North Wales is a diverse place for outdoor photography. The heart of North Wales is the Snowdonia National Park an accessible area of high peaks and glacial valleys, fast flowing streams, waterfalls and ancient woodlands. Amongst this natural scenery Snowdonia has been marked by the quarrying of slate; stark and dramatic places to photograph.

Map of the Viewpoints in Photographing North Wales ©fotoVUE

North Wales

North Wales has over 250 miles of coast looking out onto the Irish sea. Along it are Victorian seaside resort towns, medieval castles and cliffs that sweep down to a crashing sea. The coastline of Anglesey is home to some of the best photography locations in the UK. Here you will find lighthouses, chapels on headlands and miles of rocky coastline rich with coastal flowers. The lighthouses at South Stack and Llanddwyn island are much sought after images. Further south is the more remote Llŷn Peninsula, a quieter area of rocky bays, sandy beaches, harbours. methodist chapels and old mines.

In North East Wales the Clwydian Range’s rolling hills are covered in purple heather, forests and iron age forts. To the south is Thomas Telford’s engineering masterpiece of the Industrial revolution, the Pontycysyllte aqueduct, which carries the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee. The nearby town of Llangollen has something for everyone: the ancient ruins of Castell Dinas Bran and Valle Crucis Abbey, and a steam heritage railway all set amidst the beautiful Dee Valley.

Snowdonia Central

Established in 1951 Snowdonia National Park is home to Snowdon the highest peak in Wales (1,085m/3,560 ft ). This region of volcanic rock was scoured by glaciers and its mountain ranges, the Glyderau, Carneddau and Snowdon, are cut by steep valleys and streams. For mountain photography the central area of Snowdonia is home to some of the most dramatic and easily accessible locations in the UK – you can even take a rack and pinion railway to the summit of Snowdon.

Some of the best views of the mountains are from the water’s edge and the small lakes of Llyn Gwynant, Llyn Dinas and the most dramatic of them all Llyn Idwal provide superb short-approach viewpoints for landscape photography.

The area once bustled with the noise of slate quarrying and its legacy is everywhere. Far from detracting from the area’s beauty, abandoned quarries, like the vast Dinorwic quarry next to Llanberis, are now being reclaimed by nature and are fascinating to photograph.

Tracks once carrying quarried slate to the coastal ports now rumble with the sound of steam trains on restored railways making their way through the magnificent landscape adding another aspect to the photography in this diverse area.

Snowdonia East

On the eastern side of the Snowdonia National Park is the attractive village of Betws-y-Coed by the banks of the Afon Llugwy and Afon Conwy. Nearby is Rhaeadr Ewynnol or Swallow Falls one of the most impressive waterfalls in Wales, go early or late, the falls are popular.

In the village people also gather at Pont Y Pair/ Bridge of the Cauldron during September to watch and photograph salmon leaping the falls. South of the village the River Conwy passes through the secluded mystical gorge of Fairy Glen.

To the north behind the village of Trefriw is one of Snowdonia’s most beautiful lakes, Llyn Crafnant. A visit on a calm autumn day can be a truly moving experience when the colours of the surrounding woodland reflect in the still water.

Closer to Snowdon is Capel Curig with the distinctive peak of Moel Siabod looming above the village. For relatively little effort a climb up to the Pinnacles above the village gives fantastic views into the valley of Dyffryn Mymbyr and the distant Snowdon Horseshoe. Next to the Plas
y Brenin Mountain Centre are the twin lakes of Llynnau Mymbyr; the perfect place to capture sunrise reflections of Snowdon and explore interesting lakeshore photography.

Snowdonia South

Unless you’ve chosen to climb halfway up a hill on the Mach Loop to photograph jets, southern Snowdonia is the quietest area in the National Park.

Above the town of Porthmadog, Cwm Pennant and Cwmystradllyn have a remote feel and see few visitors. The slopes of Cwm Pennant are covered in bluebells in May with great views to the Nantlle Ridge. Nearby is Portmeirion a surreal village built by William Clough Ellis between 1925 and 1975. Situated on the estuary by the Afon Dwyryd, its colourful houses and Italianate architecture make unusual photographic subjects whatever the weather.

