Sitting on the Glaslyn Estuary at the underside of the Llyn Peninsula, Porthmadog is a bustling little harbour town with a rich maritime history and a big personality.
In its industrial heyday Porthmadog was a busy port, handling the export of slate from Blaenau Ffestiniog to customers all over the world. Today the town is a popular holiday destination and an excellent base for exploring the Snowdonia region.
If you’re going to be staying in Porthmadog when you visit Snowdonia, here’s a few local attractions and activities you won’t want to miss.
1. Portmeirion Village
The Italianate village of Portmeirion is one of Snowdonia’s top attractions, popular with visitors of all ages. The beautiful, colourful buildings appear to grow out of the rock, and the wide sandy estuary is a wonderful place to walk. Plenty of shops, quirky sculptures and beautiful gardens – you’ll kick yourself if you forget your camera. During the winter season entry is free with a special season ticket, downloadable from the Portmeirion website.
2. Black Rock Sands
The beach at Black Rock Sands isn’t just big. It isn’t just huge. It’s vast! This is a popular spot for kite flying (and kite buggies), and kids love it because there are plenty of rock pools and caves to poke around in. Easily one of the best beaches on the Snowdonia coast, Black Rock Beach is surrounded by truly magnificent views and is a great place to spend a day out with the family.
3. Glaslyn Osprey project
A short drive from Porthmadog is the RSPB Glaslyn Osprey Project, which has a large hide so visitors can watch the ospreys without disturbing them. There are three large plasma monitors showing visitors live action from within the osprey nests, plus a picnic area, a small RSPB shop and nature trails for younger visitors – a great family attraction, right on Porthmadog’s doorstep.
4. Plas Brondanw
Visiting Plas Brondanw is like walking into a scene from Alice in Wonderland. Hardly surprising, given it was the ancestral home of Clough Williams-Ellis, the genius architect who designed and built Portmeirion. Brondanw is a place of peaceful contemplation: formal gardens with beautiful topiaries, ponds, wildlife aplenty – all set against the spectacular natural backdrop of the Snowdonia National Park.
5. Steam railways
Porthmadog is a great place to catch a train. Not one of those everyday boring commuter efforts – we’re talking about good old steam engines pulling quaint carriages (some of them open) up and down the Snowdonia countryside, at a pace that lets you take in all those delicious views without feeling rushed. At Porthmadog you can travel on the Welsh Highland Railway, the Ffestiniog Railway, and the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway – take your pick, or try them all!
6. Maritime Museum
The little Porthmadog Maritime Museum is housed in an old slate shed on Oakley Wharf, and what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in interesting things to see. Here you’ll learn about the vessels that went in and out of old Porthmadog, the voyages the ships went on, and the stories of those who sailed in them.
Often called the “Matterhorn of Wales”, Cnicht is an easy mountain to spot due to its sharp pointy peak that’s visible for miles around. Part of the Moelwyn mountain range, Cnicht is popular with walkers; at 689 metres it’s not overly taxing, until the final slog to the peak. Go via the little village of Croesor and enjoy the added attraction of the old slate mines.
From gifts and souvenirs to clothing and fresh local produce, the shops in Porthmadog offer plenty of choice when it comes to goods you might find difficult to pick up from your local shops back home. Like the Purple Moose Brewery, for instance: they produce a fantastic range of ales and as well as supplying them to many of the local pubs, off licences and village stores, the brewery has its own Porthmadog shop where you can pop in to buy your genuine Snowdonia-brewed beers from their source.
9. Plas Tan Y Bwlch Gardens
A short drive from Porthmadog towards Maentwrog in the Vale of Ffestiniog will take you to Plas Tan y Bwlch, home of the Snowdonia National Park Environmental Studies Centre. The gardens here range from formal terraces with sloping lawns and ornamental shrubs to semi-wild woodland gardens that provide habitats for many species of native wildlife. Entry is free, though you may want to leave a donation to help further the development of the gardens.
10. Criccieth Castle
Just along the coast from Porthmadog is Criccieth, a medieval town that grew into a popular Victorian seaside resort. Dominating the town’s skyline is Criccieth Castle, which sits on the headland overlooking Tremadog Bay. Built in th
e 1230s for the Princes of Gwynedd, the castle changed hands between the Welsh and English for years and is now cared for by CADW.