Looking out to sea, seagulls travelling above on a gentle summer breeze, I gaze out to the horizon and breathe in the salty sea air. To the left, a large headland acts as a backdrop to a pier jutting out into the Irish Sea. To the right, another smaller headland shelters the long cove. The sounds are of waves crashing onto the pebbled beach, of children laughing while playing on the beach and the distant tones of amusement arcade machines. Those are the sounds of a typical seaside resort in the UK. Llandudno, known as the jewel in the crown of Victorian seaside resorts, is the largest in Wales and still draws in large numbers of visitors. But, despite a hint of faded seaside glamour, there’s plenty to do here for people, young and old. This article takes a look at the best attractions in Llandudno.
With a seemingly endless stretch of large hotels along the Victorian Promenade, it’s clear to see that Llandudno is still a popular holiday destination. The town was developed as a seaside resort from the mid 1800’s with much of the architecture dating back to this time. In the years since, Llandudno doesn’t seem to have lost too much of it’s charm. Sure, the Pier doesn’t have as many attractions as it used to have in the 1980’s when my parents would regularly take me there. The Grand Hotel on the Pier doesn’t exactly live up to its name anymore, but the town is evolving. Boutique hotels and B&Bs offer the charm that the large promenade hotels cannot cling onto, tempting younger visitors to holiday in the town.
There’s a big focus on the outdoors to guarantee an enjoyable stay. Many of the attractions in Llandudno focus on the surrounding landscape and natural beauty of the area. For fans of outdoor activities, walking and beautiful scenery, there’s plenty to keep everyone occupied. Whilst the typical Victorian seaside aspects of the town remain, albeit in a more subtle way, the majority of attractions focus around the dominating landscape feature of the town – the Great Orme headland.
A large limestone headland stretching out to sea, the Great Orme is the focal point of the town. At two miles long, a mile wide and with a 207 metre elevation at the summit, there is plenty to explore. Roads run around the perimeter and up to the summit, which includes a complex of shops, cafe, bar and a visitor centre. If you don’t have a car, there are several ways to get to the summit. Firstly, there are several walking routes from the town. It’s a simple walk whichever route you choose, but with some strenuous sections. The views are breathtaking though, making it a worthwhile effort. The summit of the Great Orme provide a 360 degree panorama of the surrounding area. From the isle of Anglesey to the mountains of Snowdonia, on a clear day you can see for miles.
And then, we come to the goats. The Kashmiri Goats that normally reside on the Great Orme became world famous during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020. When walking around the headland, you’ll often see a herd of goats somewhere. Even looking up from the town, they can often be seen clinging precariously to the steep rocky cliffs. However, in March 2020, with the town deserted, the goats headed onto the streets to graze freely on the tasty shrubs and hedges around town. It’s not the first time for them to visit – you’ll often hear stories of disgruntled residents having woken up to find the pesky goats munching on their flowers in the garden. Now that they have achieved world fame, it will be interesting to see how their behaviour changes.
You don’t need to travel to the summit to enjoy a beautiful space with awesome views. Happy Valley, an area on the edge of the Great Orme next to the pier, is a beautiful place to stroll, relax and gaze out to sea. Towards the bottom end of Happy Valley, a large open green space offers great views across the coastline, along with a bandstand, a number of Alice in Wonderland sculptures (there is a link to the town) and a cafe. Further back on the hillside, a beautifully landscaped garden has been created full of rockeries, pathways and interesting planting. Some of the pathways are steep, but in spring and summer there is fabulous colour.
The steep road from Happy Valley leads to a Llandudno attraction which opened in 1997 – the Llandudno Snowsports Centre. A ski slope on the edge of the mountain was a pretty big deal for the town, and with a toboggan run snaking alongside the artificial slope, it attracted a lot of visitors. The ski slope has recently been resurfaced (since the photo was taken), along with a revamp of the adjacent Alpine Bar and Kitchen. It’s the perfect summer place to sit on the outdoor deck with a drink, admiring the views.
