Perfect Day in North Wales
Updated: Jan 13, 2020
In 2019, I had the great pleasure to go on one of the best vacations of my life. We planned an amazing trip through England, Scotland, and Wales, and I cannot stop thinking about how wonderful the experience was. I cannot encourage you enough to visit these magnificent places. When you take your trip to the United Kingdom, do not just limit yourself to London. Venture out to different places in the UK – you will not regret it! (This is by no means a criticism of London. I, personally, have an unhealthy obsession with the city.) While I can write a small book about our entire trip, today I want to focus on its hidden gem: North Wales. I want to be honest and say that initially I wasn’t super excited about going to Wales. My husband has always wanted to go, though, and I knew they had some castles (who doesn’t love castles?), so I was quickly on board. Let me walk you through the highlights of our favorite day in this beautiful country:
We actually rented a car for part of this trip, so we drove from Glasgow, Scotland to Llandudno, Wales. If you aren’t following that same path, then there are trains and other modes of transport you can take to reach Wales. However, I do recommend renting a car. It was a great experience driving through three countries in one day and exploring the countryside as locals would do. Yes, it is on the opposite side of the road—and the car—for those in the United States, but just relax and take an extra second before making any turns, lane changes, or sudden movements in general! You’ll be grand! (Full disclosure - I say all this as someone who did zero percent of the driving during the trip, but I was a phenomenal navigator.)
We stayed at Bodysgallen Hall in Llandudno (a magnificent country house hotel & spa), and I fell in love with this place the moment we arrived. We stayed in one of the private cottages on the property, but they also have lovely rooms in the main house that I would love to stay in, as well. The grounds of Bodysgallen were stunning! I felt like I had time-traveled into a different era as I wandered through the gardens and explored the setting. The service at Bodysgallen was top notch – shout out to Gareth who we enjoyed as a bellman, busser, and bartender during our stay. We had dinner and breakfast in the Dining Room, and it felt like we were on a cruise (in a good way) because guests have assigned tables in the Dining Room and everyone knows who you are. It felt as though we were visiting our very sophisticated friends in the Welsh countryside.
However, back to the task at hand - we started our “Perfect Day in North Wales” with Breakfast in the Dining Room at Bodysgallen. After breakfast, we got picked up by our guides for the day. Now – I must confess that we were incredibly lucky in Wales. While I knew the two castles I wanted to see, I didn’t have much knowledge as far as logistics and Welsh history. As a planner, this made me extremely anxious. Fortunately for us, a miracle happened. My husband has a distant relative that lives in North Wales and, by complete coincidence, he and his wife live fairly close to Llandudno - they also happen to be the nicest people we have ever met! They were kind enough to act as our guides and I want to share the experience with you!
So, we got picked up and we made our way to Conwy! Conwy is only about a 15-minute drive from Bodysgallen/Llandudno. Park somewhere legal in Conwy and then I highly recommend doing a walk of the Conwy Town Walls. Seriously – how often do you get the opportunity to walk on medieval town walls and stop at all of the towers? Also, the walls have incredible views of the water. It was amazing – and something I wouldn’t think of doing on my own. Bonus--it’s free! Then you should make your way over to Conwy Castle which is located right on the water. Built between 1283 and 1287, Conwy Castle is very impressive! I suggest walking to the top of every tower of the castle. Not only is it a great workout, but it will also afford you the best views. Plus, it makes you feel like you are in an episode of Game of Thrones! I could have spent the entire day wandering around Conwy Castle. If you need some castle-walking energy, you should definitely get a sweet treat of ice cream at Parisella’s, which is located right outside of the castle. Delicious ice cream made by an Italian family in the heart of North Wales is magical!
On the way to lunch, we stopped on the most charming bridge - Pont Pen-y-llyn (which translates to “Head of the Lake Bridge”) and enjoyed the most beautiful view of Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa), the highest mountain in Wales. Something to note is that Welsh is a completely different language than English. While everyone you encounter speaks English, all of the signage and many of the places you go are in the traditional Welsh language. I really tried to learn how to pronounce some of the words in Welsh—and surely struggled—but I loved learning about the words, their meanings, and the language, in general.
For lunch, we went to the most delightful place - Y Caban - which is located in Brynrefail (a small village in Wales). Now – I do apologize since I feel like I throw this term around a lot with our Wales experience, but Y Caban was a “hidden gem” – in every sense! It’s the type of place I would have not found on my own even with all of my restaurant research tactics, so I am extremely grateful that we were taken there by locals. Y Caban has a gorgeous patio in the back and, thanks to uncharacteristically good weather, we were able to dine outside among the trees. The food was delicious and there were many traditional Welsh menu items that we were able to try. They also had a fun assortment of British beer which is always a good time. I definitely recommend having some beer between castle trips! You’ll need the strength to climb up all of the towers.
After lunch we ventured on to our second castle of the day – Caernarfon Castle. Ok – I know I said I felt like I was in a movie before, but I really felt like I was on a movie set in Caernarfon. The town is located right on the picturesque water. Before going into the castle, we walked around the surrounding small streets. One of the streets had an umbrella art installation for the summer. How lucky we were to happen upon it! Then we entered the castle and it was extraordinary. Even though the castle was on my list of places to visit, I had no idea it’s where Prince Charles had his investiture when he became the Prince of Wales! You can stand in the exact location he did with the Queen. Viewers of The Crown may recognize the location from season three of the show. There is a short video to watch talking about the history of the castle, and I recommend that you watch it because it really is fascinating! Then do some stretches because the towers at Caernarfon Castle are no joke! Each tower has a better view than the last one, so you don’t want to miss them! We also were lucky this day that it was a weekday and there were not many crowds at the castles, so you really felt free to explore without bumping into people. It was glorious!
For dinner we made our way to Anglesey. Anglesey is an island off the northwest coast of Wales. You may have heard of it from when Prince William and Kate (Princess, Duchess, Future Queen?) lived there while Prince William was working there from 2010-13. At least that’s where I had heard of it! We went to Y Goron or "The Crown", which is near the old bridge at Aberffraw, Anglesey. I adored this pub! It had everything you could wish for at a pub – cold beer, delicious food, and people speaking actual Welsh at the bar. Everyone was so friendly, and the food was fantastic! I had the homemade Steak and Ale Pie in short crust pastry – using Welsh beef and real ale from local Welsh breweries! When it arrived I thought I could never possibly finish it…I did. And I must say I haven’t stopped thinking of it. It was the best Steak and Ale Pie I’ve ever had, and I’ve seriously had a few.
After dinner we took photos at the old bridge at Aberffraw, which was yet another time in North Wales that I felt like I was on a film set. I could have stayed there all night, but it was time to head back to Llandudno. But first, we made another stop in Anglesey at the train station of the town with the longest name in all of Britain. I feel like it’s the longest name of any place ever, but it’s called: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch – I’m not joking! Our wonderful guides were able to pronounce it for us and, try as we might, we were not able to. It was such a cute town! The town name translates to mean: Saint Mary's Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave - obviously! (I must point out that we took our trip in early July, and during the summer it stays light out in Wales until after 10 p.m. The extended daylight gives you a great opportunity to get your fill of sightseeing.)
We finally started to head back to the hotel, but we decided to make one last stop at Conwy Castle to get a few photos of the castle lit up at night. It was magic!
We ended this perfect day back at our cottage at Bodysgallen and enjoyed a bottle of champagne (thanks, Gareth!) to toast to new friends and our new love of Wales!