We Went on a Wonderful North Wales Road Trip in Search of Puffins!

-A North Wales Road Trip-

Portmeirion, North Wales road trip
Portmeirion, as seen from the opposite side of the River Afon Dwyryd

What do you do when your plans change? You head on a spontaneous North Wales road trip, of course! The inspiration for our road trip was to see the puffins, so we went in search of the elusive birds at South Stack Cliffs, Angelsey. Time was running out to see them, for two reasons – we move to London next year, so we’ll be too far to travel back to north Wales for a weekend and puffins are only visible at South Stack for a limited time of the year, usually between May and June when they nest.

So, off we went in our trusty camper van, Bumper! Our Welsh road trip took us from our home in Shropshire, to Anglesey, Holy Island and through Snowdonia National Park. The route took us along some of Wales’ best roads including The North Wales Way, The Coastal Way, The Cambrian Way and the A5 Historic Route. Read on to find out whether found the puffins and where we went on our North Wales road trip!

North Wales Road Trip Itinerary Locations

1 | Conwy

First up on our North Wales road trip was Conwy, which has been on our list of places to visit for ages and we finally made it! Sitting on the Conwy Estuary, set back just from the north Wales coast and only a few miles from Llandudno, sits Conwy and its wonderful castle. And this was the first destination of our north Welsh road trip.

The highlight of Conwy is Conwy Castle but the town is also home to a tiny little red house which is the smallest house in Great Britain, which measures just 183 cm (72 inches) wide by 310 cm (122 inches) high! Conwy is a lovely little town with some delightful streets for you to wander. Allow yourself a couple of hours to soak up the town and to explore the castle walls.

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Conwy Castle, North Wales road trip
Conwy Castle, Conwy

2 | Holyhead

How mad is this…? We went to a pub when we arrived in Holyhead and got chatting to a chap who gave us some recommendations of places to visit. Fast forward to Sunday afternoon, before we were about to head home, and we’re on a beach on the opposite side of the River Afon Dwyryd to Portmeirion and guess who walks around the corner? John, the guy we met in the pub in Holyhead! What are the chances?! We were over 50 miles from Holyhead! This blew my (Joel) tiny mind, of course.

Anyway, back to Holyhead. Holyhead isn’t the most inspiring of places to visit but it is a good place to stay overnight in a camper. There’s free parking along the seafront (check out the picture below!) and it’s the gateway to South Stack Cliffs Nature Reserve.

The beauty of having a camper van is that you can just pull up and get your head down. Of course, you should respect the land you are on. That means – don’t sleep there if you are asked not to and don’t leave a trace of being there. If you brought your rubbish, you can find a suitable waste bin or take it home.

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Holyhead, North Wales road trip
Bumper and our home for the night in Holyhead

3 | South Stack Cliffs Nature Reserve

There are only a few places in the UK to see the puffin, of which RSPB South Stack Cliffs Nature Reserve in Anglesey, is one of them (RSPB Cymru Ynys Lawd for our Welsh-speaking friends!). However, it’s not the best place to see them. That’s because they nest on an outcrop of rock inaccessible by foot and the nearest place to spot them is about 90 metres away from the path that leads to South Stack Lighthouse. However, between South Stack and North Stack you have the opportunity to see some amazing wildlife from dolphins, porpoises and seals, to guillemots, gannets, peregrines, kestrels, ravens, choughs and of course, the famous puffins.

Guillemot birds at South Stack, North Wales road trip
Guillemot birds, South Stack

We aren’t satisfied we witnessed the best of what puffins have to offer, so we’ll pick another location to go find them next year! Nonetheless, we saw the beautiful puffins and achieved what we set out to.

South Stack Lighthouse, seen from North Stack, North Wales road trip.
South Stack Lighthouse, seen from North Stack

The trip to South Stack Cliffs was quite something, besides the puffins. There are a few other birds to see, of which some are smelly and noisy! Haha. We also recommend a walk to North Stack. It’s a lovely 2-mile walk around, you’ll get great views of South Stack Lighthouse, Holyhead and you might even spot a few seals on North Stack Island!

Visiting South Stack Cliffs Nature Reserve is free but you’ll need to pay for parking. You can also pay to visit South Stack Lighthouse, if you’d like.

Address: RSPB South Stack, S Stack Rd, Holyhead, Wales, LL65 1YH

What3Words: devalued.glimmers.talkers

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4 | Beaumaris

Beaumaris was an impromptu stop while we were heading to drive over the Menai Bridge. We’d heard it was a cute little town with a castle, so we took a little detour. And Beaumaris didn’t disappoint. There are a few things to see and do in Beaumaris, including the castle, some lovely independent shops, and amazing views of Snowdonia National Park from the seafront and pier. Beaumaris is well worth a visit if you are passing nearby. Much like Conwy, allow yourself a couple of hours to meander the town, enjoy the views and pop into the odd shop…or enjoy some fish and chips!

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The view toward Snowdonia National Park, North Wales road trip.
The view toward Snowdonia National Park

5 | Penrhyn Castle and Garden

The next stop on our North Wales road trip was Penrhyn Castle and Garden, which is a magnificent National Trust property. If you’ve been following us for a while, you probably know we are National Trust pass holders and we usually have a quick check in the app to see if there is a National Trust property in the vicinity of where we are travelling. And this time, we were in luck! There it was – Penrhyn Castle and Garden – right on the route we were on to get to Bangor for dinner. (We returned the next day, hence why we visited after South Stack Cliffs and not before!)

