A weekend in North Wales – castles and coastal exploration

A weekend in North Wales – castles and coastal exploration

Normally I spend hours researching and planning our holidays, even for just a few nights. This 3-night weekend break in North Wales involved about 30 minutes of looking what holiday parks were available and a quick check on TripAdvisor. We had a deadline to get it booked and had left it until last minute!

Although I was uncomfortable with the lack of organisation, it actually felt quite liberating to get something booked so quickly without hours spent researching where to go, what to do and trawling through review after review.

And no… that doesn’t mean to say that this will be my approach to holidays going forward (much to my husband’s disappointment)!

A scenic drive along the North Wales Expressway

Even the journey to North Wales had no planning involved, which wasn’t a clever move given that we left after school on a Friday afternoon, so hit the rush hour traffic in its peak. Driving from the Midlands, the first part of our journey was a painfully slow one along minor A roads but we passed the time playing games.

See my post on Top Tips for long car journeys with kids.

We finally got onto the A55 (also known as the North Wales Expressway), an easy drive along the main dual carriageway into North Wales.

We enjoyed the beautiful coastal scenery and mountain views of Snowdonia, carving through the mountains and crossing estuaries via the Conwy tunnel.

Arriving at Hafan y Mor holiday park

It was getting late, the children had been so good on the journey but we still had to check in and assess our caravan.

These holiday parks can sometimes be a gamble… luckily Hafan y Mor was a good choice. Check in was quick and easy and we were pleasantly surprised with our caravan (with a few minor niggles).

Click here for my full Review of Haven’s Hafan y Mor holiday park.

We unpacked, cooked dinner (a quick pizza and sweet potato fries) and got the girls to bed before settling down with a glass of wine.

A day exploring Pwllheli and Abersoch

Whilst enjoying my glass of wine on our first evening, I took the opportunity to plan our first full day in North Wales. Whilst checking in at reception, I’d done my usual job of collecting a load of leaflets containing information, guides and things to do in the area, only discounting those I was sure would be of no interest to us.

So by the end of that evening, I had pretty much planned our whole weekend. If you would like to learn more, see our full Itinerary: A weekend in North Wales here.

After breakfast (who knew that eating our ‘usual’ breakfast of cereal could be so exciting in a caravan!), our first port of call was Pwhelli, a short 10-minute drive.

We were able to park for free at the Marina and enjoyed the 10-15 minute walk along the harbour into Pwllheli town centre. Pwllheli is a small market town with winding, cobbled streets, lined with independent shops and little boutiques. We didn’t spend too long exploring the town centre, before heading to the beach.

There are two beaches in Pwllheli –  South Beach and Glan y Mor Beach. A lovely local lady in one of the shops had recommended Glan y Mor Beach over South Beach due it being a long stretch of soft sand instead of the shingle found at South Beach. The girls loved running around and we strolled along, watching them, enjoying the sun and fresh sea air.

We drove on to Abersoch (a further 15-minute drive), a fashionable seaside resort with plenty of beautiful accommodation, cafes, restaurants and shops. More popular than Pwhlleli, as a result, we struggled for parking. After a quick drive round to consider our options, we decided to park on Abersoch Village Hall car park at £1 per hour or £5 all day.

The centre is quite compact and although the glorious weather had brought everybody out, making it busy, we enjoyed wandering around and browsing the shops. Well known shops in Abersoch include Fat Face, White Stuff, Crew Clothing and Jack Wills.

First Light Boutique is an independent clothing shop with a lovely range of modern, fashionable clothing (I treated myself to a beautiful bold yellow skirt and matching off the shoulder top).

After my purchase, we treated the girls (and ourselves of course) to ice cream at the Two Islands ice cream and coffee shop. The ice cream is made on site with natural ingredients and there is an amazing selection of flavours. They also do cakes, which looked delicious but the ice cream was a must.

After my purchase, we treated the girls (and ourselves of course) to ice cream at the Two Islands ice cream and coffee shop. The ice cream is made on site with natural ingredients and there is an amazing selection of flavours. They also do cakes, which looked delicious but the ice cream was a must.

After our delicious treat, we spent an hour on the beach which was just as sandy as Glan y Mor at Pwllheli but busier and more of a typical seaside beach. The girls enjoyed paddling and splashing around in the sea.

We drove back to Hafan y Mor holiday park, which gave the girls an opportunity to sleep and spent the rest of the afternoon in the swimming pool. The swimming facilities are fantastic for all ages and the children had so much fun.

For my full Review of Haven’s Hafan y Mor holiday park and it’s facilities, click here.

It was a beautiful sunny evening and we’d come prepared with a disposable BBQ. We ended our day, walking down onto the beach and cooked our dinner on the BBQ right by the sea.

This was one of those moments that I just wanted to bottle and keep… the girls paddled and played on the rocks, I relaxed with a glass of prosecco, and what better way to keep a man happy than by putting him in charge of a BBQ.

Criccieth Castle and Borth y Gest Beach

First on our plan for day 2 was visiting Criccieth Castle. We parked for free on the road near to the Lion Hotel but there is the main car park (Y Maes) that charges only £1 for four hours.

The town of Criccieth itself is small with just a handful of shops and cafes, so we didn’t spend long walking around before heading up to Criccieth Castle.

