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Holyhead Cruise Port

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Holyhead
Holyhead, Isle of Anglesey, Wales
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Holyhead Overview
Located on the very northwestern tip of Wales, facing out to the Irish Sea, Holyhead is a traditional rail and road terminus with a scruffy town center. Though the town itself has very little to offer visitors, its location on the scenic Isle of Anglesey gives cru Located on the very northwestern tip of Wales, facing out to the Irish Sea, Holyhead is a traditional rail and road terminus with a scruffy town center. Though the town itself has very little to offer visitors, its location on the scenic Isle of Anglesey gives cruise travelers easy access to some of the best attractions in the country, most within an hour and a half.

Cross the fast-flowing Menai Strait via one of the historic 19th-century bridges, and you'll soon come face-to-face with the greatest network of medieval castles ever built, stark evidence of the English kings' domination of the Welsh, beginning in the 13th century. Eight turreted fortresses constructed during the reign of Edward I rise above waterside towns, such as Beaumaris, Conwy and Caernarfon. They are fun to explore, especially as you can climb the towers for views over the towns below and out to sea.

Deeper into the interior, Snowdonia National Park covers over 800 square miles of mountains, valleys, tidy towns and former mining sites, interlaced with scenic one-lane roads, hiking trails and two preserved, narrow-gauge steam railways. Both lines date back to the very early days of train travel. An additional rack-and-pinion railway snakes up Mt. Snowden, the highest peak in Wales.

Cruise-ship visitors typically spend the whole day on day trips through Wales. If you prefer to explore on your own by public transit, the three nearby medieval castle towns can be easily accessed by train and bus. It's best to take advantage of your cruise line's shore excursion program (or other organized tours) to experience the more distant Snowdonia National Park and the Ffestiniog Steam Railway.

Holyhead is included in summertime castle and garden cruises that circumnavigate the U.K. and Ireland. Cruise lines that call include Azamara, Crystal, Fred. Olsen, Holland America, Princess and Swan Hellenic.ise travelers easy access to some of the best attractions in the country, most within an hour and a half.

Cross the fast-flowing Menai Strait via one of the historic 19th-century bridges, and you'll soon come face-to-face with the greatest network of medieval castles ever built, stark evidence of the English kings' domination of the Welsh, beginning in the 13th century. Eight turreted fortresses constructed during the reign of Edward I rise above waterside towns, such as Beaumaris, Conwy and Caernarfon. They are fun to explore, especially as you can climb the towers for views over the towns below and out to sea.

Deeper into the interior, Snowdonia National Park covers over 800 square miles of mountains, valleys, tidy towns and former mining sites, interlaced with scenic one-lane roads, hiking trails and two preserved, narrow-gauge steam railways. Both lines date back to the very early days of train travel. An additional rack-and-pinion railway snakes up Mt. Snowden, the highest peak in Wales.

Cruise-ship visitors typically spend the whole day on day trips through Wales. If you prefer to explore on your own by public transit, the three nearby medieval castle towns can be easily accessed by train and bus. It's best to take advantage of your cruise line's shore excursion program (or other organized tours) to experience the more distant Snowdonia National Park and the Ffestiniog Steam Railway.

Holyhead is included in summertime castle and garden cruises that circumnavigate the U.K. and Ireland. Cruise lines that call include Azamara, Crystal, Fred. Olsen, Holland America, Princess and Swan Hellenic.

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Quick Facts
Best Souvenir
Language
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Where You're Docked
Hanging Around
Getting Around
Watch Out For
Don't Miss
Been There, Done That
Lunching
Staying in Touch
Shore Excursions
For More Information
 
Best Souvenir
Popular purchases include items like Welsh-made knitted caps and scarves in a variety of colors and patterns or ones bedecked with the country's red dragon logo. Handmade silver pendants, earrings, badges and ornaments are also popular. In addition to the Welsh dragon, Welsh mountain sheep are popular design features. It's not surprising as the 11 million four-leggers in Wales outnumber human residents almost four to one.


