Snowdonia National Park travel guide: what to see and do

written by Joanne Owen
updated 7/19/2021
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Elite hiking trails with breath-taking backdrops. Mythic mountains ringed by fairy-tale forests. Ancient Celtic culture melded with modern eco-innovations. Snowdonia National Park in North West Wales offers visitors an exhilarating blast of natural beauty and unforgettable experiences - whether you’re seeking epic outdoor escapades, history-inspired adventures, or a fun-filled family break. If you’re wondering what to see and do in this awe-inspiring region of Wales, this Snowdonia National Park travel guide is sure to fuel your plans, with yet more inspiration to be found in our Rough Guide Staycations Snowdonia and North Walesguidebook.

Scale majestic Mount Snowdon

Steeped in ancient legend, and rising to 3560ft (1085m), iconic Mount Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa in Welsh) is the highest peak in Wales and England, and a magnificent magnet for climbers and hill walkers. As such, scaling its heights for out-of-this-world views is one of the best things to see and do in Snowdonia National Park. On a good day, visitors can see as far as Anglesey, Pembrokeshire and Ireland.

Pyg Track leading to Mount Snowdon's summit © Tamas Beck/Shutterstock

There are six major paths to Snowdon’s summit - Llanberis path, Pyg Track, Miners’ Track, Watkin Path, Rhyd-Ddu Path, and the Snowdon Ranger Path. The Llanberis Path starts in Llanberis village at the foot of the mountain, while two six-hour routes begin in Pen-y-Pass. Miners’ Track is the easier of the two, while Pyg Track, named after Pass of the Pigs (Bwlch y Moch in Welsh) is ruggedly challenging.

Talking of challenging (though not to be confused with scaling Snowdon), experienced steely-nerved hikers might want to tackle Crib Goch. Meaning “red ridge” in Welsh, this blade-like arête is a notoriously difficult climb. If you’re up to the task, leave the Pyg Track at Bwlch y Moch and take the path that forks to the right - fully-prepared and proceeding with caution. 

One thing’s for sure, whichever route you choose to take, hiking Snowdon is definitely one of the very the best things to do in the region, hence its top position in our Snowdonia National Park travel guide.

Free online resources with our Staycations Snowdonia guidebook

See the highlights and best places to visit while walking in the fabulous locations listed below. You'll find full descriptions of the walking routes, plus much more, in the Rough Guide Staycations Snowdonia and North Walesguidebook:

Soak up scenery aboard Snowdon Mountain Railway

Even if you’re not a committed climber or hardened hiker you don’t have to miss out on experiencing the glory of Snowdon’s summit. Simply take the quaint (and convenient) Snowdon Mountain Railway instead, which also happens to be the most popular path to the peak.

All aboard the Snowdon Mountain Railway for some of the best views in Snowdonia National Park © Dilchaspiyaan/Shutterstock

Taking an hour each way, the line runs for just over four miles and begins at Llanberis Station. Along the route, the little train offers stunning views of natural sights, among them Ceunant Mawr waterfall, Rocky Valley, and Moel Eilio mountain. There are legendary locations to be wowed by too, such as the huge rocks near Clogwyn Du’r Arddu (that’s Welsh for “Dark, Black Cliff.” Adding to the area's mysterious intrique, these foreboding boulders are said to have been inhabited by none other than child-catching witch, Canthrig Bwt.

All that considered, taking a trip on Snowdon Mountain Railway is a sure-fire way to satisfy all kinds of visitors - from families with young children, to nature-lovers hoping to glimpse the region’s avian residents (bird-watchers will want to keep a close eye out for peregrine falcons, meadow pipits, wheatears, raven and ring ouzels, and rare choughs).

Zip into Llechwedd slate caverns

Visiting Blaenau Ffestiniog’s Llechwedd slate caverns is one of the best things to do in Snowdonia if you’re travelling with children. The story of slate in the region began some 500 million years ago when deposits of mud and clay built up on the ancient seabed. First used by Romans in the first century AD, and later by medieval kings, slate’s status soared during the Industrial Revolution. By the late 19th-century, workers in Wales extracted half a million tonnes of the stuff each year.

