Things to do in HarlechPublished on 8 Oct 2018 by Gwion Llwyd
Harlech is a charming historic Welsh coastal town on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. It is a place of guts, quirk, and rather epic, timeless beauty. The town grew up around a clifftop medieval castle, and is now recognised by UNESCO as being home to one of the best-preserved medieval fortresses in the world. Sitting proud on a hillside looking out to sea, Harlech is flanked by the majestic mountains of Snowdonia to the east, with Cardigan Bay and the Irish Sea to the west. Its hills and winding lanes provide plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, including some great independent shops, delis, cafés and a beautiful nearby beach.
Here’s a selection of our favourite things to do in Harlech.
Visit Harlech Castle
The newly-refurbished visitor centre at Harlech Castle is totally captivating, and an ideal all-weather day out. The castle is over 700 years old – it’s well worth taking the time to soak up the atmosphere, take in the stunning mountains-and-coast views, and enjoy the audio-visual tour. There’s a great gift shop here too, with some really lovely Welsh books, art and crafts on sale.
Play a round of golf at Royal St David’s
Harlech boasts one of the best links golf courses in the UK at Royal St David’s. The course has long been ranked within the ‘Top Fifty’ of British golf courses, and most recently ranked 2nd in the Top 50 Courses in Wales by Golf World. Fancy a round? Book your tee time here. Less than a mile from the centre of town.
Go climbing indoors
Indoor rock climbing will take you out of your comfort zone and challenge you in a way very few other sports can. Head to The Rock climbing centre at Harlech and Ardudwy Leisure Centre in Harlech to give it a go. Less than a mile from the centre of town.
Visit the Church in the Sand near Llanbedr
Head along the coast south of Harlech for a couple of miles, and you’ll come to the nearby medieval ‘church in the sand’ of St Tanwg, near the village of Llanbedr. Located in the sand dunes around 20 metres from the high tide mark, this ancient little chapel houses the grave of Welsh poet Sion Phillips, a contemporary of Shakespeare, who lived at nearby Shell Island. 2 miles from Harlech.
Portmeirion Village was designed by Welsh Architect Clough Williams-Ellis in the early 20th century. The architectural equivalent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, it is an eccentric collection of Riviera-inspired houses, ornamental gardens and colour washed villas. It is also home to the spectacular Gwyllt woodland – ten hectares of trees and ornamental shrubs, with big views over the Dwyryd Estuary towards Harlech. There are plenty of cafés and shops to browse, and fabulous Italian Gelati at Caffi’r Angel. Lunch on the lawn outside the beautiful Art Deco Hotel Portmeirion is the perfect holiday treat. Read more about a day out at Portmeirion here. 8 miles from Harlech.
Jump on board the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Steam Railway
This part of the world has no shortage of heritage railways, but two of our favourites – the Ffestiniog Heritage Railway and Welsh Highland Railway – are in nearby Porthmadog. If ever there were a place to sit back and enjoy the nostalgic pleasure of steam, this is it. Jump on board in the centre of town to enjoy comfortable plush carriages, the nostalgic aroma of coal, and gentle chuff of the engine as it moves through spectacular mountain landscapes. A day out on these railways is one of life’s great pleasures. 10 miles from Harlech.
The Purple Moose Brewery
If you’re a fan of real ales, you can’t come to this part of the world without visiting the Purple Moose micro brewery and shop – a great place to stock up on some flavoursome beers brewed right here in North Wales. Once you’re done in the shop, you can enjoy a glass of whatever takes your fancy at the brewery’s very own pub – The Australia – which you’ll find on the High Street in the centre of Porthmadog. 10 miles from Harlech.
