Llanberis, Snowdonia National Park
Britain has a beauty that’s quite unlike anywhere else in the world. The diversity of the land, culture, history, and society make it a stunning place to explore and experience, but few places across the whole of the British Isles have the same magic as Wales. From its rolling hills to its rich history, Wales has a unique charm – and Llanberis is arguably a beating heart of Welsh heritage.
The village of Llanberis, in the area of Gwynedd in North Wales, is something of a hidden gem. Set at the foot of Mount Snowdon, the tallest mountain in Wales and an ever-popular destination for travellers of all creeds, Llanberis has become emblematic of the Welsh experience. It may sound cliché, but there truly is something for everyone here.
Whatever your age, hobbies, and tastes, and whether you’re a solo adventurer or a family of holidaymakers, Llanberis is a wonderful place to explore and discover.
Whether you’re stopping off before embarking on an ascent of Snowdon or spending some time immersing yourself in the heart of the Welsh countryside, there are countless things to see and do during a trip to this piece of British heritage.
But first, a little history…
While the familiar lacquered tourist boards found at landmarks, on paths, and along walkways sometimes attract our attention, it’s easy to visit a place without a real appreciation for its history – its character – and in the case of Llanberis, this would be a great shame; the village has a fascinating place in the pantheon of Welsh culture, so before you set off, here’s a little of the story of Llanberis to get your wanderlust going.
Named after ‘Moi Tudur’, an early Welsh Saint, Llanberis sits under the ruins of Dolbadarn Castle (see number 3!) which was constructed in the 13th century by Llywelyn the Great – the prince of Gwynedd. In the centuries thereafter, Llanberis was completely transformed, largely in part due to its proximity to Snowdon – by its burgeoning slate trade.
During the industrial revolution, demand for slate from Snowdonia was so high that Llanberis and the other surrounding villages found themselves at the heart of the ‘area that roofed the world’.
The small village was transformed into an industrial town, and much of this era of Llanberis’ history can still be seen today, in the intertwining network of paths and roads between the many surrounding towns, and the architecture of the village’s buildings.
In the decades since the heyday of the slate industry (which at its pinnacle was employing over 17,000 men, and producing nearly half a million tons of slate), Llanberis has assumed a different character, as the booming tourist industry to Snowdon has breathed new life into the village.
The result is a unique blend of history and modern hospitality – a village that’s both trapped in time and moving forwards. There’s a lot to see, and a lot to do, and all of it has its place in Welsh history.
Not Climbing Snowdon? There Are Still Plenty Of Great Things To Do In Llanberis
Experiencing Llanberis’ heritage:
Llanberis is a fantastic place to visit if you’re a bit of a culture vulture. Wales is unique in Britain for its atmosphere and charm, and a trip to Llanberis can give you a taste of all of these and more:
National Slate Museum
Nestled in the workshops of the now-defunct Dinorwic slate quarry, the National Slate Museum is an absolute must-see for visitors with a penchant for historical experiences. Connected to the village of Llanberis by the Llanberis Lake Railway (see number 10.), the museum is one of the most authentic ways both to learn about and immerse yourself in this iconic piece of British heritage.
The museum offers free entry, and during your visit you’ll be able to see everything from a range of exhibitions about the slate quarrying industry, to the largest working water wheel in mainland Britain.
Younger (and older!) visitors can be entertained by live slate-spitting demonstrations, giving a taste of what the traditional craft looks like in action, and all of this is experienced among the authentic Victorian slate workers’ cottages, which originate from the village of Tanygrisiau, and have been meticulously moved and reconstructed stone by stone for visitors to explore.
For some insight into an industry that’s a little more rooted in our modern world, but with an experience that’s no less humbling and engaging than the National Slate Museum, visitors to Llanberis can spend a day at Electric Mountain.
It may sound like the debut album of an 80s glam rock band, but Electric Mountain is actually the visitors’ centre for the First Hydro Company’s Llanberis power station. A visit to Electric Mountain will take you on an adventure deep into the caves and mountains of the area.
After arriving at the centre, you’ll be taken to the Dinorwig Power Station by shuttle, and will then embark on an underground exploration of the Elidir mountain’s winding tunnels, learning all about one of the marvels of modern engineering.
You’ll need to bring appropriate footwear, and arrive at least 15 minutes before your intended tour time – it’s also worth noting that due to the need for protective gear, under 4s are unfortunately not able to take part in the tour, but ‘the Den’, an on-site play area, means that little’uns won’t have to stay at home!
Dolbadarn Castle towers (literally) above Llyn Padarn lake and the imposing ruins of this once-great fortress are a fantastic place to visit during a stay in Llanberis. Built by Llywelyn the Great in the 13th century, the castle was active until close to the year 1300, and was the site of Owain ap Gruffydd’s imprisonment by his brother during their conflict over the control of North Wales in the 1250s.
