How to have a great family day out in North Wales without spending any money (if you can resist the ice cream that is).
It can sometimes feel a bit much can’t it. The constant swiping of cards, spending of cash, parting with your hard-earned pounds and pence. Does everything have to be so darned expensive? All of the time?
Well, no, actually. There is no reason why you can’t have a fabulous day out or two on your next holiday, without spending a bean. Here are some of our favourite freebie family days out in North Wales for this autumn.
Take a walk around Llyn Crafnant
Beautiful Llyn Crafnant lies on the edge of the Gwydir Forest and at the lower slopes of the Carneddau mountains in the Conwy Valley. It is a brilliant place to explore for a few hours and a place the whole family will love. Ample opportunity for stone skimming and wellie paddling.
Crafnant is at its best in autumn – the single-track approach road is flanked by a towering beech forest – expect the most wonderful rich amber colours come September and October. The whole place glows.
We go to Llyn Crafnant to enjoy the sense of being cocooned by the mountains – the lake sits in a bowl beneath towering peaks – and because its natural soundtrack and peaceful atmosphere do something a little bit special to your soul.
There’s a brilliant family-friendly circular walk around the lake which is suitable for little legs as well as buggies and prams. It’s a waymarked trail and just under 3 miles long. There’s plenty of car parking and access to public loos.
If you fancy something a bit more challenging, follow the Crafnant view trail walk which is mapped out on wooden boards in the car park. There is also a very pleasant walk from Llyn Crafnant to Llyn Gerionedd.
Pack a picnic, and make a day of it.
Cycle or walk on the Mawddach Trail near Barmouth
The Mawddach Trail footpath and cycle route runs just shy of 10 miles along a disused railway track on the southern side of the Mawddach estuary. It’s a place that is absolutely stunning, peaceful and beautiful. Oh, and another belter for our list of free family days out.
The trail can be joined at several points, but it runs between the picturesque market town of Dolgellau and the iconic railway bridge over the mouth of the Mawddach estuary into Barmouth.
The almost exclusively traffic-free route is essentially flat, has a fairly even surface – most of the trail is suitable for walkers, cyclists and wheelchair users (though there are some gates and bridges to navigate, so check if these are likely to be an issue for you).
Expect stunning views across to Diffwys and the Rhinog mountains, and up the estuary to Y Garn and the Arans beyond Dolgellau. Pretty much the whole of the Mawddach estuary is listed as a site of special scientific interest, there are two RSPB reserves (Taicynhaeaf and Arthog), and a whole host of historical sites to ponder over as you make your way through this beautiful landscape.
Explore the Gwydyr Forest Park
Ever driven down the Conwy Valley and admired the rather magnificent forest that accompanies you right into the heart of Snowdonia? That’s the Gwydyr Forest Park.
The Gwydyr Forest is a place where you’ll find cascading waterfalls, crystal clear lakes, awe inspiring mountain vistas and – it goes without saying perhaps – lots of trees.
The forest’s trails are an absolute pleasure to explore on foot or on two wheels. Keep your eyes peeled for plenty of local wildlife including buzzards, peregrines, black grouse and – if you’re lucky – lesser horseshoe bats. In the autumn months there’s rich pickings to be had from plentiful blackberry and sloe hedgerows, so take a basket if you fancy some jam, crumble or gin!
If you are into your mountain biking then the Gwydyr’s brilliant Marin Trail is a must. One of the best trails in Europe, it is free to access and packed full of big climbs, big descents, brilliant singletrack and some truly awesome scenery.
One of our favourite little jaunts is to follow the forest’s Llwybr y Ceirw sculpture trail – a brilliant outdoor art installation that pays homage to Dafydd ap Siencyn – Wales’s very own Robin Hood – who is said to have lived amongst the trees with his army of followers in medieval times. Stand still, listen hard, and you might just hear them.
Conwy and its medieval town walls
Ah Conwy, you absolute beauty. We will never fail to feel just a little bit star-struck by your rock-solid might and magnificence.
This brilliant medieval harbour town sits on the mouth of the River Conwy looking out across a fleet of little fishing boats to the Irish Sea. The castle dominates proceedings, as well as the town walls. They’re so well preserved that they’ve been listed as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Conwy Castle was built in the 13th century by Edward I – part of his ‘iron ring’ of fortresses across North Wales (Conwy was effectively a Garrison town, Edward chose to live in Caernarfon). You have to pay a small admission to go into the castle, but the walk around the town walls is free. And absolutely worth the trip.
You can get onto the walls at several different points in the town but a good place to start is the section that runs alongside the castle car park to the Mill Gate. In all there’s over 1.2km of walls to explore. You’ll get great views of the harbour, castle, Conwy mountain and Llandudno from the battlements.
Llanddwyn Island and Newborough Warren
You’ll find Newborough Forest on the southern corner of Anglesey, just a short hop over the Menai Bridge from the mainland at Bangor. Newborough is a very special place – a superb pine forest, beautiful beach, and plenty of walking and cycling trails which are suitable for the whole family.
Newborough is also home to a colony of red squirrels, and autumn is the perfect time to spot them as they get busy foraging for their winter stores. Look out for their dreys (nests) in the trees as you walk amongst the trees.
The forest pines run down to a sandy shore, and if the sun is shining, you’ll get the most wonderful pine scent as you walk along the beach. Newborough beach is also home to Llanddwyn Island which, in the 5 th century, is said to have been home to the Welsh St Valentine and patron saint of lovers, Dwynwen.
Whatever the truth of that, this place is definitely one for the romantics. Expect stunning views across the sea to the Llŷn Peninsula and the mountains of Snowdonia. One of the most beautiful places on the planet.