Explore Pen Llŷn
Harlech is just a short distance from Pen Llŷn – the Llŷn Peninsula – an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Pen Llŷn is the kind of place where you can take a picnic to a ‘secret’ cove or beach and feel like you have the whole place to yourself – because you probably will. Head to Pen Llŷn’s Porth Iago, Porth Oer and Porth Ysgo to enjoy some of the best ‘secret’ beaches in the UK. Busier beaches like Pwllheli and Abersoch are brilliant playgrounds for all sorts of watersports and have a dedicated surfer / kitesurfer following. A pint on the beach in front of the Ty Coch Inn at Porthdinllaen is an unmissable treat. 12+ miles from Harlech.
A day out in Criccieth
The charming coastal village of Criccieth is a great day out, with its traditional Welsh tearooms, some great places to eat out, as well as some very decent fish and chips. Expect attractive independent shops and some browsable galleries and antiques. There’s even a traditional Welsh clog maker who still has his workshop in the town, and a couple of beautiful beaches. Oh, and another fabulous medieval castle to watch over it all. It’s a great place to explore. 14 miles from Harlech.
LOCAL ACTIVITIES AND ADVENTURES
Snowdonia Adventure Activities
This outdoor specialist is based in the nearby village of Llanbedr. Snowdonia Adventure Activities offers gorge walking, SUPing, canyoning, kayaking, climbing, mountain biking and rock climbing, and we reckon they’re one of the best all-round outdoor activity providers in the area. 4 miles from Harlech.
Black Rock Lamas
This is a fabulously quirky place – a lama sanctuary based at Morfa Bychan, just outside Porthmadog. It’s the place to visit if you’d like to take a lama for a walk, watch them do some show jumping (AKA a rather impressive agility display), or even go lama trekking (1.5 hour activity, from age 7+). Book your Black Rock Lamas experience online, in advance. 10.5 miles from Harlech.
Sygun Copper Mines
Winner of the Prince of Wales award for tourism, Sygun Copper Mine is one of the wonders of Wales – a remarkable and impressive example of how our precious industrial heritage can be reclaimed, restored and transformed into an outstanding attraction. A self-guided audiovisual tour allows you to explore the old workings with its winding tunnels and large, colorful chambers, magnificent stalactite and stalagmite formations. Above ground you can try your hand at panning for gold and enjoy a beautiful lakeside walk. The kids can let off steam at the adventure playground. 15 miles from Harlech.
Zip World Caverns
This underground adventure allows you to speed through the caverns of the abandoned Llechwedd slate mine on zip lines, navigating part of the course with a via ferrata, monkey bars, and a whole variety of challenging obstacles. It’s a thrilling experience! Zip World Caverns is part of the Zip World portfolio, which also boasts Europe’s largest zip zone at Blaenau, as well as the fastest zip line in the world at Penrhyn Quarry – a site that was once home to the world’s largest slate quarry. Zip World Caverns is at the same site as Bounce Below and Llechwedd Slate Caverns (see below). 15 miles from Harlech.
Zip World Caverns (see above) is where you’ll also find Bounce Below – a series of giant underground trampolines, strung across enormous underground chambers, with climbs, slides and various levels to navigate. Bounce Below is another thrilling and completely unique North Wales adventure. From age 7+. It’s the same site as Zip World Caverns and Llechwedd Slate Caverns (see above and below). 15 miles from Harlech.
Discover the story of slate at Llechwedd Slate Caverns
The deep mine tour at Llechwedd Slate Caverns tells the story of the men who built an industry which roofed the world – the Welsh slate industry. Experienced from the point of view of the mine workers, the tour takes you deep underground – around 500ft. – to tell the story of the slate miners’ blood and guts, determination and resilience. It’s a fascinating insight into the culture and heritage of North Wales. It’s the same site as Bounce Below and Zip World Caverns (see above). 15 miles from Harlech.
Go sheep walking in Snowdonia
No, that is not a typo, yes, this is a thing. Take mindfulness to another level by taking an award-winning Zwartbles sheep (mega friendly black sheep breed) for a guided walk on a peaceful hill farm in the Rhinogs. Sheep Walking Snowdonia. Kids will love this. Adults will love this too. 16 miles from Harlech.
