25 things to do in North Wales this winter

Winter’s a great time to visit North Wales. The roads are quieter, the best walks are a little less popular, and if you’re lucky you can have a beach all to yourself.

Here are 25 things we recommend you do in Snowdonia and North Wales this winter.

1: Walk up Snowdon

At the height of summer it’s fair to say it can be rather busy at the top of England and Wales’s highest mountain. Less so in winter. Pick your day, get the weather, and try tackling one of the six major routes to the top of this always-impressive mountain.

This website’s a great resource for planning your adventure.

2: Ride a rib boat up the Menai Strait

The best way to see Menai Suspension Bridge, Britannia Bridge and Plas Newydd country house is from the water. Book a place on a fast rib ride and – weather-permitting – enjoy an exhilarating sprint down the beautiful Menai Strait.

Rib Ride offer public trips and private charters.

3: Fly across a quarry

With Top Gun 2 due in cinemas soon, you can feel the need for speed by zooming up to 70 miles an hour along a zipwire cable across a slate quarry. The original Zip World attraction now has a sister site at Blaenau Ffestiniog, where one of the fastest is now joined by one of the longest.

4: Walk to Llanddwyn Island

Park at Newborough Beach car park (fee applies) on Anglesey and walk along a gorgeous beach to the rock-and-marram grass peninsula of Llanddwyn Island. Cut off only at high tides, the island is a mystical, windswept place with coastguard cottages and church ruins, as well as lots of little sandy coves to explore.

See our best beaches to explore.

5: See Snowdonia by train

A network of disused railways – previously used for shipping slate – have been brought back to life by charities and armies of volunteers so that you can explore the valleys of North Wales by train. Visit Festrail’s website and choose between a trip on the Welsh Highland Railway from Caernarfon to Porthmadog, or Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog.

6: Cycle into the mountains

Start from Port Penrhyn at the coast in Bangor and follow The Ogwen Trail, an off-road section of National Cycle Network’s Route 82 that follows disused railway lines, tunnels and a quiet country lane deep into Nant Ffrancon valley in Snowdonia. The distance to Ogwen Cottage at the foot of Cwm Idwal is 11 miles.

This site has information on cafe stops and slate sculptures you will find en-route.

7: Visit South Stack

Pick a windy day and feel like you’re standing at the edge of the world with spectacular coastal scenery at this renowned Anglesey beauty spot. The RSPB’s Visitor Centre is currently closed for refurbishment but that needn’t stop you spotting puffins, guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills and even fulmars. Visit South Stack lighthouse too (count the steps as you go!)

8: Marvel at Cwm Idwal

Snow and ice lingers in Cwm Idwal, making this natural rocky amphitheatre one of Snowdonia’s most spectacular locations. A slabbed path leads from the car park at Ogwen Cottage as far as Llyn Idwal’s glacial lake. It’s a relatively gentle pull, still difficult in icy conditions, but worth it for the alpine landscape.

9: Pay respects at Gelert’s Grave

Gelert the faithful dog was accidentally killed by his master when he thought the hound had killed a child, rather than protect it from wolves. Or so the legend goes. See the grave in a gorgeous riverside setting and combine it with a river walk and visit to the chocolate-box-pretty village of Beddgelert.

10: Rollercoaster through the woods

From the makers of ZipWorld, the latest attraction is a rollercoaster through woods near Betws-y-Coed. It’s been an instant hit with adults and youngsters alike. Combine your trip with a go on the high ropes course, Skyride swing and Plummet2, a freefall “attraction” from the tree-tops. Aghhhh!

11: Be a number at Portmeirion

Made famous as the filming location of the 1960s cult TV series The Prisoner (and mysterious Number 6), a winter visit to this beautiful Italianate village is quieter in the winter months. The gardens may not be at their finest but the architecture and the location is more than enough to capture your attention.

Details on visiting Portmeirion on their website.

12: Explore a castle

Who doesn’t like visiting castles? The hard part is choosing which one. Head over to the CADW website and take your pick from Caernarfon, Beaumaris, Conwy, Harlech, Criccieth or just take a short stroll from our hotel front door and wander round the impressive tower of Dolbadarn.

13: Touch a standing stone

Reconnect with your spiritual side and find standing stones and burial chambers across North Wales. Anglesey and the Lleyn Peninsula are dotted with ancient stones and cromlechs, all of which are free to visit – though some may take some finding.

The Megalithic Portal website is a treasure trove of information.

14: Learn to surf

You don’t need to risk life and limb in the rough seas around North Wales to learn to surf the waves. Hire a board and get lessons at Adventure Parc Snowdonia, which features an inland surf lagoon deep in Conwy Valley. The attraction now boasts a huge indoor activity centre, if you don’t fancy getting wet.