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Language
While fully half the locals in Anglesey and Snowdonia speak Welsh (Cymraeg), everyone also speaks English. Signs are bilingual. If you travel ashore independently, it is a good idea to know the destination names in both languages. Expect to hear Welsh spoken in shops and pubs. And it's not just the old-timers speaking their mother tongue; since 2000, the teaching of Welsh is compulsory in schools until pupils reach the age of 16. The language is derived from Celtic and has similar origins to Breton and Cornish (though the latter two are much less widely spoken).


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Currency & Best Way to Get Money
ATM's are available in Holyhead's combined ferry and railway terminal and along Victoria Street, the town's main shopping district. The currency is the British pound sterling. For current exchange rates, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. It is a good idea to have some local currency for small purchases, such as snacks, souvenirs and local transit.


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Where You're Docked
Ships dock at a former industrial pier inside the harbor main breakwater and not far from the ferry and railway terminal.


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Hanging Around
Facilities at the pier include a small gift shop and Internet center. It's a short distance to Holyhead's town center. From there, historic St. Cybi's Church, with its 13th- and 15th-century stone carvings and fine stained-glass windows, is a few minutes' walk. It's situated within the impressive walls of a rectangular Roman fort. The site overlooks the harbor that the battlements once protected. The seafront, promenade, beach and maritime museum (documentation and artifacts from some 100 shipwrecks) are between 15 and 25 minutes' walk from the town center. A foot bridge links the ferry and railway terminal with the town center, so one could walk back from the maritime museum in about 30 minutes.


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Getting Around
Although the town center is close, it is not advisable to walk into Holyhead, as the one-lane road is very narrow. Shuttle buses provide transfers to the port's combined ferry and railway terminal, to the town center along Victoria Street and to the maritime museum at Newry Beach, less than a mile from the shopping district. For local sightseeing in the town center, the main shopping street has been pedestrianized, though it does not have a very exciting range of stores.

For independent sightseeing in Anglesey and across the Menai Strait in Northwest Wales, local transit is frequent, efficient and inexpensive. Hourly rail service by Arriva Train Wales connects Holyhead directly with Conwy, a walled medieval castle town; the trip takes less than an hour along the scenic coastal North Wales Line. For the castle towns of Beaumaris and Caernarfon, take one of the hourly trains from Holyhead to Bangor, and connect to a bus that stops on the street outside the station for both destinations, a journey of an hour each way. (Click here for bus schedules.)

With driving on the left and narrow country roads, renting a car will not be an attractive option for most non-U.K. visitors.


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Watch Out For
As Holyhead is a busy ferry port for ships to and from Ireland, the town experiences a lot of vehicular traffic, including cars, camper vans and trucks. The Welsh drive on the left side as in the rest of Great Britain. Some narrow streets are one way, others two ways, so be aware of the direction of traffic when crossing the road.

Also, try not to make the mistake of referring to the Welsh as English, unless the latter are indeed from England.


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Don't Miss
The most charming town in all of North Wales is Conwy, a medieval walled village with an outstanding late-13th-century castle sited on a rocky headland overlooking the town, bay and river estuary of the same name. Climb up any of several towers for views of the town, the 1826-built Telford suspension and tubular railway bridges, the sea and the surrounding hills. The seafront is lined with fisherman's cottages, including the smallest house in Great Britain with a 9-foot-by-6-foot two-story floor plan. The main road enters the town via one of several stone gates that are connected by stone battlements and 22 towers. Much of the wall can still be walked.

The town has several historic buildings, such as the large Elizabethan-era residence of Pas Mawr and the National Trust's 15th-century Aberconwy House, both beautifully furnished. St. Mary's, a 13th-century Anglican church, is tucked in behind Castle and High streets. Both streets also house gift stores, food stores, restaurants, pubs and the attractive Castle Hotel, with multiple dining and drinking options. Conwy is an hour's drive or train ride from Holyhead.

Caernarfon Castle is probably the best known of North Wales' outstanding collection of fortifications, built during Edward I's reign. Completed in the late 13th century next to the Soient River, the king saw to it that his son, the first English Prince of Wales, would be born there. Hence, the castle was designed as a royal palace in addition to being a stronghold to protect English settlers. The most famous investiture took place there in 1969, when Prince Charles was crowned Prince of Wales. Climb the polygonal towers, and explore the many museum rooms dedicated to the history of the Royal Welch (archaic spelling) Fusiliers, Wales' proudest and oldest regiment. The castle dominates a large town square, where stalls selling souvenirs, antiques and fresh produce are set up. Just off the square is the terminal for the narrow-gauge, steam-powered Welsh Highland Railway that operates to Porthmadog and connects with the Ffestiniog steam railway. Caernarfon is an hour's drive or combined train and bus ride from Holyhead.