Around Cadair Idris (893m), Southern Snowdonia’s giant, the glacial lake of Llyn Cau is set amidst a natural amphitheatre of towering cliffs. The remote feeling Llynnau Cregennen on the northern flanks of Cadair Idris offers reflections, a boathouse, an island of scots pines, streams and semi-submerged boulders at the water’s edge – if you only visit one location in Southern Snowdonia make it this one.

Llyn Peninsula

The Llŷn Peninsula is the most sparsely populated area in North Wales and has a remote feel. A network of narrow roads cover the area that traverse by small farms and villages, fields, drystone walls and hedgerows. Rising above are Yr Ei or the Rivals, home to the three prominent summits: Tre’r Ceiri, Garn Ganol and Garn For that often feature in landscape photographs of the area.

It is however the Llŷn Peninsula’s coast that the area is famous for. The southern coastline of the peninsula is made up of a line of sandy beaches scattered with several popular seaside resorts including Abersoch, Pwihelli, Criccieth and Porthmadog.

Off its south western tip lies the small island of Bardsey/Ynys Enlli home to thousands of migrating seabirds and a place of spirituality and worship. Historically the island was a destination for pilgrims and it is suggested that 20,000 saints are buried on the Island.

Unlike Snowdonia most of the Llŷn Peninsula is little affected by industry although some remnants of mining are evident. The wooden jetty on the coast at the small village of Trefor in the north west was once used as the departure point for granite from the quarry on the hillside above. Whilst a few miles further south Nant Gwrtheyrn was a thriving coastal quarry village in the late 1800‘s and is now home to a Welsh language centre. It is a fascinating place to wander amongst the history of its industrial days.

The ruins of Criccieth castle on the south east of the peninsula dominate the skyline on the approach from Porthmadog, a very popular subject to photograph. Porthdinllaen is one of the area’s most attractive and visited villages, its protected bay has wonderful views to Yr Ei . Then head south and experience the crescent-shaped beach of Whistling Sands which whistles as you
walk along it.

Anglesey and Menai

The Menai Strait/Afon Menai separates the Isle of Anglesey/Ynys Mon from mainland Wales and is crossed by two bridges, Thomas Telford’s Menai Suspension Bridge and Robert Stephenson’s Britannia Bridge.

On the mainland side of the Menai, south west of the university town of Bangor is Caernarfon, home to another of Edward the First’s castles. Caernarfon Castle was built in the 13th century as a show of power over the Welsh princes; it was a seat of government and royal palace more than a military stronghold. Its imposing walls were fashioned on the defensive Roman walls of the city of Constantinople. In 1969, the castle gained worldwide fame when it hosted the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales.

Anglesey is a large island of 220 square miles. Inland it is mostly rolling farmland, but it is the coast that is most attractive for photography. There are some great locations: Penmon Point’s Trwyn Du Lighthouse, the Twr Mawr Lighthouse on Llanddwyn Island, a place that you could spend all day at, and the view of South Stack Lighthouse from the steps above is another classic UK landscape photograph.

The ruins of Criccieth castle on the south east of the peninsula dominate the skyline on the approach from Porthmadog, a very popular subject to photograph. Porthdinllaen is one of the area’s most attractive and visited villages, its protected bay has wonderful views to Yr Ei . Then head south and experience the crescent-shaped beach of Whistling Sands which whistles as you
walk along it.

North Coast

The A55 North Wales Expressway, reminiscent of an Italian coastal road in places, follows the narrow gap between mountains and coastline on its journey towards the resort of Llandudno and the historic town of Conwy.

North Wales’ northern coastline faces north west and is perfect for summer sunset photography over its sandy beaches or from hilly vantage points above the A55.

The town of Llandudno is a well preserved Victorian seaside resort with an arc of grand hotels on its seafront esplanade and is home to one of the longest piers in Britain. The town is towered over by the limestone headland of the Great Orme with views over Conwy Bay to Anglesey.

Conwy is one of the best examples of a medieval town in the UK and is a UNESCO World heritage site. Photographing its 13th century castle over Conwy estuary and its moored boats is a much sought after classic.

