It’s the starting point for many Snowdonia adventures, but there are so many things to do in Betws-y-Coed itself. It’s one of the best places to stay in Snowdonia National Park, with the best of the mountains around ten miles (16 km) to the west. The village is quite different in character to the rest of Snowdonia, with a forest setting at the meeting point of three rivers.
It’s fair to say that Betws-y-Coed owes its existence to tourism: nearly every other house in the village is a guest house. It’s a fantastic base for North Wales holidays. The tremendous Conwy Castle is half an hour up the road, and the highest mountain in Wales and England, Snowdon, is even closer.
This guide shows you what to do in Betws-y-Coed, and the best Snowdonia attractions nearby. We also tell you about the best walks in the area, and the many activities in Snowdonia you can try out.
- 1 BETWS-Y-COED: AN INTRODUCTION
- 2 HOW TO PRONOUNCE ‘BETWS-Y-COED’
- 3 OUR FAVOURITE THINGS TO DO IN BETWS-Y-COED – PONT Y PAIR BRIDGE
- 4 ST MICHAEL’S CHURCH
- 5 CONWY VALLEY RAILWAY MUSEUM
- 6 SWALLOW FALLS
- 7 THE UGLY HOUSE
- 8 BETWS-Y-COED WALKS
- 9 FAIRY GLEN
- 10 CONWY FALLS
- 11 THE NEBO DRIVE
- 12 CONWY VALLEY
- 13 SURF SNOWDONIA
- 14 LLYN CRAFNANT
- 15 CONWY CASTLE
- 16 ZIP WORLD FFOREST
- 17 TŶ MAWR WYBRNANT
- 18 DOLWYDDELAN CASTLE
- 19 BLAENAU FFESTINIOG
- 20 HOTELS IN BETWS-Y-COED
- 21 BETWS-Y-COED B&B
- 22 BETWS-Y-COED RESTAURANTS
- 23 HOW TO GET TO BETWS-Y-COED
BETWS-Y-COED: AN INTRODUCTION
Dear, dotty Betws-y-Coed. It hasn’t changed in the slightest since I first went there about thirty years ago. I swear half the shop fronts are still the same as back then – the Judges Postcards, the Anna Davies craft shop with the lady in traditional costume. Betws only really grew in the 19th century when it was ‘discovered’ and became home to an artists’ colony. It’s surrounded by woodland, a little sylvan time capsule to which I always love returning.
As you grow older, you notice more nuances. Betws-y-Coed attracts a wonderfully broad mix. The hikers and activity enthusiasts come year-round, and patronise the many Betws-y-Coed shops selling outdoor gear. The coach parties of seniors mostly come in spring and summer. They tend to head for the cafes, cream teas and traditional Welsh craft shops.
Betws-y-Coed village is essentially one 2 km long street, Holyhead Road, with a few side streets. Betws tends to be busy from April through until late September. After that it still gets busy every Friday and Saturday through the autumn and winter.
HOW TO PRONOUNCE ‘BETWS-Y-COED’
One shouldn’t really mock visitors’ pronunciations of place names. The Welsh language does have a habit of throwing up some pronunciation conundrums to visitors. And occasionally they come up with some classics.
Betws-y-Coed is one of the prime Welsh tongue-twisters. I’ve heard it mangled many a time. Examples include ‘Betwiss Why Coe Id’, ‘Betsy Co-Ed’ and even ‘Betty Cohen’.
It should be pronounced with the emphasis on the first then final syllables. Try BETT-oos-uh-KOYD. The gentleman on this link says it with a perfect North Walian accent.
OUR FAVOURITE THINGS TO DO IN BETWS-Y-COED – PONT Y PAIR BRIDGE
Pont y Pair means ‘Bridge of the Cauldron’. The Afon Llugwy passes beneath; it only flows for a few miles, but generates some fury in that short distance. It’s an impossibly picturesque stone arched bridge where people often stop to admire the view up or down the river. The bridge is believed to date back to the 15th century.
If you cross the river there are plenty of flat rocks where you can sit next to the river and listen to the sound of the water gushing through. You can pick up a bag of fish and chips for lunch at the chippy on the other side of the bridge. It’s an idyllic spot.
The bridge is also referenced in this long-lost classic song by Melys, a band from the village.
ST MICHAEL’S CHURCH
The name Betws y Coed means ‘beadhouse in the wood’. A beadhouse was a kind of almshouse where the residents would have to pray for their benefactor.
No beadhouse remains, but the church that would have been connected to it does. St Michael’s Church is the oldest building in the village, dating back to the 14th century and it’s well worth a visit. It’s situated just above the River Conwy, on Old Church Road. It’s open daily from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm from Easter to October.
