North Wales may be more famous for its mountains and rugged coastline, but take a closer look and you’ll discover it's also home to some of the prettiest towns to be found in Britain.
From unchanged Victorian seaside resorts to bustling market towns, there are dozens to discover while on holiday and offer a lovely day out, whether that’s spending time on the beach, walking along the promenade, ambling around independent shops, picking up tasty goodies at a farmers’ market, exploring fortress castles or even riding a cable car – the choice is yours!
Slip on your comfiest shoes, pack your camera and be inspired by this selection of fantastic towns to explore:
As close as you can get to having a village on the beach, the oh-so-picturesque fishing village of Morfa Nefyn has to be seen to be believed. The pretty collection of buildings is nestled along the Llŷn Peninsula along a sweeping bay, giving the cottages uninterrupted views across the white sands and undulating waves beyond. There are a handful of shops to explore, as well as a stunning cliff top golf course.
Enjoying such a peaceful coastal location comes with many wonderful perks, including instant access to the surrounding clifftop paths that skirt the peninsula and promise miles of incredible walking. Spend your days basking on the suntrap beach, or turn your sandy toes towards the ocean for some action-packed watersports, making full use of the beautiful crescent-shaped bay.
Set in southern Snowdonia, this is one of the area’s most popular seaside resorts, with Abermaw, a huge west facing Blue Flag beach, famous for its golden sands and the perfect setting for swimming and watersports. Barmouth is a lively town, especially in summer, with donkey rides, a land train shuttling folks up and down the promenade, a seasonal funfair, candyfloss, sticks of rock, energetic amusement arcades and swing boats – basically all the trappings of a traditional seaside town.
It’s fun to weave in and out of the hustle and bustle, but the beach is big enough to find a quiet spot if you want to relax, have a picnic and gaze out over Cardigan Bay. A visit to the quaint harbour is a must with its cafés and restaurants but also for Ty Gwyn (meaning ‘White House’ – though it’s not actually white these days), a building that Henry VII is believed to have hidden in during the War of the Roses that’s now a small museum. The traffic-free walking trail from Barmouth to Dolgellau along the Mawddach Estuary offers incredible mountain views, with the walk across Barmouth Bridge over Afon (River) Mawddach a real highlight.
Situated near the mouth of the Menai Strait, there’s more to this lovely town than its impressive castle. A stunning mix of medieval, Victorian and Edwardian architecture, Beaumaris (meaning ‘fair marsh’) is a fascinating place to explore, starting with a walk along the seafront and pier with astonishing views over the Menai Strait and Snowdonia. After that, head into the town itself where pastel-coloured cottages, the historic gaol and courthouse which you can visit, and an excellent range of independent shops and eateries await.
For something a little different, book yourself into The Spirit of Anglesey for a gin making experience, with tastings of course! Chosen as the last settlement for Edward I defences against the Welsh, Beaumaris Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a must while visiting. Although incomplete (building began in 1295 but was left unfinished by the 1320s), it’s an incredibly imposing sight at over four acres in size, and offers wide-reaching views from its fortified walls.
Dolgellau is a beautiful market town and the former county town of Gwynedd, and today is much-loved by visitors as a gateway to the southern part of Snowdonia. With over 230 houses on urban conservation lists, Dolgellau has the richest collection of ancient buildings in Wales, making it a perfect town for wandering around and finding architectural treasures around every corner. In addition, the remains of Cymer Abbey, founded in 1198, can be found in the nearby village of Llanelltyd.
Take time to potter about the independent shops and eateries – and make sure to try a ‘honey bun’ at Poty’r Dref Café, a local cake whose recipe is a firmly guarded secret. For those seeking a wilder experience, you can’t miss Cader Idris, the impressive mountain range that looms above the town. From Dolgellau, there are three main trails that climb the 893 metres to the top (the Pony Path, Llanfihangel y Pennant Path and the Minffordd Path). Make sure to do some research to find the best one for you – some are more difficult than others – and make sure you have the right equipment with you. There are gentler walks to be had, such as the Mawddach Trail that runs along the old railway track towards Barmouth and is fantastic for bird watchers.
Full of Victorian charm, Criccieth is a gorgeous seaside town overlooking Cardigan Bay on the southern side of the Llŷn Peninsula and was once home to the only Welsh Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. With two pretty beaches separated by the picturesque Criccieth Castle, the town became a holiday hotspot back in the 1860s when the Welsh Coast Railways were constructed and access became easier.
Today, the town is a tranquil, almost sleepy, spot, and to amble through the streets, explore the medieval castle or take a picnic onto the beach is a relaxing way to spend a day. With dreamy views of Snowdonia behind you, there are some incredible country walks that start from Criccieth, such as the Criccieth Heritage Walk, or take a stroll along the Wales Coast Path towards Porthmadog, Samson’s Bay and the summit of Moel y Gest which boasts incredible sea views and you might spot a dolphin or two. In the opposite direction towards Pwllheli, the path crosses beautiful wetlands and dunes, famed for its rich bird life.