Uncover layers of history at Llechwedd's slate quarry, Wales © Effective stock photos/Shutterstock

Today Llechwedd’s Deep Mine Tour takes visitors back to the 19th-century, and 500 feet into the earth. Lasting over an hour, the expert-guided trip explores sixteen underground layers and eight underwater layers, all accompanied by atmospheric illuminations. While here, thrill-seekers won’t want to miss the exhilarating underground zip-line and adventure course.

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Drink in Bala Lake's legends (and beer)

Located on the eastern edge of Snowdonia, beautiful Bala Lake is the largest natural area of water in Wales, home to a huge fish population (including the unique alpine gwyniad), and the perfect place to enjoy a host of water-based activities. Take your pick from sailing, fishing, kayaking and canoeing. There are also several safe swimming areas and gentle rambles to enjoy, making it ideal for those travelling with children. Adding to its appeal, Bala Lake even has its own mythical monster, Teggie, named after the lake’s Welsh name - Llyn Tegid.

A tranquil sunset on Bala Lake (Llyn Tegid) - though a monster may lurk beneath its serene surface © Shutterstock

Located at the foot of the Aran and Berwyn Mountains, Bala town itself is a lovely (and lively) holiday destination, while the gorgeous narrow-gauge Bala Lake Railway carries visitors along the scenic eastern shore of the lake between Bala and Llanuwchllyn village. And while you’re in the area, be sure to look out for locally brewed Geipel craft lagers, especially Aloha from Bala, a tropically tasty take on traditional Pilsner.

Raft wild white-water rapids

Adventurers looking for things to do in Snowdonia mustn’t miss the National White Water Centre. Located near Bala around the natural rapids of the River Tryweryn, the waters here are dam-controlled, with high flows that make it perfect for enjoying white-water voyages throughout the year. Rafting options range from introductory sessions, to challenging two-hour expeditions through a steep section of the Upper Tryweryn River.

Wild white-water rafting at the National White Water Centre, Wales © Jerry photo/Shutterstock

The centre also offers opportunities to try your hand at canyoning, canoeing, off-roading, clay pigeon shooting, and ziplining. There’s even a peaceful woodland walking trail. All of which means even less adventurous visitors will find something here to float their boat (or not, as the case may be).

Experience Italian elegance in Portmeirion

No Snowdonia National Park travel guide would be complete without mention of Portmeirion, an enchanting Italianate village near the coast of north Wales. Made famous by cult 1960s TV series, The Prisoner, Portmeirion’s architect, Clough Williams-Ellis, was inspired to begin building the village in 1926, following a trip to the Italian fishing village of Portofino. Resplendent with ornate arches, statues and fountains, it’s an extravaganza of small-scale pastel-coloured Mediterranean-style buildings clustered around a piazza.

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In-depth, easy-to-use travel guides filled with expert advice.

Picture-perfect Portmeirion in Snowdonia National Park © Shutterstock

Williams-Ellis’s original nineteenth-century house became the Portmeirion Hotel, which counted esteemed literary figures like Bernard Shaw, John Steinbeck and Noël Coward among its guests during the 1930s. Today visitors can sample such celebrity style for themselves by booking a room in the Portmeirion Hotel, or else in Castell Deudraeth, also located within the grounds.

Alongside its outstanding architectural heritage, Portmeirion has an authentic Italian gelateria, and stunning sub-tropical gardens to stroll. And the delights don’t stop there - the Dwyryd Estuary has dazzling white sand beaches (with secret caves) to explore, plus a coastal path that leads to the tip of the peninsula. If you’re short on time, but big on seeing as much of Snowdonia as possible, you could look to book a heritage tour that takes in Portmeirion Village, World Heritage castles, mighty mountains and Celtic villages.