CONWY VALLEY RAILWAY MUSEUM
This lovely museum is next door to Betws-y-Coed train station. I’d especially recommend it for railway romantics and families with kids. You can go on 8-minute rides on miniature trains pulled by steam or diesel engines. It’s one of the best things to do with kids in Snowdonia, and is open all year round. There’s a great model train shop with plenty of Thomas and Friends toys for the little ones.
Entry to the museum costs just £1.50, and rides are £2 each, or £15 for 10.
This famous Betws-y-Coed waterfall is around 2 miles (3 km) outside the village. You pay a small fee to enter through the turnstiles, and walk to a splendid viewpoint over the falls. They’re most impressive after heavy rainfall, when they’re a seething, foaming mass. It’s quite easy to miss, but there’s also a staircase down to the lower level of the falls. The view down there is just as impressive.
The Swallow Falls Hotel and Betws-y-Coed youth hostel are both across the road from the falls. If you can’t get into the falls, for example in snowy weather, call in at the hotel, they’ll help you out.
THE UGLY HOUSE
This is a most unwarranted epithet for this delightful cottage. It probably gets its name (Tŷ Hyll in Welsh) from the gigantic boulders that make up its walls. Its origins are unknown, but it was probably built in the 19th century. For many years it was the headquarters of the Snowdonia Society. It’s now a lovely tea room, well worth the short trip out of Betws. You can reach it on foot as well – continue beyond Swallow Falls on the walk mentioned below, it’s about ten minutes past the waterfall.
Walking connoisseurs will tell you that if you want the best walks in Snowdonia, you need to venture away from Betws-y-Coed. They’re right. However, there are some wonderfully rewarding short walks around the village, some giving outstanding views.
The best view of Betws-y-Coed is from across the Conwy Valley. You need to head out of the village and join the A470, heading left towards Llandudno. Take the next right, the minor road to Capel Garmon. Park at the top of the hill next to the first row of houses you reach, then head for the large stile to the right of the houses. You’re now on Mynydd Garthmyn. Take this path then head right for 500 metres – the view of the valley and village soon opens out below.
This is a great viewpoint as it’s the one place you can see Betws-y-Coed in its full context. The trees of the Gwydyr Forest cloak the hills all around the village. These gradually thin out as the peaks of Snowdonia rise above the forest line. On the left, you can see the brooding outline of Moel Siabod, the nearest peak to Betws-y-Coed. The Glyderau and the jagged peak of Tryfan are to the right of this, and the remote unexplored Carneddau range to the right again. It’s an amazing panorama.
There’s also an alternative route to Swallow Falls. You can follow the north bank of the Llugwy river, initially by road and then woodland footpath. Eventually you approach the Falls, with a very different view through the trees.
It’s also well worth the climb up from Betws-y-Coed to Llyn Elsi, a mountain lake high in the forest. The shorter way up is from the west side of the village, and once you reach higher ground this offers better views than the forest tracks.
The Fairy Glen (Ffos Noddyn in Welsh) is an enchanting beauty spot two miles (3 km) from the village. It’s a narrow ravine through which the River Conwy flows. It’s just off the A470 to the south of Betws – turn off at the Fairy Glen Hotel and follow the sign to the car park.
I’ve visited several times, and would only recommend doing so in dry weather. You follow a path through woodland with unprotected drops down to the river. The steps down into the gorge can be precarious, especially after any rainfall. I wouldn’t contemplate taking my 4-year-old son there, and if you’re a bit unsteady on your feet give it a miss.
I haven’t encountered him, but a sizeable number of people have also complained about the over-zealous gatekeeper. It’s £1 parking per car, and 50p per person. Allow an hour to make the return trip.
Conwy Falls is about two miles from the village, on the right as you drive along the A5. It’s on the corner of the junction with the road to Penmachno. Alternatively, there is a path through the woods from Betws.
There is a visitor centre and café designed by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, who was responsible for the nearby Italianate village of Portmeirion. You pay a small entrance fee and descend to the falls. The river splits around a giant outcrop of rock, the two channels reuniting at the bottom.
THE NEBO DRIVE
Few people discover this drive to the east of Betws-y-Coed. Yet it’s one of the most scenic drives in Wales, indeed the UK. The journey begins on the main A5 road from England.
You need to take the B5113 road at Pentrefoelas, around 9 km (6 miles) from Betws-y-Coed. If you’re coming from Betws, it’s a left turn; if you’re coming from England, it’s a right turn.
The road gradually climbs to higher moorland ground, and it doesn’t take long for the views to develop. You’re further back than the Mynydd Garthmyn viewpoint described in the Walks section of the article, and considerably higher.
Your reward is a breathtaking panorama of Snowdonia. You can see from Moel Siabod all the way to the northern end of the Carneddau range, which stops at the sea. It’s always quiet up there, and it’s a serene place to contemplate the world for a while.