The castle stands prominent, high up on the rocky peninsula overlooking the sea. From the centre or car park, it’s just a short uphill walk to the visitor centre where you pay to enter.

On the way we up we spotted Cadwaladers, an enticing ice cream shop which could easily be visited on your way to the castle (maybe as an energy boost before the climb) or on the way back. We decided to save it as a treat to look forward to after our visit to the castle (and of course, the usual bribery card for the children).


The small visitor centre has a good mixture of information and interactive exhibits so caters well for both children and adults. There is also a small shop and toilet facilities. You can look around the visitor centre exhibits for free but to walk up to the Castle you have to pay. At the time of our visit, we paid £5.50 per person (under 5’s are free). For more info visit the website here.

We thought the price was slightly expensive but if you are considering visiting other attractions in the area, you could save 10% with a Snowdonia Pass – click here for more information.

Ok, so I know I keep mentioning the ‘walk up’ to the Castle… it really isn’t that bad and not far at all. We left our pushchair at the bottom and both our 5 and nearly 2 year old made it up easily.

You could get a pushchair up if needed but the distance is short enough to carry small children to the top.

There is a quest and map for children to complete by finding clues to complete a poem. This is great because it allows you to read the information whilst the children are busy looking for the answers. Once complete, they get a badge as a prize, which the girls were very excited about.

You only need about half an hour to walk around the Castle ruins and read the information but the real treat is the stunning views from the top.

Panoramic shot from the top of Criccieth Castle

True to their word, the girls were good so we stopped off for our well-deserved ice cream at Cadwaladers.

Why you should choose Borth y Gest Beach over Black Rock Sands

From Criccieth, it’s a 10-15 minute drive to Borth y Gest. We took advice from a couple of locals who advised us that Borth Y Gest was a prettier, quieter beach with free parking, unlike the £5 parking charge at Black Rock Sands.

We did call in at Black Rock Sands the following day and although it was a huge expanse of flat, sandy beach, we were glad we chose Borth y Gest.

For a start, there is nothing else at Black Rock Sands but beach, which is fine if you just want a beach but we like to have a walk around a town or village too. I found it too commercialised with signposts and parking actually on the beach itself, which I think takes away the natural beauty.

Borth y Guest, on the other hand, is a quaint little Victorian seaside village with a handful of cafes and restaurants that overlook the harbour.

There is a lovely coastal path that leads through the woodland down to the beach. You could take a pushchair if you really needed to but may need a little help in places where the path is a little rocky and there are a few steps to get down to the beach. We found it much easier to carry our youngest in the backpack child carrier.

The beach has lots to offer with a combination of coastal rocks, secluded sandy coves and long flat stretches of lovely soft sand. The girls had lots of fun paddling, swimming with the body board and playing in the sand.

A Caribbean culinary delight at Pontoon, Pwllheli

After returning to Hafan y Mor holiday park for our afternoon fun in the swimming pool, we headed back to Pwllheli for early evening dinner.

Yes, I did spend some time researching because… well, I guess I’m picky. It was such a beautiful evening, I wanted to sit outside and because we were right on the coast, I wanted a sea view. So, the one restaurant that ticked all of these boxes was fully booked, but we certainly were not disappointed with our second choice.

Pontoon is a vibrant bar/restaurant situated in a beautiful location with views of Pwllheli Harbour. The food is inspired by Caribbean, Mexican and Middle Eastern dishes.

This place offers a lively atmosphere, an amazing selection of cocktails and freshly cooked, delicious food with a twist at reasonable prices. This really is a hidden gem and would definitely recommend for all, including families.

An obligatory visit to Porthmadog

We’d driven through Porthmadog on our way to Borth y Gest the previous day but hadn’t had a chance to stop off. It was our final half day before setting off back home and Porthmadog was en route, so it seemed an obvious stop to spend our last few hours in North Wales.

In reality, there’s not a huge amount to do in Porthmadog but at least we’ve ticked it off our list and know we have no desire to return.

Described as a ‘port’ town, there is a harbour and a bustling main shopping street dominated by lots of charity shops and cafes. One thing Porthmadog does have is a stunning backdrop of the Snowdonia mountains. If you’re looking for a good base location, Porthmadog gives you convenient access to Snowdonia National Park, beautiful beaches and lots of nearby attractions such as Portmeirion village and Criccieth Castle.

We stopped here for lunch before setting off on our journey home and what a great final treat it was. This quirky, trendy cafe has ample seating and plenty of delicious food and drink options.

As you enter the cafe, there’s a pick ‘n’ mix style station filled with healthy treats such as yoghurt and carob coated dried fruit and nuts. The girls loved scooping out their colourful treats into their bags, and we loved the fact that it was a healthier and cheaper option to the traditional, sugar-packed alternative.

They have a good choice of hot meals to order but also a great salad bar, lots of pie and pastry options and freshly baked buns and cakes (as well as plenty of choice for coffee lovers).

They also cater really well for vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free.

We had a fantastic few days in North Wales and the beautiful weather gave us the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful beaches and coastal towns along the Llyn Peninsula.

As we drove back through the stunning Snowdonia National Park, girls fast asleep in the back from their busy weekend, we envisaged returning to North Wales to explore the natural beauty of the National Park.

We can’t wait to return to Wales to explore more. If you’re looking for further inspiration on where to visit and things to do in Wales, check out this Wales Road Trip post.


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