It’s one of the most unusual landscapes in Wales, set in an imposing amphitheatre of mountains, with an imposing amphitheatre of slate spoil and waste between the houses and the mountains. I spent some time working there almost ten years ago, and things have greatly improved since then.
Attractions like Bounce Below and Zip World have opened up in recent years, bringing the Blaenau Ffestiniog to a completely new audience. It’s now a hub for adventurers and adrenalin addicts, something I wouldn’t have imagined a decade ago. And to top it all off, it may just about to become part of the UK’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site – the reason I was working there ten years back.
So it’s the ideal time to find out about the various things to do in Blaenau Ffestiniog, don’t you think?
- 1 Blaenau Ffestiniog – A Personal Recollection
- 2 Things To Do In Blaenau Ffestiniog – What You Need To Know
- 3 Llechwedd Slate Caverns
- 4 Bounce Below
- 5 Zip World Caverns
- 6 Zip World Titan
- 7 Blaenau Ffestiniog Railway
- 8 Rhosydd and Cwmorthin Walk
- 9 Climb the Moelwyns
- 10 Jones & Co Building
- 11 Antur Stiniog Mountain Biking
- 12 Things To Do Near Blaenau Ffestiniog
Blaenau Ffestiniog – A Personal Recollection
My first foray into North Wales was in the early 1980s, on a family holiday. We started out on a gorgeous sunny morning, driving over the Brecon Beacons and Cambrian Mountains towards our ultimate destination near the seaside resort of Llandudno.
By the time we saw the Snowdonia National Park sign, the sky had clouded over, and by the time we reached Trawsfynydd Lake sheets of rain were sweeping towards us. This abated for a few miles, only to resume on the run up to Blaenau Ffestiniog. The town was fifty shades of grim, every feature monochrome in the murk.
We then turned right at the roundabout to continue our journey to the north. Suddenly the clouds parted high overhead, allowing a shaft of sunlight to burst through, illuminating the rugby pitch, houses and massive slate slag heap behind for five, maybe six seconds.
I’ll always remember it as the moment when I first truly saw and understood light. It’s certainly not among the prettiest North Wales towns, but it’s one of the most dramatic and fascinating.
Things To Do In Blaenau Ffestiniog – What You Need To Know
Most Blaenau Ffestiniog things to do revolve around slate in some way
You can explore where it was quarried underground, fly above it on a zip wire or mountain bike down it
Some Blaenau Ffestiniog walks offer an unrivalled insight into Welsh industrial heritage
Llechwedd Slate Caverns
The Slate Caverns are located on the road out of Blaenau towards Betws-y-Coed. They are the best of the Blaenau Ffestiniog slate mines, and have offered a deep mine tour for many years. You travel around 500 feet underground before beginning a walking tour of the caverns. These vast underground chambers are beautifully lit, and at each a character’s voice tells you a story. These range from quarrymen who toiled underground for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, to the quarry’s founder. It’s a wonderfully evocative tour.
Llechwedd has upped its game hugely over the last few years, and it is now among the best things to do in North Wales. The Caverns are also home to two new attractions, Bounce Below and Zip World, both of which we’ve written about below.
You can now explore the slate landscape around Llechwedd, something that has only recently become possible. The Quarry Explorer takes you off road in a former military vehicle around the Blaenau Ffestiniog landscape, above Llechwedd to Maenofferen and Diffwys quarries nearby. A Quarry Walking Tour has also been introduced in. 2020 – if the Blaenau Ffestiniog weather is favourable, prepare for some heart-stopping views.
Bounce Below was the first of the Zip World attractions to open in Blaenau Ffestiniog. It’s basically a giant underground trampoline, a series of bouncy nets strung together on different levels of one of the slate caverns. You can slide from one level to another down a chute in the corner of the level.
It costs £25 an hour (£20 for 7-17s) to bounce around, but to make the most of it a little strategy comes in useful. When I visited everyone went full tilt for about 10 minutes, and spent the remining 50 minutes passed out, exhausted. You need to bring your own long-sleeved trousers and tops.
Zip World Caverns
Caverns is a 3-hour journey through Llechwedd, via a series of 13 zip wires, rope bridges and a via ferrata (a metal ladder up a steep rock face). I haven’t tried it out yet, but it sounds like a great and gruelling challenge. Tickets are £65 each for adults and children aged 10 and over.
Zip World Titan
Zip World Titan is a thrilling three-part zip ride from a Blaenau Ffestiniog mountain top over the slate landscape to a finishing point next to Llechwedd Slate Caverns. I haven’t tried it yet but when my son is old enough we’ll be racing each other down.
