Back in 2003, following a short stay, travel writer Bill Bryson named Llandudno in north Wales his “favourite seaside resort”. I knew little of the town then, and only discovered Mr Bryson’s approval from the Lonely Planet Wales edition. But a quick internet search brings up a BBC report of the writer’s comments accompanied by an excited response from locals keen to see the Welsh town emerge from the shadow of “Bournemouth” and “Eastbourne” as a major UK tourist destination for all ages. That a writer of Mr Bryson’s calibre felt moved to single Llandudno out is quite an accolade, yet for those familiar with Llandudno and its proximity to the Snowdonia National Park, just 27 miles from Llanberis, it should come as no real surprise.
To say there is more to Llandudno than meets the eye is an understatement. Yes its classic Victorian seafront is among the finest examples of period coastal architecture in the UK, and the pier offers a fun stroll out to sea, providing fabulous views of the town with the mountains dominating the horizon. But for history and nature lovers Llandudno offers a veritable gold, or should I say, Bronze Age copper mine.
Llandudno is actually situated at the front of a colossal limestone headland known as Great Orme. Orme is Norse for “sea serpent” or “worm” and fittingly describes the way the landmass reaches out to sea. Whilst Great Orme’s splendid isolation offers the perfect environment for rare flora and fauna, the discovery of ancient copper mines in 1987 revealed it also to have been home to Bronze Age settlers. A large section of the Great Orme has become a crucial archeological work-in-progress, with the mine excavations open for visitors to witness ancient nooks and crannies last explored up to four thousand years ago. Equipped with a hard hat the tour is absolutely fascinating for all ages; that new discoveries are being unearthed all the time brings a sense a scientific urgency to proceedings.
How you get up Great Orme is to choose from the vintage, or the spectacular. You can either hop on the tram and trundle up the steep incline in an original 1902 tramcar, or you can take the cable car and be lifted high above the pier and hills to the summit. As a terrible vertigo sufferer (my love affair with north Wales and this affliction are always finding each other out) I took the tram up, and spurred on by the prospect of a pint at the excellent Kings Head, braved the cable car down. On my descent, in between wiping the sweat from my palms I enjoyed breathtaking views across Snowdonia and Llandudno’s remarkable sweeping seafront layout.
Great Orme is a great place to hang out. There is a free and super-informative-interactive visitor centre to bring the secrets of this magnificent rock to light. Rare plants, bird life and even feral goats with a Royal heritage are all here for the willing and respectfully curious. My own search for the goats quickly ended in failure and a blissful sleep in the soft grass ensued.
Llandudnos Tranquil surrounds
The East Shore (the town beach at Llandudno) is a fine beach, offering plenty of activity and entertainment in the form of boat trips around Great Orme and modern Punch and Judy adaptations, you can also take a vintage bus trip around Marine Drive which circumnavigates Great Orme. The pier, originally built in 1857, while a bit of a laugh, is tacky beyond belief and could be so much more. But as mentioned earlier, a stroll offers great views of the town; perspective brings Snowdonia increasingly to the fore the further you walk out and away.
However, the beautiful West Shore, a kilometre or so down a long straight road that links the two sides of the peninsular captures an altogether different sense of wilderness a world away from Llandudno’s seaside buzz. The West Shore is popular with kite-boarders, windsurfers and folks like me who like to set up camp and do little else besides nurse a hangover with spectacular views of mountains and the peeping of waders foraging on the mudflats beyond. It is a place of such raw natural beauty that minutes become hours until only the rumblings of my stomach could rouse me from another fine doze. The food at the West Shore cafe is great, the cakes are especially good and the terrace offers as good a place as any to sate your appetite while allowing the landscapes beyond to work their magic. The West Shore is also the starting point for the splendid Conwy Estuary trail, which like Great Orme offers sites of Special Scientific Interest and protected conservation areas. It offers much for nature lovers and hikers and finishes spectacularly in the walled city of Conwy with its 12th Century castle.
Llandudno Night Life
Llandudno is home to some vibrant night life. Upper Mostyn Street in particular is home to some good bars, The Gresham, The Fat Cat Cafe Bar and the Fountain Bar & Cafe (which also does good food during the day). And just around the corner at the start of the tramline is the Kings Head, easily Llandudno’s best traditional pub. The Kings Head serves well kept cask ales, of which I sampled numerous before heading down to Upper Mostyn Street to see what Llandudno on a Thursday offered. It all ended rather too late in the Fountain, with a highly entertaining club night hosted by a brilliantly raucous drag queen. Bereft of funds I set off back to the Llandudno Hostel, where I was staying.
LLANDUDNO HOSTEL is an immaculately clean and welcoming hostel conveniently located right next to the train station. My en-suite room had a spotless modern shower room, and I particularly enjoyed relaxing in the vast lounge with an ale or two listening to the cricket before heading into town. The following morning a complimentary continental breakfast was served in a light and airy dining room. The hostel is a lovely place, I look forward to staying there again and reliving the whole Llandudno experience, which means enjoying a great town, and some of the most unique and beautiful historic landscapes in the UK.
Oh, and by the way, if you see men walking around dressed in medieval outfits carrying birds of prey, its not a tourist gimmick. Our majestic winged friends keep the seagulls at bay, and therefore your fish and chips safe for a fair radius, so say hi, they are doing a great job!
Just incase you are planning a trip to this area here is a Map of Hostels and Bunkhouses around Llandudno and Snowdonia.