Holyhead (Photo:Wild Placebos/Shutterstock)
2.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Holyhead

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.

Shore Excursions

Holyhead features shore excursions that cover an array of landmarks, activities and experience.

About Holyhead


Pro

Cruisers can travel to three nearby medieval castle towns by public transport from Holyhead

Con

There's not much to do in this very small town

Bottom Line

Holyhead is a fantastic gateway port for travelers looking to take day trips to sites in Wales


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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.

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.

Port Facilities

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.

Good to Know

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.

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.

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.

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).

Food and Drink

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.)



Shopping

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.