A small market town in the heart of Snowdonia, Bala is famous for Llyn Tegid (Lake Bala), the largest naturally-formed lake in Wales. Surrounded by craggy mountain ranges and lush valleys with rivers and waterfalls making their way down to the lake, it’s a nature-lover’s paradise. A perfect spot to engage in outdoor activities, you can try your hand at fishing (the main catches being perch, roach, pike, trout and salmon), canoeing, sailing and wild swimming on the lake, while the winding roads over the mountains are fantastic for cyclists who will be rewarded with breath-taking views.
Walkers will enjoy the trails that lead from the centre into the surrounding countryside, while there are a couple of all-ability trails for those with pushchairs, wheelchairs and mobility scooters. In addition, there are canoe trails for something a little different, and even some car trails so you can make the most of the surrounding countryside.
Situated in south Snowdonia, where the mountains drift down to meet the sea at the mouth of the River Dyfi, Aberdyfi is home to a bustling sailing and water sports centre with a fantastic dune-backed beach and pastel-coloured terraced houses. Enjoy a scenic boat trip along the coast, or if you’re after something a little more active, have a go at sailing and kayaking, where you’ll get a unique view of Cardigan Bay as you explore.
Golf is also a firm favourite with landlubbers in Aberdyfi, being home to one of the UK’s finest golf courses. Part of the beach lies within the UNESCO Dyfi Biosphere and Dfyi National Nature Reserve as it’s a haven for wildlife, untouched and secluded, while the beach by the town is perfect for picnics and making sandcastles. It’s best not to swim here due to the strong currents around the mouth of the estuary.
For such a small town, Conwy is jam-packed with things to do! The imposing castle is a great place to start, for stunning views over the town and the surrounding area. Afterwards, take a stroll along the city walls and 21 towers that encompass the town completely, before delving into Conwy itself. Here, you’ll discover lots of fascinating and ancient buildings such as Plas Mawr, a stunning 16th century town house. Step inside and you can discover what life in the Elizabethan times was like for its owner Robert Wynn, a wealthy merchant. Afterwards, pay a visit to Quay House, the smallest house in Britain. Its bright red frontage is easy to spot, but as a one up, one down house measuring just 10 by 6 foot, it must have been a tight squeeze for its last owner who was six foot tall!
Other places to visit include the Royal Cambrian Academy of Art for its fantastic gallery and exhibitions, while a visit to Conwy Quay is a great spot to munch on fish and chips straight from the wrapper while gazing at the boats. Afterwards, take a stroll around peaceful Bodnant Garden with its expansive lawns, terraces of beautiful flowers, tranquil ponds and woodland walks. Bird lovers will enjoy a visit to the RSPB Conwy Nature Reserve that offers guided walks and fun activities for children, while waterfall chasers will love the nearby Conwy Falls.
Another glorious seaside town brought to us courtesy of the Victorians, this beautiful spot in the far north of Wales is a quirky place to visit. Boasting an elegant promenade lined with pastel-coloured hotels, the longest pier in Wales, Punch and Judy stands, donkey rides and canopied shops, Llandudno remains little changed since the days of parasols and straw boaters. There are two beaches – the North Shore and the West Shore – linked by a 5-mile long toll road that boasts spectacular views towards Anglesey and Snowdonia. It is said that Alice Liddell, who inspired ‘Alice in Wonderland’, holidayed at West Beach, and today there is an Alice Trail through the town to commemorate this literary connection (pop into the Tourist Information Centre for a guide).
Probably the town’s most unique feature is the San Franciscan-style tramway-come-Alpine-cable car that will take you to the summit of the Great Orme Country Park, a towering headland that juts out to sea. If being underground appeals, you can walk through the prehistoric copper mines at Great Orme that were tunnelled some 3,500 years ago. Other great things to do include the Llandudno Museum and Llandudno Chocolate Experience, which delves into 5,000 years of chocolate (and may result in a scrummy sample or two!).
Steeped in history and legend, Beddgelert is a village plucked from the storybooks. The pretty stone cottages and idyllic bridge create a fairytale foreground to the looming peaks of Snowdonia that crest beyond, making this historic village the perfect base for anyone looking to explore the surrounding national park.
The village’s namesake (Beddgelert means ‘grave of Gelert’), can be found just south of the village. The slate grave and beautiful statue tell the tale of a faithful hound who saved a Welsh prince’s baby from a wolf, but was mistakenly slain by the prince upon his return. While it is just a story, the tale remains synonymous with the historic village and attracts many visitors to the grave to pay their respects to the brave dog. This isn’t the only legend that calls Beddgelert home, as the picturesque village was the setting for Rupert the Bear, and even boasts ties to King Arthur (perhaps why Snowdonia was chosen as a filming location for the 2017 film).
With its vibrant colours and Italianate styles, Portmeirion might not be what you’re expecting from a Welsh village tucked away in the dramatic landscapes of Gwynedd but that’s exactly why we love it. Designed by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis in the early 20th century, this storybook village has been a popular destination for many years, with the Riviera-style village boasting everything from tempting eateries to a luxurious spa.
Walking around the colourful homes and ornamental gardens, it’s easy to believe you’ve stepped into the pages of your favourite fairytale - the giant chess set alone could have come straight from Alice in Wonderland. Battery Square is full of quirky delights and fabulous eateries, making it the perfect spot to grab a true Italian coffee and watch the weird and wonderful world of Portmeirion go by.
If you feel inspired by these beautiful towns, take a look at our holiday cottages in Wales and start planning your north Wales tour today.