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Snowdonia road trip – is this Wales’ most scenic drive?

Snowdonia road trip – Wales’ most scenic drive?

As Wales’ first National Park and the third most popular National Park in Britain, Snowdonia is something special. It stretches over 827 square miles of unspoilt scenery with rocky mountains, clear blue lakes and thick forests. It has plants and insects you won’t find anywhere else in the world. And at the heart of it is the peak of Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. Or so I’d been told at least – the first time I’d visited you could barely see a metre in front of you through thick fog and drizzle. So when the last day of our recent weekend trip to North Wales dawned blue and bright, I knew exactly where to go.

Nant Gwynant Snowdonia

The road through Nant Gwynant

When the sun shines in Snowdonia, you have to get out there among it all – however you can. Ideally we’d have had a couple of days to climb Mount Snowdon and hike in the mountains, or even half a day for a shorter walk. But all we had was a car and a few hours. After a bit of research I came up with a road trip through some of the park’s most scenic drives. So if you’re limited on time – or not much of a walker – you can still get a taste of Snowdonia’s beautiful scenery. The route covers 39 miles altogether and takes around 1.5 hours to drive (depending on how many photo/tea and cake stops you make along the way).

Llyn Dinas lake in Snowdonia

On the banks of Llyn Dinas lake

Our route started in the town of Porthmadog on the North Wales coast. This was our base for the weekend, and it’s the hub for the West Highland and Ffestiniog railways and close to one of my favourite Welsh spots – the quirky Italian-style village of Portmeirion. From Porthmadog we followed the A498 past the village of Tremadog and through the Aberglaslyn Pass to the town of Bedgellert. The road carries on through the forest then along the banks of the Llyn Dinas lake. The 60-acre lake is home to salmon and trout – and maybe even the throne of Britain. Legend has it that ancient British king Vortigern hid the throne under a great stone by Llyn Dinas for safekeeping and it’s still there somewhere (though nowhere I could see…).

Llyn Gwynant lake Snowdonia

Reflections at Llyn Gwynant

We drove on around the edge of Llyn Dinas and it wasn’t long until we came to an even more beautiful lake – Llyn Gwynant. On a still morning the lake was perfectly flat with the mountains and white fluffy clouds above reflected in it like a mirror (well at least they were until a dog jumped in for a swim – but if it wasn’t about 10 degrees in there I might’ve been tempted myself). The start of autumn’s a gorgeous time to visit Snowdonia with a mix of greens, golds and reds everywhere you look. The road follows the Nant Gwynant river from the lake and climbs 600 feet upwards in just two miles. At the top there’s a viewpoint where you can look look back down to the lake and over to the Cwm Dyli hydro-electric power station.

Nant Gwynant Snowdonia, Wales

Views from Nant Gwynant

At the top of Nant Gwynant we took a diversion to the left on the A4086 to the Pen-y-Pass. This is the start of three of the main walking routes up Mount Snowdon. The car park was packed with hikers getting ready to start the climb up – and the café full of others celebrating getting back down. The road up here started life as a miners’ path in the 1830s to transport copper ore from Snowdonia down to Llanberis. It still winds the same way downhill to Llanberis. This is where catch the Snowdon Mountain Railway to the top if you don’t fancy walking. Or where you start the Llanberis Path if you do – it’s the longest but least strenuous walk up to the summit next to the railway line. There are a ton of other outdoor activities too like mountaineering, climbing and mountain biking, as well as diving in Llyn Padarn lake if you’re feeling brave.

Road to Llanberis Snowdonia

On the road down to Llanberis

From Llanberis we backtracked to the Pen-y-Pass and followed the A4086 over the hills past the grey slate cottages in the village of Capel Curig. Then from there we took a right onto the A5 towards Betws-y-Coed on the edge of Snowdonia. The road gets flatter here and there are more trees and less mountains. Betws-y-Coed is another hub town, with a pretty village green surrounded by shops, hotels and an old church. There’s the Miners’ Bridge and walks along the riverside or out to the Pont-y-Pair and Swallow Falls waterfalls. Then you can replenish some calories at Cwmni Cacen Gri, who do a mean Welshcake.

