“Taking the waters” has long been a popular activity for those living on the Isle of Great Britain. In fact bathing in special springs has been said to have healing benefits even before the Romans arrived on the island. By Queen Victoria’s reign, however, doctors began to suggest that inhabitants of the island venture to the seaside for their health. Spending holidays along the waterfront, promenading along the piers and bathing in the sea was said to be good for the constitution. After Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, built himself a seaside palace on the Isle of Wight, interest in spending a holiday at the sea only grew in popularity.
With nearly 8,000 miles of coastline on the island of Great Britain, it’s no surprise that a plethora of seaside towns popped up over the years. But one of the most popular was Llandudno in Wales. Located on the Creuddyn peninsula, which protrudes into the Irish Sea, Llandudno has a long and varied history dating back to the stone age. Its highlight, however, was being a seaside resort town for the wealthy.
In the 1850s Llandudno, a small coastal village that was home mostly to copper miners and their families, was transformed. An architect and planner worked to develop the marshlands off Llandudno Bay into a holiday resort. Several hotels were constructed lining the shores of the bay with stunning views of the water and the surrounding hills. With the implementation of these new hotels the area grew in popularity, eventually earning the title “Queen of the Welsh Water Places.” In the late 1870s the pier was constructed giving Victorians the perfect place to promenade. For the Victorians, promenading in their finest attire while taking in the seaside air was the thing to do, and what better place to do it than the longest pier in Wales? This pier still stands today.
Later developments of a railway station linking Llandudno to large cities like Manchester and Birmingham and a tramway that takes visitors to the top of the nearby mountain, the Great Orme, only helped to solidify Llandudno’s hold on it’s title as the best, most beautiful seaside resort town in Wales. People (especially the wealthy) would come for weeks or months at a time and spend their summers in their homes away from home.
For over 100 years seaside resorts were the most popular place for Britains to spend their holidays. But all good things must come to an end, or so they say. The 1970s was the last decade where these resort towns really thrived. With the advent of cheaper flights off the island it became increasingly popular to holiday abroad on the continent, or even as far as the States, instead. This new trend combined with the fact that the younger generations increasingly move toward big cities to start their adult lives and careers leaves the seaside resort towns struggling. Without many patrons and an aging population to maintain them, these once phenomenally beautiful towns began to decline.
Today, if you go to Llandudno, it is still a proud and beautiful seaside town that bustles with activity and visitors, but there’s just a little air of “what used to be.” The paint chips off the once grand buildings, modern store signs cover what I assume was once just a beautiful covered walkway. The pier still stands but there’s a giant hole in the ground where the once phenomenally beautiful Llandudno Pier Pavilion Theatre stood. After one hundred years of serving it’s community beautifully, and sometimes oddly (it was a haunted dungeon attraction at some point?), the theater was burnt down in the 1990s. All that remains today are the poles that once help up the second floor promenade. A sad reminder of in this great seaside town’s heyday.
All doom and gloom aside though, Llandudno is still a lovely place to visit. There was plenty to do even on the cold and windy weekend we visited and I’ll list some of them below.
I’m hoping that with the return of the staycation this year as Brits are encouraged not to leave the island that more money will be infused into the towns and maybe, just maybe, we will see them gain back some of their former glory.
Things to do in Llandudno
Find all the Alice in Wonderland Characters
Take a walk through town to find all the Alice in Wonderland statues. Lewis Carrol, the author of the famous Alice in Wonderland stories was inspired by the Alice Liddell, the daughter of friends with whom he summered in Llandudno. You can get a paper map in the tourist information center located near the library (where the trail starts) or you can download the digital trail app (if you have a phone in the UK app store, it didn’t work for me with my American phone.) Either way, you’ll pay three pounds. And if you can find the cupcake statue, PLEASE take a photo and send it to me. It was the only one we couldn’t find.
Pro tip: This trail is much longer than I expected it to be. Wear comfy walking shoes if you want to see the whole thing.
Walk on the pier
There’s not much to do on the pier as an adult. Most of the rides and games cater towards children and families. But it still a lovely long walk above the water where you can see and be seen. People watching is still a favorite past time of mine and this was definitely a great source.
Visit the Great Orme
The Great Orme is a beautiful national park on the headlands of the peninsula. There are several ways to see this beautiful peak including a one-way road that encircles the mountain, a tram and a cable car. (I wanted to take the cable cars up but the day was relatively nice and the line was epically long, so plan accordingly). We took the least busy of the three (though to be honest I was unaware of the tram until we were done with the Great Orme), which was to pay entrance to the national park with our car and take the long drive around. Most of the route is one-way but there is a tight two way detour that will take you up an amazing cemetery and church that date back to the medieval period. After this detour continue the circle to the summit of the mountain where you can find a cafe, a hotel and a visitor’s center. You can also stop at “Rest and Be Thankful” a tea shop in the North-West corner of the peninsula. We sat at one of their many outdoor tables and had Welsh cakes and tea with an amazing view.
If you’re interested in WWII, history, or are just looking for something interesting to do for an hour or two, then this museum is a must see in Llandudno. It’s a small museum but it’s packed with tons of information. Different to other WWII museums this museum focuses on how those at home, especially those locally, were affected by the war. They discuss the black out, rationing, the Red Cross stations and bomb shelters. It’s absolutely fascinating, especially for an American who knows a lot about the war from the American POV but not so much from those who lived through it here in the UK.
Take a day trip to Conwy
Just a quick fifteen minute drive from Llandudno is Conwy, a medieval castle and walled city. The castle, though lacking a roof, is still an amazing attraction and you can still walk most of the city walls surrounding the city. Be warned, there are parts of the walls that are steep and a little daunting as they’re narrow but it’s fun nonetheless. In Conwy you can also visit the beach, have lunch, and visit Drew Pritchard’s (very expensive) antique store (by appointment only).