Stepping off the train at the station in Caernarfon, I notice it right away – the majestic Caernarfon Castle, set on edge of the waters of the Seiont River and the Menai Strait. The strait dividing the mainland of Wales and the island of Anglesey, (another great daytrip-destination from Caernarfon). The castle is naturally the town’s big attraction, but I am convinced this place has more to offer. So I set about to explore Caernarfon
I had arrived in Caernarfon the best possible way. By steam train from Porthmadog, further south on the North Wales Coast. The Welsh Highland Railway is a wonderful narrow gauge heritage railway, steaming its way through the Snowdonia National Park in style. Through breathtaking landscapes dotted with white sheep and past the mighty Mount Snowdon.
I drag my luggage around the castle and down through the town’s historic streets, to settle in at the TOTTERS Hostel, where I receive a warm welcome. The hostel offers a nice homely feel in an excellent location, right in the heart of Caernarfon and with less than one minute’s walk to the seafront. I start my explorations with a walk to the marina, where restaurants and a cultural hub offer a modern contrast to the historic part of town. Back through the town walls I set out to explore the cobblestoned streets, where colourful cafés, unique little shops and plenty of pubs offer hours of entertainment. Not at least down the narrow ‘Hole in the Wall Street’, which leads back to the castle.
I take on the castle the next morning, where the main entrance is found just across from the town’s informative tourism office. I’m excited to step through the gates to admire the sheer size of this historic giant, and from up on the walls I get a wonderful view over the town and the sea. The same walls that saw Prince Charles’ investiture as the Prince of Wales back in 1969. A huge and televised celebration here in Caernarfon.
The castle was built by the English King Edward I, along with the castles of Beaumaris, Harlech and Conwy. All are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage sites and all are located relatively close to Caernarfon, which making a great itinerary for castle-loving travelers in North Wales. The walls of Caernarfon Castle also house the ‘Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum’ –a comprehensive collection of artifacts and information about Wales’ oldest infantry. A truly interesting look back on the country’s military history, and free to explore once you have paid the entrance fee for the castle itself.
With the central location of the Totters Hostel, it is easy to walk back for breaks between sightseeing – and the hostel and the town of Caernarfon offers a great base for exploring a wider area too. Not at least if you come here to reach the summit of Mount Snowdon nearby. Llanberis is just a short bus ride away, and from here you can tie on your walking boots or jump on the Snowdon Mountain Railway.
I opt for the latter – the easy one – but would love to come back for the challenge of walking up another time. The railway slowly climbs the terrain with increasingly more spectacular views, and fluffy white sheep grazing along the tracks. From the train I see many brave hikers taking on the challenge, and I feel a bit like I am cheating! But as we reach the top I’m still rewarded with a heavenly view of the surrounding landscape, with the crisp morning light cutting through the clouds. And even up here, the sheep are grazing, undisturbed by the many visitors. Simply glorious! No wonder that Lonely Planet Magazine has recently listed North Wales among the world’s best regions to visit in 2017 – and when visiting yourself, don’t miss out on Caernarfon!
If you want to explore Caernarfon and Snowdonia take a look at our Snowdonia and North Wales Map