5 useful tips to spending a day in Conwy
PUBLISHED: 17:00 13 September 2016
Thousands of visitors flock here year after year. Writer Rebekka O'Grady and photographer Kirsty Thompson discover what makes the place so appealing.
Whether it’s history, shopping, food, views or holiday fun you’re after – Conwy has it all. That’s what makes this Welsh town a favourite repeat day out for so many residents of the North West, plus with the rising costs of holidaying abroad, it’s becoming increasingly popular for staycations.
Conwy County Borough Council says that tourism is an important part of the local economy, supporting 10,820 full-time equivalent jobs and directly or indirectly bringing £559m revenue to the county’s economy annually - which is 25% of the all Wales total.
So what exactly keeps bringing people back to this town again and again? A massive attraction is surely Conwy’s fascinating history. It is one of the country’s best preserved medieval towns: its cobbled streets and historic buildings are spectacularly enclosed by the ancient walls and overlooked by the foreboding 13th century Conwy Castle.
This World Heritage Site was built for Edward I, costing an estimated £15,000. Now you can enter the impressive fortress and stroll through the halls as royalty did hundreds of years before.
However, a ‘must do’ is to walk the city walls. It’s free to do this, and you get a brilliant bird’s eye view of the town and across the harbour, especially from tower 13 which is the highest point on the ¾ mile circuit.
So what else should you put on you ‘to do’ list on your day out or short break in Conwy? Read on for our tips of what not to miss…
For a peek into history
The Smallest House
Measuring just 72 inches wide by 122 inches high, The Smallest House in Great Britain can be found in Conwy, nestled among terraces at the quayside. Don’t worry, you won’t miss it – it’s painted cherry red and there’s a high chance you will see someone outside dressed in traditional18th century Welsh fashion.
The last resident of this tiny abode was fisherman Robert Jones in 1900, who at 6ft3ins must have found it a tight squeeze manoeuvring around the compact home. With just enough room for a single bed, fireplace and coal bunker it certainly is minimalistic living.
Anne Fletcher is a guide for the Smallest House, which is open for visitors from Easter to October. ‘So far we have had 15,000 visitors,’ said Anne, who has been a guide for four years. It’s £1 for adults and 50p for children to enter. ‘The house was only built to fill the gap from the houses built on the row. From 1570 to 1900 people lived here, and they would share a loo with others near where the pub is now. All food for the row was made in one pot, often fish stew.’ www.thesmallesthouseingreatbritain.co.uk
For a delicious meal
Bryn Williams at Porth Eirias
After the First Minister of Wales announced that an exciting new restaurant would be coming to Colwyn Bay back in 2013, fans of Bryn Williams were waiting with baited breath for his beach-front bistro on the new promenade to open.
The chef, who hails from Denbigh, has been chef patron of Primrose Hill restaurant Odette’s since 2008, and Bryn Williams at Porth Eirias is his second venture. The restaurant, bar and café finally opened its doors in August last year and has since proved popular with both residents and visitors alike.
Great British Menu contestant Bryn has worked in some of the most prestigious kitchens in London, including under Marco Pierre White at The Criterion and Michel Roux at Le Gavroche. Porth Eirias brings some of the post-modern edge of London to North Wales, but still retains a homely feel with seaside décor and old school dishes such as fish fingers, fries and crushed peas. www.portheirias.com
For an afternoon tipple
The Albion Ale House
Not many towns can say that they have a pub which is co-owned by four rival breweries. However Conwy can say they have just that with the Albion Ale House. Built within the town walls, the pub is regarded as one of the finest examples of a 1920’s public house in Britain, still retaining many original features such as the exquisite 1920’s back bar and four out of the ten hand pulls are originals from the era.
In 2011, Purple Moose Brewery, Great Orme Brewery, Bragdy’r Nant Brewery and Bragdy Conwy Brewery joined forces with a vision to open a pub that was focused on the beer - no TV, pool or music. A derelict building, it took 18 months to breathe life back into the pub and sympathetically restore elements to an Arts and Crafts style. Now with 40 different ales on each week and another two pubs open within North Wales, the Albion is a true success story with a host of awards to its name.
