To be quite honest, prior to visiting Snowdonia National Park, I wasn’t expecting to be blown away. I have been to a number of great places in the United Kingdom, but none have been particularly breathtaking for me or conjured up the same feelings as when you see something like the Grand Canyon for the first time.
That was before I visited Snowdonia.
I had seen pictures of the Lake District and have seen the Cliffs of Dover from afar, so I knew British beauty existed, but nothing prepared me for the view, standing half way up Cadair Idris, looking down on seemingly endless greenery, picturesque cottages and a royal blue lake. It was like starring at a living Bob Ross painting.
But rather than simply describe my visit, I have put together a list of five tips for planning a short break to Snowdonia, including some things you might not have considered before.
This idyllic seaside town in North Wales, the largest in the country in fact, is located just a short drive from the National Park. It might be a fair distance from Mt Snowdon, but that may not be the end of the world, as we’ll discuss later.
Llandudno is a town of just over 20,000 people, and we stayed in a Victorian Airbnb, just a 3 minute drive from the lively high street.
A long stretch of bars and restaurants spoiled us for choice when looking for dinner, or at least it would have done it we weren’t so late to get out. However, we still found a lovely little place called Wildwood, where I had what was possibly the best Baked Spaghetti Carbonara I’ve ever tasted.
Pubs and bars are easy to find, welcoming and good shelter from the strong winds coming in from sea.
We stopped on the beach before heading to Snowdonia, and although I have a real hatred for pebble beaches, this one was gorgeous. To the right was the bay and you could see for miles on the clear afternoon, and to the left was a steep cliff face dotted with gravity-defying buildings.
Just a simple 20 minute drive into the park capped off what was a real gem and a highlight of our trip.
When planning a trip to Snowdonia, your focus is inevitably going to be on the park itself and the landmarks inside. But if you want to make your trip more varied and visit one of the best zoos in the UK, you have to stop at Chester Zoo, home of the TV show The Secret Life of the Zoo.
It’s an hour drive from where we stayed in Llandudno, but was well worth the visit, taking up our whole day with the huge range of animals and exhibits, along with the obvious 45 minutes in the shop. Why are stuffed toy animals so hard to choose between?
An adult ticket is only £23.63 at peak times, meaning we paid even less for a zoo experience far better than the extortionate London Zoo.
Highlights included the elephants, tigers and somewhat elusive Komodo Dragon, that took us an eternity to spot.
Now to be fair, we were planning on driving home straight after our afternoon hike up Cadair Idris, so had not fully thought out what attire we should be wearing. I went for some hugely impractical jeans which aren’t the most comfortable thing to wear whilst climbing a near vertical hill.
A light backpack would have also been best, instead of mine which had been my bag for the whole weekend, and was still full of snacks and phone/laptop chargers and my wallet and empty drinks bottles and other useless clutter.
We had somewhat underestimated the length and difficulty of our chosen hike, which I’ll get on to in a minute, so be sure to plan ahead, dress comfortably but with a lightweight jumper or coat for when you reach higher altitudes as it can get pretty cold.
Water is essential, but with the right (clutter-less) backpack, it shouldn’t be an issue.
Lastly, footwear. The route we took consisted of soft green grass, uneven pebbles, hard concrete and huge, sharp rocks. Walking boots would be ideal, but if not, a pair of supportive trainers will suffice, just watch your step!
Okay, this is possibly the most controversial of the points I’ve gone through so far, but Snowdonia isn’t all about Snowdon.
I’m sure that the vast majority of visitors will want to see the mountain, take the train up to the top and admire the stunning views, but we actually decided against this on our trip, and didn’t feel as if we had missed out on what Snowdonia has to offer.
We opted to hike to Cadair Idris, a mountain formation that contains a lake in the very middle of it, with high hills surrounding the water. Okay, so we didn’t make it to the summit (see: Dress/pack appropriately), but the different landscapes and unparalleled view left us deeply satisfied.
Of course, you may want to do both, which could well be possible with a well-planned weekend, but if you can’t get all the way to Snowdon and don’t want to sacrifice a trip to the seaside or zoo, Cadair Idris is closer, less crowded and personally, just as breathtaking.
Don’t rush the drive
Since driving Route 66 last year, I have realised that sometimes the journey itself is as satisfying or incredible as the destination, and as we discovered on our Snowdonia trip, this was so true.
The drive from Llandudno into the park and to our final destination was spectacular. We saw rolling sheep-filled hills that I had been told would make up a large part of our drives in Wales, dusty orange fields not too dissimilar to a wild west setting at times, with tumbleweed-like bushes on the side of the road and mountains in the distance, and we drove through an unexpected coal mine, with countless shades of grey taking over the lush landscape we had just left.
On a short break it is easy to be pushed for time, keep your eyes on the road (not saying you shouldn’t do this part), and ignore what’s either side of you. But if you’re coming to Snowdonia, please don’t. Some of the most memorable sights were viewed from inside the car, and our very last stop, a small lake, was only discovered because I had been keeping my eyes peeled.
Snowdonia was expected to be a nice weekend away. A chance to unwind, go to a nice restaurant and walk in the fresh outdoors. But it was so much more than that. It showed me the very best of what Britain has to offer and gave me my first real moment of breathtaking beauty, so close to home.