Great itinerary ideas for group visits to Snowdonia – part two

If you’re looking to bring a group to North Wales, the Royal Victoria Hotel in Llanberis makes for an ideal base. With more than 100 rooms and coach- and minibus-friendly parking on site, from here you can easily visit and enjoy the best North West Wales’ attractions and activities.

In Part One we focused on visitor attractions suited to coach tours as well as smaller groups. In this, Part Two, we’re looking at activities smaller groups can experience. From roaming beautiful gardens to flying along a zipwire at dizzying speeds high above a quarry, smaller groups can experience just about any activity you can think of – and plenty more you can’t! Read on for just a taste of what you can organise for you and your group…

Group Travel Itinerary 1: Slate Adventure #1

Welsh slate is a world-famous industry. Slate from North Wales once roofed the world and this hard, dark rock from our hillsides is still regarded as the finest there is. With such a pedigree it will come as no surprise that the industry has left its mark on North Wales in more ways than one. From spectacular quarries to beautiful country manors built for the quarry owners, tracing the story of Welsh slate can make for fun and fascinating day-trips.

Penrhyn slate quarries, gouged from the mountains above the small town of Bethesda on the A5, make a great starting point for one such story. This still-working quarry now boasts the fastest zipwires in the world. On ZipWorld’s Velocity Two you can travel high above the quarry at speeds of up to 100mph over one-and-a-half kilometres. There are four lines, meaning up to four can “race” each other to the bottom. ZipWorld isn’t just about adrenaline mayhem, however, as you can also enjoy an informative tour of the quarry. There’s also a restaurant on site, where you can watch the zippers fly by.

Groups of 12 or more can attract a 10% discount.

Follow the A5 from Bethesda towards Bangor on the coast and you find Penrhyn Castle, one of the most admired mock castles in the UK. Built on the site of a fortified medieval manor house, Penrhyn Castle was the home of the Penrhyn Barons who made their fortune from slate and the slave trade. Now in the care of The National Trust, Penrhyn Castle contains a fine art collection and a fascinating railway museum, as well as plenty of historical interest. It’s set in extensive grounds, perfect for exploring and taking in the view’s of Snowdonia’s northern mountains and coast.

There are discounts for groups of 15 or more and facilities include free on-site parking, shop and cafe.

Group Travel Itinerary 1: Slate Adventure #2

Penrhyn slate is characterised by its blue colour. Around the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog to the south, it’s more green. This slate itinerary takes in a narrow gauge railway that was built to ship slate from the quarries around Blaenau Ffestiniog to the waiting ships at Porthmadog. Testament to the amount of slate that was exported from here is the small island off the harbour. It’s called Cei Ballast because the island is entirely man-made, created from ballast ships would dump before reloading their precious slate cargo and setting off round the world again.

Take a trip on the Ffestiniog Railway from Porthmadog to Blaenau, just over an hour away. All-Day Rover tickets allow passengers to break their journey at Tan-y-Bwlch, an area of woods, lakes and nature trails. Groups of 20 or more attract discounted fares and at-seat catering can be provided.

Blaenau Ffestiniog has almost remodelled itself to become adventure capital of Snowdonia. As with Penrhyn you can zipwire over slate landscapes at ZipWorld Titan, or mountain bike down a mountain at Antur Stiniog. There’s just as much adventure underground as there is above it. The Slate Caverns at Llechwedd on the hill above Blaenau features three terrific tours, one through mountain quarries and two that take you 500ft below ground and guide you through astonishing man-made caves and subterranean lakes. On these historical tours you’ll learn about the history and the people who worked the mines. For something more fun – but still underground – check out Zip World Caverns, an “assault” course involving cave traverses, zipwires and as much adventure as you can take! For more lighthearted activity, Zip World Bounce Below turns the caverns into a “bouncy castle” network of nets and tunnel slides. Crazy!

Llechwedd offers discounts for groups of 10 or more and Zip World activities for 12 or more guests. The site also features a shop, cafe and even a traditional quarrymen’s tavern!

Group Travel Itinerary 3: Forest Fun

A terrific day trip from Royal Victoria Hotel in Llanberis involves a spectacular drive up the Pass of Llanberis, past famous Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel where Hillary and Tenzing stayed during their training for their conquest of Everest, and along wild and windswept Dyffryn Mymbyr (Mymbyr Valley) to Capel Curig. From here the landscape changes from open, rocky hillsides to coniferous forests. These trees hide mile after glorious mile of walking and mountain biking trails, and more besides as you’ll soon discover!

From the pretty but busy village of Betws-y-Coed you can enjoy walks to hidden lakes, including Llyn Elsi and Llyn Parc. A waymarked river trail along the Afon Llugwy will bring you to the remarkable Miners Bridge, while a little further into the hills you can explore the remains of old lead mines from where the bridge got its name.

