Southern Snowdonia is awash with history, wildlife and family-friendly attractions. From the towering mountain of Cader Idris to the traditional seaside resort of Barmouth, a visit to Southern Snowdonia means non-stop fun, whatever your tastes.
Many of the best-known Snowdonia attractions are in the north of the region – Caernarfon, Porthmadog, Conwy and Pwllheli are all popular, for example – but the southern end of Snowdonia also has plenty to offer.
Many notable historic events have taken place in Southern Snowdonia. In Machynlleth Owain Glyndwr reputedly held his parliament in 1404, and from Dolgellau the Quakers took their message to America in the 17th century. In Bala, in the 19th century, plans for a Welsh colony in Patagonia were first discussed; and Harlech Castle’s surrender to the besieging parliament forces in 1647 marked the end of the Civil War.
But even if history isn’t your ‘thing’, there are still many excellent reasons to visit Southern Snowdonia. We’ve put together a list of ten fun things to see and do in Southern Snowdonia; but there are many, many more!
1. The Glassblobbery, Bala
The Glassblobbery is a glassblowing workshop, and a gallery of all sorts of crafts from Wales and the UK. Entry to the Glassblobbery is free, and they sell so many beautiful glass statues, jewellery, ceramics and other crafts, you’re unlikely to come away empty-handed!
2. Fairbourne Railway
This miniature steam railway will take you on a scenic tour of the stunning countryside of the Mawddach Estuary, from Fairbourne along the beach to the Barmouth Ferry, where you can ride the ferry to the seaside resort of Barmouth. The station at Fairbourne also houses a small museum, tea room and gift shop.
3. Ty Siamas, Dolgellau
Ty Siamas – the National Centre for Welsh Folk Music at Neuadd Idris, Dolgellau – houses interactive exhibitions on Welsh folk music, and plays host to a number of musical performances throughout the year. There’s also a cafe and a shop where you can buy a wide selection of Welsh folk CDs, musical instruments and souvenirs.
4. Corris Mine Explorers
Explore the former Welsh slate mine of Braich Goch with Corris Mine Explorers, for a really unusual day out. As you explore the mines you’ll discover abandoned tools and machinery, and learn about the hardships of a miner’s life and the history of the mine.
5. Parliament House, Machynlleth
This 17th century former townhouse occupies the site of an older building, reputed to have been the site of Owain Glyndwr’s parliament in 1404 to organise his revolt against King Henry IV of England. Inside you’ll find fascinating displays and exhibitions about Glyndwr and his military campaigns.
6. Coed y Brenin Forest Park
Coed y Brenin, near Dolgellau, is home to some of the finest mountain biking in the UK – and it’s also great for woodland walks. You can bring your own bike or hire one once you get there; and for the smallest members of your family there’s an exciting tiered children’s play area. Make sure you visit the cafe – as well as offering a wide range of refreshments, the views can’t be beaten!
7. Cader Idris
Everyone’s heard of Snowdon, but Snowdonia has another very famous mountain – Cader Idris, or Idris’ Chair in English, in homage to the giant who once lived there and used the mountain as his seat. The mountain is home to lakes that are, in legend at least, bottomless; and it’s also spawned many stories in folklore, such as “if you sleep a night on Cader Idris, you’ll come down the next morning either a madman or a poet”.
8. Shell Island
Shell Island is a peninsula just off Llanbedr, a few miles south of Harlech. It’s home to one of the biggest campsites in Europe, and between January and June you’ll find over 200 varieties of shells washed up on the beach. Shell Island is also home to many varieties of wildflower, growing untouched in their natural habitat. A must-visit if you enjoy solitude, tranquility and watching nature at work – although there’s also a pub, restaurant and snack bar if you’re feeling sociable.
Lovers of the good old-fashioned British seaside resort won’t be disappointed with Barmouth. As well as stunning beaches, ice creams and a little funfair, Barmouth has plenty of shops, amusement arcades, pubs and picturesque views. There’s also a Sailor’s Institute where you can learn about the history of Barmouth, and a fascinating shipwreck museum.
There are many excellent reasons to visit Harlech, but here are the top three: First, the clifftop medieval castle which dominates the skyline; second, Royal St David’s – one of the top golf courses in Wales; and third, Theatr Harlech, which hosts an eclectic range of events from world cinema and popular music to art exhibitions and dance workshops. Oh go on then – just one more… the views across the dunes are to die for!