The mountains are never far away, the Carneddau, Glyderau and Snowdonia ranges provide a beautiful backdrop to the coast, changing colour as the seasons progress and also catching weather which often leads to some spectacular light.

North East Wales

North East Wales adjacent to the Wales-England border stretches from the Berwyn hills west of Wrexham to the coastal region around the River Dee estuary.

The River Dee begins its journey in the mountains of Snowdonia and forms the beautiful Dee valley with its popular town of Llangollen. Llangollen is towered over by Castell Dinas Bran a 13th century castle whilst the town is full of Victorian charm and is home to a steam railway and the source of the Shropshire Union Canal at Horseshoe Falls.

Further to the east the Shropshire Canal bridges the River Dee by the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, another of North Wales’ UNESCO world heritage sites. This stone and iron aqueduct was an important link from the mines and quarries of North Wales to the industrial centres of England; its design is a testament to Thomas Telford’s genius as a 19th century engineer.

Just north, on the heather clad hill tops of the Clwydian range are a chain of 2,500 year old Iron Age hill forts. These hills are less frequented than Snowdonia but still very worthy of attention – with shorter walks – by those who love photography from high places.

The northern part of this area is by the sea and is a mix of the industrial and the recreational. Prestatyn and Rhyl are two seaside towns that are ghting a decline caused by cheap holiday flights to Spain but both have a unique charm and excellent beaches. Just to their east is the more traditional landscape photograph of the Point of Ayr Lighthouse at Talacre Beach.

North East Wales is less photographed than the more popular areas of North Wales but with a rich industrial and cultural heritage, a lighthouse, old mines, waterfalls, beautiful valleys and even graffiti on an abandoned steam ship, it has much to offer.

Getting To North Wales

Making your way to North Wales is relatively easy, although it is a long journey of four hours plus from Scotland or the south of England. There are motorways to the Welsh border, and good rail and bus links from around the UK into North Wales. Once in North Wales there are no motorways but there are several major A roads that traverse the area with a good network of B and minor roads.

Many visitors will travel from England and there are two main routes into North Wales:

From the North

From the North access is close to the city of Chester via the A55 North Wales Expressway that traverse the northern coast all the way to Holyhead on Anglesey (Chester to Holyhead is 84 miles). The A55 is usually accessed by the M56, west off the M6 motorway.

From the South

From the South take the M54 north of Birmingham to the A5 around Shrewsbury. The A5 takes you through the centre of North Wales to join the A55 at the town of Bangor next to Anglesey. Alternatively from London take the M40 then the M6 and M56 to the A55.

Snowdonia National Park is accessed by the A55 in the north, with the A5 originating in the south driving right through it.

Distances and driving times to Bangor, Gwynedd

Origin Distance Time

London: via M40

274 miles

4h 20 min

Birmingham via M6

152 miles

2h 42 min

Cardiff via A470

180 miles

4h 12 min

Manchester via M56

98 miles

5h 11 min

Leeds via M62

141 miles

2h 31 min

Newcastle via M6

245 miles

4h 10 min

Glasgow via M6

297 miles

4h 40 min

Edinburgh via M6

298 miles

5h 06 min

Where to stay

Here are some accommodation links for your trip to North Wales.

When is the best time to visit North Wales?

The best advice for anyone visiting North Wales when it comes to the weather is be prepared for pretty much anything.

Spring – March, April, May

A stunning display of bluebells above the Cwm Pennant valley. Nikon D800, 16-35 at 19mm, 1/80 sec @ f/16, ISO 100

Spring can be a good time for landscape photography. On the mountain slopes heather, bracken, sedges and grasses are still asleep in their brown, yellow and gold coats which contrast with a variety of shades of green as different species of trees and shrubs burst into leaf. This is the time to head to the mountains of Snowdonia and the Clwydian hills. On the higher peaks there may still be snow remaining.

March is the time to see the Welsh national flower, the daffodil. They grow all over the region, but try the Happy Valley in Llandudno for close ups whatever the weather. Bluebells appear in April but are most abundant in early to mid May. Visit Cwm Pennant for hillsides carpeted in bluebells. On Anglesey bluebells line the hedgerows and are also found on coastal grasslands right next to the sea, particularly in the north west of the island. Also on the coast you will see the pink thrift or sea pink and the blue spring squill. Woodlands burst into life at this time of year with a ush of wild violets, wood sorrel, primroses and wood anemones.

