For outstanding scenery, there can be few locations that are better than North Wales to enjoy a caravan holiday. With a national park, islands, beachy coastline centred around seaside resorts and several Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it is actually difficult to decide where to base a ‘van.
Snowdonia National Park is at the heart of North Wales. Nine conjoined mountain ranges cover almost 52% of the National Park, which itself covers a total of 823 square miles. While Mount Snowdon, at 3,560 feet (1,085m) may be the focal point, it is the national park’s diverse landscape, with glacial valleys, steep gorges, woodlands and sandy beaches that make it special.
Llanberis, at the foot of Snowdon – and from where you catch the mountain railway to the summit – and Betws-y-Coed are the two main towns of the Park (Llanberis actually lies just outside the park boundary). Both are dedicated tourist towns filled with attractions and shops for visitors. The village of Capel Curig, though tiny in size, has a large part to play within the Park as the focus for adventure and activity, based around the National Outdoor Centre.
The less well-known southern area of Snowdonia National Park is home to some of the area’s larger lakes: Lake Bala, with its picturesque lakeside steam railway; Lake Celyn, home of the National White Water Centre; and Lake Trawsfynydd, a manmade reservoir used, along with its surroundings, as an outdoor adventure site. The Park incorporates coastline too, with long stretches of sandy beach around the pretty towns of Harlech (of castle and Men of Harlech fame) and Barmouth. At the very bottom of Snowdonia is the Dovey Valley and charming village of Aberdyfi, with the Centre for Alternative Technology, a visitor centre showcasing all things environmental and energy saving, on the edge of the Park.
To the west of Snowdonia National Park is the Llŷn Peninsula. Like a giant finger pointing into the Atlantic Ocean, separating Caernarfon Bay to the north and Cardigan Bay to the south, a quarter of the peninsula is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The peninsula’s south coast is lined with sheltered, golden sandy beaches centred on the seaside towns of Criccieth, Pwllheli and Abersoch, while the northern shores and coastline around the ‘fingertip’, are labelled as the Llŷn Heritage Coast.
The area is rich in archaeological and architectural history harking back to the very roots of Welsh culture. And just off the tip is one such place, Bardsey Island. With a one-time monastery (now resigned to rubble), Bardsey Island has been a pilgrimage site since the 6thcentury. It’s now a nature reserve where grey seals and rare birds nesting in spring can be seen; you can catch a boat to the island from Aberdaron and Pwllheli.
East of Snowdonia National Park are the counties of Flintshire and Denbighshire. The area attracts fewer tourists than Snowdonia, and its mountains are less dramatic. But the countryside, hills and valleys are no less pleasing. Indeed the Clwydian Range, a ridge of hills running north to south, west of Mold and Wrexham, and the tightly meandering Dee Valley, part of which supplies the border between Wales and England, are collectively deemed an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
You can walk along the ridge of the Clwydian Range on the Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail, a route based upon the ancient artificial defences that Offa, King of Mercia created in the 8th century. The trail passes through Llandegla where the Coed Llandegla Forest Park is sited, a private park within which is one of the UK’s biggest mountain biking centres. Indeed the Clwydian Range, together with the area around Lake Brenig and Hiraethog are the focus for the creation of a network of roads, tracks, climbs and descents to offer great cycling experiences for all.
Tucked into the mountains, and within the delightful Dee Valley, is the charming town of Llangollen. You’ll catch visitors bathing in the shallow waters of the River Dee right in the centre of town. Or enjoy afternoon tea from one of the many cafés, maybe having tried a white water descent on bubbling rapids further upstream.
The town’s location is sublime – and a great base for a caravan holiday – but just to the east is Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the aqueduct is the world’s tallest canal boat crossing and an amazing feat of engineering that crosses the River Dee. You can walk across the aqueduct for views of the river below, or walk along the towpaths of the Llangollen Canal – eleven miles of the canal are also under World Heritage status.
This includes the Horseshoe Falls to the west of Llangollen, a manmade (by Thomas Telford, designer of the aqueduct), weir that feeds the canal. One of the best vantage points to see the aqueduct is upstream from the Cysylltau Bridge crossing the River Dee, while to see the Dee Valley at its best, head to The Panorama, a rocky limestone outcrop near the village of Garth.
The North coast of Wales centres on the resorts of Prestatyn, Rhyl, Colwyn Bay and the delightful town of Llandudno, where long stretches of sandy beach attract traditional seaside holidaymakers. Llandudno, favoured by Victorian and Edwardian tourists, has an air of elegance and, dare one say it, superiority with decorative buildings and old-fashioned charm clustering Llandudno Bay. You can obtain great views of the coastline by climbing Great Ormes Head, either on foot, historic tramway or cable car.
At the northwestern tip of Wales sits the Isle of Anglesey, or Ynys Môn to give the island its Welsh name. At 276 square miles, it is Wales’ largest island, tagged onto which is a further isle – Holy Island, from where boats depart for Ireland.
Anglesey could be deemed a mini Wales, with a character all of its own. The Menai Strait, a calm looking but current defying stretch of water that appears turquoise blue on a sunny day, separates the island from the mainland. Hence Anglesey is accessed via two bridges – the Britannia Bridge, which carries most traffic along the A55 and the Menai Suspension Bridge, an industrial relic built by Thomas Telford in 1826 that continues to provide aesthetic beauty to this day.