Seized by the English in 1282, and then shortly abandoned, the castle eventually was ravaged for its stone and timber, and its ruins now stand above Llanberis as a monument to a period of historical conflict. A short walk from the car park off the A4086, the tower remains impressively well-preserved for its age and is free to visit for all.
When hunger strikes:
All travellers and adventurers get a little peckish from time to time, and when it’s time to wet the whistle and whet the appetite, Llanberis has a delightful assortment of cafes, shops, and restaurants to sample:
Visit local pubs
Few things are more emblematic of the British culture than a visit to a good pub. There are a few to choose from in Llanberis, and a good bet is local rustic pub and kitchen ‘The Heights’. A popular haunt for hikers, locals, and visitors alike, The Heights offers a good selection of local ales and whiskies, and a great menu for a casual bite to eat.
Opened in 2003 by Chef-patron Angela Dwyer, the Peak Restaurant is perfect for a slightly more indulgent dining experience. Offering a modern but casual menu, Chef Dwyer has put her years of culinary experience to good use in crafting a selection of culinary options that will delight foodie travellers.
With a relaxing and welcoming atmosphere, the Peak Restaurant is a talking point of the food scene in the local area, having appeared on Marco Pierre White’s Kitchen Wars, and its menu is made using local, fresh, seasonal produce.
Chef Dwyer spent time as a chef at the London members-only Groucho Club, where, among others, she cooked for Madonna and Queen. She also catered Nigella Lawson’s first wedding, so patrons at the Peak can rest easy in the knowledge that they’re in safe hands!
Spice of Llanberis
It might be a bit of a throwaway, but seeing as we’re the Roaming Spices, it seems only fitting to mention Spice of Llanberis. This restaurant is just the ticket if you fancy a classic Indian meal, whether it’s in-house or as a takeaway – it might not feature the glamour of a Michelin-starred dining room, but hey, that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable!
We dropped in for a meal the evening before climbing Mount Snowdon and we had a splendid meal. The atmosphere was buzzing also!
Snowdon Honey Farm and Winery
If industry and history don’t float your boat, then a pleasant alternative is a trip to the Snowdon Honey Farm and Winery. This charming and quaint shop and tearoom is drenched in traditional culture, with a stunning assortment of honey, wines, and meads for purchase – making it the perfect stop-off to pick up a unique and thoughtful gift for your loved ones upon your return home.
Take in some natural sights:
Wales is arguably one of the best places in the UK to experience the astonishing beauty of nature. The country has some captivating diversity when it comes to natural sights – with the rolling valleys of the south offering a sublime contrast to the towering mountain peaks of the North.
Llanberis falls into the latter category, and its proximity to Snowdon – itself a natural wonder that everyone should try to see at least once – means that for those who like to stop, smell the roses, and take in a breathtaking view, Llanberis is home to some utter delights:
Snowdon Mountain Railway
When returning home from a visit to the Welsh peaks, and proudly declaring that “We climbed Snowdon!”, one of the first things many people will ask is whether you walked, or took the railway.
There often seems to be a sense that taking the railway is ‘cheating’, but those who have actually taken the time to ride the train themselves will know that not only is it not cheating – it’s one of the most delightful experiences in Llanberis and the surrounding area.
The railway – a ‘rack and pinion’ track (meaning it runs on a system of cogs whose teeth match grooves in the track) – offers visitors the chance to scale the colossal 1085m of Snowdon with comparative ease, and take in the stunning views.
It’s little surprise that this experience, which takes you to the top of the ‘rooftop of Wales’ has been described as one of the most unique and wonderful railway journeys in the world. Cheating? Think what you will – it’s worth it.
With a superb circular walking route, Llyn Padarn is one of the most beautiful spots in Snowdonia to spend an afternoon taking in some fresh air; the glacial lake is one of the largest natural lakes in Wales, and as a part of the wider Padarn Country Park, provides a wonderful backdrop for a long hike, or casual stroll.
Walking the circumference of this stunning natural body of water isn’t just a great way to get a bit of exercise, and take in the incredible views – it’s also a fantastic way to become familiar with Llanberis and its surroundings more generally.
Starting in the village (the lake is directly adjacent to it), a walk around Llyn Padarn can bring you across the aforementioned Electric Mountain (from which tours also run), and can give you glimpse of Dolbadarn Castle, as well as – once you’re on the other side – a magnificent view of Llanberis itself. It’s the perfect spot for a picnic, too.
Llanberis Lake Railway
Just as some may decry taking the rail up to the summit of Snowdon, others may claim that opting for the Llanberis Lake Railway is the ‘easy way out’ when it comes to experiencing the beauty of Llyn Padarn. Those people are also missing something crucial – the humble and charming experience of taking an authentic ride on a steam engine.
