Krista the Explorer
A 5 Day Road Trip in Northern Wales
Updated: Jan 29
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Who doesn't love a good road trip? I personally think they're amazing, and the best way to see more of a country. Last September I embarked on a 5 day road trip in Northern Wales, with the intent of seeing as many castles as possible. It was a great time to go as there was hardly anyone in the castles we visited, even the more popular ones. I did my research beforehand, planned out which days we would go to which castles, and the time it would take to travel to them. My only regret was that we didn't have enough time to hit up a hiking trail in the famous Brecon Beacons National Park.
There are so many castles in Wales to visit, but I think I did a pretty good job of seeing the main ones in the north. We stayed in the gorgeous coastal town of Llandudno, which was the perfect base camp for our daily trips. There are a lot of hotels to choose from, but we opted to use Airbnb just so we had the option to use our own kitchen. Depending on how many castles you're wanting to visit, I would definitely recommend taking a look at the Explorer Pass. I saved a lot on castle entries by getting a pass - who doesn't like saving money? We also threw in some stops that weren't castles, but were close enough that we didn't have to take too much of a detour from our plans. Here are the main stops we made during our 5 day road trip in Northern Wales:
There are lots of things to do in Llandudno and it caters for all ages. This was our first stop on our Welsh road trip, and where our accommodation was based at. One of its main attractions is the pier, which provides amazing views of the town and you can grab a bite to eat while you're there as well.
If you do one thing here, make sure you go on the Marine Drive. It’s a 4 mile scenic drive around the Great Orme (another popular tourist attraction in Llandudno), and was stunning at every turn. It’s a toll road but doesn’t cost much, and if you don’t have a car there is a bus that drives on the route as well. You can also take a detour and drive up the Great Orme for even more incredible views.
Did I mention it's also the home of Alice in Wonderland? I was so excited to come here solely for that reason. Lewis Carroll met a girl called Alice while she was on holiday in the town, which gave him the inspiration for his books. There are carved statues placed all over Llandudno depicting the different characters from his books, and you can download the trail app right to your phone to find them all.
2. Flint Castle
Our first stop on our tour of Northern Wales was Flint Castle. Although it now stands as a castle ruin, it was the first one King Edward I built during his conquest of Wales in the 13th century, and was strategically very important. For those of you who love Shakespeare, the castle features famously in Richard II. It’s free to go in (bonus), but if it looks like it’s going to rain, there aren't many places to take shelter, as we learned the hard way.
3. Rhuddlan Castle
The next stop on our road trip was Rhuddlan Castle. It’s only a short drive from Flint Castle so there’s no excuse to drive by it and not stop. It sits atop a hill overlooking the River Clwyd, which Edward I had diverted specifically to give him access to the sea. It was also built at the same time as Flint Castle. We were the only ones there so they gave us a special key to unlock a door that lead to one of the towers!
4. Caernarfon Castle
Caernarfon Castle is one of Wales’ most impressive castles. It’s steeped in history, but one of my favourite facts is that the walls were built to reflect those of Constantinople. It’s also famous for being the site of Prince Charles’ investiture as the Prince of Wales. If you have time you could make a day of it, as it’s set in a charming town with lots of great places to eat. This is also one of the most popular places to visit in Northern Wales, whether you're doing a road trip or not.
5. Beaumaris Castle
Beaumaris Castle was one that I was really excited for. It’s located on Anglesey and I think it’s the only castle I’ve visited so far that still has water in the moat and a bridge crossing it. Not only that, but it was built in perfect symmetry and was the last great castle built by King Edward I during his Welsh campaign (he never actually finished it). You can walk along the top of the castle walls as well and look out across the water to the Welsh mainland. There’s also a dragon popping its head out of the ground if you can spot it. It's definitely one of the more unique castles in Northern Wales to visit, and worth the drive if you're planning a road trip.
6. Conwy Castle
Another stunning place to visit is Conwy Castle. The height of the castle walls is just immense. It’s set along a river and you can climb the various towers, giving you an amazing vantage point of the layout of the castle, as well as its surroundings. Conwy Castle is one of the best castles to visit in the whole of Wales, so I added it to my road trip itinerary right away.
BONUS STOP: The Smallest House in Great Britain
A little further on from Conwy Castle, within walking distance, is the Smallest House in Great Britain. I'm not going to lie, I wasn’t expecting it to be as small as it was. I hardly fit inside it, but it was a unique experience and something that I can check off my bucket list.
7. Criccieth Castle
Criccieth Castle sits on top of a hill, overlooking a town on one side, and a bay on the other. It’s a bit of a steep climb, but worth it in the end. The castle was very important strategically for both the English and Welsh armies, and it isn’t hard to see why. I added this castle at the last minute to our road trip in Northern Wales itinerary, and I think it was a good decision.
8. Harlech Castle
Harlech Castle was another castle I was really looking forward to, having researched it while at university. It didn’t disappoint. I’m not going to bore everyone with its architectural features and military designs, but it's stunning. Edward I definitely knew how to build an imposing castle, and he certainly liked his hills. They’ve recently added a “floating bridge” from the information centre to the castle, making it accessible for everyone. Sadly, this was the last castle of our road trip in Northern Wales, but we had time for one last stop.
The ultimate tourist village in Wales is Portmeirion. I had no idea this even existed until I was researching the area. It was built in the style of an Italian village and was used in the 1960s television series The Prisoner. You can actually stay in some of the buildings, and the village is filled with quaint shops and restaurants too. This is a unique place in Northern Wales to stop during any road trip.
Wales is practically bursting with medieval castles to explore, which is the main reason I wanted to do a road trip in Northern Wales. A large majority of these castles are now world heritage sites, and have lots to offer tourists in terms of history and architecture. So, if you're a history lover like me and want to immerse yourself in castles, head to Northern Wales on a road trip, you won't be disappointed. The south isn't bad either though, with a trip to Cardiff always a good idea. Wales is also rich in hiking trails, so if you find yourself in Southern Wales don't miss the chance to hike the Brecon Beacons!
Speaking of castles, if you ever find yourself in Scotland, they have plenty to see as well. Check out my blog post Is Scotland's Explorer Pass Worth It? for some helpful tips. And while you're in Scotland, I'd recommend a trip to St Andrews and taking a walk along the Fife Coastal Path. Remember to follow me on Instagram to see where my next adventure takes me!