Discover Dolwyddelan Castle

For culture vultures (and nature-lovers), visiting the historic beauty spot of Dolwyddelan Castle is one of the very best things to do Snowdonia. Built between 1210 and 1240, and located on a knoll on the southern slopes of Moel Siabod, it stands as a lasting memorial to the most powerful medieval prince in Welsh history, Prince Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (aka Llewellyn the Great). The castle played a vital role during the wars between the Welsh and Edward I before falling into English hands in 1283, by which time Llewellyn the Great’s grandson (Llywelyn ap Gruffudd) had come to power.

Dolwyddelan Castle - once a powerful Welsh stronghold © lizicat/Shutterstock

The views and walks around Dolwyddelan Castle are stunning, and tiny St Gwyddelan Church in Dolwyddelan village is well worth a visit too - it’s a charming nugget of sixteenth-century history.

Bike and hike around beautiful Beddgelert

Clustered around the meeting point of the Glaslyn and Colwyn rivers beneath the mighty Moel Hebog mountain, Beddgelert is arguably the prettiest village in North Wales. In fact, after spending school holidays here and later buying a house in the village, Alfred Bestall, creator of Rupert Bear, often used the village’s scenery in his comic strips.

Beddgelert village in the heart of Snowdonia National Park © INTREEGUE Photography/Shutterstock

Immortalised by the legend of Gelert, Llewellyn the Great’s faithful hound, Beddgelert boasts a great ice-cream shop and a scattering of lovely tea shops, pubs and restaurants. It’s also an excellent starting point for walks of all kinds, from the family-friendly Llyn Llywelyn walk, to the more challenging Aberglaslyn Pass. In addition, Beddgelert is a stop on the marvellous steam-powered Welsh Highland Railway, and within reach of a host of beautiful beaches, among them Blue Flag Black Rock Sands, and Criccieth Beach, which is overlooked by a medieval castle.

Uncover Arthurian legend and Celtic crafts in Corris

King Arthur’s Labyrinth in the former slate village of Corris in Mid Wales is a guaranteed child-pleaser. Starting out at the Corris Craft Centre, visitors are treated to a boat ride in the company of a mysterious hooded boatman, with an enchanting waterfall serving as your portal to discovering the Dark Ages and Arthurian legends. After docking deep in the mountains of Southern Snowdonia, the boatman leads you through caverns and tunnels while recounting Welsh myths and history, made all the more dramatic by spectacular sound effects and lighting. 

Epic view from Cadair Idris mountain © sosn-a/Shutterstock

The Corris Craft Centre is also home to the Mine Explorers experience, and nine studio shops, where you can purchase the likes of artisan-made Celtic jewellery, truffles, glass sculptures, handmade pottery and natural forest furniture. Talking of forests, Corris is also a great base from which to set off on biking adventures, or hike the challenging Cadair Idris (Chair of Idris) mountain. But fear not if you fancy a more relaxing means of getting around - the cute narrow-gauge Corris Railway has you covered.

Be inspired by eco-innovations

Driven by a mission to “inspire, inform and enable humanity to respond to the climate and biodiversity emergency,” south Snowdonia’s Centre for Alternative Technology (located near the small hamlet of Pantperthog, not far from Corris) is a must-visit for eco-minded travellers of all ages. 

Through examining technologies like solar, wind and wave power, house building, and sustainable soil fertilisation, the centre challenges conventional views about how complex industrial societies should utilise their resources in a thought-provoking and entertaining way.

On the Quarry Trail at the innovative Centre for Alternative Technology © Andrew Chisholm/Shutterstock

With entry via a water-powered cliff railway, tonnes of engaging hands-on displays, organic gardens, plus a bee house, vegetarian café, and the excellent Quarry Trail (replete with waterfalls, woodland and wildlife), this makes for a hugely rewarding - and educational - family day out.

