Described by Lonely Planet as “surprisingly down-at-heel in parts, with quite a few boarded up buildings”, I suspect that Lonely Planet’s author didn’t bother to take the time to explore the historic town properly. Indeed, by looking at Lonely Planet’s or Rough Guide’s websites, you’d be hard pressed to find anything to do other than visit the castle and eat at a handful of restaurants.
But there is a side to Caernarfon that the guide books have left out. Take a stroll along the refurbished promenade, with spectacular views of the Menai straight and Anglesey, or down ancient cobbled streets where you’ll hear an equally ancient language alive and thriving. How many towns can boast a World Heritage seafront castle, nature reserves, a beer festival on a steam train and a vineyard?
The residents of Caernarfon (Cofis) are well known for their hospitality, so learn a few welsh words and take the time to enjoy what the town has to offer – like a local:
You can enjoy a 1.5 hour guided walking tour of the town with local guide Emrys Llewelyn. You will discover the town’s rich history from medieval times right up to modern day and visit some unseen treasures like the short walk on the town walls – something not normally open to the public.
Tours usually start at 11:00 and 14:00 but do book ahead.
Adults – £10
Children under 17 – £3
Children under 8 – Free
Y Foryd Nature Reserve
If you’ve had your fill of squawking seagulls, just a few minutes walk out of the town takes you to the shore of the Menai strait and on to the vast, intertidal nature reserve known as Y Foryd. At low tide, hundreds of acres of sand and mud flat are exposed, attracting a surprising number of bird species. Over 200 species have been recorded here and it is an important wintering ground for wildfowl, where rafts of 3000 wigeon are not an uncommon sight. Also keep your eyes peeled for peregrine falcons, buzzards and hen harriers.
Along the areas of rocky shoreline, it is common to sea herring gulls and crows performing aerial displays of their intelligence. They grab hold of shellfish, fly high and then drop them onto the rocks to smash them, before swooping down and eating the soft insides. And you just thought they rummaged through bins!
Adjacent to Y Foryd is Morfa Dinlle reserve, managed by the RSPB in hope of increasing the number of breeding pairs of lapwings to 26 pairs in the next 10 years. Lapwing numbers have fallen sharply in England and Wales, mostly due to farming practices but thanks to largely unknown places like Morfa Dinlle, you’re almost guaranteed to see them around Caernarfon.
Take a steam train through Snowdonia
Offering an at seat buffet service and a fully licensed bar you can take in the stunning scenery of Snowdonia from the comfort of your carriage.
The Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland railways stretch for 40 miles through ancient oak woodlands and past mountains, rivers and castles. Travelling in original carriages pulled by 150 year old locomotives is truly a unique experience.
The Caernarfon station is currently undergoing a £2.5 million renovation but services are still running as usual.
Tickets can be booked online or on the day. For ticket enquiries the booking office can be contacted on 01766 516024
Caernarfon Food Festival
The annual food festival has grown from strength to strength and 2019 is sure to be another success. Spread across Y Maes (Castle Square), past the castle and along the seafront to Doc Fictoria is a wealth of food and drink stalls ranging from locally grown mushrooms to the more adventurous squirrel pate and everything in between. And it’s free!
Pant du vinyard
Nestled in the Nantlle valley is a rather surprising find for north Wales – Pant Du vineyard. Richard and Iola Hughes established the vineyard in 2007 and produced their first bottle of wine in 2010. Since then, the business has gone from strength to strength and they now produce spring water, apple juice and cider. With the aim of becoming fully self sustainable, bore holes provide water for cider production and solar panels provide electricity – including for their cafe and electric delivery car!
Pant Du host wine tasting events and tours throughout the year but you don’t have to wait for one of them to enjoy their products. Head to their cafe on a sunny day and enjoy a crisp cider, chilled white or bite to eat whilst absorbing the spectacular views of the Snowdonia mountains and coast. On sunny days and Sunday afternoons it can get very busy so you may wish to book a table ahead if you are planning to eat.
Smallest bar in Wales
Bar Bach on Greengate Street, just off Castle Square (better known as Y Maes) is reportedly the smallest bar in Wales. The bijou interior can get very crowded but there is also outdoor seating next to the impressive Edwardian town walls. They have a good selection of drinks, including local beers and where else can you drink in a country’s smallest bar whilst admiring a UNESCO World Heritage Site?
Dinas Dinlle Beach
Just a few miles outside of the town lies the area’s most popular beach. Stretching for miles in both directions there is a mix of rocky shore for rock pooling and soft sand for bathing. It’s a blue flag beach so the water is safe to swim in.
Facilities include free parking, free toilets, outside shower to rinse off any sand and a number of souvenir shops, cafes and a chip shop. There is also a campsite set further back from the beach and it is conveniently located next to Caernarfon airport where you can get airplane or helicopter pleasure flights.
To the left of the beach is an iron age hill fort that commands exceptional views of the area. To the far right are sand dunes which form part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Further still you can walk all the way to Fort Belan – a coastal fortress that used to guard the entrance to the Menai Strait.
During May-September the middle beach is a dog free zone, but you can take dogs to either side of it all year round.
Summer evenings are a great time to catch dramatic sunsets.
Coming into its 15th year, the Rail Ale Festival is set to return to Caernarfon in 2019 (usually in May). During this much anticipated, annual event, crowds of beer and train enthusiasts flock to the Ffestiniog railway station at Dinas, which is transformed into a lively bar and live entertainment venue.
Pay for entry and a half pint glass when you arrive and start tasting the 80+ beers and 30 ciders on offer. The biggest selection of drinks is at Dinas station but festival goers can hop on the steam train to other real-ale venues in Caernarfon, Waunfawr and Beddgelert. If you’re staying in Caernarfon, then you can easily get the train from the Caernarfon station to the main venue. Extra services run during the festival weekend and trains run until after midnight on the Saturday night.
Expect to get drunk with the locals, eat wood fired pizza, taste more beers than you knew existed, ride trains and experience great welsh bands!
If you cant wait until 2019 there is also the Arfon Real Ale Trail on 8th September this year. It’s a bus based trail that takes you on a tour of 8 rural pubs and a microbrewery off the beaten track. Shuttle buses arrive at each venue around every 45 minutes from 11am-11pm. As the night wears on the buses get more and more crowded and you many have to push your way onboard. I heard one reveller say “now I know how Syrian refugees feel!” It’s certainly a very unique night out and one I’d highly recommend.
Tickets cost £12 in advance or £15 on the day
Menai Strait Cruises run daily 40 minute trips onboard the ‘Queen of the Sea’ to the South West entrance of the Menai Strait. They also offer special 2 hour cruises from Caernarfon to the famous Britannia and Menai bridges. As you approach the Britannia bridge see if you can spot the huge lion statues. If sharing the 2 hour trip with other passengers isn’t your thing, you can hire the boat for a private trip. You can bring your own food and drinks or they can arrange it for you.
The boat is wheelchair and pushchair accessible, however wheelchairs can only be got onboard at high water.
Sailings generally run April – October from 11am throughout the day.
40 minute cruises – Adults £8, Children £5, Under 3’s are free.
2 hour cruises – Adults £20, Children £10, Under 5’s are free. Group discounts are available.