15: Watch a film or performance

Perfect for a rainy day, Pontio is Bangor University’s new arts and innovation centre. It offers an eclectic mix of entertainment seven days a week, from the latest film releases to gigs, contemporary circus and aerial theatre, cabaret shows and more.

Visit the Pontio website.

16: Be animaltastic!

Pili Palas has come a long way from its butterfly sanctuary origins. This all-weather animal attraction on Anglesey (just minutes from the bridge) is a great place for adults and children alike, with birds, bugs, farm animals…and meerkats.

Visit the Pili Palas website.

17: Learn to paddleboard!

On the tranquil waters of Llyn Padarn near Llanberis, Snowdonia Watersports offers kayak and paddleboard rentals as well as instruction for first-timers and leaners. The scenery around Llyn Padarn will be enough to inspire you to get out onto the water even on colder days.

18: Scramble up Tryfan

One of the most popular scrambles in the UK is a little quieter in winter, though even more treacherous if you’re ill-equipped, inexperienced or not prepared to give in to the weather. Start from the car parks along the A5, from which the only way is up.

This scrambling website provides detail of what to expect.

19: Eat local mussels

What could be better than a steaming pot of fresh mussels and fries served on a cold winter’s day? Head for The Lobster Pot on Anglesey (follow it up with a bracing walk down to pretty Church Bay) or head for the peninsula and Pwllheli’s highly rated Twnti seafood restaurant.

20: Hit the Slate Trail

This 83-mile circular trail brings together former slate mines and quarries via a network of footpaths often using former rail or tramways. It’s a fantastic way to explore the industrial heritage of Snowdonia and get a sense of how once this wild area of North Wales help to put roofs on buildings around the world.

Find out more on the Slate Trail’s website.

21: Bike down a mountain

Unlike most mountain bike trails which make the most of uneven forest terrains, Antur Stiniog near Blaenau Ffestiniog is all about fast downhill fun. Enjoy wide open views of the Vale of Ffestiniog and the Moelwyn mountains, while taking your pick from one of seven trails, graded from blue to black. Best of all, there’s a terrific uplift service to the summit to set you on your way.

Visit the Antur Stiniog website.

22: Watch a slate-splitting demo

After a walk through the other-worldly landscapes of old Dinorwig slate quarry, visit the National Slate Museum just outside Llanberis and learn about the slate industry, the lives of people that worked it, the machinery and the skills they used. The slate-splitting demonstration is among the many impressive things you can experience – all with free entry (some special events may involve charge – check the website.)

23: Find love

Romance your loved one by celebrating the Welsh equivalent of Valentine’s Day on January 25. Known as St Dwynwen’s Day, it follows a tragic tale of lost love centred on Llanddwyn Island (see above). Enjoy a dinner at The Royal Victoria Hotel before a gentle stroll along the lakefront at Llyn Padarn.

24: Visit a Christmas Market

You don’t have to battle huge crowds in Manchester or York to enjoy a traditional Christmas market. Combine a break to North Wales with a visit to a local fair and enjoy a taste of festive spirit, Welsh style. Find events in Beaumaris, Caernarfon and Conwy among others, each with their own character and attractions (sword fighting in Conwy, for instance!)

25: Just walk on a beach

There are more than 100 beaches in North Wales, according to the Good Beach Guide. Pull on a pair of boots, stick on a woolly hat, and go for a walk. They say a walk is good for the soul!

Fright night: the spookiest spots in Snowdonia

The earliest traditions of Halloween are rooted in Celtic legends. In Wales, Calan Gaeaf was the predecessor of All Hallows Eve, when people celebrated the harvest and spirits roamed the land. Visit Snowdonia at this time of year and you can almost sense those spirits around you, as the autumn winds moan through bare trees and broken castle walls.

Spend a short break in Snowdonia and scare yourself with a Halloween visit to one of this area’s spookiest places. Let’s explore some places where things go bump in the night…

Plas Mawr, Conwy

An easy day or half-day trip from The Royal Victoria Hotel in Llanberis, Conwy’s historic Elizabethan townhouse Plas Mawr is haunted by two women and a doctor. The first woman died of illness and the second fell down the stairs while carrying her new born baby. A doctor was called and locked in the bedroom under an instruction that the woman and her child must be saved at all costs. Both sadly died and when the bedroom door was unlocked the doctor was nowhere to be seen. Legend has it that he tried to escape up the chimney and suffocated.

Today, visitors report seeing a ghostly face peering out of the bedroom door, and on the second floor two women spirits have been encountered…

Other guests at Plas Mawr have recorded poltergeists throwing items and a strong smell of tobacco, even though there is no smoking anywhere in the building. Scariest of all perhaps, some visitors have been touched by unseen hands. Creepy!

