April – Days Out By Rail

Free Family Days out around North Wales by Train

Keeping the kids entertained during the school holidays is one of the enduring challenges of parenthood and, let’s be honest, it can become an expensive endeavour. Accustomed to a daily routine of school, sports and after-school activities, it’s not hard to see why kids get bored so easily during the holidays. Sports camps and holiday clubs all add up and, while they are a great help to busy families, when it comes to spending time together spending the pennies needn’t be a foregone conclusion. With just a small outlay and a bit of change in your pocket we’re here to show you how you can enjoy some great family days out on the North Wales Coast this spring and summer.

First up, get prepared. To keep the cost of days out to a minimum, you’ll need to arm yourself with a Family & Friends Railcard. Transport for Wales offer a wide range of railcards – these are pre-purchase cards which offer a discount travel in various parts of Wales but for families the Family & Friends Railcard offers the best value for local and national travel. A Family & Friends Railcard entitles adults to ⅓ off rail fare (not to mention a discount of up to 60% for kids) right across the UK – offering average annual savings of up to £150. Pay just £30 for the year and start making savings right away.

If you’re travelling on a Transport for Wales train, children aged under 16 can travel for free during off-peak times, when accompanied by a fare-paying adult and under 11’s can travel for free any time – Kids go free on Transport for Wales Trains.

Inspired to get out and see North Wales by train? To help get you started we’ve picked our three favourite stops along the North West Wales Coast and Conwy Valley Railway where it’s possible to enjoy a full day out for – in some cases – just the price of a bag of chips!

1. Conwy

How about a day out at a UNESCO World Heritage Site to get started? The small town of Conwy is world-famous for its medieval castle and town walls. These 13th century fortifications are a superb example of military engineering and are so well-preserved it’s possible to walk the walls! Constructed by Edward I as part of his conquest of Wales, the castle and its encompassing walls were intended to subjugate the native Welsh people; in fact, only English people were allowed to live within the walls. Alight the train in the centre of town and you’re right in the heart of this stunning heritage site.

Ancient stone castle ruins overlooking a harbor with boats, under a clear blue sky with scattered clouds. Visitors explore the historic site on a sunny day.
© Hawlfraint y Goron / © Crown Copyright (2024) Cymru Wales

We suggest you start with the town walls, it’s a great way to get your bearings and to enjoy a birds-eye view of the town and castle. The views from the walls are breathtaking – you’ll see the Great Orme and the Irish Sea in one direction, the foothills of the Carneddau in the other and gaze up the Conwy Valley from yet another viewpoint. It’s easy to see why this strategic vantage point was so fought over by the English and Welsh. There are access stairs at various points along the walls and information boards at points of interest as you make your way around*.

Top Saving Tip: If you want to venture into the castle, Cadw have teamed up with Transport for Wales to offer customers 2-for-1 on the price of entry to their historic sites when you travel there by train.

A narrow, red two-story building with a distinctive sign proclaiming it 'The Smallest House in Great Britain,' nestled between larger buildings.
© Hawlfraint y Goron / © Crown Copyright (2024) Cymru Wales

After strolling along the walls, you’ll undoubtedly have built up an appetite so make your way down to Conwy Quay, stopping at one of Conwy’s many fish & chip shops along the way. For a (near) free day out, lounging on the quay on a sunny day with a bag of chips takes some beating. Conwy Quay is home to a very unusual home too. A teeny tiny house, claiming to be the smallest house in Great Britain nestles below the castle walls. The one-up one-down house is just 182cm wide and 309cm tall and was once the home of a 6ft 3” tall fisherman! It’s a great photo opp, don’t miss it. The quay is also a working port, you’ll see fishermen going about their daily business. We recommend visiting the Conwy Mussels processing depot to find out more about this unique local product and how it’s harvested. You can even buy the daily catch to take home with you, fresh as anything!