Blaenau Ffestiniog Railway
The Ffestiniog Railway has joined forces with the Welsh Highland Railway so that you can now travel between Blaenau Ffestiniog and Caernarfon by narrow gauge railway. The Ffestiniog Railway runs between the coastal town of Porthmadog and Blaenau Ffestiniog, following the route of the slate from the quarries to port. It’s a beautiful journey, starting out with a journey across the Cob causeway, which gives a view of the whole Snowdonia range. It then climbs gradually into the rugged Moelwyn mountains, past Tanygrisiau reservoir into Blaenau. You can also get to Blaenau Ffestiniog by mainline train via Llandudno and Llandudno Junction. It runs up the picturesque Conwy Valley, one of the most enjoyable train journeys in Wales. Both lines terminate at Blaenau Ffestiniog station.
The Welsh Highland Railway is a spectacular run up the west side of Snowdonia, through the county of Gwynedd to Caernarfon, the trains terminating a short walk along the quay from Caernarfon Castle. Whether you do the full Blaenau Ffestinjiog to Caernarfon run or the Porthmadog return journmey, it’s one of the best days out in North Wales.
Rhosydd and Cwmorthin Walk
One of my favourite Blaenau Ffestiniog walks is the hike from Tanygrisiau to the ruined slate quarries at Cwmorthin and Rhosydd. I visited on a beautiful spring day and didn’t see a soul all afternoon. It’s a bit of an uphill slog to Cwmorthin, a slate quarry and ruined buildings above a lake in a stunning silent valley.
The track through the valley eventually climbs a gap between the mountains, emerging at an even more inspiring site, the ruins of Rhosydd Quarry and the long-abandoned workers’ cottages. It’s an incredible sight a place of total solitude that was once a hub of industry. The view down the valley towards Cnicht, often called the ‘Welsh Matterhorn’, is also superb.
Climb the Moelwyns
Moelwyn Mawr and Moelwyn Bach are the two main peaks of the Moelwynion (often anglicized to Moelwyns), the range which overlooks Blaenau and the greener, gentler Vale of Ffestiniog. These are among the least explored mountains in Snowdonia, and you’re rewarded with superlative views of Cardigan Bay and the Llyn Peninsula beaches and coast if the conditions are good.
Moelwyn means ‘bald white hill’, but the two main mountains are quite different in character. Moelwyn Bach is quite rocky in places, while Moelwyn Mawr (770 metres) is a much grassier proposition that wouldn’t be out of place in the Brecon Beacons. Both summits can be reached from Tanygrisiau or the higher lake, Llyn Stwlan, above the dam of the same name.
Jones & Co Building
Down in the town you’ll find one of the most beautiful buildings in Wales. No Welsh castles to be seen here, just a dilapidated, disused builder’s office, cobbled together from sheets of corrugated iron of various shades of red, orange, yellow and rust and tiny square glass window panels.
It is a magnificent sight, with character by the bucketload. It’s on the right-hand side as you head into Blaenau Ffestiniog on the A470 from the south. Fortunately, it is Grade II listed and has a preservation order on it.
Antur Stiniog Mountain Biking
Seasoned biking friends have told me that Antur Stiniog have some of the scariest and most exhilarating downhill rides they’ve ever done. I prefer my descents to be a little more sedate so I’m unlikely to try, but it’s great to see them doing well for a good few years now.
Things To Do Near Blaenau Ffestiniog
Blaenau is close to some of the best places to stay in North Wales, and most of these can be reached by train and/or bus.
Unless you’re only visiting for the Zip World activities or mountain biking, the nearby village of Betws-y-Coed makes a better base to visit Snowdonia. There are more things to do in Betws-y-Coed than Blaenau, and it’s well set up for tourism, with many Betws-y-Coed B&Bs and several hotels, not to mention a small but good selection of restaurants. Because the quirks of North Wales geography, Betws is more suitable for reaching Snowdon and the range’s other main mountains.
Blaenau Ffestiniog is also within easy reach of several of the principal castles in North Wales. The nearest is Dolwyddelan, five miles (8 km) north on the A470. It was originally one of the castles of the Welsh princes, eventually captured by English King Edward I. It stands on a rocky bluff above the beautiful Lledr valley,
At a push, you could probably visit both Dolwyddelan and Conwy Castle in the same day, though you may find that there are too many things to do in Conwy and that it might be better to stick with that. Conwy Castle is one of the most beautiful castles in Europe, and you can also walk most of the circuit of Town Walls and visit the splendid 16th century townhouse of Plas Mawr, Conwy.
The Italianate fantasy village of Portmeirion couldn’t be more different than Blaenau. It’s one of the best villages in North Wales and one of the most beautiful villages in Europe, a ‘refuge for lost buildings’, as architect Clough Williams-Ellis described it. You can reach it on the Ffestiniog or mainline railways, alighting at Minffordd then walking twenty minutes to the village.
Harlech Castle is around 15 miles (25 km) from Blaenau. It’s part of the Gwynedd Castles UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with Caernarfon, Conwy and Beaumaris. Its setting is unsurpassable, with views to Snowdonia in one direction and over Harlech beach, one of the best beaches in North Wales, in the other.