Seeing stars: stargazing in Snowdonia

Along with cleaner air, peaceful countryside and quieter streets, one of the real upsides to North Wales’s lack of pollution is the crystal-clear sky. Perfect for examining the cosmos in all its glory, the skies in North Wales promise even the most novice of astronomers a celestial experience not to be missed. Stargazing is a fantastic way to experience the majesty of the North Wales countryside and makes for a unique experience during your stay here.

International Dark Sky Reserve

Snowdonia National Park was named an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2015 – becoming just the tenth area in the world to be given this award. At the time of writing there are still just 13 designated Dark Sky Reserves, which goes to show just how prestigious an honour this is.

So, what exactly is an International Dark Sky Reserve (IDSR)?

An IDSR is an area of land, public or private, that experiences ‘exceptional or distinguished’ starry nights, due, in no small part, to concerted efforts to minimise light pollution. The IDSR is protected for scientific, educational, natural, cultural and heritage reasons. The area must meet specific criteria for natural darkness and quality. So, it’s official that some of the best nights in the world are to be had in the Snowdonia National Park!

Stargazing – How to Get Started

What to bring?

The main requirement for stargazing is stars, so heading to Snowdonia National Park is an excellent way to start. Other than that, there isn’t much restrictive or specialist equipment that’s considered essential – bring a blanket, a warm coat, provisions (a flask of hot tea is always a winner) and plenty of layers; nightfall, even during the summer months, can get very cold, so make sure to wear layers and bring weather-appropriate clothing.

A telescope or binoculars enhance your experience. A portable star map is extremely useful to help newcomers navigate the skies. Snaps from your stargazing adventure will be an incredible addition to your holiday photo album, so we recommend bringing a camera (or charging up your phone).

For phones, there are a number of really useful apps that can enhance your experience and make it that much easier – we love Star Walk (iOS) and Google Sky (Android) for letting you know which stars you can see where. A little less high-tech but incredibly useful is a compass – use it for locating specific constellations, or helping you out if you get a little lost!

Who?

Stargazing is a fun activity for all the family – as long as everyone’s wrapped up warm with plenty of snacks it can be an unforgettable educational experience for children. Gazing up at the celestial bodies can also be an endlessly romantic adventure.

When?

Fairly obviously, the best time for stargazing is at night. You’ll get the best visibility on clear nights, and for comfort its always best to try and choose a dry night (and one which hasn’t been preceded by rain, if possible). The night sky changes throughout the year, so if you’re lucky enough to return to North Wales during different seasons we recommend going stargazing more than once to enjoy different experiences and perspectives. The night sky is generally best for stargazing just before the moon is full, so it’s worth checking the lunar calendar before you head out.

Spectacular Snowdonia Stargazing Spots

Cadair Idris

To make the stargazing experience that much more magical, why not head to a place steeped in mythology? Legend tells that the fearsome giant Idris used this rock as his armchair as he gazed up at the stars. The best route up to the summit is the Minffordd Path.

Llyn Conwy

Just above Penmachno, the reservoir where the River Conwy begins its wending path through the hills enjoys incredibly dark and expansive skies. A lot of the charm of this place comes from its remoteness – so a map is definitely recommended! Wildlife enthusiasts will find plenty to look out for here too – keep your binoculars trained for nocturnal foxes and owls.

Cwm Idwal

Truly one of Snowdonia’s most breathtaking places, Cwm Idwal is a bowl-shaped valley containing the serene Llyn Idwal. Choose to visit on a clear night and you’ll enjoy a sky spangled with stars, and the amazing sight of them reflected in the lake’s waters.

Bwlch-y -Groes

For those not keen on hiking to find stars, Bwlch y Groes near Bala is a fantastic option. This is a mountain pass accessible by car – so if it’s a bit too chilly for you, you can simply roll down your windows and take a peek at the night sky! This is a Dark Sky Discovery Site, and the car park here is a great spot for standing telescopes for serious stargazing.

Llyn Geirionydd

With Betws-y-Coed nearby, this is a lovely scenic spot for exploring nature during the day and indulging your astronomical urges at night. Park at the lake carpark and find the perfect spot for admiring the dark skies here.

Llynnau Cregennen

Between Barmouth and Dolgellau, the twin lakes of Llynnau Cregennen are owned and maintained by the National Trust. There’s plenty of sky to examine here, and you’ll also be treated to spectacular landscapes and wonderful crisp, fresh air.

After your stargazing adventure, return to the warm environs of the Royal Victoria Hotel – superbly located in Llanberis. If we’ve inspired you to ‘look up’, choose Snowdonia and browse our selection of rooms here.

Seven wonders of Snowdonia

We are so lucky to be located right on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park – some of the most epic landscapes and thrilling adventures in Wales are right on our doorstep. But with so many exciting things to see and do, which to choose?

