With one foot in the mountains and another in the sea, the Criccieth, Porthmadog and Vale of Ffestiniog area of Snowdonia is the ideal destination for all sorts of holidays. Here’s our take on the best the area has to offer.
The Criccieth, Porthmadog and Vale of Ffestiniog area of the Snowdonia Mountains and Coast region of Wales offers the best of both worlds where landscape is concerned: mountain peaks within sight pretty much every way you turn, and a stunning coastline boasting many wildlife-rich estuaries and excellent beaches. With so much outdoor space, fresh air, greenery and arguably the best range of outdoor activities to choose from anywhere in the UK, no wonder Snowdonia is widely considered Britain’s leading outdoor centre.
But as you’ll see when you visit this little corner of Snowdonia, it’s not all about the outdoor activities. Even the least sporty of visitors will find there’s plenty to see and do around these parts, from shopping and steam trains to pottery and petting farms.
Let’s take a look at these three very different but equally enticing towns, and see what they have to offer.
Criccieth boasts all the delights of a traditional Victorian seaside resort, with the added attraction of a medieval castle. The moment Criccieth Castle looms into view, as you enter the town, is a magical one; sitting atop its rocky perch, the castle looks out to sea like a great stone watchman.
The castle separates the town’s two beaches, which offer breathtaking views of the coastline and the Llyn Peninsula. One of Snowdonia’s best-loved eateries – Cadwalader’s Ice Creams – is close to the beach, and walking along with a well-heaped cone is one of those things that you just have to do when you visit Criccieth – whatever the weather!
There’s a great choice of hotels and guest houses in Criccieth, as well as several excellent restaurants and pubs – making the town an ideal base for exploring the nearby countryside. Based at Criccieth you’ll be within very easy reach of Porthmadog and the Llyn Peninsula, and all the fascinating little places between.
Llanystumdwy – a short hop from Criccieth – is a great place for family visits. As well as the Lloyd George Museum, where you’ll learn about life in Victorian times as well as learning about the great man himself, there’s Dwyfor Ranch Rabbit Farm (ideal for younger visitors) and Dragon Raiders Paintball (age 11 upwards).
Porthmadog seems to have a holiday atmosphere all year round, somehow. Perhaps that’s because of the mingling scents of sea breeze and chips; or maybe it’s the gift shops selling inflatable dinghies, li-los and buckets and spades. Whatever the reason, there are times when even popping into Porthmadog for a quick shopping trip can feel like a mini holiday.
Speaking of shopping – there are some fantastic shops in Porthmadog. There’s a Portmeirion outlet selling the Italianate village’s beautiful designer pottery and other quality goods (Portmeirion Village itself is just outside the town and very easy to reach from Porthmadog). There’s Kerfoots, a department store that’s been around for over 130 years; excellent butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers selling fresh local produce; and all the chip shops, toy shops and gift shops that you’d expect to find in a town like Porthmadog.
There’s plenty to see and do in and around Porthmadog. We’ve talked briefly about Portmeirion Village, the beautiful creation of Clough Williams-Ellis whose influence can be seen in many of the buildings in Snowdonia. There’s the harbour, of course, and a maritime museum. And just outside Porthmadog are Borth-y-Gest, Morfa Bychan and Black Rock Sands, where all the best beachy fun is to be found.
The town’s best-loved attractions are probably the steam railways. Trains on the Ffestiniog Railway go to Blaenau Ffestiniog, while those on the Welsh Highland Railway go all the way to Caernarfon. The Welsh Highland Heritage Railway offers a fun day out for all the family, including opportunities to explore the engine sheds and ride a miniature railway with rails just seven inches apart.
Hop off the train from Porthmadog at Blaenau Ffestiniog and admire all the improvements that have been made around the town, commemorating its industrial heritage. This was once ‘the town that roofed the world‘ – slate from Blaenau Ffestiniog can be found on roofs all over the world, and so the regeneration work that has taken place in the town in recent years includes quarrying terms, sayings and local poetry.
There are two major tourist attractions in Blaenau Ffestiniog. The first is Llechwedd Slate Caverns, an excellent family attraction where you’ll take an underground tour to hear about life in a Victorian mine, told by the ‘ghost’ of a 12-year-old miner, Sion. There’s much more than that at Llechwedd, though, including a Victorian village which has old-fashioned sweet shops, pubs and gift shops selling slate gifts.
The second of Blaenau’s big attractions is the new Antur Stiniog mountain biking centre, which in its first year has made a big name for itself among mountain biking enthusiasts. The downhill biking trails are a real talking point and are hugely popular. It’s not just about the mountain biking, though – Antur Stiniog can organise all sorts of other activities too, like walking, kayaking, history, nature, fishing, wild camping and culture. Just let them know which activities you’d like to try, and Antur Stiniog will organise everything for you. Is this the most accommodating tourist attraction in the world? We don’t know for sure, but it wouldn’t surprise us in the slightest!