Beaumaris is the site for the largest and last of Edward I's line of medieval coastal fortresses built in Northwest Wales. The concentric design has a moat and both inner and outer walls, rendering it almost impregnable. It faces adjacent sheep pastures and the entrance to the Menai Strait, dividing the Isle of Anglesey from mainland Wales, and looks across the sea to the Great Orme headland at Llandudno. The adjacent town is also a charming stop for souvenir shopping, a meal and a walk along the sea front. Take a train to Bangor and connecting bus with a stop across the street from the station.

The narrow gauge Ffestiniog Railway, running over 13.5 miles of twisting mountain track, qualifies as the oldest continuously operated rail line in the world. Completed in 1832 to carry slate from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Portmadog, the line operates steam-powered trains for tourists and regular passengers. From Portmadog, the line first travels across a long causeway and enters pasture land before beginning a long climb, including a spiral track, past waterfalls and into the mountains of Snowdonia National Park. Treat yourself to first-class travel in the observation car positioned at the end of the train, which offers a big window looking back along the tracks. The line connects to standard gauge trains operated by Arriva Train Wales at both ends so you can make a continuous loop or go out and back via Portmadog, both options possible with the typical eight-hour port time allotted.


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Been There, Done That
For a completely different outing and one usually not offered as a shore excursion, take the train from Holyhead to Llandudno, Wales' premier seaside resort, with its high Victorian character intact. (Trains run hourly, taking about 75 minutes, usually with a change at Llandudno Junction.) Nestled beneath the Great Orme, an egged-shaped limestone headland, Llandudno has all the ingredients that once drew and still draw lots of visitors to a splendid, crescent-shaped, seafront esplanade; arcaded shopping stores along Mostyn Street; a 1,234-foor pier with kiosks and amusements that extend out into the Irish Sea; and the Great Orme Tramway that, since 1902, has taken visitors to the top of the headland. On a clear day, the view extends out across the sea to the Isle of Mann and north to the Lake District. A scenic drive, leaving from the town center, circles the headland, and a vintage tour coach stops at viewpoints and close to the lighthouse that now operates as a bed and breakfast.

Visitors like to pause at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyll-llantisiliogogogoch, the longest place name in Europe, to have their photo taken in front of the sign at the local rail station. Located on the Menai Strait near the 1850-built Britannia Bridge, the name translates to "The Church of St. Mary in a white hollow by a hazel tree near a rapid whirlpool by the church of St. Tisilio by a red cave." The short form of the name is simply "Llanfair P.G." Besides a store (Pringles) selling woolen goods and souvenirs, there is not much else there. Shore excursions all pause there, and trains make a flag stop so you can snap your photo.


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Lunching
Holyhead does not have much to offer in the way of eating that would appeal or excite the visitor, so the best places to enjoy a quick snack or a full meal are at the various excursion destinations. Given the country's 11 million sheep, lamb dishes are very popular. Fresh seafood, caught off Wales' long coastline, is also a favorite, especially the North Sea cod and Conwy Bay mussels. The latter are some of the most naturally flavorful you will find anywhere, and they may be steamed and served in a white wine, garlic or cream sauce. The local pasty, a baked pastry served hot and wrapped around a filling of meat and/or diced potato and onion, is a popular snack.

In Conwy, Aldredo's, with red and white checkered tablecloths and dark wood paneling, offers a moderately priced Italian menu for lunch and dinner, as well as a prix fixe menu. Specialties are mussels in a creamy garlic sauce, freshly made pizzas and seafood (shellfish) risotto. It's located in the center of town. (York Place, Lancaster Square. Tel. 01492 592381. It's open daily for lunch from 12 to 3 p.m. and for dinner from 6 to 11 p.m.)