Dwyfor Ranch Rabbit farm and Animal Park
For over 30 years this lovely farm has welcomed visitors to interact with a wide range of farm animals, including some rare breeds. Children are allowed to handle a selection of different types of animals including rabbits, guinea pigs and puppies, as well as hand-feeding many of the larger animals such as pigmy goats, alpacas, rhea, donkeys, ponies, pigs and lambs. Check the website for opening times. 16 miles from Harlech.
The Glasfryn Parc Activity Centre offers hours – or even days – of family fun including archery, crazy golf, go-karting, wakeboarding, aquapark, kayaking, and stand up paddleboarding. 22 miles from Harlech.
Other stand out North Wales adventure attractions include Zip World Titan, Zip World Velocity, Surf Snowdonia & Adventure Parc Snowdonia, Greenwood Forest Park, Rib Ride, The Slate Caverns at Llechwedd, and Go Below.
MOUNTAIN BIKING AND CYCLING
Set in the stunning slate mountains of Blaenau Ffestiniog, and with far-reaching views towards the Irish Sea, Antur Stiniog offers 14 fantastic gravity fed trails for all shades of rider from novice to world cup racer. The downhill trails are graded from green to black. Antur Stiniog includes a mountain uplift service, and bikes are available to hire from the site. 15 miles from Harlech.
The Mawddach Trail
The Mawddach Trail footpath and cycle route runs just shy of 10 miles along a disused railway track on the southern side of the Mawddach estuary. The trail can be joined at several points, but it runs between the picturesque market town of Dolgellau and the iconic railway bridge over the mouth of the Mawddach estuary into Barmouth. Expect stunning views across to Diffwys and the Rhinog mountains, and up the estuary to Y Garn and the Arans beyond Dolgellau. 18 miles from Harlech.
Coed y Brenin
Coed y Brenin near Dolgellau is the UK’s first and largest dedicated mountain bike trail centre. Hire bikes from the visitor centre (or bring your own) to explore miles of world-class mountain bike trails, with waymarked routes to suit all abilities. There is also a café, plenty of family walking trails, a nice play area and some gorgeous spots for a riverside picnic. 20 miles from Harlech.
Take on Cnicht – aka the Welsh Matterhorn – for breathtaking mountain scenery and one of Snowdonia’s best 360-degree summit panoramas. Cnicht’s pointed summit really stands out among the rounded bumps of the neighbouring peaks. It is part of Snowdonia’s Moelwyn range, a short drive from Harlech. Its appearance has earned it the name the ‘Welsh Matterhorn’, albeit a somewhat smaller version (689m as opposed to a whopping 4,478m). You can read our guide to Cnicht, here. 12 miles from Harlech.
Explore the rugged Rhinogs
The Rhinogs is a chain of low mountains which stands at the south western edge of Snowdonia. One of the most rugged upland landscapes in Britain, it is a beautiful, tranquil place. The hills are notoriously quiet and uncrossed by any road. Most of the vegetation management is done by sheep and a population of wild goats. Yes, you might see a few remote farmsteads, and now and then you might walk along the remains of old drovers’ routes, but it’s quite possible to spend a whole day here without seeing another human soul. 12+ miles from Harlech.
Conquer Yr Wyddfa – Snowdon
It’s a bucket list favourite for anyone visiting North Wales – do you fancy climbing Wales’s highest summit on your next trip here? Harlech is a short distance from the start point of one of the best routes up Yr Wyddfa – or Snowdon, the Rhyd Ddu Path (pronounced ‘rheed-thee’). This is one of the quieter ways up the great mountain, and offers some of the best views. Plan ahead by downloading the Snowdon Walks app, which covers the six main routes up, with detailed maps and a live progress tracker. You can read more about how to prepare for a walk up Snowdon, here. 17.5 miles from Harlech.