The Snowsports centre offers skiing, snowboarding and tobogganing along with lessons (private and group) for all skill levels. There’s also a mini golf course next to the Alpine Bar & Kitchen, for those who don’t want to participate in the ski related activities.
Remember, I mentioned earlier that there are other ways to head to the summit of the Great Orme? Well, one of those, if you fancy a ride on a swinging basket dangling on a wire, is the Llandudno Cable Car. The cable car has been in operation since 1969, and transports guests from the Happy Valley station to the summit of the headland on a nine minute journey, offering breathtaking views. The cable car, not surprisingly, only operates on calm days but is a lovely and peaceful way to reach the summit. I’m not a huge fan of cable cars (as previously mentioned), but they provide a unique viewpoint of the surrounding landscapes, so for the purposes of travel photography I felt I had no choice but to partake. I’m glad I did. The views were fabulous.
If you prefer your feet closer to the ground, the final transport option to reach the summit is the Great Orme Tramway. One of the most popular attractions in Llandudno, the tramway has been operating to the public since 1902. The Great Orme Tramway trundles the one mile journey from the town of Llandudno to the summit of the Great Orme, with one change at the Halfway Station. The Halfway Station houses the main engine house where the winchmen control the motors for the both the upper and lower funicular systems. As with the Cable Car, the Tramway which snakes it way down the side of the headland, provides riders with a great views of the town and North Wales coastline.
After spending some time sightseeing and walking, it’s always useful to know where to stop for great coffee and cake. Being a tourist resort, Llandudno is not short on cafes and tea rooms, but I always try and head to independent places that do good coffee. My go-to venue in Llandudno is Providero: Fine Teas and Coffee. Serving ethically sourced coffee from local roastery Heartland Coffee Roasters, Providero also have a wide range of loose leafed teas and a food menu consisting of great cakes and healthy vegan and vegetarian meals. It’s a beautiful airy space with lots of natural light and a cool and contemporary vibe.
On the subject of Heartland Coffee Roasters, you couldn’t get more local given the roastery is also located in Llandudno. As well as producing a wide range of coffee, each with unique flavours, Heartland have incorporated a coffee shop within the roastery, where you can grab coffee and cake, sit on mezzanine and have a front seat view of the coffee production process. It certainly beats a generic cafe on any high street, that’s for sure.
Llandudno’s crowning glory is the coastline and the fact that is has not one, but two, large beaches. The town’s location on a flat peninsula means that the town is almost surrounded by the sea. The two beaches – North Shore and West Shore have completely different characteristics and are definitely two of the biggest attractions in Llandudno.
The beautiful sandy beach of the West Shore is wild and wonderful, and on a calm sunny day, my favourite beach in the area. With a large expanse of sand that stretches far out to sea when the tide’s out, it’s a gorgeous beach to visit. It’s away from the town centre, so not as busy as the North Shore beach, but there is a regular ‘land train’ that runs from one beach to the other during the holiday season.
Heading to the beach from the promenade, you can walk across some small sand dunes to arrive at the beach where the dramatic view of the North Wales coastline appears across the bay. Views of the headlands of Conwy Mountain are present, and you can see the island of Anglesey in the distance. It’s quite the scene. There’s a Beach Cafe to one end for refreshments, a paddling pool and play area on the promenade, and a pub across the road. Other than that, it’s just sand and beautiful views.
Given it’s west facing direction, a great time to head across to West Shore beach is during sunset. The beach area can provide some absolutely spectacular and atmospheric sunsets.
Llandudno’s North Shore promenade is the most iconic image of Llandudno you are likely to see. Spanning two miles along the gently curved coast, the Promenade begins at the Great Orme and stretches to the Little Orme. The promenade is mostly lined with four storey Victorian era buildings housing the majority of the towns’ hotels and guesthouses.
