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Porthmadog is a nice little town, with many places to eat or have a coffee and very helpful people at the tourist information office.
It is beautifully located on the Glaslyn estuary, and has a neat small harbour as well as some wonderful views towards the mountains.
What is excels as, though, is a base to explore the surrounding arreas, both the Llyn peninsula and the Snowdonia - the best of North Wales is at your doorstep here.
The major attraction in town itself is the Ffestiniog Railway.
Officially known as Rheilffordd Ffestiniog Railway, and now a tourist attraction run by steam train enthusiasts, it was originally built as a gravity and horse drawn line to carry slate from the quarries in the mountains around Blaenau Ffestiniog. As the slate industry declined, the railway closed in 1946. It was re-opened as a heritage attraction in 1954.
The trains run several times a day for most of the year, though it's worth checking the timetable if you are coming in low season, as service is limited (and there are days without trains at all) between November and March.
Most of the time, the trains are steam hauled, but diesel engines are used at some off-peak times, so if you are after the archetypal choo-choo experience with steam billowing behind a gleaming engine, make sure you get the right one.
All the carriages apart from the observation carriage and some first class seats (extra charge) are "third class" but the prices reflect a tourist attraction character of the railway and a round trip costs close to 20 GBP for adults and not much less for children (though children under 3 are free and one child under 16 travels free for every full paying adult, which means that most family groups should only need to pay for the grown-ups). As the journey isn't very long (a bit over an hour in total) this all adds to the attraction.
The full route from covers 13 miles in distance and over 200m in altitude, taking the passengers from the sea-level Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog which has a distinctly mountainous, although also rather grimly industrial character; probably due to its origins as the slate quarrying town.
The train ride itself is, of course, the main attraction. Those fond of all steam locomotives will have plenty to admire in the gleaming brass and spotless paintwork of the engines, while everybody will be able to enjoy the views. These are good - though not mind-blowingly outstanding - and it's interesting to see how the landscape changes as the train moves higher and deeper into the Snowdonia.
There are several stops en route, and as the rover ticket allows for getting on and off at will, the train journey could be used as a framework for exploring the whole area.
Particularly worth of attention is the second stop, Minffordd, soon after the train crosses the Cob (the causeway crossing the Glaslyn estuary), which is a convenient point for visiting Portmeirion, a bizarre private folly of an Italianate village a mile walk away from the stop. Portmeirion can be also of course visited directly from Porthmadog.
The mid-way stop of the railway at Tan-y-Bwlch has some nice and accessible walks in the countryside, there is a cafe or take a picnic to Llyn Mair, a lovely lake in the middle of a woods. In fact, unless you have your eye on doing somewhere at the top, going half way to Tan-y-Bwlch is probably the best way to enjoy the ride with small children, who might get bored with the whole hog.
Blaenau Ffestiniog is overall a grim little place, undoubtedly due to the fact that it's coloured dark grey: after all, its fortunes were built on slate. The views of the mountains are dramatic though, and one of the options for making a day of the rail trip is to walk back down the Ffestiniog valley all the way to Tan-y-Bwlch where another train can be caught back to Porthmadog. Even better, take the train one stop back to Tanygrisiau at the reservoir, and walk from here (this avoids a boring first mile of descent).
The one attraction worth visiting in Blaenau Ffestiniog is the Llechwedd Slate Caverns (take bus 142 from the station) Both tours offered in the Caverns (The Miners Tramway and the Deep Mine tour) are educational and exciting and involve underground rides deep under the mountains.
Over Easter I spent the long weekend in Porthmadog in Northern Wales, over the four days we spent time looking around this delightful little town as well as exploring the nearby (and not so nearby) area.
Porthmadog itself is lovely, very hilly though and I was eternally grateful to my sister for recommending I bring my mobility scooter along with us! We were staying at the Travelodge which is roughly a ten minute walk from the centre of town, but it's a lovely walk with the huge hills in the background and the place just smells so fresh and clean that it was a pleasure to leave the car in the car park and stroll into town.
There is a good selection of everything shopping-wise, from a brilliantly tacky cheap souvenir shop and a decent sized Tesco to book shops and charity shops. I even noticed a La Senza on the high street, not that I went in myself but I know my daughter spends a huge amount of money in this shop and I was surprised to see it in such a sleepy little town. I particularly liked the souvenir shop as there were some lovely little items in there which I bought back for my granddaughters' and it was one of those shops were you could spend hours browsing before deciding on your final purchases.
Porthmadog has lots of places to eat, which was lucky as Travelodge has no restaurant only a basic crisps-and-chocolate vending machine. There are numerous pubs where you can get a reasonably priced cooked meal, in particular The Queen Hotel does an excellent range of main meals and also gorgeous bacon and sausage baguettes in the morning. The food here is excellent for when you want to sit and relax a while and has that special edge that makes it worth paying a little extra for. If you're looking for something a little more basic there are fish & chip shops (one which doubles as a kebab and pizza takeaway service), an Indian restaurant, posh looking patisserie and a Chinese takeaway which was near to Travelodge so a couple of times we bought a meal from there and took it back to our room.
Everything about Porthmadog is so clean, North Wales is generally amazingly well looked after and Porthmadog is a shining example of this. The town itself is lovely, you might see a little litter on the streets but overall it's a very clean and pretty looking place. While we were there we walked around the town both in the daytime and in the evening, I must say I felt safe and secure at all times which isn't always true when I walk around any of the larger cities in England. In the evening there were a few young lads having a drink at certain spots but they were not loud or unruly as often happens, the one pub we went into was a little rowdy for us but I suppose this can happen anywhere that you're unfamiliar with.
The setting of Porthmadog is a real treat; picture mountainous hills rising above you on the outskirts of town, a beautiful marina filled with small bobbing boats, a pretty beach within easy walking distance and beautiful countryside. Just what the doctor ordered for me, I arrived home after my long weekend feeling invigorated and full of life - which is a million miles away from how I felt on the drive out there!
There are two attractions within Porthmadog itself, both centering around railways and steam trains. We went on both of them during our visit and enjoyed them both very much, The Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways was a trip around the North Wales/Snowdonia countryside and lasted around three hours. I certainly recommend a trip on the train as both my sister and I plus her two young grandsons enjoyed this, I loved watching the beautiful countryside go by while the boys enjoyed the fact that they were on such a different train to those they are used to.
Also worth visiting for those of you with children is The Welsh Highland Railway, which is somewhat of a work in progress at the moment. We paid £15 for a family ticket which gave us a 45 minute experience including a short ride on an open sided train, a tour around the old fashioned train shed and a ride in a miniature railway for the children. This wasn't the most exciting attraction I've seen but in my opinion it was well worth the money to see the sheer joy on my sister's grandsons' faces as they realised they could get in the trains in the shed and were encouraged by the lovely staff to touch and handle things.
I really cannot recommend Porthmadog highly enough for those of you who have decided not to travel overseas this summer. It is such a beautiful place, yet so accessible to everyone. If you don't want to stay in the town for the duration of your holiday there is plenty to do in the surrounding areas; Snowdon itself isn't far away (yet another train for us to go on!), the beautiful village of Beddgelert is a short drive through amazing countryside and Pwllheli was a few minutes down the road from Travelodge. As well as all these wonderful outdoors places there are attractions on your doorstep such as a copper mine, slate mine, Electric Mountain (which is fabulous) and various wildlife attractions.
Oh, and sheep. They're everywhere.