Wales’s cycle routes don’t have to be hilly. This glorious ride follows the North Wales Coast all the way to Bangor, with miles of traffic-free path, seaside promenades and quiet lanes. You’ll pass a succession of coastal resorts – from brassy Rhyl to cultured Conwy and its castle.
There’s a railway running parallel, so you can get back easily. And because this is prime holidaymaker country, you’ll never be short for opportunities to stop for an ice-cream or a seaside fish-and-chips.
For much of its length, this route rivals great European cycle routes like the Loire and Rhine for sheer traffic-free enjoyment. It is, however, basically unfinished; for now, there are several sections where you’ll have to mingle with traffic or endure uninspiring scenery. But the coastal riding is so good that you can forgive it the occasional weak spot.
At 75 days, this is a weekend route for most people. In theory, fit cyclists could polish it off in a day, but seaside promenades aren’t ideal for fast cycling.
The North Wales Coast is gloriously flat, and so is this route. You won’t even see the 50m contour until you round a headland at Llanfairfechan, 60 miles in.
There’s a slight proviso to this: we’re not quite recommending the official route here. There’s a short section in the middle of the route with no coastal cycleway. The official signs send you inland at this point, up some pretty steep hills. Cyclists who’ve ridden the route consistently report that these gradients are just too much. As a result, we recommend that you follow the coast road: though there’s 4.5 miles where you need to ride on a busy A road, we think it’s a better experience all in.
Any bike will do. It’s paved throughout, and (following the coast) none of the gradients are too steep.
The official route is signposted as National Cycle Network route 5 throughout, plus NCN 568 if you follow the Dee out of Chester. Our unofficial coastal shortcut isn’t signposted, so print out a cycle.travel map, or take the route on your GPS or phone.
There are two traffic-free routes for the first eight miles from Chester to Shotton: NCN 5 along an old railway route, and NCN 568 beside the River Dee. We think the Dee has the scenic edge, rejoining NCN 5 at Hawarden Bridge.
At Llandudno, you can cut off the peninsula with a country-lane route to Llandudno Junction, or carry on along the seafront to Llandudno town centre.
Chester is quite a hub for the National Cycle Network. There are routes up to the Wirral and Liverpool, NCN 45 on country lanes south to Shrewsbury, and of course the rest of NCN 5 itself, which follows the Mersey to Runcorn before heading towards the Potteries.
At the other end of the ride, you can cross into Anglesey from Bangor, or tackle the epic Lon Las Cymru – Wales’s north-south cycle route.
As mentioned above, NCN 5 takes an inland detour on hilly country lanes for 14 miles between Bagillt and Prestatyn. This is a fun ride for the fit cyclist, but we think most people will prefer to continue along the coast, even though it involves 4.5 miles on the busy A548.
There’s nothing quite like the North Wales Coast route elsewhere in Wales, but you can piece together a great route popping in and out of the coast, following NCN routes where possible. Here’s our starter for ten, 500 miles in all. It follows NCN 5 along the North Wales Coast, NCN 4 (and 88) along the south coast, and a variety of NCN routes and other quiet lanes down the west coast. Use it as a start point for your explorations.
There’s a train line along the full length of the coast. As well as Transport for Wales’s local trains, Avanti run express services from London to Chester and Bangor.
If you’re continuing from Bangor to Caernarfon, note that there’s no station at Caernarfon – unless you count the little steam trains of the Welsh Highland Railway!