To the end nearest the pier there is a section of sandy beach, but for the most part the North Shore beach is a fairly steep shingle shelf. To the other end, there is a padding pool and a cafe, as well as the RNLI Lifeboat Station. It’s lovely to stroll along promenade taking in the views. In the summer months, you may catch the Llandudno Town Band playing on the bandstand, or a Punch & Judy show near the pier.
No trip to a British Victorian seaside resort is complete without a visit to the pier. Llandudno’s pier, the longest in Wales at 700m in length is a great example of a cast iron pier from this era. Opened in 1878, the pier features all the usual seaside staples you would expect. An amusement arcade, kiosks selling ice cream, fish and chips and donuts, a small funfair and a number of kiosks selling tourist gifts. Once you’re past the busy stretch of retail and the (once) Grand Hotel, the open boardwalk of the pier opens up ahead stretching out into the sea.
I have vivid memories of spending time on the pier as a child, so it’s always nice to take a walk on a sunny day and peer down through the gaps in the board walk, watching the waves crashing on the rocks below. Towards the end of the pier, there are more facilities including another amusement arcade, a cafe and a bar with outdoor seating. It’s fair to say that this area of the pier has more than a hint of that faded seaside glamour I spoke of earlier, but with that comes a lovely hint of nostalgia too.
Back to the modern world, and the town is evolving. Llandudno’s bars and pubs have been through many identities over the years, and now there are a variety of options to suit everyone. Traditional pubs are still aplenty, but there’s also been an introduction of gastro-pubs, wine bars and craft beer pubs which have opened in the town.
Speaking of craft beer, if your a fan as I am, it’s worth taking a trip to the Wild Horse Brewing Company brewery and taproom. In typical taproom style, it’s located on an industrial estate (about 5-10 minutes walk from the railway station), but is open on Fridays and Saturdays for drink in or take out. Wild Horse also offer brewery tours, where you can learn about the beer making process and sample some Wild Horse beers. It’s a fantastic space and has a great atmosphere if your looking for something a little different.
The options for eating and drinking in the town are huge. There are dining options to suit everyone, and with a town of very few chain restaurants, there are plenty of independent restaurants to try out. For authentic Italian, try La Taverna, Romeo’s or Carlo’s. All fantastic family run restaurants in lovely settings with great food and service. To try out some great seafood while on the coast, head to The Seahorse Restaurant. A beautiful bistro style restaurant on two levels, they have a great menu. The Cottage Loaf has a great Gastro-Pub menu in a traditional stone building – make sure you book in advance as it’s always busy. For fish and chips, try Tribells or Fish Tram Chips located next to the tram station (great pun).
For drinks and dining overlooking the sea and promenade, head to Dylan’s Restaurant. Spread across two levels of the beautiful old Washington Hotel building, there’s a bar and restaurant downstairs, with a cocktail bar upstairs and a large dining room with a grand arched ceiling. There’s also an outdoor terrace for summer drinks. At the opposite end of town, the Kings Head pub located on the edge of the Great Orme, has a large beer garden and a wide range of beers on tap. Craft Beer lovers should head to Tapps Micropub for an ever changing range of craft beers including a wide range from local breweries. Add in all the traditional boozers and like I said, there is something for everyone.
With about a mile and a half of hotels along the promenade, there’s plenty of options to suit every budget. For a worthwhile experience, it’s worth splashing out a little more for a nicer accommodation.The St. George’s Hotel is a 4-star hotel with classic and opulent rooms, with a range of bars and restaurants. Osborne House Hotel on the promenade offers six sumptuous suites for anyone wanting to indulge. Pebble House, a family run B&B on the promenade offers nine contemporary rooms, many with a sea view.
To explore the surrounding area further, take a look at a collection of short but simple walks with epic views near and in Llandudno.
Note: Due to Covid-19 social distancing restrictions, the experiences detailed above may be slightly amended. Please contact the accommodation or attractions directly for further details.
Are you planning to visit North Wales? Feel free to drop me any questions in the comments.
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