There is free coach parking at the side of the railway near the Motor Museum and behind the visitor centre, and a dropping-off and picking-up bay near the station shopping arcade.

If you thought forests were just about walking and biking, the inventive minds behind Zip World will force you to think again. In fact the Zip World group of adventure activities started life as a high ropes course just outside Betws-y-Coed. Now, Zip World Fforest as it’s known, is home to several treetop adventure courses, a giant swing, a “controlled” free-fall jump, and a forest rollercoaster!

There is parking and a cafe on site, and as with all Zip World activities, groups of 12 or more attract discounted ticket prices.

Group Travel Itinerary 4: Gardens Galore

So far we’ve considered fairly active group itineraries, but it’s also possible to take your foot off the pedal and enjoy pristine gardens and parklands with all of North Wales’s beauty as a pretty backdrop.

Garden-lovers will not want to miss a visit to Bodnant Gardens, arguably the most famous of our horticultural wonders. Explore 80 wonderful acres of lawns, borders, a glorious laburnum arch “tunnel” (May is the best time) and a wooded dell with river and pools. Bodnant is about an hour’s drive from Royal Victoria Hotel, making it an easy day trip.

A similar distance south of the hotel, on the way to Porthmadog, Plas Brondanw‘s gardens are where Sir Clough Williams-Ellis found much of his inspiration for Portmeirion’s landscaping. Like the more famous attraction, the gardens at Plas Brondanw were conjured up by images of renaissance Italy, with designs that lead the eye to Snowdonia’s wooded hills beyond. Visitors can now explore the house and art gallery too. Booking in advance is essential.

A more recent restoration project has transformed forgotten gardens in a low valley near the small Anglesey town of Menai Bridge into a delightful landscaped retreat. Plas Cadnant‘s formal grounds and natural planting in a wooded valley have been a labour of love for the owner for decades. There’s plenty of free car parking on site for coaches but all groups must book ahead.

Group Travel Itinerary 5: On the Orme

The Great Orme, a huge limestone headland above Llandudno, packs in enough natural and man-made attractions to make it a great day out. To explore it fully would not leave you time enough time to cover Llandudno as well, so we would recommend not trying to cram the two into one day.

One of the main attractions of the Orme is in choosing how you reach the summit. Why drive when you can take the tram, or even the longest cable car in Britain (two miles)? Both bring you to a summit complex with cafe, bar and gift shop.

The tram takes you past Great Orme Copper Mine, the world’s largest prehistoric mine dating back 4,000 years. Guided tours take you through caverns excavated by hand as well as narrow passages and chambers. The informative visitor centre and gemstone shop are worth a visit, too. The Great Orme Explorer ticket combines a trip on the tram, the mines, and an environmental walk with one of the Orme’s wardens. Booking is essential.

Finally, the Marine Drive is an amazing toll road that circles the Orme, from which there are dizzying views of limestone cliffs everywhere you look. It’s one of the most spectacular driving routes in Wales.

Missed Part One of our Group Travel Itinerary suggestions? Click here for a great list of attractions to bring your coach party.

Images courtesy: The Laburnum Arch at Bodnant Garden [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons. Great Orme Tramway © Copyright Ian Capper and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. Penrhyn Castle, Tanya Dedyukhina [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]

Great itinerary ideas for group visits to Snowdonia – part one

If you’re seeking to create a coach holiday or bring a special interest group to North Wales, the Royal Victoria Hotel in Llanberis makes for an ideal base. With more than 100 rooms and coach- and minibus-friendly parking on site, from here you can easily explore all of North West Wales’ most beautiful and iconic highlights. Llandudno and Conwy, Betws-y-Coed, Portmeirion, Caernarfon and Anglesey are all within easy day-trip reach. For special interest groups, the possibilities are almost endless.

Across two articles we propose a total of 10 itineraries that would give your visitors a break to remember. In this first article we focus on coach holidays for general interest visitors.

Click here for Part Two, if you’re a smaller group looking to bring people who share a particular interest or would like a more active break in North Wales.

Group Travel Itinerary 1: Llanberis Adventures

For a small village, Llanberis boasts a lot for the visitor. Two railways, a castle, a museum, and an underground attraction are all found within sight of each other – and on the doorstep of our hotel, too. That’s before you count in Snowdonia’s unmistakable beauty and adventure-playground landscapes.

Disused slate quarries once considered by some a blight on the land are now astonishing places to explore, with marked paths winding through precipitous slate cliffs, deep pools and evocative mine workings and buildings. Your group doesn’t have to be able to walk over tricky ground to explore the area’s industrial heritage, however, as the National Slate Museum brings it to life using original buildings and machinery from Dinorwig quarry.