Llanberis Lake Railway offers just that. The train journey offers its visitors the chance to relax and experience the beauty of the surrounding vistas from the luxury of the narrow-gauge steam trains, along a picturesque 5-mile track. The journey takes around an hour, and makes for a memorable addition to any visit to Llanberis.
‘Weatherman Walking’ route
Derek Brockway – the ever-popular BBC Wales weather presenter – has developed a bit of a reputation. Far from anything scandalous, however, Brockway has become renowned for both his devotion to Wales in general (he’s keenly learning the language), and more significantly – walking.
He created the BBC Radio Wales shows ‘weatherman walking’ in order to fuel this passion and bring it to the masses, and one of his routes is centred in Llanberis.
The walk will take you to many of the aforementioned attractions, but sometimes, re-visiting somewhere with a different intention (this time, as a stopping point on a longer journey) can be a great experience. Similarly, lacing up those walking boots and
Similarly, lacing up those walking boots and setting out on a whistle-stop tour of the area could be a great way to get your bearings, too.
For another glimpse at the natural wonders of Wales, a trip to Ceunant Mawr Waterfall could be an eye-opening and awe-inspiring experience. While it’s possible to get a glimpse of the falls while riding the Mountain Railway (as you pass over the viaduct), taking the time to make a walking visit could provide an even more unforgettable adventure – and if you know the right route to take, this isn’t too much trouble.
It’s worth mentioning – although this might trigger rolled eyes along the well-seasoned walkers among you – that the waterfall is an example of raw natural power, and as such, is an inherently dangerous place. Do take great care when visiting any body of water – particularly waterfalls!
For some retail therapy:
While there’s an undeniable appeal to taking the time out to experience the jaw-dropping achievements of mother nature, sometimes, it’s nice to indulge in a few of the conveniences and luxuries of modern living – namely, shopping.
Like many small Welsh towns, Llanberis is pleasantly devoid of large corporate chains, and instead offers visitors the chance to browse all kinds of independent, artisanal, and locally-made goods.
Visit Local Craft Shops
There’s a lot to see in Llanberis when it comes to scratching that shopping itch, but possibly some of the most enjoyable retailers to visit are the local craft shops. A couple stand out, particularly ‘Piggery Pottery’.
Offering shoppers a delightfully humble experience, in a quaint and charming shop floor, Piggery Pottery sells everything from personalised handmade clocks to original prints from local artist Barbara Winrow.
Tan y Ddraig Ceramic Cafe is also a lovely twist on the classic shopping experience, welcoming visitors to a fun and relaxed paint-your-own-pottery studio. Few gifts can top an authentically handmade ceramic, particularly if its been painted by you!
Both Piggery Pottery and Tan y Ddraig also offer drinks and cakes in their respective cafes, giving you the chance to refresh after a tough afternoon’s browsing.
For a Taste of Adventure:
While the chance to sit and paint a mug is a dream come true for many holidaymakers, for some, it just doesn’t quite hit the spot. Llanberis is a great place to visit for all kinds of travellers, and that includes those who enjoy a taste of adrenaline every now and again:
Whether you’re an individual, in a group, or a couple, Ropeworks Active is a chance for an exciting and unforgettable afternoon’s adventuring – it will have you swinging, climbing, and scrambling across a variety of rope-based aerial adventure courses.
With ‘low ropes’ for younger members of the party (aged 3 and up) and the more challenging ‘high ropes’ courses for fully-grown explorers, Ropeworks caters to all adventurous sensibilities, by also offering other outdoor activities like climbing and gorge walking.
You can experience all of the above and more, safe in the knowledge that you’re in good hands; Ropeworks Active is fully accredited by the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority.
Vivian Diving Centre
Situated in an old, flooded slate quarry, Vivian Diving Centre is a bit of a hidden gem for adventure seekers in Snowdonia. The natural conditions in the water of the quarry mean there is very little silt, which results in excellent visibility all year round – a quality many other dive sites lack. (Not to mention the sheer beauty of the surrounding area!)
Ideal both for novice divers, or those with a bit more experience under their belt, Vivian Diving Centre has a maximum dive depth of 22 metres – which is about the same height/depth as a 6-7 storey building. Gulp!
Llanberis – A Town That Caters For Everyone’s Tastes
We think that it is fair to say that the majority of people who come to Llanberis come with the intention of climbing Snowdon. We quickly realised from our short visit that there are so many other wonderful activities available that cater for a wide range of tastes.
Whether you are coming for that Snowdon adventure or not, rest assured that you will never be short of amazing things to do in Llanberis!
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