April showers and sun bring changing light, there may still be snow on the mountain tops, and often there are settled spells of good weather with very clear air. Storms come in quickly bringing in big white uffy clouds. This is a good time for fog and inversions, both in the mountains and their valleys, and further south around Llangollen and the Dee valley.

Summer – June, July, August

Anglesey. On lookout at South Stack. Nikon D800, 16-35 at 16mm, 1/1000 sec @ f/7.1, ISO 200

Summer is the driest period in North Wales accompanied by the highest number of hours sunshine. This is the time for coastal flowers, purple heather on the moors and summer sunsets. Inland areas are very green with lush grasslands and the trees in full leaf but almost a monotone green not giving much contrast. It will still rain, but during the day there are often clouds in the blue sky adding relief to rural scenes.

It is commonly hazy during the day in the peak summer months with poor air clarity. Getting up early and staying out late is recommended at this time of year – perhaps more than any other.

From Anglesey it is common to see cloud formations lining up above the Snowdonia mountains which appear to almost mirror the peaks. They look best during the evening when lit by a low sun. When a mountain in Wales has cloud covering its summit it is said to be gwisgo’i gap or wearing its cap.

Summer is a good time for coastal sunsets with the sun setting in the north west and flowers like the white sea campion appearing as well as purple heather. Visit South Stack on Anglesey, Conwy mountain, Jubilee Path at Penmaenmawr or any beach just before sunset. With the sun rising in the north-east some coastal areas are also great for sunrise photography.

Autumn – September, October, November

Pistil Rhaeadr shot with a wide lens early morning in autumn. Nikon D800, 16-35 at 16mm, 1.3 sec @ f/16, iSO 100, tripod

Autumn is prime time for landscape photography. Peak autumn is when the changing leaves are at their best but it’s difficult to predict. Mid-October to mid-November is the most reliable time to capture autumn colour in North Wales. By December a carpet of colourful leaves can litter the forest floor and the woodland moss-covered boulders are often at their most luminescent.

This is the time for woodland locations, waterfalls and the sides of llyns (lakes). The bracken is well on its way to changing from green to golden brown and the mountains and hills start to get more contrast, often coinciding with the rst snows.

As far as weather goes, expect more rain and the first early morning frosts in October. At times with high pressure temperature inversions bring mist and fog to the valleys with clear skies above. This is the time to head to the Nant Gwynant valley, Llyn Dinas and Llyn Crafnant in Snowdonia, the Dee valley near Llangollen, Plas Power Woods or the area around Nantcol waterfalls.

If autumn leaves are at their peak after rain, head to 240ft Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall.

Winter – December, January, February

From Llyn Dywarchen, february snow on Wales’s highest peak. Nikon D800, 16-35 at 24mm, 1/15 sec @ f/16, ISO 100, tripod

In the midst of winter North Wales can be grim with rain, strong winds and cloud for days on end from the mountain tops to the sea. Unless you live locally or close-by December to March can be unproductive for landscape photography. If you are lucky however, especially after snowfall, this time of year can provide some of the best conditions.

On average the mountains of Snowdonia get 30 days of snow a year. The first snows arrive usually in early November but it can snow anytime between October and April. The warmer coastal regions rarely get snow but when they do there are some unique photographs to be had. The mountain tops however can be carpeted in snow for long periods providing a perfect backdrop. Winter high pressure systems typically have crystal clear air, an ideal time for wide snowy mountain vistas.

The seas will be rougher at this time of year, and with dramatic skies and a low winter sun, it can be an excellent time for coastal photography. Woodlands are stripped of leaves and this is the time for moody shots of trees and woods especially if combined with frost, fog or morning mist.

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Author

         


Simon Kitchin

Author of Photographing North Wales
Simon Kitchin is an award-winning landscape photographer based in North Wales. Whilst he has always had a camera close to hand it was his relocation to North Wales in 1997 that saw him begin to take photography seriously. This allowed him to spend much of his time wandering amongst the stunning...
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