Betws-y-Coed in Snowdonia, Wales

The Miner’s Bridge in Betws-y-Coed

The road out of Betws-y-Coed leaves Snowdonia, but if you’ve not had enough beautiful scenery by now there are a couple of different directions you can take. If you go north along the A470 you’ll reach the medieval seaside town of Conwy. It has the 13th-century Conwy Castle as well as city walls to walk around and the UK’s smallest house to squeeze yourself into. Or head south on the A5 to Llangollen and the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. It’s a seriously impressive piece of engineering, built in 1805 to carry the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee. At 38 metres up it’s Britain’s longest and highest aqueduct, just wide enough for one canal boat, and you can take a boat trip across or walk along the towpath for even more scenic views.

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in Llangollen

On the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

So have I convinced you to explore Snowdonia by car, or is there a even more scenic Welsh road trip that I should try out next?

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On the road in Snowdonia National Park in North Wales, through clear lakes, mountain peaks and forests – could this be Wales' most scenic driving route?

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42 Comments

  • Reply
    Confuzzled Bev
    November 17, 2016 at 11:56 am

    Wow, it’s stunning! I’ve never actually made it to Snowdonia.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 19, 2016 at 4:30 pm

      It’s so beautiful – especially when the sun makes an appearance!

  • Reply
    Tanja
    November 17, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    so beautiful!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 19, 2016 at 4:31 pm

      Thanks, it’s a gorgeous area!

  • Reply
    Kate
    November 17, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    Ohmigosh stunning! You’ve just reconfirmed that I need to take a trip out that way ASAP!

    Kate | http://www.petiteadventures.org/

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 19, 2016 at 4:32 pm

      You do! Hope you get to make it out there sometime soon.

  • Reply
    Noelle
    November 17, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    That aqueduct looks so cool! I’d love to do a road trip of Snowdonia.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 19, 2016 at 4:33 pm

      Great isn’t it – watching the boats go over had me thinking about doing a canal boat trip sometime!

  • Reply
    Mark James
    November 17, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    Agree with most of your roue, some terrific places to see, but if you’ve got more time, stay in Dolgellau, take the A470 to Llaneltyd, then the A496 to Barmouth, great coastal town with incredible iron bridge, then follow the road along the coast, past Harlech Castle, cross the new Bont Briwat bridge to Penrhyndeudraeth, pass Portmerion and cross The Cob to Porthmadog, do the route as you’ve got it, then from Betws-Y-Coed take the A470 back down to Dolgellau, taking in Dolwyddelan Castle, Trawfynydd Power Station and lake and Coed-Y-Brenin forests. Takes a little long, but well worth it.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 19, 2016 at 4:28 pm

      Great tips thanks – I stayed in Barmouth last year and explored the coast down around Harlech so a good idea to combine the two!

  • Reply
    bitaboutbritain
    November 17, 2016 at 11:55 pm

    Excellent!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 19, 2016 at 4:23 pm

      Thank you!

  • Reply
    aeparker81
    November 18, 2016 at 9:29 am

    You should stop at the Pen Y Gwyrd pub and see all the paraphernalia from the Hilliary and Tenzing training as well as the shrunken head from south America! Love that bit of Wales

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 19, 2016 at 4:25 pm

      Sounds great – one for next time for sure!

  • Reply
    leigh423
    November 18, 2016 at 6:26 pm

    Beautiful scenery – I hope to visit Wales someday! That aquaduct is quite unique, I’ve never seen anything like that!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 19, 2016 at 4:12 pm

      The aqueduct was amazing – I’d like to go back and take a boat trip over it next time, the views were fantastic!