Amelies is a cozy, 12-table, moderately priced restaurant frequented by locals, located up a flight of stairs on the town's main street. Try the salmon and crab cake starter with a sweet chili and sesame drizzle sauce; baked filet of cod (local) with a Welsh rarebit crust; and roast breast of duck with an orange and ginger sauce. (10 High Street. Tel. 01492 583142. ?It's open daily from 6 to 9:15 p.m.)



Beaumaris: Bulkeley Hotel, located on the main street and built in Georgian style in 1832, offers a choice of venues. You'll find a coffee shop, pub with bar food, the Bistro and fine dining in Hansom's. The Bistro offers the Bistro Belly Buster (a mixed grill), a daily roast like lamb and roast beef, and lighter fare sandwiches. An open terrace has the same menu on warm sunny days, with views out to the Irish Sea, mountains of Snowdonia and beginning of the Menai Strait. (19 Castle Street. Tel. 0845 373 0834. Restaurants are open daily from 12 to 2 p.m. and from 6 to 9 p.m.)



A couple of doors to the right, at the informal Castle Cafe, you order your food at a counter and eat it at one of a dozen tables opposite or up a few steps in a separate back room. Choices include a French toasted baguette with ham, red Leicester cheese, pineapple and Spanish onions, and a Welsh pasty with beef, potatoes, carrots, onions with peas, chips and gravy. (It's open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.)



Porthmadog: If you're in Porthmadog to take a trip on the Ffestiniog or Welsh Highland Railways, stop in Cadwalader's on the High Street, which serves freshly made meat pies, sausage rolls, pasties, homemade ice cream, sundaes, smoothies and cupcakes. Restaurants under this name are also found in Llandudno, Betws-y-Coed and other Welsh towns that regional visitors might frequent. (43 & 47 High Street. Tel. 01766 514235. It's open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.)




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Staying in Touch
Many cafes in Wales have Wi-Fi, and it is a courtesy to buy something if you're going to surf the Web. Internet Cafes are scarce, apart from the setup at the cruise terminal.


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Shore Excursions
Best for Castle Aficionados and History Buffs: A half-day tour operates to Caernarfon Castle, the most elaborate of North Wales' fortifications. It was there that Prince Charles was crowned Prince of Wales. After an orientation, you can climb several towers for views of the river, countryside and town square below. A multiroom museum is dedicated to the Royal Welch Fusiliers. Time is allowed for browsing the square's souvenir, antique and fresh produce stalls. Some excursions include a photo stop at Llanfair P.G. on the way back to the ship.

Best for Rail Enthusiasts: The full-day "Porthmadog & Ffestiniog Railway" tour begins with a 90-minute drive across Anglesey and the Menai Strait and south through hilly countryside to the harbor town of Porthmadog. The town's attractive main street leads to the Ffestiniog railway station. Built in 1832 to carry slate from the Welsh mountains down to the port, the twisting 13.5-mile narrow gauge line now operates regular steam-hauled passenger trains deep into Snowdonia National Park. Following a 90-minute train ride to Blaenau Ffestiniog, enjoy a drive to alpine-like Betws-y-Coed for lunch and a wander before a scenic return to the ship.

Best for Coastal Scenery & Bird Lovers: On the half-day "South Stack Lighthouse" tour, a 30-minute drive brings you to the rugged coastline of northwest Anglesey, where the lighthouse sits at the end of a long promontory jutting into the Irish Sea. The beam (now automated) from the 1809 lighthouse can be seen for 28 miles, and it protects the approach to Holyhead harbor. It's 400 steps down the path to the lighthouse and 400 for the return, plus the optional climb into the structure itself. Along the way, you'll see thousands of nesting birds, such as guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, kittiwakes and gulls.

Best for Active Travelers: On the half-day "Rural Roads Bicycle Ride & Pub Visit" tour, you'll be outfitted with a bike and helmet to pedal out of town along scenic roads. You'll spend 2 to 2.5 hours cycling along mostly flat terrain with a stop at a pub to rest and renew your energy.


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For More Information
Wales tourist information

North Wales Tourism

Cruise Critic Message Boards: British Isles/Western Europe

The Independent Traveler Forums: Wales

--by Theodore W. Scull, Cruise Critic contributor


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