Highlights in Llanberis include:

The National Slate Museum: As well as free entry, pre-booked groups can arrange behind-the-scenes visits, guided tours and a 10% discount on a minimum £5 spend per person in the cafe and shop. Coach drivers are given complimentary refreshments.

Electric Mountain: From the dedicated visitor centre* just yards from Royal Victoria Hotel, a bus takes visitors into an incredible hydro-electric power station deep inside ancient Elidir mountain. Exploring a labyrinth of dark and imposing tunnels and the jaw-dropping turbine hall, visitors will experience one of man’s greatest engineering achievements.

Snowdon Mountain Railway: Just as you can explore the slate industry without clambering on loose slate paths, so you can reach the summit of the highest mountain in England and Wales without a punishing uphill walk. The railway is a real hit with school groups but all pre-booked groups can take advantage of individual ticket discounts. This page has specific information on group visits.

Llanberis (Llyn Padarn) Lake Railway: Literally across the road from the Snowdon Mountain Railway station, and again just yards from Royal Victoria’s front door, this narrow gauge railway uses an old slate line and offers incredible views across the lake to Snowdon and beyond. Groups of 20 or more attract fare discounts and coach parking is nearby and free.

On a low hill just behind the hotel is Dolbadarn Castle, standing guard over Llyn Padarn and Llyn Peris. Built by a Welsh prince, the massive round keep is well worth a look. Admission is free but note the approach paths, although short, can be muddy after heavy rain.

For the more active, Snowdonia Watersports rents out kayaks, paddleboards and wetsuits from its facility alongside Llyn Padarn. They also offer instruction. Walkers, meanwhile, are spoilt for choice. The Llanberis Path to Snowdon Summit starts across the road from the hotel, while a Sherpa bus service will take you up to Pen-y-Pass, through Llanberis Pass’s moon-like landscape. Pen-y-Pass is the starting point for three of Snowdon’s most famous ascents – the Pyg Track, the Miner’s track and the notorious Grib Goch ridge. If all that sounds like too much – or the weather’s not being nice – the waymarked circular walk around Llanberis Lake (Llyn Padarn) is a wonderful alternative.

* From April to December 2019 tours operate from a temporary building located in the car park while while the visitor centre is refurbished. There are no catering facilities within this temporary building

Group Travel Itinerary 2: Discover Caernarfon

Caernarfon Castle and its setting on the Menai Strait is one of the most iconic of Welsh landmarks. The town too has plenty to offer the visitor, easily enough for a day trip. The walled town with its narrow streets and pretty waterside promenade can be wandered freely or with a guide. The Welsh Highland Railway takes passengers from its striking new station on the harbour deep into Snowdonia, to the picture-postcard village of Beddgelert and beyond, all the way to Porthmadog.

Of course, a visit to Caernarfon Castle is a must for any visit to Caernarfon town. Exploring this incredible fortress, one of the best preserved in Wales, would be enough of a highlight on its own, but within two of its towers visitors can also see the Royal Welch Fusiliers museum. Groups are welcome and CADW has produced a map outlining any hazards for younger or less mobile visitors.

Wandering the walled town of Caernarfon makes an ideal counterfoil to a castle visit. You get a sense of how the castle and the protected town operated as a settlement. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is brimming with history. A stroll along the recently renovated promenade is a highlight.

A trip on the narrow-gauge Welsh Highland Railway is a delight. Most groups do a two-hour, one way trip from Caernarfon, through the national park to Porthmadog, while the coach travels along the main road and there is time for a driver break before collecting the group. You can even charter your own train.

There is coach parking by the castle or at Slate Quay for £10 all-day, or free parking on Ffordd Balaclava Road. Drop-off points in Castle Square or Bangor Street.

Group Travel Itinerary 3: Highlights of Anglesey

Llanberis is just 30 minutes from the bridges that link mainland Wales to the Isle of Anglesey. Even though the island is larger than many realise (a drive from one end to the other can take an hour), our location makes exploring any part of the island an easy day trip.

Many coach tours head to the village with the long place-name. While it’s fair to say that Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch offers little more than a cute railway station with the tongue-twister fully spelled out on its signs, the free coach park, shop and cafe alongside it makes for a convenient coach stop. It’s a great photo opportunity. By the way, the name literally translates to “The church of St. Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by St. Tysilio’s of the red cave” – even longer than the Welsh equivalent!