Climb Cader Idris – the mountain that can make you mad
Cader Idris is one of Snowdonia’s most iconic peaks. Its name translates as Idris’s Chair, and it is a reference to the mythical giant who once used the mountain as his throne. There are numerous stories and legends associated with the mountain and Idris: think giants, curses, warriors and supposedly impossible tasks. Frankly, the stories can get confusing. One message is very clear though: it is said that anyone who sleeps on the slopes of Cader Idris will awaken either as a madman, a poet or, possibly, never wake again. Our advice is enjoy the mountain by day, but do your shut-eye in one of our lovely holiday cottages, just to be on the safe side. Be aware that some of the routes up this mountain – the highest peak in southern Snowdonia – can be treacherous. We recommend following the Pony Path, which comes with fantastic far-reaching views. 22 miles from Harlech.
Other local walking ideas
For some more walking inspiration, you might be interested in these websites: Mud and Routes is a great information resource for walking in the area. Simply enter where you would like to walk and it will give you some tried and tested routes. Geocaching is popular in this neck of the woods and if you love a treasure hunt, then this is a great way to while away an afternoon, especially if you’re trying to keep the kids amused too.
The coastline near Harlech is one of sandy dunes and marram grass. Harlech beach is a great place for a picnic and a paddle, but also a bit of a hidden gem for surfing and bodyboarding. Expect consistent rolling waves and beautiful views of the Gwynedd coastline stretching to the north and south. The showstopper of the location is Harlech Castle, which towers over the beach on the cliffside nearby. Less than a mile from the town centre.
Llandanwg beach in Llanfair is the best beach for facilities and ease of getting onto it. The car park is just next to the beach, but if you are early you can get free parking on the left hand side of the road just before the car park. A café offering light lunches, coffees and ice cream is just next to the beach, as are the toilets. The beach itself is very rocky which makes it perfect for rock pooling and great for kids. 2miles from Harlech.
This is a great place for a picnic and a paddle, but also a bit of a hidden gem for surfing and bodyboarding. Expect consistent rolling waves and beautiful views of the Gwynedd coastline stretching to the north and south. Bennar Beach is 6.5 miles from Harlech.
Barmouth’s sandy Blue Flag beach stretches for two miles and is perfect for picnics, swimming, paddling and surfing. There is traditional seaside fun along the promenade, and plenty of shops, cafés, restaurants, pubs and ice cream parlours. Dog owners should be aware that Blue Flag does mean seasonal dog restrictions. 10.5 miles from Harlech.
FOOD AND DRINK
There are so many great places to enjoy good food and drink in and near Harlech, we couldn’t possibly list them all here. Instead, here are some of our personal favourites. Enjoy!
The THE BRANWEN at the bottom of town below the castle offers seasonal menu and local Welsh produce. Worth noting there is no children’s menu.
The QUEENS also at the bottom of Harlech, has a great selection food and also do take-away pizza. There is a nice beer garden.
The TY MAWR based in Llanbedr is a great local pub with a large beer garden. A great pub menu which can be enjoyed either in the restaurant or the bar itself. There is usually a beer festival in September hosted at the pub.
THE VICTORIA INN also based in Llanbedr offers more of a bistro style pub menu and a very kid friendly offering, with a great children’s play area.
THE CASTLE BISTRO based on the high street offers a Welsh inspired bistro style menu.
ASIS offers pizza and pasta which is based just by the castle at the top of town.
THE PLAS is open for coffee, lunch and dinner. A British style menu all offered in a house with incredible history
THE HARLECH TANDOORI is a great place for a curry.
THE LLEW GLAS offers homecooked light lunches – they have the best scones in Harlech!
CAFFI CASTELL based at the castle itself offers a variety of home cooked lunches, incredible cakes, teas and coffees with amazing views of the Snowdonia mountains.
THE CEMLYN offers a more traditional tea room with great views.
Y MAES CAFE situated 25m from Llandanwg beach – light lunches and ice cream are on the menu!
THE HARLECH TANDOORI is always a winner.