If you visit North Wales, the chances are you’ll encounter the Conwy Valley at some point. It’s a lovely verdant valley, with steep sides and a flat valley floor. The scenery is gentler than the mountains, but there are plenty of views across to them.
The nearest town to Betws-y-Coed is the small market town of Llanrwst. It’s a much more workaday place than Betws, with a couple of lovely attractions. The Virginia-creeper-clad Tu Hwnt I’r Bont ‘Beside the Bridge’) tea house next to the stone arched bridge is one of the most Instagrammable places in Wales. I highly recommend crossing the river and making your way to Gwydir Castle, a stunning 16th century house which you can visit and stay in. It’s open Wednesdays to Sundays April to October.
There is a road up each side of the valley, and the B5106 on the west side offers more scenic views and places to stop.
However, one of the best North Wales attractions is back over on the east side of the river. Bodnant Garden is one of the finest in the UK, and is wondrous from spring through to autumn. The best time to visit is late May and early June when the camellias, rhododendrons and laburnum arch are all in full bloom. It is now also open during the winter, though we haven’t visited at that time of year.
Before Surf Snowdonia opened, you had to travel to Rhosneigr on Anglesey or Hell’s Mouth on the Llŷn Peninsula to go surfing in North Wales.
Surf Snowdonia is the world’s largest artificial wave lagoon, so the waves are there whenever you want them. It’s on an old aluminium works site at Dolgarrog, 8 miles (12 km) down the valley from Betws-y-Coed.
The Carneddau range of the Snowdonia National Park is one of the quietest, but most rewarding, parts of North Wales to explore. These mountains hide some of the best hidden gems of Wales.
One of these is the mountain lake, Llyn Crafnant. At the village of Trefriw, a precipitously steep minor road climbs high above the Valley. It eventually levels out, passing an old farm and through woodland before the lake reveals itself, backed by rugged mountains. It’s an implausibly beautiful place, and one of the best places to visit in Snowdonia.
It’s a wonderful spot for a picnic, a walk along the lake or over the mountain to nearby Llyn Geirionnydd lake.
Conwy Castle is outstanding, one of the most forbidding yet beautiful castles in Europe. It overlooks the town and river of the same name, and is linked to a formidable circuit of town walls. It’s one of the most beautiful towns in the UK, an atmospheric medieval gem. It should be an imperative stop on every North Wales itinerary. You can also visit Plas Mawr, the best-preserved Tudor town house in the UK.
ZIP WORLD FFOREST
The range of Betws-y-Coed activities has expanded a lot in the last few years. This is partly down to the Zip World zip wire attractions around the region, and Betws-y-Coed has its own, Zip World Fforest.
This takes you 60 feet (20 metres) up into the Gwydyr Forest treetops, where there are rope walks, and rides. One of these, Plummet from the Summit, needs no further description.
TŶ MAWR WYBRNANT
This remote medieval farmhouse beyond the village of Penmachno was the birthplace of Bishop William Morgan. He became the Bishop of nearby St Asaph, and was the first person to translate the Bible into Welsh. This helped standardise the language (the regional dialects are still very different 430 years on!) and had an enormous cultural impact on Wales.
It gives a fascinating insight into 16th century life, and during school holidays they put on traditional Welsh crafts for children to try. The custodian is brilliant, one of the best guides I’ve ever encountered anywhere in the world. This is one of the best things to do in Snowdonia, hands down.
It’s open Thursdays to Sundays, April to October. It’s at the end of a long, single track road.
We’ve already encountered two of the three rivers that meet at Betws-y-Coed. The third is the Lledr. The A470 follows this valley after emerging from the bowl of mountains around Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Dolwyddelan is one of the smaller, but most intriguing, Welsh castles. This lonely battlemented tower has a prime site overlooking the valley. It enjoys one of the most dramatic settings of any castle in Wales, and it’s worth exploring the area for a couple of hours or so to see some of the astounding views. I recommend exploring across the river to get the view with Moel Siabod (pictured) behind, and above the village of Dolwyddelan.
This slate town ten miles down the A470 is a remarkable place. It’s surrounded by vast mounds of slate detritus and the natural amphitheatre of the Moelwyn mountain range beyond that. In wet weather it can look pretty grey and grim, but when the sun comes out, it’s a very different story.
It’s heartening to see how much the place has come on over the last decade or so. The long-established Llechwedd Slate Caverns has new attractions, including underground trampolines at Bounce Below and zip wire rides inside and above the cathedral-sized quarries. Antur Stiniog have also set up some fearsome downhill mountain bike trails above the town.
Blaenau is also about to be nominated for UNESCO World Heritage Site status because of the remnants of its slate industry. I really hope it succeeds. The town has been excluded from Snowdonia National Park because its industrial spoil has been considered an eyesore. It’s one of seven locations around North and Mid Wales included in the nomination to UNESCO. The mountains around Blaenau are home to some astonishing slate quarry sites, and the hike up to Cwmorthin and Rhosydd quarry is one of the best walks in Wales.
