The historic coastal town of Harlech recently won the title for the world’s steepest street – but there’s so much more to explore in this wonderful medieval town.
How you arrive is up to you. If you choose to come on foot you might need a couple of stops to admire the view on your way (the gradient of Ffordd Pen Llech – the world’s steepest street – is 37.45%), but we can assure you, it will be worth any huffing and puffing on your way up.
If you prefer to come by car that’s fine too. Just make sure you’re handy with the hill starts and handbrake.
Harlech is a totally charming historic Welsh coastal town on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. It is a place of guts, quirk and rather epic, timeless beauty.
The town grew up around a clifftop medieval castle (one of Edward I’s 13th century ‘ring of iron’ fortresses), and is now recognised as home to one of the best-preserved medieval fortresses in the world. The castle is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Sitting proud on a hillside looking out to sea, the town is flanked by the majestic mountains of Snowdonia to the east, with Cardigan Bay and the Irish Sea to the west. A beautiful sandy beach is a short walk downhill from the town. It is wide and golden and sandy: a great place for a walk and a picnic.
But for now, let’s stay up top. The town’s hills and winding lanes provide plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. Look out for the fabulous Cae Du Designs for beautiful Welsh fabrics and soft furnishings, as well as the town’s quirky antique and gift shops. Anyone with a sweet tooth (c’mon, you’re on holiday!) should make a beeline for the fabulous Harlech Emporium – an old-fashioned sweet shop with dozens of colourful jars packed full of all your childhood favourites.
Visitors travel long distances for the cakes and scones at the Llew Glas Café and deli – you really should call in for a sandwich, cake and a cuppa. There’s a vibrant restaurant scene, including the five-star Castle Cottage dining room.
The newly-refurbished visitor centre at Harlech Castle is totally captivating and an ideal all-weather day out. Try to resist humming Men of Harlech, our nation’s unofficial anthem, as you walk around the castle’s mighty walls. We’re not sure you’ll be able to…
The castle has so many stories to tell – it is over 700 years old afterall. It’s well worth taking the time to soak up the atmosphere, take in the stunning mountains-and- coast views, and enjoy the visitor audio visual tour. There’s a great gift shop here too, with some really lovely Welsh books, art and crafts on sale.
Things to do near Harlech, North Wales
Snowdonia’s huge adventure playground is right on Harlech’s doorstep – from oodles of organic stuff like mountain walks and hiking to world-class adventure experiences like Zip World, Go Below and Adventure Parc Snowdonia. Harlech also boasts one of the best links golf courses in the UK at Royal St David’s. Fancy a round?
The local coastline is one of sandy dunes and marram grass, and Harlech’s elevated position, its epic mountain backdrop and big wide sunsets over the Irish Sea make it a spectacular spot to enjoy a well-earned sundowner.
Other things to do near Harlech include:
Sheep Walking. No, that is not a typo, yes, this is a thing. Take an award-winning Zwartbles sheep (an exceptionally friendly black sheep breed) for a guided walk on a peaceful Snowdonia hill farm. Kids love this. Adults love this too. Find out more.
Wild Swimming. At Llyn Eiddew Bach, a tarn in the super-peaceful Rhinog mountains just about the town. Admittedly perhaps not one for February. If you do go up there it’s worth visiting the prehistoric stone circle nearby. Find out more.
Walk up Cadair Idris. This mountain is sometimes called Snowdon’s twin, and yes, there is some family resemblance. But it’s a much better walking experience. Mainly because you can expect a fraction of the company you would face on Snowdon’s well-trodden paths. The name means Chair of Idris (as referenced in the Men of Harlech song) and the mountain was supposed to be when the giant Idris put his feet up at the end of a hard day’s work. It’s just shy of 1000 metres climb. Dress appropriately, and always check the weather before you walk. Find out more.
Take a ride on a train. To the timeworn commuter that might not sound like a great day out. But this is proper train country, where chugging along and looking out at the passing scenery feels a little bit like magic. Take the Cambrian Coastal Railway north to Porthmadog for a day trip to Portmeirion (with connections at Porthmadog to the old steam railway that will take you on into the mountains up to Blaenau Ffestiniog – home to Zip World) or south across the stunning Mawddach Estuary to Tywyn or Aberdovey. The folks over at Cambrian Railway say it is the UK’s most scenic railway. We agree. Find out more.
Hire a bike: Take the beautiful, all-but-deserted back lanes to Porthmadog. Chippy dinner on the harbour when you get there, and maybe a pint at the Purple Moose Brewery. Hire your wheels from Snowdonia cycles and follow this stupendously beautiful route. You can make your return on the train.
Self-catering cottages near Harlech
Fancy coming to visit Harlech and climbing the world’s steepest street for yourself? Take a look at our top 5 cottages in Harlech.