A bustling marina with people dining at outdoor tables, various boats docked nearby, and tents set up along the walkway under a clear blue sky.
© Hawlfraint y Goron / © Crown Copyright (2024) Cymru Wales

End your visit by exploring Bodlondeb park and gardens. This lovely park, situated just outside the city walls, is a tranquil spot in the busy tourist town. There’s a kids play area, tennis courts, a woodland walk and, of course, plenty of grassy space to relax or kick a ball! Around the Bodlondeb building itself (a grand Victorian hall built for shipping magnate Albert Wood, now council offices) the formal gardens are an absolute delight and a riot of colour.

Don’t tell us the kids won’t sleep well after a day out like that!

*Please note: the walls may not be suitable for very young children or people afraid of heights and can be slippery when wet.

2. Llandudno

We’re not travelling too far from Conwy for our next budget day out, in fact, you can see it from Conwy’s town walls. Llandudno, known and loved as the ‘Queen of Welsh Resorts’ began life as a small, Welsh mining community on the slopes of the Great Orme. Life in Llandudno was quiet and steady until… the tourists arrived! This sleepy village was put on the map by adventurous Victorian travellers, seeking the latest must-visit destination. They were inspired by the wild Great Orme, a limestone headland with an ancient history, and the neighbourhood’s two lovely beaches, North and West Shores. In fact, Llandudno’s development as a tourist destination was so rapid that the town centre as we know it today was built in just twenty years!

Llandudno’s popularity has endured and it attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. It’s a great base for exploring North Wales and, being a terminus station for the Conwy Valley and North Wales Coast Railway, it’s really convenient to reach other popular tourist destinations by train from here too.

To enjoy a free day-out in Llandudno is a bit of a challenge; not owing to a lack of things to do, but because there are so many! To get the most out of your visit to Llandudno, we strongly suggest you plan ahead. For us, there are some simply unmissable things so let’s cover them here.

First up, when you leave the station take a walk up the town’s main street, Mostyn Street, and take in the lovely Victorian architecture which surrounds you. Highlights include the train station itself, the magnificent Trinity Church and Llandudno’s South Parade. You’ll inevitably reach the beach and its famous pier, the highlight of most visits to Llandudno. This is North Shore, the more popular of the town’s two beaches. Here you can enjoy a typical day at the seaside: ice cream, sandcastle making, fairground rides and amusement arcades… but all these cost money and this is a budget day out after all.

Instead, stop by the Punch & Judy show at the Pier Gates. This irreverent puppet show has been running for over 150 years and is the longest running Punch & Judy show in the UK! Although free to enjoy as many times as you like, donations are welcome and go towards securing the future of this beloved Llandudno institution.

A clock with the text "Next Show" above it and "weather permitting!" below, mounted on a wall with decorative carvings, including a gold-colored mask motif, beside a red curtain.
© Hawlfraint y Goron / © Crown Copyright (2024) Cymru Wales

After heckling Mr Punch take a walk down Llandudno Pier, the longest pier in Wales and a Grade II listed monument. At 700m long, the pier juts out into Llandudno Bay rewarding promenaders with picture-perfect views of the resort, the Great and Little Ormes and the  Eryri (Snowdonia) National Park beyond. Peckish? Grab a snack from one of the pier’s many vendors but watch out for hungry seagulls! Among others, choose from freshly-cooked pasties, waffles, fresh seafood, fish & chips and even sugared donuts, yummy.

A person browsing items at a stall on a wooden pier with colorful balloons and toys for sale in the foreground. The pier extends into the background with other visitors walking along its length.
© Hawlfraint y Goron / © Crown Copyright (2024) Cymru Wales

Finish today’s visit with a walk up to Happy Valley, which can be seen from the Pier – look for the ginormous Llandudno sign! This secluded valley at the foot of the Great Orme was a popular spot with Victorian visitors and developed as a pleasure garden, complete with ornamental gardens, waterfalls and an amphitheatre for entertainers.  Happy Valley retains much of its charm and although the daily shows beloved by visitors in days-gone-by have long since ceased, it’s a lovely spot to relax and reflect on your memorable budget day out. Look out for: the mysterious stone circle on the grass isn’t an ancient relic, it’s actually a bardic circle installed when the National Eisteddfod was hosted by Llandudno in 1963! The nearby Queen Victoria Memorial was erected to mark the queen’s jubilee and to celebrate the presentation of Happy Valley to the people of Llandudno by local landowner, Lord Mostyn.

