The Welsh town of Barmouth has one of the best settings of any holiday resort in the UK. It has some of the best beaches in UK, and sits on an estuary with exceptional views of the Snowdonia National Park. Our guide to the best things to do in Barmouth covers the town, the surrounding area and indeed some of the best things to do in Snowdonia.
I’ve enjoyed four Barmouth holidays, and always found it a great base for Mid and North Wales holidays. As well as the local Barmouth things to do, there are many other North Wales attractions nearby, including one of the most famous castles in Wales and the unique village of Portmeirion. Unusually for rural Wales, it’s possible to spend holidays in Barmouth getting around by public transport. Places as far apart as Llangollen, Aberdovey, Betws-y-Coed and Dolgellau are all within easy reach.
Our guide to what to do in Barmouth reveals all of this and more.
- 1 AN INTRODUCTION TO BARMOUTH
- 2 WHERE IS BARMOUTH?
- 3 BEST THINGS TO DO IN BARMOUTH – CROSSING BARMOUTH BRIDGE
- 4 BARMOUTH BEACH
- 5 BARMOUTH HARBOUR
- 6 PANORAMA WALK, BARMOUTH
- 7 INTO SNOWDONIA: THE RHINOG MOUNTAINS
- 8 MAWDDACH TRAIL
- 9 BARMOUTH FERRY
- 10 FAIRBOURNE RAILWAY
- 11 BEACHES NEAR BARMOUTH
- 12 HARLECH CASTLE
- 13 PORTMEIRION
- 14 FFESTINIOG AND WELSH HIGHLAND RAILWAY
- 15 THE LLŶN PENINSULA
- 16 LLYNNAU CREGENNEN
- 17 GETTING TO BARMOUTH
- 18 BARMOUTH ACCOMMODATION
- 19 PLACES TO EAT IN BARMOUTH
AN INTRODUCTION TO BARMOUTH
Barmouth town is a place of contrasts. Take an early morning walk up the steep cobbled back streets of Barmouth’s old town (19th century), where you eventually come to an open area of high ground. This is Dinas Oleu, the Fortress of Lights, the first place bequeathed to the UK National Trust back in 1895. This organisation now owns and conserves some of the most beautiful area of the UK.
Dinas Oleu is very special. From there you can see over the town and up and down the Cardigan Bay coast. If you walk far enough, you reach soul-stirring views across the Mawddach estuary towards Cadair Idris.
Down below, you’ll find a fantastic expanse of beach and dunes, with a harbour at the southern end. At the northern end, in summer, you’ll find all the trappings of a traditional British seaside town. There are fish and chip shops, amusement arcades, a seasonal funfair, candy floss, and sticks of rock guaranteed to earn you extra time in the dentist’s chair. I’ve always gone to Barmouth for the walks and views, but also love these reminders of my childhood.
WHERE IS BARMOUTH?
Barmouth is a small town on the coast of the county of Gwynedd, in Mid Wales, in the United Kingdom.
Where is Wales? It’s the country to the west of England, facing Ireland across the Irish Sea.
Barmouth is on the Cardigan Bay Coast – sometimes called the Cambrian Coast – in the west of the country. Cardigan Bay is part of the Irish Sea.
The town of Barmouth – Abermaw in Welsh – is in the southern part of Gwynedd. around 2.5 hours’ drive from the English city of Birmingham to Barmouth. It’s also in the southern part of the Snowdonia National Park (Parc Cenedlaethol Eryri) which covers the mountainous eastern part of Gwynedd, and also part of Conwy County.
Barmouth is at the estuary of the Mawddach river (Afon Mawddach), which flows out into Barmouth Bay.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN BARMOUTH – CROSSING BARMOUTH BRIDGE
Barmouth Bridge is a wooden railway viaduct spanning the Mawddach estuary. It carries the Cambrian Coast line which runs up the Cardigan Bay coast from Machynlleth to Pwllheli. A footpath runs alongside. It’s one of the loveliest train rides and best walks in Wales – less than 700 metres across, with astonishing scenery all around. You can also cycle across the bridge.
One option is walking from Barmouth to the next station, Morfa Mawddach, then catching the train back across. Try to find a seat on the right for the best view, which is inland to the mountains.
The main reason many visitors come to Barmouth is the beach. And quite rightly too. It’s a tremendous beach, with something for everyone. It has Blue Flag status, meaning its water is impeccably clean and there is easy access and good facilities.
It’s ideal whether you’re there with kids and are playing beach games and building sand castles and pyramids. But it’s also great if you want to take a gentle stroll along Barmouth seafront and wander through the dunes, exploring the estuary along the way. The views out to sea are uplifting too, to the mountains of the Llŷn Peninsula and Bardsey Island.
If you catch a sunny day, it’s one of the best days out in North Wales.
The Harbour has some cafes and restaurants, and two less known Barmouth attractions worth a short visit if you’d like to learn more about the area’s history.
Tŷ Gwyn (‘White House’) isn’t white at all, but may have briefly played a significant role in British history. It’s believed that Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII, hid there for some time along with his uncle, Jasper, during the Wars of the Roses. It’s now a small museum open during the tourist season (April to October) between 1pm and 4pm.
