North Wales is conveniently placed on the way to Ireland, so if you are trying to see as many areas as possible, take it in after Chester or Shrewsbury and before Ireland.
Many scenes in North Wales are just as nice as in the Lake District, and the mountains are more impressive than in the Lakes, but the beauty is not so consistent or concentrated. The best way is to choose one or two spots, and take walks or excursions from there. We will describe spots based on hostels.
Express buses: There are 2 buses a day from London and Birmingham, and one a day from Hull, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool. These will take you to Conwy, Bangor, Caernarfon & Porthmadog. There is one bus a day from Cardiff & Swansea to Caernarfon & Bangor.
Best to book well in advance (ie weeks). If you contact hostels a day or two in advance, you should find one or two with spare beds, but if you don't have a car they may not be ideally placed to get to. But most of the hostels are nicer than almost any in London. Many of the hostels are called bunkhouses, which may be of hostel standard or may be cheaper with self-catering only and you bring your own sleeping bag or pay for bedding.
Address: 14 Charlton St
Email: info + AT + llandudnohostel.co.uk
Facilities: Lounge w lg TV, dining room, high-quality dorms w bedlights, no kitchen but microwave & kettle.
UK Trail opinions: High standard hostel in attractive mature building, very clean. No kitchen but you can eat take-aways in dining room..
Reviewers' comments: All say really friendly staff who look after you well, comfortable and quiet hostel. Several note the lack of a kitchen. One said breakfast was served a bit late and stopped them making the most of the day.
A good place to stay on this approach to Wales is Conwy with its imposing castle and town wall. Conwy hostel is 10 mins uphill from the town with great views and hill walks from the hostel door, although if you are short of days you are likely to just use this as a staging post.
An alternative place to stay near here, in real peace, is the small homely hostel at Rowen. You can get there by a 5-mile walk from Conwy over hills, or you can take a bus (hourly) then walk a mile up a very steep hill, but you are rewarded with fine views:
Address: Rhiw Farm
Email: reservations + AT + yha.org.uk
Facilities: Large kitchen and sociable common/dining room, sitting room, grounds with seats and amazing view of valley & estuary, self-catering only, friendly volunteer wardens, hiking tracks to mountains from door. Book on YHA web site..
UK Trail opinions: Small hostel, excellent sociable common room, very good kitchen. Very steep hill to get there, cramped parking.
A little farther down the broad Conwy valley (frequent buses from Conwy, rail station near) is a bunkhouse on a farm:
Address: Pyllau Gloewon Farm
Facilities: On working organic-style farm. Equipped kitchen, log fires, bike storage. Outdoor activities..
UK Trail opinions: Pleasant country location, regular bus access. We have not seen inside..
Continuing along the coast, you reach the small university city of Bangor, with a hostel on the edge of town:
If you have only time for a brief visit to Snowdonia and want a day's walking in the mountains, a useful base is a hostel in Bethesda, reachable by frequent bus from Bangor:
Address: Ffordd Gerlan, Gerlan
Email: dewi + AT + cabancysgu-gerlan.co.uk
Facilities: Community-run. £12.50 (£15 weekends) (2008). Kitchen, drying room, bike store,16 beds. In Welsh-speaking village, 1km from shops, pub, take-aways..
UK Trail opinions: Ideal base to climb highest plateau in Wales from hostel door. Outdoor activities in area..
Caernarfon is a small interesting town with an impressive castle. There is a hostel here, well located for everything including a surprise view:
Address: 2 High Street
Facilities: Owner-run. Lg kitchen/dining room in basement, comfy lounge with small TV, sociable, friendly staff, casual feel. Superb view 20 metres away. Lively small town with all facilities and imposing castle..
UK Trail opinions: Has a pleasant and friendly, laid-back feeling. Kitchen area in basement is a bit austere but sociable; lounge has TV but is cosy. Do go and look at their surprise view!.
Reviewers' comments: All reviewers are enthusiastic, many call it homely; staff friendly and very helpful.