People enjoying a sunny day in a green park with trees, overlooking a serene blue sea with a pier extending into the water.

Phew! You’ll need another trip to Llandudno, there’s so much more to see!

3. Betws-y-Coed

For our final, free family day out we’re moving away from the coast and into the heart of Eryri (Snowdonia) to visit another popular destination, once again made famous by those intrepid Victorians. The charmingly-named Betws-y-Coed, which translates as ‘prayer house in the woods’, became a mecca for Victorian artists seeking wilder and wilder landscapes for their romantic paintings. The dark wooded hillsides, craggy hilltops and rushing rivers which surround this gorgeous alpine village inspired the Victorians so much it directly influenced the development of the Conwy Valley Railway. Today Betws-y-Coed is the busiest station on the Conwy Valley line. It’s the wildness that still attracts visitors in their thousands to Betws; these days it’s a hub for walkers, climbers and cyclists as a jumping off point for the wider Eryri National Park. But it’s popular with day trippers and families too, drawn by the beautiful scenery, its authentic Welshness and accessible location. Your budget day out embraces all three: we’ll show you one of the prettiest spots in the village and introduce you to the wilderness, all starting from the comfort of the train!

Arriving at Betws-y-Coed, you’ve just taken one of the prettiest train journeys in the UK. The trip along the Conwy Valley, from Llandudno Junction to Blaenau Ffestiniog, is a day out in itself – and one we strongly recommend! The changing scenery as you pass from coast to countryside to the mountainous interior is breathtaking and awe inspiring, you’ll feel something like those first Victorian artists felt.

Alight the train and make your way into Betws-y-Coed. There’s a wonderful selection of shops and eateries here so spend some time window shopping and maybe purchase a small memento of your visit, it’s great to support local business even on a budget day out! Walking up the village’s main road you’ll pass quaint St Mary’s Church and the Royal Oak Hotel, once a rest stop for stagecoaches travelling from London to Holyhead. Eventually you will reach your destination, the sixteenth century Pont y Pair Bridge. Originally built as a crossing point for pack horses it was later widened to allow larger traffic to cross, that said there’s only room for one vehicle at a time to pass! The bridge passes over the Afon Llugwy, a river which originates in the Carneddau mountains many miles away. Fed by snowmelt and rainfall from Eryri (Snowdonia), the river is at times a tumultuous cauldron of water, crashing over the rocks in spectacular fashion. At other times, when the river is low, it recedes and flows over the rocks at a leisurely pace, inviting visitors to paddle and lounge along its banks*. Whatever time of year you visit, we guarantee you’ll be captivated by this very special place.

Two individuals waving by a rocky river under an old stone arch bridge with trees and greenery in the background.
© Hawlfraint y Goron / © Crown Copyright (2024) Cymru Wales

Back over the bridge now and we’re heading up, up and away to visit a hidden gem of Betws-y-Coed. Follow the road which loops behind St Mary’s Church and you’ll find the beginning of a walk which takes you up through the forest to Llyn Elsi, a small reservoir deep within the Gwydir Forest. The walk is a little steep in parts but follows forest tracks all the way, making it a surprisingly accessible way of experiencing the wild side of Betws-y-Coed. Don’t worry, there’s a handy bench along the way should you need to take a breather! Immerse yourself in the peace and tranquillity of the forest and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature as you walk, it’s hard to believe you’re just a stone’s throw from a bustling village. Once you reach the lake you’ll be rewarded with some wonderful views of Eryri and the Carneddau and you can even make a circuit of the lake if you follow the white waymarkers on the path. As it’s such a lovely walk, you won’t want to rush it. We recommend allowing a couple of hours to get up and down, maybe longer if you have younger children. Err on the side of caution, you don’t want to miss the train!

*Please note: the riverbank is extremely rocky and may not be suitable for very young children and can be slippery when the river is in spate.

Have we inspired you to try your own free family days out by rai? We hope you try out our itineraries during the school holidays – we’d love to know what you think. Making memories doesn’t have to cost the earth and with so many free things to see and do around North Wales you better get exploring!