‘We didn’t expect to make any money to be honest,’ said Stuart Chapman-Edwards, landlord of the pub. He said that the four breweries first got to know each other as they ran a beer tent together at Conwy Feast festival, and eventually proposed the idea of doing it all year round. ‘They are just so passionate about what they do that it works. I remember Jonathan Hughes from Great Orme Brewery saying, “We lay our swords down here at the Albion”. It’s been a nationwide success, but the community aspect is really important to us. All the food served is local, from the pickled eggs to Edwards of Conwy pork pies, and even the tradesmen we use.’ www.albionalehouse.weebly.com
For a sweet treat
If you’re looking to swap the classic ice cream, rock and candy floss usually found at tourist destinations for something a little more chic, Baravelli’s have just the thing. The artisan chocolatier, run by husband and wife Mark and Emma Baravelli, produce award winning chocolate on site at 13 Bangor Road.
‘We opened the store in November 2014, but we had been going a few years before that,’ explained Emma, who makes all the chocolate while Mark is front of house. The pair are passionate about chocolate and providing a personal experience. ‘We’d been looking for a spot for ages, and settled on Conwy as it’s a destination as well as quite a foodie place.’
Baravelli’s were the first in Wales to produce a bean to bar chocolate from scratch. Emma imports the beans which are then roasted and made into all natural chocolate. Their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed and they have received various accolades over the past 18 months, including from the Academy of Chocolate and a Bronze in the 2016 International Chocolate awards. They’ve even had interest from Harrods, who after seeing Emma’s hand painted Easter eggs have been in touch to see if Baravelli’s can stock their very prestigious store. www.baravellis.com
For insider knowledge
Conwy Visitor Centre
Mike Duncalf never imagined that his old primary school would eventually become his place of work. However it was not to be in an educational capacity – although ironically he did train as a teacher for a short period of time. Mike decided to develop what was Rosehill Street School into a retail unit and visitor centre. The director of Conwy Visitor Centre has also converted the top floor into an art gallery for local artists.
‘Conwy, over the past couple of years has really taken off,’ said Mike, who told us that the most common questions he is asked are “Where are the toilets?”and quite surprisingly, “Where is the castle?” There are lots of independent stores and I think Fat Face is the only chain we have. The season is also getting longer, which is great to see.’
Tel: 01492 577566
With ornamental plasterwork in the hall, friezes and skilful carpentry, this magnificent 16th century town house will not fail to impress. Visit and see how the wealthy merchant Robert Wynn lived in his lavish Elizabethan house.
Adult £6. Plas Mawr, High Street, Conwy, LL32 8DE Tel: 01492 580167
Bodnant Welsh Food
Housed in what was once the 18th century stables building of Furnace Farm, the Furnace Tearoom at Bodnant is the perfect location to enjoy homemade food set against the spectacular backdrop of the Conwy Estuary.
Bodnant Welsh Food, Furnace Farm, Tal-y-cafn, Conwy, LL28 5RP
Tel: 01492 651100, www.bodnant-welshfood.co.uk
RSPB Conwy Nature Reserve
Situated on the banks of the Conwy estuary, with magnificent views of Snowdonia and Conwy Castle, this reserve is a great place to visit to get closer to nature. It’s also very family friendly with a network of pushchair trails, and activities in the visitor centre will keep all the family entertained. Don’t miss the monthly farmers’ market or pop into the Waterside Coffee Shop for a quick break and a cuppa.
RSPB Conwy Nature Reserve, Conwy, LL31 9XZ Tel: 01492 584091, www.rspb.org.uk
Location: Conwy has easy access to the A55 which links North East and North West Wales, and there is direct access onto the M53 and M56. Nearby Llandudno Junction railway station has trains with direct train links to London and Manchester. Sat-nav: LL32 8AY
Parking: There is a number of pay and display car parks located in the centre of Conwy, and free parking is available a little further out of the town.
Public toilets: Conwy County Borough Council provide and maintain 53 public toilets throughout Conwy. The facilities are cleaned twice daily, seven days a week and are open all year round, except for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.