The other curiosity close to the Harbour is the small 19th century roundhouse, Tŷ Crwn. This was the local lock-up, where rowdies and drunkards would be taken for the night to sleep it off and sober up.
PANORAMA WALK, BARMOUTH
Barmouth first became a tourist destination during the Victorian era (19th century). They promoted several walks in the area around the Mawddach estuary, including the Panorama Walk, a mile or so out of the town on the road passing the Bae Abermaw Hotel.
Back in Victorian times it was one of the most popular things to do near Barmouth. It‘s hard to visualise it now, but they even had a teahouse in this quiet spot.
The walk is on the right of the minor road. It begins in woodland, gradually climbing to open ground overlooking the estuary. It’s an outstanding viewpoint, looking inland and out over the Bridge to the estuary. It’s around a kilometre from the starting point to the main viewpoints.
This is also a great place to catch a sunrise over the estuary, which looks especially good at low tide.
The Precipice Walk, one of the main things to do in Dolgellau nearby, is a good companion to this. It’s not really that precipitous, but makes for a great viewpoint over the Mawddach from a height of around 800 feet (250 metres).
INTO SNOWDONIA: THE RHINOG MOUNTAINS
Also known as the Rhinogs, or Rhinogydd in Welsh, the Rhinog range is one of the least explored parts of Snowdonia.
They run parallel to the coast from Barmouth to the north of Harlech, around the Dwyryd estuary. They are by no means the highest mountains in Snowdonia, with the highest, Y Llethr, at 756 metres (2,480 feet).
Their terrain is, however, probably the toughest not just in Snowdonia, but in Wales. The high mountain parts are very rocky, real ankle-turning territory, so keep the going slow. Access to the mountains is easiest from the village of Llanbedr, just to the south of Harlech.
The inland route north from Barmouth is one of the best-kept secrets in Britain. Climb to the top of Bwlch y Rhiwgyr, an incredible viewpoint over the Mawddach and Cadair Idris. There a whole new landscape reveals itself – the coastal foothills of the Rhinogs, a landscape of open vistas, scattered prehistoric burial chambers, gentle shady rivers and ancient stone bridges. It’s a blissful area to explore, and you’ll hardly see a soul all day.
The Mawddach Trail runs along the southern side of the river, following the old railway line inland. You can cycle it or walk it, or explore part of it en route to Llynnau Cregennen. It’s a very easy, flat route. The famous 19th century art critic and writer John Ruskin often visited the area. He famously wrote, ”There is no better walk than from Barmouth through to Dolgellau other than from Dolgellau to Barmouth.” He wasn’t wrong.
It’s also possible to catch a small ferry boat across the river. The ferry, a cute little boat called Emily, runs from Barmouth Harbour to the Ro Wen sand spit on the opposite (Fairbourne) side of the river.
The ferry runs between April and October, costs £2 per person, and meets the trains on the Fairbourne Steam Railway (see below).
The Fairbourne Railway is one of the smallest steam railways in Wales. The tiny toytown trains are wonderfully charming, and it’s a great way to spend an hour or so with the kids. Or even longer – a day rover ticket with unlimited rides costs £10 for adults and £6 for children.
The line is about two miles (3 km) long, and runs from the station in the village along the beach and through the dunes. I’ve sometimes seen it called the Fairbourne Miniature Railway – the carriages are pretty small, and there’s not a great deal of legroom for someone my size (6’4”, 1.93 metres).
BEACHES NEAR BARMOUTH
Barmouth is at the southern end of the ancient Welsh district of Ardudwy, a relatively remote area between the Rhinog mountains in the east and the sea.
It’s a wonderful stretch of coastline with miles of continuous beach, especially around Dyffryn Ardudwy. Parts of it have sprouted large caravan parks – surprising given they’re so close to a National Park. They’re not to everyone’s taste, but it’s an amazing area to enjoy a holiday in Wales.
North of Dyffryn Ardudwy, the dunes at Llandanwg conceal an intriguing church very close to the beach. Around the headland, the beach at Harlech is stupendous, with magnificent views north to the mountains of Snowdonia.
The Castles of King Edward I are among the best things to see in North Wales, and four of them constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of these – the closest Castle to Barmouth – is Harlech Castle.
Harlech is one of the finest Welsh castles, in a dramatic location at the top of what was once a sea cliff. The walk along the walls is breathtaking, with views of the wonderful beach, the coast of the Llŷn Peninsula and the peaks of Snowdonia all close by.
It was built by Edward I of England between 1282 and 1289 as part of his plan to subjugate the native Welsh. It was captured in 1403 by rebel Welsh prince Owain Glyndwr, and again during the Wars of the Roses later in the 15th century.
The Italianate fantasy village of Portmeirion is one of the most beautiful in Europe. It’s essentially a holiday village, with two hotels and a collection of houses and cottages, all of which are accommodation.
Portmeirion is one of the most popular places to visit in Wales. It was put together by architect Clough Williams-Ellis, who designed some of the buildings, including the belltower, or campanile. Others were salvaged, spared destruction by the architect who was always looking out for bargains.