Penrhyn Castle is a monster of a building. It’s off-the-scale fancy, but it has a dark past. The castle was built on the profits of the sugar slave trade in Jamaica in the 17th and 18th centuries which the Pennant family owned.

Fast forward to 1805, when Richard Pennant owned almost a thousand slaves in Jamaica. Richard became known as Richard Pennant the Improver because of his investment in North Wales from his profiteering of slavery. Money from the plantations paid for infrastructure including roads, railways, houses, schools and what was once the largest slate quarry in the world, Penrhyn Quarry, changing the landscape of North Wales forever.

For more information on Penrhyn Castle and Garden, click here.

Address: Penrhyn Castle and Garden, Bangor, Wales, LL57 4HT

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The interior of Penrhyn Castle

6 | Llanberis

A North Wales road trip probably wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Llanberis. That’s because it’s the most popular place to climb Snowdon from, which is a must if you’re a keen walker. Do you remember when we did the National 3 Peak Challenge? One of the mountains you climb is Snowdon and we started from Pen-y-Pass, which is just outside of Llanberis. Pen-y-Pass is also one of the most dramatic roads you will ever drive in the UK! It’s quite something, let us tell you!

Although this wasn’t the first time we’d visited Llanberis, it was the first time we’d visited the National Slate Museum and it reminded us a little bit of Blists Hill in Ironbridge.

As you may know, Welsh slate is famous the world over for its durability and Wales has a long, rich history with slate. So much so, that the slate landscape of northwest Wales was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status on 28 July 2021, where the National Slate Museum sits. The National Slate Museum is free and is full of all sorts of artefacts from the slate mining industry. There is even a row of terrace houses, all set in different eras across the mining timeline, which are all tiny by today’s standards! For more information on the National Slate Museum, click here.

Address: National Slate Museum, Llanberis, Caernarfon, Wales, LL55 4TY

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National Slate Museum, North Wales road trip

7 | Porthmadog

Porthmadog was home to us for our second night along ur North Wales road trip. Its proximity to Portmerieon is useful, plus it’s another nice town worth a wander around. There’s a heritage railway, incredible views towards Snowdonia National Park and a cool pub called The Australia, which is owned by Purple Moose Brewery, who are Porthadog’s very own local brewery, so you can get a taste of Wales ales, if you like a beer (and you know we do!)

Come to think of it, almost this entire route is surrounded by the dramatic landscapes of Snowdonia National Park…and if you haven’t the park visited, you must!

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A beautiful cobbled street of Porthmadog
A beautiful cobbled street of Porthmadog

8 | Portmeirion

Next up on our North Wales road trip was Portmeirion Village. This is another place that’s been on our list of places to visit for ages! Heading to see the puffins in Holyhead offered the perfect excuse to extend the trip to kill two birds with one stone and visit Portmeirion at the same time.

A landscape of Portmeirion, Wales.
Portmeirion

Portmeirion Village is labelled as a ‘holiday resort’. That’s because you can visit for the day, eat, shop, stay for a night (or two!), enjoy the spa and even get married there. The village was built by Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis from 1925 to 1973 and was designed with Italianate architecture in mind, which is pretty clear to see.

Some of the fantastic Italian inspired buildings of Portmeirion
Some of the fantastic Italian-inspired buildings of Portmeirion

Undoubtedly, the village is beautiful and offers more than a few buildings to look at but let’s talk about the price. The entry fee is £17 per adult which is a bit expensive (in our opinion) but you’ll be glad to know parking is free! Ha! The question is – was it worth it? Yes because it’s been on our list of places to go for so long but if it’s not already on your radar it might be worth a skirt-around.

Address: Portmeirion, Minffordd, Penrhyndeudraeth Gwynedd, Wales, LL48 6ER

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9 | Harlech

There’s a reason they call North Wales ‘Castle Country’…and that’s because it’s full of castles! Wales has 427 castles and tons of them are in the north. 427 castles! Can you believe that?! Harlech was calling us because of said castles, so it was our last stop on our North Wales road trip before we started the journey home. It’s a small town with not much to do other than to visit the castle…and enjoy an ice cream (complete with Welsh flag!), of course! An hour should be sufficient to explore the castle, town and shops, before moving on.

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Harlech Castle, Harlech
Harlech Castle, Harlech

10 | Betws-y-Coed

Last up on our North Wales road trip was Betws-y-Coed. We’d passed through Betws-y-Coed before on our way to Snowdonia National Park but never stopped. After leaving Harlech, we stopped for a quick photo opportunity of Portmerieion before picking up the A470, which is a beautiful, almost non-stop road, leading to Betws-y-Coed.

When we stayed in Porthmadog, we went to a cool pub called The Australia, which belongs to a brewery called Purple Moose, which was established in Porthmadog. Long story short – they had a brewery shop that was shut that we wanted to visit to buy some beer before we went home. Anyway, it turns out they have one at Betws-y-Coed, which was fortunate!

After leaving Betws-y-Coed, we jumped on to the A5, which is another classic Welsh road where you can enjoy being behind the wheel, much like our road trip along the B3306 in Cornwall.

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And that wraps up our North Wales road trip. We’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below and please let us know if you have any recommendations of your own for the next time we visit Wales!

North Wales Road Trip Map

-North Wales Road Trip-

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