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