HOTELS IN BETWS-Y-COED
Betws-y-Coed hotels have some great deals through the season, and you can get some fantastic last-minute bargains, especially if you opt to stay during the week when occupancy is normally lower. Hotels in Betws-y-Coed also tend to fill up on weekends during the off-season (autumn, winter and early spring).
Most Betws-y-Coed hotels were built in the Victorian era, and are fine traditional characterful old buildings, very much part of the heritage of the village. The Royal Oak Hotel in the heart of the village was an old coaching inn, expanded to cater for visitors attracted by the artists’ colony in the mid 19th century and the scenery they depicted in their paintings. A short walk towards the station, the Glan Aber and Gwydyr are also grand 19th century hotels.
Most places to stay in Betws-y-Coed are along the main street, Holyhead Road, with some hotels and guest houses on the A470 main road towards Llandudno and in the side streets of the village. One or two hotels in Betws-y-Coed were built more recently, including the Edwardian (early 20th century) Craig-y-Dderwen Riverside Hotel and the Best Western Waterloo, both a short walk from the centre of the village.
If you want bed and breakfast Betws-y-Coed is the place to visit. Many of the fine old Victorian houses in the village are used for bed and breakfast accommodation. They are also known as guest houses, or by their common abbreviation, B&Bs. They’re always popular, and usually work out less expensive than hotels. They’re smaller and more intimate, and a great place to make friends with fellow travellers.
Betws-y-Coed has a great choice of B&Bs, and we’ve stayed in most of them over many visits down the years. There are a small number of budget options, with many in the three-star, mid-range bracket, so rooms often work out around the £60 a night mark. The most luxurious B&Bs tend to charge closer to £90-100.
We’ve stayed at Dolgethin B&B in Betws-y-Coed a great many times – with our lovely friend Ruth – where we have many happy memories.
The busiest place in Betws of an evening is often The Stables, the pub attached to the Royal Oak which serves the whole range of British pub fare. The Royal Oak’s restaurant, The Grill Room, has a different menu, and more of a bistro feel. One of the other Betws-y-Coed pubs, the Pont-y-Pair Hotel, also serves meals but i haven’t eaten there.
Talking of bistros, Bistro Betws-y-Coed is a short walk up the hill from the Royal Oak, and one of our favourites in the whole region. I’ll always remember it for serving up one of the best lamb shanks I’ve ever had a couple of years ago.
It’s great to see the eating options in Betws diversifying, and one of the most recent arrivals is Olif (pronounced ‘olive’), a tapas bar using Welsh ingredients (except for the olives, that is).
HOW TO GET TO BETWS-Y-COED
Two of Wales’ main roads – the A5 and A470 – meet on the edge of Betws-y-Coed, so getting there by car is fairly simple.
The A470 is the route you will take if coming from South or Mid Wales, following the road up past Dolgellau and Blaenau Ffestiniog, then turning left onto the A5 into the village.
The A470 is also the route of choice if you’re setting out from the north of England. Join and follow the A55 North Wales Expressway, turning left onto the A470 at the Glan Conwy roundabout and following it up the Conwy Valley, turning right onto the A5 at the same junction you would use if approaching from the south.
The A5 is the best route if you’re setting out from the English Midlands, or anywhere to the south or east of there. Some friends from north-east Wales and the Liverpool area also use the A5 to get to Betws-y-Coed, either joining it from the A494 from Ruthin or the A543 which runs through Denbigh, the latter joining the A5 only a few miles from Betws-y-Coed.
The Conwy Valley railway line from Llandudno to Betws-y-Coed is a lovely short scenic run. You should get a glimpse of Conwy Castle across the river before you reach the countryside, which is green and glorious much of the year, with the mountains of Snowdonia to your right. For much of the journey, the train passes close to the river Conwy, so sit on the right to get the best view.
Most people travelling this route are more likely to travel down from Llandudno Junction station, which is on the North Wales mainline, and two stops down the track from Llandudno.
Trains are relatively infrequent – there are six a day, running every three hours.
It’s also worth checking in advance whether or not the line is open, as it is one of the more flood-prone lines in the UK.
If you’re travelling to Betws-y-Coed by bus, the Conwy valley from Llandudno has regular buses (roughly hourly) until late in the evening.
Beyond this, buses do run to other Snowdonia destinations, and services are good in spring and summer but fairly infrequent in the off-season. Buses to the Snowdon paths and Llanberis run hourly in peak season but only every couple of hours in off-season, and if you want to get to the village of Beddgelert you can make the journey four times a day, changing once.
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing the world for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times.