Without a doubt, the best way of exploring North Wales is by train. While the train chugs along, you can sit back, relax and enjoy the breathtaking beauty of this glorious corner of North Wales.
The Royal Victoria Hotel is the perfect base for exploring the Conwy Valley by train. The Conwy Valley Railway Line is a 31 mile one-way journey from the coast to the heart of Snowdonia. Only one train at a time can travel along the track, passing through twelve stations along the way (several being request stops).
You can join the train at one of several stops: Llandudno is the start of the route and is approximately 40 minutes by car from the hotel. Betws-y-Coed is the halfway station and approximately 30 minutes by car. Blaenau Ffestiniog is the terminus station and 50 minutes by car but the journey through the Snowdonia National Park is both scenic and memorable.
Spend the day travelling the length of the line and see what the area has to offer, or get off and explore some of the towns and villages before jumping back on the train and returning to the hotel for the evening.
It’s worth pointing out that if you choose to alight at any of the stations you can expect a stopover of approximately three hours as the train makes it way up to and back from the end of the line at Blaenau Ffestiniog. It’s easy to spend this time at any of the stops but some of the more remote destinations take a little preplanning to make the most of your time – visit the Conwy Valley Railway blog for some great ideas.
Here are just a few of the highlights of this unmissable journey.
The journey starts in Llandudno, which is often referred to as the ‘Queen of Welsh Resorts’. This famous Victorian seaside town has two beautiful beaches, the longest pier in the country and many shops and restaurants. It’s also home to the Great Orme, a massive limestone headland with thousands of years of history and fascinating flora and fauna, plus several family attractions including a dry ski slope and bronze age copper mines.
The train then moves on past Conwy. From here, you’ll catch a glimpse of the town and its imposing medieval castle. Conwy is a town with a complex history and many myths and legends. Listen closely and you may hear the eerie laughter of the mermaid who once cursed the men of Conwy. If you decided you’d like to explore, hop off the train at Llandudno Junction and cross the road bridge, it’s a delightful walk with amazing views.
One of the must-visit attractions of North Wales, Bodnant Garden, is also easily accessed from the Conwy Valley Line. You’ll need to get off at Tal-y-Cafn and take a short bus ride. With over 80 acres of formal gardens and woodland overlooking the River Conwy, there are plenty of photo opportunities. There is a really good onsite cafe and a range of craft shops to browse, plus Bodnant’s own garden centre.
The next stop is at Dolgarrog, home to the world-famous Surf Snowdonia. It’s a 300m artificial surf lagoon offering a range of watersports, bringing in tens of thousands of visitors a year. It’s a bit of a walk overland to reach it but it’s worth it. Relax with a coffee or a bite to eat in the waterside restaurant and watch the experts show you how it’s done – or have a go yourself!
The halfway point of the Conwy Valley Line is Betws-y-Coed. This gorgeous alpine village needs no introduction and is the perfect place to while away a few hours between stops. Sitting deep within the Gwydyr Forest, it isn’t hard to see why it was once a popular destination for artists – those views! There’s plenty to do here – the Railway Museum is worth a visit if you have Thomas-mad kids; take a stroll up to Llyn Elsi, a lake high above the village; or enjoy a panad at one of the many delicious tea rooms. You’ve even got enough time to venture out of the village and visit the Fairy Glen. It’s as magical as it sounds!
From Betws the train makes its way through the breathtaking Lledr Valley, passing through the stations of Pont-y-Pant, Dolwyddelan (keep your eye out for the fairytale castle) and Roman Bridge before plunging into darkness.
The final stage of your journey is a two mile tunnel that burrows through the towering mountains of Snowdonia before delivering you into the heart of slate country, Blaenau Ffestiniog. Heaps of discarded slate, a legacy of the town’s industrial past, rise steeply hundreds of metres all around you – it really is something to behold.
You have reached the end of the line. From here you can cross the platform and jump aboard the Ffestiniog Railway, a narrow gauge railway that takes visitors through the mountains to Porthmadog, or visit Llechwedd Slate Caverns to learn more about Blaenau’s slate mining history. Alternatively, stay aboard and just enjoy the return journey!
Images courtesy of the Conwy Valley Railway, 2017.