The elegant coastal town of Beaumaris is one of Anglesey’s gems. While the castle doesn’t command the height of its mainland contemporaries, it is brilliantly designed and still has its moat. The town itself offers lots of independent shops selling Welsh crafts, food and drink, and the seafront is dominated by views across the water to the mountains of Snowdonia. The nearby car park boasts spaces for coaches, with a convenient drop-off/pick-up point by the Spar in the main street, making the castle and the town a great day trip.

Plas Newydd is a beautiful country house that makes the most of its setting on the wooded banks of the Menai Strait. In the care of the National Trust, the country house, its art and gardens are ideal for relaxed exploration. With an onsite cafe this makes a great ‘weather-proof’ half-day trip.

Elsewhere, Anglesey is of course renowned for its beaches. Sandy bays at Rhosneigr, Benllech and Trearddur Bay are among the more accessible for coaches and minibuses. Roadside laybys give access to Aberffraw beach but note there is a considerable walk across the dunes to reach the bay and limited facilities here.

Group Travel Itinerary 4: Portmeirion and Around

The Italianate village of Portmeirion, made famous by The Prisoner TV series, is an easy day trip from Llanberis. In fact, you could combine a trip here to other nearby attractions and make the most of a full day out. The nearby town of Porthmadog features a historic quayside and links the Welsh Highland Railway with the Ffestiniog Railway (the latter passes close by to Portmeirion). A little further west from Porthmadog is Criccieth, a lovely seaside town with a nice beach and a castle on a headland.

Portmeirion village and gardens welcomes groups all year round. As it’s such a popular destination, Portmeirion is well set up to accept groups: 12 or more attract discounts while drivers and tour leaders enjoy free entry. There is dedicated coach parking on site. Complimentary tour, film and train rides mean your visitors will get the most from their visit, while still allowing plenty of time to roam the fantastical village and terraced gardens.

Just 15 minutes away is Porthmadog, the principal town in this area and gateway to the Llyn Peninsula. As well as a historic quay and bustling shopping street, Porthmadog links the Welsh Highland Railway with the Ffestiniog Railway. They’re both operated by the same company, so organising your itinerary couldn’t be easier. For instance, you could spend the morning and lunch at Portmeirion, then come to Porthmadog and board and narrow-gauge train for a 40-minute return trip to Beddgelert in Snowdonia, through the spectacular Pass of Aberglaslyn. There is coach parking at Glaslyn Leisure Centre just off the main street, though do check with the centre for restrictions on hours.

For something a little more low-key, but even more attractive, head 20 minutes west of Porthmadog to Criccieth. Huddled above a crescent-shaped beach, this seaside town first attracted the Victorians and it’s not difficult to see why. At the western end of the beach, on a rocky outcrop, sits Criccieth Castle. Built by a Welsh prince, the castle was fought over several times between the invading English and Welsh before – ironically – a Welsh prince burnt the castle the last time it was under English rule. Even in a damaged state, it is well worth a visit today. There is coach parking on the esplanade along the seafront.

Group Itinerary 5: Captivating Conwy

Like Caernarfon, medieval Conwy, its walls and castle make up a UNESCO World Heritage site. There’s enough here for a weekend and more, but for a memory-packed day-trip it’s just as appealing. Build in half a day for the castle and another half for the town, its historic fishing harbour and walls.

Castles were not built for the less mobile but it’s still possible to wander Conwy Castle‘s halls and downstairs rooms of this fearsome construction. The town walls make for a lovely wander and provide more perspective on how well defended Conwy was. Within the town itself and far less obvious than the castle and the walls is Plas Mawr, a fine Elizabethan town house that’s also open to the public. It’s possible to buy a joint ticket allowing access to the castle and Plas Mawr, which makes plenty of sense for group visitors.

Elsewhere, make sure you visit the harbour side where, if you’re lucky, you’ll see fishermen bringing in a catch of mussels. They are still hand-raked in the Conwy estuary, as they have been for centuries. The washing facility, also on the quay, is often open and the fishermen are happy to talk to visitors about their traditional industry. In season many local eateries serve Conwy mussels.

There is designated setting down/picking up at Vicarage Gardens in Rosehill Street, in the centre of town. The nearest long stay coach park is at Morfa Bach off the B5106 Llanrwst Road to Trefriw. A castle arch prohibits high-sided executive coaches, in which case the next nearest all-day facilities can be found in Builder Street in nearby Llandudno (approximately 15-20 minutes’ drive from Conwy).

A note on visiting castles

CADW is the National Body that looks after castles in Wales. Their policy is to offer discounts for groups of 15 or more visitors. For more information please visit their groups page.

Part Two of our suggested Group Tour Itineraries looks at smaller, minibus groups with more activities or special interests in mind.

Images courtesy: Caernarfon Castle & Ffestiniog Railway, Peter Trimming [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Sunrise on Llyn Padarn by Hefin Owen