Plas Mawr is open throughout the year and annually hosts special Halloween events – see below for more details.

Conwy Castle, Conwy

Make a day of it in Conwy and combine a visit to Plas Mawr with a wintery wander through the dark winding stairs and draughty halls of Conwy Castle.

As well as a fortification, Conwy Castle has been used as an abbey, a house for royalty and as a prison. No wonder it’s claimed to be one of the most haunted places in Wales. Within its eight towers, some visitors have claimed to have been overcome with an unexplained fright. Another common sighting is of a monk dressed in a hooded robe, appearing in dark corridors. Shadowy figures have been seen staring at visitors and people below the walls from the windows. In the old chapel, some people have smelt incense, even though none has been burned.

Conwy Castle is open throughout the year and is great to combine with a walk along Conwy’s medieval town walls.

Gwrych Castle, Abergele

Just 20 minutes west of Conwy, Gwrych castle is the fine hillside Georgian residence (a castle folly) that greets most visitors to North Wales along the A55 above Abergele. Once derelict, a local charity is slowly bringing the castle back to life – and with it, its ghosts!

A renowned paranormal hotspot, Gwrych Castle boasts a varied history giving rise to its ghostly reputation. Built as an extravagant home between 1819 and 1825 for the Dundonald family, the Government used the building during World War II to house 200 Jewish refugees. Later it became a bizarre training venue for English World Middleweight boxing champion Randolph Turpin, who himself had a paranormal experience. By 1985 the castle fell into neglect and its ghosts were left alone – until recently.

Visitors report seeing a Lady in Red, who appears briefly before an ear-piercing screech is heard. The story goes that a woman fell off a horse while riding the grounds and died, but her wishes to be buried at the castle were not honoured. The ghost is the spirit of the woman returning.

Restored areas of Gwrych Castle are open to visitors daily, and it hosts special halloween events (see below).

Beaumaris Gaol, Anglesey

It’s hard to believe when standing outside Beaumaris jail that this formidable building was also used as a police station and a children’s clinic. Given its chequered history, it’s no surprise perhaps that its rooms and corridors are haunted.

Jail prisoners were subjected to a horrific ordeal and were often whipped, manacled to the walls and isolated in a dark cell for days. Visitors can go inside a cell with the lights off, just to get an idea of how terrifying this must have been. Two inmates, Williams Griffiths and Richard Rowlands, were both hanged here and buried in the prison grounds. Their spirits haunt the jail and communicate with guests via a Ouija board. From its time as a children’s clinic, a ghost called Bridget wanders the corridors looking for her child who died within the walls.

Night visitors report a heavy, menacing atmosphere enough to make even the most seasoned ghost hunters uneasy. Whistling and moaning can be heard at the dead of night within the jail’s eerie halls.

As well as visiting this fascinating historic attraction (with great reviews on TripAdvisor), you can also take part in professional ghost hunts at Beaumaris Gaol.

Visit the Beaumaris Gaol website here.

The Black Boy Inn, Caernarfon

Tucked away in historic Northgate Street within Caernarfon’s medieval walls, The Black Boy Inn (built circa 1522) is believed to be one of the oldest inns in North Wales.

People report seeing the ghost of a nun passing through the inn to the nunnery, which used to be at the rear. Some punters claim to see a spectral drinker at the bar, while others hear the phantom cries of a child in one of the bedrooms.

The Black Boy Inn is one of Caernarfon’s most characterful pubs and well worth a visit at any time.

Halloween Events 2019

From October 27 to October 31, Llanberis Lake Railway is running a Halloween Hunt. Familes can take a ghostly train journey through spooky Witches Wood along the shores of Llyn Padarn. More details here.

From October 26 to November 3, Penrhyn Castle is hosting a spooky silhouette trail, together with puppet crafts and scary storytelling. See the National Trust’s website for details.

Families are invited to solve the Curse of Gwrych Castle and help save this fabulous fortification on October 31. From 4pm to 9pm there will be a children’s trail, fireworks, refreshments, stalls, fancy dress competitions, carved pumpkin competitions, mini fairground, children’s crafts and more. Book tickets here.

For the grown-ups, you can join Gwynedd Paranormal Investigations at Plas Mawr in Conwy on 28, 29 and 30 October for a scientific paranormal investigation, with specialist equipment provided. Book through CADW here.

Images courtesy: Crown Copyright, Visit Wales, 2019. Black Boy Inn by geograph-2301976-by-Steven Haslington. Beaumaris Gaol © Copyright Ian Taylor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. Gwrych Castle by Zoltan sos [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)].