North Wales, in my opinion, has some of the best places in terms of natural beauty, and it is often tough to decide on the places to visit. Luckily many of the beauty spots are extremely accessible which means it’s possible to see a lot in just one day. We’ve lived in North Wales for almost 11 years, and this article pulls together the most scenic locations which can all be accessed with a very short walk from your car. Follow us along for our one-day North Wales Road Trip itinerary across the most picturesque places the region has to offer.
Start Point & Itinerary
As we’re based in Wrexham, we’ve used this as the starting point for this North Wales road trip. Of course, the route can be customised in terms of your location, driving time and the duration at each location. The Itinerary is a scenic drive with short stops (no long hikes).
It is also possible to do it in one day, meanwhile also visiting some of the best places this Welsh road trip has to offer. Of course, there are many other destinations around North Wales, well worth a visit. A lot of these locations are covered in the following posts:
- Top photography locations around Wrexham, North Wales
- North Wales Landscape Photography (Including Snowdonia)
- Ogwen Valley: a stunning photography location in Snowdonia
- Moel Famau for breathtaking North Welsh landscapes
Of course, the start time shown below can also be customised based on your personal preference (and time of year). However, I would strongly suggest an early start for optimal light for photography and also to avoid peak times.
The “finish” at around 2:30 p.m. gives flexibility to return back to your own start point or accommodation. It also gives a buffer for traffic or additional stops/ longer stays on your route.
|Destination||Travel time from the previous destination|
Duration at destination
|Time of day|
|Start Point: Wrexham||6:00|
|Panorama||25 min||20 min||6:45|
|Horseshoe Pass||20 min||10 min||7:15|
|Betws-y-Coed||50 min||1 hr||09:05|
|Swallow Falls||10 min||25 min||09:40|
|Capel Curig||10 min||30 min||10:20|
|Pen-Y-Pass for Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon)||10 min||10:30|
|Lone Tree at Llyn Padarn||15 min||45 min||11:30|
|Tour around the Great Orme Marine Drive||1 hr||2 hrs||14:30|
The first stop is Panorama Walk which is around 25 minutes from Wrexham. The road passes along the hillside above Llangollen and provides stunning views over the valley, even without leaving your car.
From this road, if you do fancy stretching your legs, there are a few laybys that are usually available early in the morning but can get busy during the day. Heading up one of the paths you’ll find incredible views over the rock faces and Dinas Bran Castle. It is one of our top photography locations near Wrexham.
On the way to Panorama, you will also drive past the turn-off to the iconic Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. If you’re planning to spend a short amount of time at each of the places on this itinerary then now may be a good time to squeeze in a quick stop. This is also one of our favourite locations around Wrexham for photography.
The Horseshoe pass, as the name suggests, is a road that weaves through the hills in the shape of a horseshoe. A large layby at the top provides a great spot for photography down into the valley. This layby is just before the bend leading to the Ponderosa Cafe. If you’re lucky, you may have sheep in just the right position to become a great focal point for your composition. There is a steep hill behind the layby which can provide an alternative viewpoint. However, I prefer to carefully cross the road to avoid it being in the foreground.
The Horseshoe Pass is a very popular mountain pass for both cyclists and motorcyclists, these can create interest in your photos by giving a sense of scale against the surroundings.
Betws-y-Coed is referred to as “The gateway to Snowdonia”, It’s a stunning village that has a mountain resort-type feel. There are numerous accommodation options which makes it a great base for a Snowdonia road trip or exploring the surrounding areas. There are also many independent shops, for both outdoor equipment but also food. A perfect place for a spot for lunch!
The river River Llugwy passes through Betws-y-Coed and this also joins the River Conwy together with the River Lledr. With the surrounding forest, the River Llugwy is a brilliant spot for photography, especially around the Pont-y-Pair Bridge.
The A5 trunk road passes through the middle of Betws-y-Coed, meaning you’re well-connected to the surrounding area. Did you know? The A5 was established by Thomas Telford to improve communication between London and Dublin. The A5 was originally for carrying post from London by stagecoaches/mail coach to Holyhead for mailboat to Ireland.
