It’s not just the castles that make Snowdonia a must-visit destination for history lovers; there are dozens of historic houses too, offering a fascinating glimpse into the lives of Snowdonia’s inhabitants – from all walks of life – over many centuries.
Many of Snowdonia‘s historic houses have stood proudly for centuries, withstanding the effects of the passage of time. Several of these are in the care of the National Trust, to be enjoyed by visitors forever; but even those that are privately owned are often opened to the public so that they may be appreciated as historic houses should.
There are dozens of wonderful historic houses in Snowdonia, many of which have colourful histories or connections with famous historic characters; here are ten of our favourites.
1. The Smallest House
Standing on Conwy’s harbour front, you should be able to spot the Smallest House in Britain instantly, as there’s usually a lady in traditional Welsh costume standing outside, collecting entry fees from visitors who’d like to explore the fascinating (if extremely cramped) interior. This very quirky 16th century house will take a matter of minutes to explore, but is fun and fascinating nevertheless.
2. Aberconwy House
Aberconwy House in Conwy is a beautifully preserved medieval townhouse that has managed to survive the town’s somewhat turbulent history over the past 600 years. On the lower floor is a small gift shop, while upstairs there’s a video presentation about life from Tudor to Victorian times and an interesting selection of furniture from different periods of history.
3. Plas Mawr
Another historic Conwy house (an ancient town like Conwy is bound to have more than its fair share), Plas Mawr is a stunning example of an Elizabethan town mansion that dates back to 1576. The building is gorgeous on the outside and breathtaking on the inside; look out for the beautifully restored overmantels and the great chamber, which is reached by two spiral staircases.
4. Glynllifon Mansion
Glynllifon Mansion is considered one of the finest Regency mansions in North Wales, and was the venue for Prince Charles’ investiture ball in 1969. The magnificent mansion is set in truly wonderful Grade I Listed grounds, which are home to a number of rare plants and are just as fascinating as the house itself.
5. Plas yn Rhiw
Dating from the 16th century, Plas yn Rhiw was abandoned between 1874 and 1938, when three sisters bought the house and restored it before handing the property over to the National Trust in 1946. The location is one of the most striking things about Plas yn Rhiw, overlooking Hell’s Mouth Bay on the Llyn Peninsula; but the house itself is of course gorgeous and the recreated Victorian garden is delightful.
6. Y Gegin Fawr
We’re cheating a little here, as Y Gegin Fawr, Aberdaron, isn’t exactly a ‘house’ – in fact, it’s a 13th century communal kitchen, where pilgrims could prepare a meal while waiting for a crossing to Bardsey Island (if the sea conditions were bad, pilgrims would have to wait for weeks). Y Gegin Fawr still feeds pilgrims (the touristy type anyway) to this day – it’s now a very charming and welcoming eatery specialising in delicious cream teas.
7. Portmeirion’s Town Hall
The entire village of Portmerion could be described as historic, but let’s concentrate in particular on the Town Hall, or Hercules Hall, for now. What’s special about the Town Hall is the magnificent barrel-vaulted Jacobean ceiling, transported lock, stock and barrel (if you’ll forgive the pun) from Emral in Flintshire by Portmeirion’s genius creator, Clough Williams-Ellis, in 1937. No visit to Snowdonia would be complete without a visit to Portmerion, and no visit to Portmerion would be complete without exploring Hercules Hall.
8. Pennal – Cefn Caer
Owain Glyndwr wrote from Pennal to the King of France in 1406, asking for help in the fight against the English. Whether this letter was actually penned in Cefn Caer isn’t confirmed, but the house’s website describes the building as the “occasional residence of Owain Glyndwr”, so perhaps there’s some truth to the claim. Either way, it’s worth visiting Cefn Caer to see the wonderful architecture and original features, including a 14th century inglenook fireplace – and for the excellent medieval banquets with traditional entertainment.
9. Ty Mawr Wybrnant
Ty Mawr Wybrnant, near Betws y Coed, is very significant in Welsh history as it was the birthplace of Bishop William Morgan, who translated the Bible into Welsh – which played an essential role in safeguarding the future of the Welsh language. This is a traditional stone-built uplands farmhouse, where there’s an impressive collection of Bibles in 100 languages and a woodland animal trail to explore.
10. Llanrwst Almshouses
Built in 1610, Llanrwst Almshouses provided shelter for Almsmen and women for over 360 years until its closure in the 1970s. The building fell into ruin but was rescued and converted into a museum in 2002, where today visitors can explore the building and learn about life in Llanrwst over the centuries.