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Porthmadog in North Wales is a small harbour town that has special memories for me. Growing up, a trip to Porthmadog was an annual family holiday so it feels like a second home. With glorious views of the nearby mountain ranges and the harbour setting, Porthmadog is often billed as the gateway to Snowdonia National Park but there is much more to it than this – from beautiful Borth-y-gest bay and Black Rock Sands to the unique Italian inspired Portmeirion Village, these are the best things to do in Porthmadog:
Things to do in Porthmadog, North Wales
Porthmadog Station Ffestiniog Heritage Railway
If you’re fortunate (or good at planning), you’ll time your arrival into Porthmadog with a view of the Ffestiniog Heritage railway steam engine and carriages magically departing the historic rail station along the coastal cob in a plume of smoke, with the constant ‘choo choo’ of the whistle being pulled by the train driver.
The Porthmadog station is the departure point for a rail adventure through Snowdonia National Park and the Welsh hills. Even if you haven’t booked a seat aboard one of the numerous daily train trips, you can still explore the station for free and walk around the historic building and waiting room. As you’d expect, there is also a cute little gift shop onsite as well as a cafe bar pub called Spooners on the platform. Waving off a train from the platform as the onboard passengers reciprocate is a holiday rite of passage (and really fun too!)
One of North Wales many hidden gems (and likely one of the most beautiful beaches), Borth-y-Gest is an incredible coastal spot, just a couple of minutes drive from downtown Porthmadog and somewhere we visited every day of our most recent trip, either to walk along the coast, admire the views from one of the benches or just simply grab a coffee from one of the two nearby cafes and watch the world go by.
The first thing that greets you as you first arrive in Borth-y-Gest is the row of pastel coloured cottages that overlook the harbour (talk about rooms with a view) and the repurposed rowing boats dotted around the bay hat have been filled with blooming flowers. Couple this with the sail boats in the harbour and (hopefully) blue skies for a perfect place to spend a few hours.
Next time we return to this part of Wales, we definitely intend to seek out a bed and breakfast guest house in Borth-y-Gest as good tourist accommodation in Porthmadog can be hard to find (although Greenacres Caravan park is a good option).
Black Rock Sands
A sandy stretch of coast that can be driven and parked on (fees apply), Black Rock Sands is an unspoilt beach with a huge protected dune system and popular with kite-flyers, dog walkers and families (don’t forget your bucket and spade). Cars have also been known to get bogged down and trapped in the sand at high tide so best to time your visit with low tides or when beach patrols are around.
Porthmadog High Street
Whilst not the most pretty high street in Wales, Porthmadog High Street is functional with several nice cafes and sweet treat stores, plus a couple of huge chain stores like Wilkinsons and Tescos. Two of the best stores we visited on Porthmadog High Street were the Purple Moose Brewery store (a nice range of locally brewed beers) and the Portmeirion Pottery stores (there are two, both selling beautiful things like chinaware and prints).
Cadwaladers ice cream
Wales’ most famous chain of ice cream stores, Cadwaladars has one of its four Welsh branches on Porthmadog high street. A family run business since the 1920s, Cadwaladers in Porthmadog has an indoor cafe but we opted to take our ice creams and enjoy them in the nearby harbour looking at the ships.
Prices are around about £4 for a cone with two different flavoured scoops – paying extra for sprinkles / hundreds and thousands is a nice treat too.
Bars and Pubs
Porthmadog has several bars and restaurants located on or near the High Street:
Spooners Cafe Bar and Grill
Spooners in Porthmadog is all about the setting (although the beers from local brewer Purple Moose Brewery are also pretty good). This bar and cafe / restaurant is actually located on the platform of the Porthmadog / Ffestiniog railway so you can sup your pint of local ale whilst gazing at the historic trains or towards the harbour. In fact, time it right and you can also watch the steam engines depart in a mist of steam.
Purple Moose Brewery / The Australian
Local brewery Purple Moose relocated in 2021 from the top end of the town to a dedicated set-up in The Australian pub closer to the harbour. We really enjoyed our drinks in the Purple Moose Brewery (we found a comfortable booth and stayed for several pints in the end) as the decor was homely and prices really reasonable (e.g pints of their own brewed dark beers for around £3). A few doors down, Purple Moose Brewery have their own shop selling bottles of beer and gift-sets during the day.
A local Porthmadog pub situated a little way down New Street, this is a popular hangout in the local community with a good range of taps and a recently opened roof garden and terrace.
Incidentally, if you fancy some post pub grub whilst in Porthmadog, The Creel fish and chip shop on Porthmadog High Street (less than five minutes walk from all the pubs we mentioned) is highly recommended for takeaways – as we all know, fish and chips eaten on benches by the sea always taste better!
One of the first sights as you drive along the main road into Porthmadog is of the yachts and sailing boats bobbing up and down in the harbour. A charming place to visit with ample benches and park space (perfect for fish and chip takeaways), the harbour is also a popular spot for crabbing from the harbour wall. Crabbing lines and buckets can be bought from the nearby gift shops and this seems to be one of the most common sunset activities for local families and tourist groups.
A short ten minute drive out of Porthmadog, along the cob, brings you to Portmeirion Village, a Mediterranean inspired getaway designed by Sir Clough Williams Ellis. This is a little piece of Italy in North Wales and should be high on your UK bucket list.
Known worldwide as the main outdoor filming location for the cult TV series The Prisoner, this is a popular spot with tourists and has several restaurants plus two onsite hotels and lots of holiday cottages.
Portmeirion Village is unique and a must visit when in Porthmadog – there is simply nowhere else quite like it in Wales or even the UK. It feels like you are overseas and the coastal setting is serenely sublime. If you have time, do the coastal walk to the Portmeirion lighthouse and head up the hill to visit the Portmeirion Castle ruins and see panoramic views of the Portmeirion Village gardens and main square.
CK Travels tip – Portmeirion Village is usually £13 per adult to visit the grounds (at the time of writing in June 2021). However, if you book in advance, you can get a delicious two course lunch at Portmeirion’s Castell Deudraeth including general admission for £25 – we did this and the meal and setting were incredible.
Porthmadog Maritime Museum
Located in Porthmadog Harbour (as you’d expect), this unassuming slate roofed building tells the tales of Porthmadog’s ship-building and slate mining days. Whilst it isn’t on the scale of say the Auckland Maritime Museum, this is worthy of your time if you are really interested in seafaring history or looking for a rainy day diversion.
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