  • Reply
    Kerry Taylor
    November 19, 2016 at 8:47 am

    What a great post thanks! I’m going there in a couple of weeks and hadn’t even thought of doing any driving through the National Park. You’ve just made me rethink my whole itinerary! I too only have a few hours to explore. I plan to tweak your route slightly to go from Llanberis to Anglesey and then back to Conwy as that is going to be my base for the 2 days I’m there. Thanks again. I always enjoy reading your posts as they have inspired me to visit more of my home countries!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 19, 2016 at 4:25 pm

      Hope you have a fantastic time – I’d like to go and explore Conwy properly next time, and its been years since I was in Anglesey too, so much to see in that part of the world!

  • Reply
    invertedsheep
    November 20, 2016 at 12:06 am

    I haven’t been to Snowdonia for a while, but you’ve reminded me of how beautiful it is. I really must get back there soon.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 23, 2016 at 1:08 pm

      It’s a beautiful part of the country – though if only the weather was guaranteed to be like that every time!

  • Reply
    Marlies
    November 22, 2016 at 6:02 pm

    wow amazing pictures! I have never heard of Snowdonia. You did it in one day?

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 23, 2016 at 1:06 pm

      We did! We were staying nearby so got an early start but if you want to do some of the walks I’d recommend a couple of nights there.

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    November 25, 2016 at 10:16 pm

    Stunning photos and some great tips Lucy – I’d live to hike through that scenery…

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 26, 2016 at 12:24 pm

      Next time I’m definitely going to make sure we’ve got time to do some walking!

  • Reply
    MummyTravels
    November 27, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    Such amazing scenery there – I climbed Snowdon once with my parents as a child and went back years later with my now husband… we started climbing but it was November and we were not properly equipped so I had visions of us being on local news later that day with mountain rescue so we went back down! Driving routes sound much more achievable…

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 27, 2016 at 6:45 pm

      Driving is a lot easier! I must try the climb up Snowdon at some point though – but maybe not in November!

  • Reply
    Kathryn Burrington
    November 27, 2016 at 6:44 pm

    That looks so beautiful Lucy. I’m ashamed to say I had no idea. Snowdonia is now on my bucket list! Great photos by the way.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 27, 2016 at 6:45 pm

      Thanks, we had such a beautiful day, couldn’t have hoped for better!

  • Reply
    Vlad
    November 28, 2016 at 7:44 pm

    Wow, the scenery is gorgeous! I haven’t been to Wales, but this looks like a great place to visit 😀

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 2, 2016 at 10:02 am

      So much beautiful scenery in Wales (though like Scotland you take your chance with the weather!).

  • Reply
    Robin Large
    December 2, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    You missed out visiting Abbey House in Llandudno – its a great B&B if you are heading out into Snowdonia :-)… and for those on a road trip we have our own off street parking!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 6, 2016 at 8:58 am

      I didn’t get chance to make it to Llandudno this time, but thanks for the tip, I’ll be back sometime for sure!

  • Reply
    Sara Dobak
    December 5, 2016 at 11:33 pm

    I’m definitely on a mission to see more of our home nations in 2017, and this has just reinforced that sense of purpose – such treasures so close to home, eh?

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 6, 2016 at 8:46 am

      Certainly are – I’m hoping to see a bit more of Scotland next year, and the Cotswolds which are practically on my doorstep!

  • Reply
    Miranda
    December 8, 2016 at 5:01 am

    Great article! Such a beautiful place like a paradise, I will pin this for sure for my future reference. Thanks.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 8, 2016 at 9:58 am

      Thanks so much, hope you get to make the trip someday!

  • Reply
    Thomas
    January 17, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    Looks like a Fairytale! Thanks.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 17, 2017 at 10:40 pm

      Thanks – glad you liked it!

  • Reply
    henacynflin
    April 4, 2017 at 10:04 pm

    Wonderful photographs which really capture the area

  • Reply
    Leigh-Anne Brown
    October 31, 2017 at 3:39 am

    Would this route still be possible in January?

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 1, 2017 at 11:45 am

      Hi, yes it should be fine – the highest likelihood of snow is late Jan/early Feb but the main roads are usually gritted or cleared if there is snow or ice.

      • Reply
        Leigh-Anne Brown
        November 1, 2017 at 12:07 pm

        Thanks. It looks a great route.

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