The whole village is meant to evoke the Mediterranean, and it certainly does that. It’s easy to reach by car, via the A487 road and the village of Minffordd. Otherwise the train from Barmouth stops at Minffordd, from which it’s a twenty-minute walk to the village.
FFESTINIOG AND WELSH HIGHLAND RAILWAY
Minffordd actually has two stations next door to each other. One of the best-known Welsh railways, the narrow gauge Ffestiniog Railway, runs from here to nearby Porthmadog or up to the slate town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, high in the mountains. The latter is wonderful for kids, romantics and railway buffs alike.
The Welsh Highland Railway is another Welsh steam railway, plying the route up past the west of Snowdon to Caernarfon via Beddgelert.
THE LLŶN PENINSULA
The Llŷn – sometimes spelt Lleyn – Peninsula also lies just beyond Portmeirion. This corner of north-west Wales should be near the top of most people’s list of things to do in Wales. It has some of the best coastline in Britain, and the inland areas are beautiful and rich in Welsh culture.
The first town of any size you reach is Porthmadog, terminus of the two Welsh narrow gauge railways. The train continues past lovely Criccieth, with its beaches and castle, before continuing to Pwllheli.
You really need a car to explore the Llŷn further. You could get to the far west, and the village of Aberdaron, in two hours from Barmouth.
We mention Cregennen Lakes in our Most Beautiful Lakes in Europe feature. It’s right up there with the best places to visit in Snowdonia, high up in the foothills of Cadair Idris mountain. I’ve walked there from Barmouth a couple of times. You can cross the Bridge then take the Mawddach Trail to the village of Arthog. You then follow a single track road up the mountain, opening four farm gates on the way. Eventually you reach the small car park. The hill behind has glorious views back over the estuary, and across the first of the two lakes.
It’s easier to reach by car, crossing the river on the toll bridge at Penmaenpool, then taking the A493 to Arthog. The left turn up the hill is partially hidden, so take the stretch around the village slowly.
GETTING TO BARMOUTH
Barmouth is fairly easy to reach by road. It’s on the main A496 coast road which runs from Dolgellau up to Blaenau Ffestiniog. You can reach this road at either end from the A470, the main road from North to South Wales.
If you’re driving from Liverpool or Manchester, the most direct route is the A494. This runs from the A55 Expressway via Mold, Ruthin and Bala to Dolgellau.
Barmouth is very well-connected by public transport. Trains to Barmouth take the slow but incredibly picturesque Cambrian Coast Railway from Shrewsbury (around 2.5 hours), across the border in England. Trains divide at Machynlleth, with some carriages continuing to Barmouth, and the others running to Aberystwyth. So check with the conductor when on board.
Several buses also run to Barmouth, including the T3 from Wrexham and the 2 from Bangor. The 38 and 39 also make the useful short local run to Dolgellau.
There is a great choice of places to stay in Barmouth, and also in the surrounding countryside.
One of the most eye-catching Barmouth hotels is the Tŷ’r Graig Castle. It’s a magnificent late Victorian (19th century) building built by a gunmaker from Birmingham. The Tŷ’r Graig Castle is an elegant 4-star hotel and still has many of its original architectural features.
The Tilman is one of the newer hotels in Barmouth, with rooms in great contemporary styling. There’s also a bar and restaurant downstairs. Its location is excellent, on the main street, within walking distance of the beach and the other main Barmouth sights.
Aber House is the best Barmouth B&B I’ve stayed in. It’s also located on the main street, in a fine building that’s around 200 years old. Rooms are very spacious, and breakfast of a very high standard every time.
Bae Abermaw Hotel has some of the best views in Barmouth. It enjoys a tremendous outlook over the estuary, coast and town. It’s a short walk or drive from the town, on the road leading up to the Panorama Walk.
Penmaenuchaf Hall Hotel is another great place to stay. It’s just across the river at Penmaenpool, a grand country house on a magnificent estate surrounded by gorgeous gardens and countryside. It’s closer to Dolgellau than Barmouth, but still ideal for exploring the area by car.
PLACES TO EAT IN BARMOUTH
There is also a good range of Barmouth restaurants, pubs and cafes.
We’ve always enjoyed our meals at the Last Inn, Barmouth. It’s one of the best pubs in Barmouth, with some lovely cosy dining rooms. The food has always been of a high standard – especially the seafood. Some of it comes from right across the road, in the harbour.
Bistro Bermo is another great Barmouth restaurant. I’ve only eaten there once, and would return in a heartbeat. Excellent food in a small, intimate venue. You may well need to book ahead, especially in season.
The Isis Pizzeria is in a great spot on the Harbour, and we can also highly recommend their pizzas.
Two doors down, Davy Jones’ Locker is a good lunch stop, and Knickerbockers Ice Cream Parlour, next door to Isis, is very tempting on a warm summer evening.
It would be remiss of us not to mention one other place in Barmouth town, even though we haven’t eaten there. The Carousal Café has been there for many years, but some local wag has kept removing the ‘c’ from ‘carousal’, giving the name a very different meaning. I always smile when I see it on the way through Barmouth.