Sail to Bardsey Island’s saintly wildlife wonders

Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli in Welsh - the island of tides) is a wild Welsh island located two miles off the Llŷn Peninsula. To enjoy its rich history and wildlife, head to Porth Meudwy to book a boat trip.

Bardsey Island has long been a place of pilgrimage, and it’s believed that St Cadfan began building the island’s monastery in the sixth-century. By the twelfth-century, Bardsey was described as the Rome of Wales, and tens of thousands of saints are said to be buried here, hence its Island of 20,000 Saints sobriquet. Today visitors can explore the remains of a thirteenth-century Augustinian Abbey, though the island’s history stretches back much further. There’s evidence it’s been inhabited for some 4000 years, and in spring early Celtic circular hut settlements can be seen before they’re claimed by bracken. 

The dramatic skyline of Bardsey Island © Shutterstock

As a result of being home to a host of rare species, Bardsey Island has been designated a National Nature Reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Protection Area, an Environmentally Sensitive Area, and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It’s especially esteemed for its birdlife, with a fabulous accredited Bird and Field Observatory (one of only two in Wales). 310 species of birds have been recorded here, including rare migrants like the Pied Wheatear and Paddyfield Warbler. Common breeding birds include 20,000 pairs of Manx Shearwaters, Chough, Puffin, Razorbill and Guillemot. Grey Seals also breed on the island - come September and October, seal pups can be seen in sheltered inlets along the island’s west coast. 

Bardsey Island is home to puffins aplenty © Shutterstock

Explore Betws-y-Coed and the (not so) Ugly House

Situated at the eastern gateway to the Snowdonia National Park, Betws-y-Coed (meaning “Chapel in the Wood”) is centred around the confluence of three rivers, the Conwy, the Llugwy and the Lledr. Popular with Victorian honeymooners, the village’s main street of greystone cottages now boasts beautiful craft shops, outdoor equipment stores and picturesque places to eat and sleep - and they don’t come more charming than Mary's Court (Mairlys) Guest House.

Betws-y-Coed is also a great base from which ramblers can explore the area, with several easy walks starting here. Take the Jubilee Path to Llyn Elsi, a lake in the forest above Betws y Coed. Alternatively, follow the marked trail north to Llyn y Parc (another lake in the Gwydir Forest), where you can then join a footpath that takes in Clogwyn Cyrau Nature Reserve - don’t miss the waterfall at the disused Aberllyn mine near the lake. 

The fairy tale 15th- century Ugly House was built in a single night © Gail Johnson/Shutterstock

As for the Ugly House (Tŷ Hyll in Welsh), this fairy-tale-esque stone cottage close to Betws-y-Coed seems to have slipped from the pages of a picture book. Believed to date from the 15th-century, and reputed to have been a robbers’ hideout, its name may be a corruption of “Llugwy”, the name of the nearby river. While the jury’s still out on the origins of house's name, there's no question that visiting the Tu Hwnt i’r Bont (Beyond the Bridge) tea rooms here today makes for a magical afternoon, especially given their proximity to the enchanting Swallow Falls waterfall.

If this Snowdonia National Park travel guide has piqued your interest in visiting the region, take a look at the Rough Guide Staycations Snowdonia and North Wales guidebook. Practical and inspirational, it’s packed with more ideas about what to see and do during your Snowdonia staycation, with a focus on top tours and walks. What’s more, purchase of the print edition comes with access to a free eBook. 

At Rough Guides we’ve always taken pride in telling it like it is - whether we’re updating details in our guide books, or researching emerging destinations. With that in mind, we want you to know that when you click on links that lead to our affiliate partners’ sites, we can earn a small commission (at no cost to you). This is one of the ways we’re able to keep doing what we do best - provide you with travel advice and inspiration you can trust. Speaking of which, you can trust what we link to - our travel writer experts are exactly that (experts) and have highlighted them to share ideas that might make your trips all the more satisfying.

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written by Joanne Owen
updated 7/19/2021
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Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her @JoanneOwen on Twitter and @joanneowenwrites on Instagram.

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