Llandudno: more than a pier and candy floss

By Joe Shooman, a Travel Professional

Read more on Llandudno.

Overall rating:4.2 out of 5 (based on 6 votes)
Recommended for:
Beach, Family, Nightlife, Budget, Mid-range

Llandudno is a Victorian seaside town with more to offer than you might expect. Where else could you go skiing before walking down the pier and then end up in a punk rock gig?

It’s little wonder that Llandudno’s been such a popular seaside destination for hundreds of years. Easily accessible from the A55 or by train (just one station change from the main Holyhead-Chester-London route), this Victorian town has long been associated with visitors and its attractions entirely reflect this.

Having grown up in nearby Bangor, it’s also obviously the case that despite the odd day trip here and there I’d never spent enough time at Llandudno to really get under the skin of the place. Tht was something I’d long vowed to change, and the opportunity presented itself on one of the sunnier days of our early summer.

Having stopped off at our accommodation – the reasonably-priced St Hilary Guest House on Craig Y Don parade, one of many such hotels & B&Bs right on the seafront – the obvious first thing to do is take a walk along the promenade. This lengthy and very clean space is an ideal introduction to the bay and in the summer, with the tide out, it’s full of sunbathers, paddlers and toddlers building castles of sand. Today, however, with the wind up and biting, the best description is that of healthy.

After heading into town and stocking up on fresh, fresh fish and chubby chips from Tribells, we start scoffing them on the seafront. Big mistake. The seagulls here are well-versed in their job and before two minutes are done, one of the cheeky swine swoops down and nicks the fish out of my very hand before flapping away, cackling and scattering chips everywhere. So our advice is to eat in wherever possible, or at least on the tables outside the many excellent eateries here. There are tea rooms and restaurants aplenty, often offering fresh fish from the morning’s catch, and most of the pubs also offer traditional, home-made fare.

The cable cars from town up to the Great Orme – a rocky high point that juts its chin toward the Isle of Man – aren’t on today because of the wind, but when it’s clear the longest ride of its kind in the UK provides immaculate views to both northwest and northeast Wales. It's some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet, a real natural wonder. Today, we grab the tramway, which is a lovingly-kept and restored heritage attraction. A marvel of Victorian engineering, first opened in July 1902, it climbs a mile of track to the top, making it the UK’s longest funicular. Views from the tram take in the local flora and fauna, including two unique species of butterfly, wild Kashmir goats and rare flowers. It’s also possible to disembark and visit the award-winning Bronze Age copper mines, Iron Age forts, Stone Age remains and the 6th-century Church Of Saint Tudno, which gave the town its name.

Or you can do what we did: stay on to the top of the 679ft ride and play crazy golf (practising for some of the excellent full-size courses in this part of Wales, of course) before indulging in some excellently-priced and quite outstanding home-made pie and chips.

Refreshed, we stand and are delighted by Professor Codman’s Punch & Judy show, and are happy to pop a couple of quid in the proffered pot, as the current performer not only doesn’t get paid, but is also required to pay the council rent for the pitch. That’s not the way to do it! Boo council!

Nonetheless, the immaculately-kept and wonderfully tacky Llandudno Pier is a toffee-apple-and-amusements delight, with a fine inflatable playhouse and slide for the kids and all the sweet shops, bucket-and-spade tat, 2p horse-racing games and faux-Victorian photo booths you’d imagine. Luckily, the café at the top serves a restorative coffee as we sit and watch the anglers on the end of the pier try their luck in the very clear water.

Both North Shore and West Shore are award-winning, clean and safe beaches (weather permitting, of course) – but if you’re after a little more activity, try the dry ski slope at Llandudno Ski and Snowboard Centre, featuring the Cresta Run, the longest toboggan run in Wales, at 750 metres long. The centre’s open from 10am to 10pm and caters for all levels of experience and ability.

The town centre itself is something of a mixed bag; on one hand, all the tack and nastiness that every seaside town in the UK seems to be bedevilled by; on the other, an absolute wealth of charity shops in which to browse. Check out, too, the fabulous antiquarian bookstores on Madoc Street – particularly useful if the weather turns.

With the sun disappearing over the horizon, it’s time to search for an evening meal and, surprising though it may seem, Llandudno is one of the best places in North Wales for Italian food. Mama Rosa on Mostyn Avenue is a family-run and unassuming place with excellent pasta at reasonable prices, whilst others swear by Valentino’s at the other end of town in Gloddach Street. Either way, it’s a very happy accident to stumble upon eateries of such quality.

Llandudno’s pubs can get very busy indeed all day on bank holidays, sporting occasions and in the summer, but they’re mostly of decent quality and serve a selection of local and guest ales along with the fizzy keg lagers and ciders. After a swift few halves in The Kings Arms, we head back out and retrace our steps along the promenade to Venue Cymru, a fantastic state-of-the-art theatre, conference centre and music/performance venue where tonight the crowd is a capacity 2,500, gathered for a gig by South Wales’ punk-rockers Manic Street Preachers.

The blend of buzzsaw guitars and politically-charged lyricism hardly fits with the stereotype of Llandudno’s sleepy, Victorian boredom, rounding off a day and night with many twists and turns and quite a few surprises. Proof positive – if any were needed – that there’s one heck of a lot more than meets the eye in a town like this, especially if you grew up just down the road. We’ll be back…

Where to stay

Accommodation in Llandudno is plentiful, with a baffling array of options, but there are a few things to take into consideration when booking. A map is handy, so you can check the location of a  hotel or B&B before committing. Obviously, the further away from the promenade a place is, the cheaper it usually is, so if you don’t mind not having a sea view, the budget-conscious can be quids in here. Because of the competition for your tourist bucks, standards are kept reasonably high across the board: the days of Fawlty Towers-esque shambles&breakfasts are, thankfully, pretty much gone these days. Expect to pay anything from £30 to the thick edge of £70 per room per night in most B&Bs and anywhere up to £150 per night in the larger hotels, depending on season.