While Anglesey’s predominantly agricultural core is worthy of a visit, it is the island’s coastline that is most celebrated. Indeed, the entire coastline is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with some of the most picturesque stretches on the North Anglesey Heritage Coast around Cemlyn Bay and Cemaes Bay, and the southeastern tip around Black Point and Puffin Island, a nature reserve that’s a great place for birdwatching. The Holyhead Mountain Heritage Coast, on the west side of Holy Island is also noteworthy; South Stack Lighthouse is a great viewing point and the RSPB Reserve there provides superb opportunities for birdwatching.
Anglesey is not void of beaches, though. The most popular beaches are on the east coast – Benllech, Lligwy and Red Wharf Bay attracting holidaymakers in their droves during the summer. For a quieter spot, head to Church Bay on the northwest coast or the western beaches of Aberffraw Bay (a decent walk to reach it helps to keep the numbers down), and those around the little town of Rhosneigr – a great centre for surfing.
An alternative way to see the coastline is via the 130-mile Isle of Anglesey Coastal Path, which circumnavigates the entire island. It is also part of the Wales Coast Path – the world’s first uninterrupted route along a national coastline.
Anglesey’s towns are compact and offer pleasant shopping in independent outlets. Amlwch is known for its connections to the local copper mining industry while Rhosneigr provides opportunities to pick up a bucket and spade and a great icecream. So too does Beaumaris, arguably the most attractive of Anglesey’s towns. With superb views of Snowdonia across the Menai Strait, the Regency town also includes the moated remains of a much older castle, built by Edward 1 in 1295. You can pick up a boat trip from the town’s quayside to Puffin Island, or go crabbing, a popular pastime off the pier.
Lastly, Anglesey cannot be mentioned without the inclusion of its most famous village – Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. The village has the longest place name in Britain (and one of the longest in the world), a tourist gimmick that worked! There was little in the village to draw in tourists but it was given the 58-character name in the 19th century in the hope of attracting some. Now, visitors stop by to take a selfie alongside the railway station sign just to prove they’ve been there!
Things to do
1.Whether on foot or by the mountain railway, climbing Mount Snowdon is one of Wales’ absolute must-do activities. Take the train one-way and walk the other along one of the well-trodden routes to the summit. The views from the top are out of this world.
2.Visit Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens, one of Anglesey’s newest attractions. The 19th century gardens, once lost to a wilderness, have undergone a major restoration since 1996, with lots of work still in progress.
3.Pretend you’re in Italy and be transported to the Mediterranean Coast (always with a Welsh twist, of course) at the Italianate village of Portmeirion. The brightly coloured buildings, with piazzas, Roman columns, pantiled roofs and Romanesque domes sit neatly in among sub-tropical gardens and woodland, all overlooking the sea.
4.Take an adrenalin-fuelled ride on the fastest zip wire in the world. ‘Flying’ over the Penrhyn Quarry, Snowdonia, you’ll reach speeds of 100mph, 500 feet above the ground.
When to visit
St David’s Day is celebrated throughout Wales on 1 March, but events really kick off with the ‘guarantee’ of better weather. May sees the Llandudno Transport Festival, the largest such event in North Wales with thousands of motors from vintage buses and tractors to classic cars and bikes. The All Wales Boat and Leisure Show, also in May, follows, celebrating all water-based activities.
July welcomes Abersoch Dinghy Week, combining plenty of sailing with social events. Further down the coast, the Barmouth Kite Festival takes place. For those feeling really fit, the International Snowdon Race, a run up and down the mountain, is something to look forward to in July.
Finally, the annual International Eisteddfod, Wales’ largest and most prestigious music, theatre and arts festival, takes place in Llangollen every summer.
Wales is a very rural country and, but for the M4 motorway in the south, there are no motorways at all. The M54 and M56, east-west spurs off the M6, will help to get you towards Wales, but from the point at which these short motorways run out – at Telford (M54) and Chester (M56) – you’re onto dual carriageways at best.
The A55 runs along the north coast of Wales, to Holyhead in Anglesey. This is the quickest and easiest route to and through North Wales. An alternative, and arguably prettier, route is the A5 from Shrewsbury, which joins up with the A55 at Bangor. The A5 passes through some of Wales’ most spectacular scenery.
You really should make travelling along this route a part of your holiday as it is stunning, but remember that if you are towing, it is twisty in places and, as a single-carriageway road, it can be slow. All other roads are absolutely fine for towing caravans, with the exception of some very local, unclassified roads.
There are no tolls on either the Britannia Bridge or Menai Bridge to Anglesey.
Where to stay
Pick your spot to pitch in North Wales from our annual Top 100 Sites Guide, as voted for by you. Wales, as a whole, always fares well in the Top 100 Sites Guide, where we run through the best caravan sites in the UK, and that’s, in part, because of the number of fabulous sites in the north of the country.
The Willows, on the Llŷn Peninsula, and Tyddyn Isaf Camping & Caravan Park, on Anglesey, are two such sites to feature in the 2022 awards. They both offer the extraordinary combination of coastal views and mountains. You can see the full list in our best caravan parks in Wales guide.
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For outstanding scenery, there can be few locations that are better than North Wales