Llanberis (frequent buses from Caernarfon and Bangor) is a touristy village with limited shops and the start of the easiest and most boring path up Snowdon, or you can cheat and take the railway. Snowdon is the only British mountain with a cafe on top! The hostel is a 15-minute uphill walk, in a quiet spot away from the tourist centre:
Address: Llwyn Celyn
Email: llanberis + AT + yha.org.uk
Facilities: Well-equipped kitchen, pleasant dining room, lounge w TV, games, drying room.
UK Trail opinions: Longish walk out of village up hill; view of Snowdon, climb it from hostel door; caters well for individuals.
There is a bunkhouse 4km from Llanberis at the foot of the impressive Nant Francon valley and right beside Snowdon:
Address: A4086, Nant Peris
Facilities: Small bunkhouse, low-cost, kitchen, 3-tier bunk beds.
Boulder Adventures near the High Street in Llanberis sometimes has beds available in its bunkhouse; they provide breakfast but have no guest kitchen.
Pen-y-Pass has 8 buses a day from various points, and if you start here you are already a third of the way up Snowdon. The hostel has impressive facilities:
Email: penypass + AT + yha.org.uk
Facilities: Lg kitchen, 2 dining rooms, lounge, games room, bar, no TV, open all day & all year.
The valley from Caernarfon to Beddgelert has two routes up Snowdon, one from Rhyd Ddu, the other from Snowdon Ranger. 7 buses a day (5 Sun) run along this valley through its fine and varied scenery, passing right by a camping barn, a bunkhouse and a hostel, or you can climb Snowdon on a day trip. All these also have good parking. The camping barn is cheap but you need sleeping bags; the comfortable HI hostel is right by the start of a track up Snowdon; and Rhyd Ddu bunkhouse also has camping on a beautiful site beside the lake. Outdoor activities (eg kayaking, climbing, mountain biking) are available if arranged in advance. There is also a volunteer-run narrow-gauge train from Caernarfon to Rhyd Ddu, but its prices make it a splurge rather than a means of transport!
Address: Pentre Bach,Waunfawr
Email: info + AT + bachventures.co.uk
Facilities: Low-cost, very basic but cosy; bring sleeping bag & pillow case, equipped kitchen, dining/common room, drying room, toilet/shower /water in separate building 10m away.
UK Trail opinions: Single dorm comprises mattresses on floor; go outside to toilet, shower and dishwashing building.
Email: snowdon + AT + yha.org.uk
Facilities: Lounge, kitchen, dining room, games room, cycle store, drying room.
UK Trail opinions: Comfortable traditional hostel at foot of good track up Snowdon.
Email: snowdoninn + AT + aol.com
Facilities: Lg bunk room, equipped kitchen w industrial stoves, dining room w lg table and pull-down spare beds.
UK Trail opinions: Good bunkhouse in excellent location for walks etc, wth associated campground; pub w meals at village.
Nant Gwynant is a beautiful valley, with 3 buses a day (icl Sun) from Betws-y-Coed and Porthmadog. Bryn Gwynant hostel has good facilities and a superb situation above the lake, and you can walk up the hill in their own grounds to an even better view. The route up Snowdon is near but starts with 3km road and paved track.
Address: Nant Gwynant
Email: bryngwynant + AT + yha.org.uk
Facilities: Pleasant hostel, 2 dining rooms, moderate kitchen, comfy common room, bar drinks, breakfast available, staff helpful, fabulous views. Hill walks from hostel, 2km to track up Snowdon.
UK Trail opinions: Kitchen well-equipped but lacking bench space; emergency light went on & off all night in dorm. Self-contained annexe more comfortable with its own good kitchen/dining and common room.
Address: Nant Ffrancon
Email: idwal + AT + yha.org.uk
Facilities: Impressive location, self-catering, very sociable.
UK Trail opinions: Greatly recommended, but often full. Mountain hikes from door. Limited bus service, a reviewer suggests hitching is good.
Address: Plas Curig
Email: info + AT + snowdoniahostel.co.uk
Facilities: £22.50 dorm beds(2012). Lounge w books, magazines & board games, separate TV lounge, excellent kitchen, large social dining area, large drying room. Meals incl breakfast in nearby pubs. Book through hostel website or phone..
UK Trail opinions: Very good quality hostel with social atmosphere. Individual bathrooms. Climb mts or low-level walks from hostel door. Buses stop at gate. Car park being built..