St Hilary’s Guest House is family-run and has free wi-fi, ensuite rooms and a choice of many excellent breakfasts. Being in the quieter area of Craig-y-Don, it’s a 20-minute stroll into town but is also very close to Venue Cymru – and some rooms have an incredible view across the bay.

The Britannia Grand Hotel is a 162-room, four-star traditional hotel that couldn’t have a better location, up on Happy Valley Road, with the pier literally on its doorstep. Handy for the Orme side of town, too.

The Empire Hotel is another of Llandudno’s more famous places to stay, with a gorgeous interior and all rooms furnished rather grandly, antiques and drapes all over the place. Standard rooms are at the front of the hotel but those on a budget have the option of a slightly smaller room nearer the back. There’s a really lovely and award-winning restaurant that is notable for its excellent local produce, too, which is obviously dependent on season. To push the boat out try next door’s No. 72, a Victorian town house hotel, which is part of the Empire and was also the site of Llandudno’s first bank.

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More information on Llandudno: more than a pier and candy floss:

Joe Shooman
Traveller type:
Travel Professional
Guide rating:
Average: 4.2 (6 votes)
Total views:
First uploaded:
10 June 2009
Last updated:
5 years 25 weeks 4 days 16 hours 15 min 8 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Beach, Family, Nightlife
Budget level:
Budget, Mid-range
Free tags / Keywords:
walking, music, seaside, Victorian, cable cars

Joe recommends


Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. St. Hilary Guest House
2. Empire Hotel
3. Grand Hotel

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Community comments (6)

0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Your guide presents a really fun seaside day out. It captures the essence of a Welsh seaside experience.

To help readers with planning I would suggest adding in some practical info next to your recommendations, e.g. addresses, phone numbers, prices and web links.

The seagull anecdote is really funny. And the little joke about the Punch and Judy guy having to pay the council rent.

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

I thought the report pretty accurate in the information it gave. There is plenty more that wasn't included and another feature could contain a whole set of alternative attractions that are on offer.

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

My husband has eulogised about Llandudno for as long as I have known him, so it was good to read independent views. On my first visit, I too was entranced by the view of the North Bay with the Great Orme beyond. I too found the Great Orme, a magical place, although it tested my fitness at times. As a centre for touring North Wales, Llandudno is excellent. If I had a disappointment, it was the quality of the beaches. Unlike Bournemouth and Bridlington whose Councils go to great lengths to prepare their beaches for visitors, Llandudno's two beaches are disappointing by comparison but overall I concur with my husband, Llandudno is a great place for a holiday.

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1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Llandudno is a 'Hidden Gem'. Once visited, never forgotten and almost certain to be re-visited, over and over again. There is a magic about the place. Approached by the coast road from Rhos-on-Sea you emerge through a cleft in the Little Orme to see the majestic sweep of North Shore, its promenade, the best in Britain, and in the distance, the Great Orme, marked at its right hand edge by its pier, jutting out into the Irish Sea.
The Great Orme is a rough circle of Rock approximately 1000 feet high and with a circumference, measured by the road which meanders round its waist, from the pier to the West Shore, almost 4 miles long.
Because many visitors have been known to come to Llandudno and never set foot on the Great Orme, it forms the bulk of my review. For the physically fit, the best way to explore is on foot. The Marine Drive, walked in either direction, gives stunning sea views and the cafe at it's highest point allows you to 'rest and be thankful'. Happy Valley, now the home of an artificial Ski Slope, provides a sheltered spot where families can picnic while the children play and explore. The Cable Car to the summit starts from here, affording stunning views and an exciting ride. Haulfre Gardens which are on the town side of the Great Orme have long been noted for their shelter and mild climate even in winter months. Many seats here, dedicated to people who have passed away, are testament to their love of this place in life, quiet, peaceful and tranquil. The alternative route to the summit, the Great Orme tramway, is an experience not to be missed, the view of the town on descent is unforgettable. The Summit is exposed and can be cold, but the views from the top are spectacular. The Copper Mine is the latest attraction where you can marvel at the way miners long ago dug a labyrinth of tunnels in what was obviously a prolific source of copper ore.
200 words are not enough to to describe Llandudno's charm.

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1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Excellent review on the North Wales town of Llandudno.Just the right length,giving a very rounded impression of Llandudno and what it has to offer it's visitors.I would have liked more details of swimming pools available indoor ( if weather is poor ) or outdoor.Very easy to read review,the writer I think enjoyed his visit ( I loved the seagull story !) Something for everyone in Llandudno young and old !For the backpacker or Youth groups , details of the nearest Youth Hostel might be helpfull.Interesting and relevant pictures of Llandudno the bay looks very inviting ,for families with young children it would be helpfull to know that the immediate beach area below the promenade is stony rather than sand. Llandudno the " Victorian "resort with all the amenities of a modern seaside town.

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1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

I never realised just how much there was to see and do in Llandudno until I read your guide! It gives a really good and thorough overview of a town I’ve been to many times, but next time I’ll know to check out some places I’ve not been to before. Venue Cymru is definitely a great, new theatre and music venue, like you say, and sometimes you can really strike it lucky / unlucky and time it when other events are on (like the start or end of the Cambrian car rally).

Would be great to read a little bit about the other things you can do near Llandudno if exploring a little further – like the quieter beach at Rhos on Sea, or Conwy Castle, which are always worth a visit too.

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