Photography in Betws-y-Coed is diverse, with the pretty buildings, river and surrounding Gwydir Forest. It would also be a place where a tripod may come in handy for long-exposure shots of the river.
If you’re visiting in August/September an additional short detour on your North Wales road trip to Tu Hwnt I’r Bont Tearooms in Llanwrst would be worthwhile! But, at this time of year expect it to be busy, with everyone trying to get “that shot” as this is the best time to see it in full bloom.
Rhaeadr Ewynnol Swallow Falls Waterfall can be found along the A5 around 5 minutes from Betws-y-Coed. There’s a layby nearby, which can get busy and it’s £2 per person to enter through the turnstile, a small extra cost. It’s a very short walk down a number of steps to the viewpoint of the waterfalls, but it’s worth it, especially after a lot of rain!
Photography tips at the falls: As Swallow Falls are surrounded by forest, the lighting usually allows for a slower shutter speed with a small (high) aperture. However, on a brighter day, you may need an ND filter to enable a slow shutter speed to blur the water.
Believe it or not, the photo below was taken at f/22, ISO100 with a 0.4s shutter speed, with my camera resting on the railing (No tripod!). This is a good place for a Gorilapod-type tripod, which takes up less space and can be used on the railing. But regular tripods are also fine, if high enough. As always, be aware of others, and also ensure your camera is secure!
The next stop after a short drive from Swallow Falls is at Capel Curig, with another convenient layby. A short walk down to the Llynnau Mymbyr lakes will enable you to capture panoramic views of the Snowdon Horseshoe in the distance with reflections in the lake, which includes the highest peak of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon).
Camera gear selection: A zoom lens will provide the flexibility to adjust the location of any foreground interest. Longer focal lengths also help to compress the mountains and foreground.
Pen-Y-Pass for Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon)
The Pen-Y-Pass allows you to get to the start of the Miners’ and Pyg Track, the main routes for reaching the summit of Snowdon. However, it’s also a beautiful mountain pass which leads up and over towards the Llanberis pass which takes you to Llyn Peris and Llyn Padarn, two lakes in Llanberis.
Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) is the highest mountain in Wales. In April 2021 Mount Snowdon was to be called by its Welsh name Yr Wyddfa in all official use. After this motion, Snowdonia was also to be known only by its Welsh name Eryri.
The only main car park is Pen y Pass car park. It requires pre-booking and at £20 (in 2023) isn’t suitable for a quick stop off and walk. It’s forbidden to park on the side of the A4086 main road.
However, one of the best things is the views from the car, with the dry stone brick walls lining the roadside and the stunning mountain backdrops. Make sure the passenger in the front has the camera ready, with a fast enough shutter speed! Note the blurred corners in the photo below shot at 1/250s shutter speed.
Lone Tree at Llyn Padarn
This is a popular spot and it’s easy to see why. It’s one of the most beautiful places with the iconic lone tree and surrounding scene. It is especially stunning in the winter months when there’s snow on the surrounding mountains. The tree itself is only a short walk from a car park.
Tour around the Great Orme Marine Drive
The final stop on this Northern Wales road trip is the Great Orme in Llandudno. The Marine Drive, is a toll road which loops anti-clockwise for around 5 miles. For a car, it costs £4.50 (In 2023) and the start point is located here. This stunning road is a great way to tour the Great Orme and see the surrounding areas. Some of the best views are from the top car park. From the summit, you can see over the mountains in Snowdonia National Park and Colwyn Bay in the opposite direction. This is a great place for a telephoto zoom to focus in on the details in the distant landscapes.
In conclusion, North Wales offers some exceptional road trip opportunities for nature enthusiasts and photographers, showcasing some of the most picturesque spots in the region. This carefully crafted one-day itinerary takes you on a journey through stunning landscapes and vibrant locations. With easily accessible stops and a range of photogenic opportunities, this is the best road trip to unveil the best of North Wales’ natural beauty in a single day, making it a must-do adventure for anyone seeking the region’s finest sights.