Betws-y-Coed is a tourist village which you can reach by train (several per day) from Llandudno on the north coast. There are many local walks by forest, lakes and rivers, and it's a short bus ride to the mountains. There is a new hostel, the Vagabond, in the centre of the village. The YHA hostel is part of a pub 3km from the village but right by one of the attractions, Swallow Falls.
Email: admin + AT + thevagabond.co.uk
Facilities: 36 beds, bar, common room, equipped kitchen, meals available.
Address: Swallow Falls
Email: betwsycoed + AT + yha.org.uk
Facilities: Small kitchen, bar, pub meals, common room shared w hotel.
In a delightful 'hidden valley', yet with 6 buses/day from Betws-y- Coed or Conwy, is the lovely classic Welsh village of Penmachno with high-class budget accommodation in the Eagles Inn. They have only private rooms, but they told me they don't charge more for single travellers, although on the booking engine single travellers have to pay twice as much as anyone else.
The train line from Llandudno (5 per day, 3 Sun) gets you close to Lledr Valley, with access to mountain walks.
Facilities: Kitchen, large lounge/diner w TV. Only private rooms, but price seems to be the same per person for everyone. Family atmosphere. Book on their website..
UK Trail opinions: Looks very cosy and friendly. Well located for hikes..
The next bunkhouse is an excellent base if you come with a car, or frequent buses from Bangor will bring you within walking distance of here. This bunkhouse has dorm accommodation with all required facilities, and also private apartments with moderate or higher luxury. It's on the edge of Snowdonia, with fine views and hill walks from the hostel door. Do consider it if the more central hostels are full:
Facilities: Dorm bunkhouse, kitchen, dining room, common room w fire, drying room. Owner very helpful..
UK Trail opinions: Also has self-contained units w kitchen, TV, drying area for families & groups. Bring indoor shoes..
There is a new bunkhouse, part of an outdoor centre, in a valley 10 km from Porthmadog, but not easy to reach by public transport (infrequent buses Pothmadog-Golyn, then 2km walk):
Criccieth, a small town with castle and beach, has a small budget guest house at 11 Marine Terrace. Near Criccieth is a bunkhouse on a campsite:
Address: Tyddyn Morthwyl
Facilities: One common room/dorm w sleeping platform, small TV, separate-sex washrooms in separate building, low-cost.
UK Trail opinions: Cosy and very sociable, not new furnishings.
Inland from Harlech is an area of open country with wide vistas of hills, a lake and a closed nuclear power station. The village of Trawsfynydd lies here, and in the centre of the village you can stay at:
Email: llysednowain + AT + btconnect.com
Facilities: Equipped kitchen/dining w TV/video & internet. Bike store, laundry.
UK Trail opinions: In centre of village, amidst open country.
Nefyn on Lleyn Peninsula, seen from Yr Eifl
Lleyn is good for easy car or bike touring, with lots of walking tracks, moorland walking, good beaches and widespread views. You can have a real relaxing time here, or take part in various outdoor activities from horse riding to surfing. There is a bunkhouse deep in the countryside, which hires bikes and runs Hovercraft courses (Train to Pwllheli then 3 buses per day, none Sun):
Address: Tanrallt Farm, Llangian
Facilities: Bunkhouse w small dorms, homely atmos, sociable kitchen/common room (no TV or clock), Welsh-speaking farm, bike hire, outdoor activities.
Or you can stay in the hostel in Caernarfon and visit the area for the day by bus, but check the times first.
Holyhead is not very impressive, and the countryside around is pleasant but unexciting. If sailings are disrupted by severe weather and you are forced to stay the night, there is a modest hotel 300 metres from the shipping office, and several b&b's about a mile away at the sea end of town.
There is a new YHA hostel just outside Holyhead, 3 km from the rail station and ferry terminal. This could be a useful stop on your journey, but you need to book ahead. We do not yet know whether it qualifies for our listing.
Address: Porthdafarch Rd, Holyhead
Email: info + AT + angleseyoutdoors.com
Facilities: Is also an outdoor activity centre.
Reviewers' comments: A reviewer says: Attractive interior, friendly & fun atmosphere, gorgeous location. 30 minute pleasant country walk from train and ferry station. But beds uncomfortable, and breakfast not early enough.