Fish and Chips
THE MERMAID in Barmouth hands down is the place to go. Grab your fish and chips and go and sit on the prom – you won’t regret it. The queues can be long, but it is worth the wait we promise!
Your holiday is not complete without an ice cream, and HUFENFA’R in Harlech is most definitely the place to go.
THE PRACTICAL STUFF
For medical help
Dial 999 to call for an ambulance if you require urgent medical attention.
You can find your nearest urgent care health services provider by searching the NHS online directory at https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/other-services/
For non-urgent medical advice dial ‘111’ to speak to an operator at the NHS telephone advice service, or visit www.111.nhs.uk
The welsh alphabet is phonetic so once you know how to say the letters, the theory is that reading the words is straightforward; you say what you see. A little time spent familiarising yourself with the alphabet will help no end when you’re trying to navigate your way around the area…
a short, as in ‘hat’, never as in ‘ball’
b as in ‘bag’. Although is there really any other way?
c always hard as in ‘cat’, never an s as in ‘precise’
ch like the ch in the Scottish word ‘loch’, but with more phlegm
d as in ‘dog’, never as in ‘djinn’
dd a buzzy ‘th’ sound, as in ‘this’. Think angry bees with a lisp
e short, as in pen
f v. This is very, very simple, and when you get really used to it, f will play hafock with your spelling
ff f. Equally, you can ffind yourselff getting too used to ff as well
g always hard as in ‘get’, never a ‘j’ sound as in the last g in garage
ng as in ‘song’, where the g isn’t hard, like in ‘gig’, but a soft glottal stop made in your throat
h as in hat, always sounded and never silent
i as in ‘pin’
j accepted now because of the loan words from English that use it, like ‘garej’
l a ‘luh’ as in ‘lava’, but never an ‘ul’ sound as in ‘milk’
ll not as hard a sound to make as some would have you think. Raise your tongue to the top of your mouth as if you were going to say ‘el’, then make the ‘ell’ sound by blowing air round the sides of your raised tongue, instead of by using your voice. You should sound like an annoyed cat
m as in ‘mithridatize’. Or as in ‘mum’, if you want to be boring
n as in ‘nanobot’
o short as in ‘hot’, not round as in ‘hotel’
p can I have a p please Bob?
ph an English f, or Welsh ff sound, as in ‘phase’
r rolled. Some people just can’t get a rolled ‘r’ – their tongues are unable to vibrate in the right way. It’s a genetic thing, apparently,
similar to being able to roll your tongue into a tube, or turn the end upside down. Honestly, some people can, but my tongue’s not that prehensile. Roll if you can, don’t if you can’t
rh hr. Make a huffy, breathy sound before your rolled ‘r’
s always soft as in ‘sit’, never a ‘z’ sound as in ‘juxtapose’
t as in ‘top’. Can it get any simpler?
th as in ‘think’, softer and less buzzy than dd
u If you had stepped in something disgusting and made a kind of ‘eugh’ noise, the vowel ‘eu’ sound would about approximate
y ok, y breaks the rule that Welsh is phonetic. As a single syllable word, y is like ‘uh’, on the last syllable of a multisyllabic word it’ an‘u’ or ‘ee’, and anywhere else it’s like the unstressed, indeterminate noise of the final e in ‘garden’ or ‘letter’. Ysbyty (hospital) is the perfect example.
How are you? Sut mae / Ti’n iawn
Good morning: Bore da
Good Afternoon: P.nawn da, prynhawn da
Good evening: Noswaith dda
Good night: Nos da
Cheers / Good Health! Iechyd da!
Do you speak welsh? Ydych chi’n siarad Cymraeg?
How do you say…. in welsh? Beth ydy….yn Cymraeg?
Thank you: Diolch
I love you: Dw i’n dy garu di
Happy Birthday: Penblwdd Hapus
and a couple of funny ones….
Microwave: popty ping
‘Might as well’: Man a man a mwnci