world-famous Bodnant Garden, owned by the National Trust, for its lovely woodlands, its views of Snowdon, its azalea gardens. Then stop for a cup of tea with home made goodies.
  3. Go Down The Mines at the Llechwedd Slate Caverns. Descend Britain's steepest passenger railway for an underground son et lumiere in the Victorian slate mines.
  4. Go Up The Mountain Climb Snowdon the easy way on the Snowdon Mountain Railway a really spectacular 2.5 hour journey to the summit.
  5. Ride 'em Cowperson Pony trekking is a tranquil way to see the best of the National Park. Snowdonia Riding Stables has information on how to organize a vacation on horseback.
  6. Get very, very wet white water rafting at on the the Tryweryn from the National White Water Center. This is a dam released river, flowing when other UK rivers are dry and providing year round white water experiences.
  7. Get Natural, strip off an flaunt it at Morfa Dyffryn regularly selected as one of UK's best, official, nude beaches.

See views of Snowdonia

Not sure whether you'd enjoy a visit to Snowdonia? These pictures will give you an idea of what to expect:

And a few last pointers