As it’s the Year of Discovery in Wales in 2019, we’re here to help you make the most of your stay at the Royal Victoria Hotel. From the peak of Snowdon to the depths of Blaenau’s slate mines, here are seven must-see wonders of Snowdonia.

1. Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon)

Topping the list of wonders has to be Yr Wyddfa, rising majestically in the heart of the Snowdonia National Park. Chiselled onto the landscape through the process of glaciation, it stands at an impressive 1085m, earning itself the title of Wales’ highest mountain. Its pyramidal peak can be reached in a number of ways, ranging from a morning’s hike to the summit, to a more leisurely ride on the historic Mountain Railway.

Whatever your preference, once at the summit you can indulge in a well-deserved rest at Caffi Hafod Eryri, whilst enjoying the epic views of seas, lakes, mountains, valleys, rivers, forests, Anglesey and even Cardigan Bay. Also at the summit is a plaque to Gwenllian ferch Llywelyn, the last native Princess of Wales.

Exercise, fresh air, refreshment, glorious views, and some local history all rolled into one – a perfect day out!

2. Castell Dolbadarn, Llanberis

Surely one of Snowdonia’s most breathtaking views can be seen from Dolbadarn Castle? The castle, built on a rocky crag overlooking the twin lakes of Padarn and Peris, acts as the gate-keeper of the ruggedly beautiful Llanberis Pass. Built by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, this medieval stronghold is rightfully recognised as one of North Wales’ finest treasures.

You don’t have to go far to tick this one off your must-see list – it’s located in the grounds of our hotel, take a walk and enjoy the views!

3. Dinorwig Power Station, Llanberis

Long after the slate industry had left its mark on the side of Elidir Fawr, the site was selected to provide hydroelectric power for the National Grid in times of surges in demand. Opened in 1984, and buried deep beneath the mountain, there are 16km of tunnels to explore. Each of Dinorwig’s six generating units can produce 288MW of electricity, offering a combined output of 1728MW.

Today the visitor attraction Electric Mountain provides a fascinating look at the process of producing hydroelectric power, it’s just a short walk from the hotel to the visitor centre.

4. Beddgelert

This picturesque village is named after a prince’s dog! Gelert was Llywelyn ap Iorweth’s (d.1240) faithful hound. Legend has it that when the prince was out hunting, Gelert was entrusted to guard over his infant son. Whilst the hunt took place, a wolf entered the royal chamber and attempted to attack the crib where the child slept, only to be stopped in its tracks by Gelert. An almighty struggle ensued, but Gelert emerged victorious. When Llywelyn returned, he found the toppled crib, and Gelert covered in blood. Assuming the worst, the prince killed Gelert, only to discover the wolf’s bloody corpse and the baby unharmed nearby.

It’s a tragic tale but, alas, that’s all it is! The myth that the village was named to commemorate Gelert’s resting place was the invention of a wily old businessman as a means to attract more tourists! But don’t let that stop you from visiting Beddgelert. It’s a charming alpine village with pleasant walks, including one to Gelert’s grave, and a good selection of shops and cafes too.

Romantic places to propose North Wales

5. Swallow Falls, Betws-y-Coed

Another of Snowdonia’s natural wonders is Rhaeadr Ewynnol (Swallow Falls), Wales’ highest continuous waterfall. At Betws-y-Coed, the Afon Llugwy crashes and tumbles its way from Carnedd Llywelyn, creating a scene of outstanding natural beauty framed with conifer, birch and beech. The cafes, restaurants and local shops of Betws are worth a visit too!

6. The Slate Caverns, Blaenau Ffestiniog

The town of Blaenau Ffestiniog and the Slate Caverns are a reminder of Wales’ eminent position during the Industrial Revolution. Work at Llechwedd began in 1846, and at its peak in 1884 over 23,000 tons of slate were quarried. But Blaenau isn’t just about Wales’ industrial history; here you can tackle world-famous bike trails, zoom on record-breaking zip-wires and bounce below on subterranean trampolines​!​ This isn’t what you’d expect in the heart of our National Park,​ but if you love a thrill Blaenau should definitely be on your must-see list.

7. Cadair Idris

This mountain sits at the southern end of the National Park, near the town of Dolgellau. The peak is a popular attraction for walkers and hikers but holds an important place in our cultural heritage too. It is said to be the place where the giant Idris sat as he looked westwards towards the Irish Sea. Some nearby lakes were rumoured to be bottomless, and it is said anyone who sleeps on the mountain’s slopes alone will wake up as either a madman or a poet.

Cadair Idris is also said to have been one of the hunting grounds of Gwyn ap Nudd, King of the Fairies. The howling of his hunting dogs (Cwn Annwn) foretold death to anyone who heard them… but don’t let that put you off visiting!

Images courtesy: crown copyright Visit Wales