Surrounded by mountains, rich in culture and within easy reach of North Wales’ main attractions, Bala is real Wales at its very best. Wales' biggest lake, Llyn Tegid, is the centrepiece of the perfect holiday location. Here are some suggestions to make your trip to Bala unforgettable.
Admire the lake
Llyn Tegid is an expansive lake sandwiched between Snowdonia and the Berwyn mountains, overlooked by its own mini-massif: the Arenig mountains. It's the biggest natural lake in Wales, measuring around 5km long and 1km wide.
As well as being pretty to look at, it's a great spot for a whole variety of watersports including canoeing, kayaking, sailing, windsurfing, wild swimming – anything that’s not motor-powered, basically.
It's also popular with fishing enthusiasts, as it contains 13 different species of fish that you can try to catch, and one unique species called the gwyniad that you’re not allowed to fish for. Legend has it that there's a monster named Tegi in the lake too, but so far we've not been able to verify this...
Climb a mountain
You are spoilt for choice when it comes to walking routes in Bala. To the west are the mighty peaks of Snowdonia, while the easterly Berwyns have an isolated grandeur. If you can only squeeze in one walk, go for Arenig Fawr. It's the highest point you can see on the horizon and provides a really good walk. Back in the 1910s, a group of artists were so enraptured by it that they painted the scenery again and again, so much so that it apparently started to turn them mad.
Ride the rapids
The National White Water Centre is based in Bala, and it couldn't be any better placed. Water is regularly released from a dam into the River Tryweryn, a steep, rocky and fast-flowing mountain waterway. This means that there are predictable rapids all year round, perfect for exhilarating adventures in the water. The national White Water Centre runs family rafting sessions for anyone aged 10 and over, as well as other kayaking and canyoning activities.
Go to town
The district of Penllyn (meaning ‘head of the lake’) is sparsely dotted with tiny towns, of which Bala is the biggest. Bala certainly has all the banks, pubs, shops and cafés that you’ll need for a holiday, including an award-winning butchers.
There’s an authentic Welsh feel to the place, and it has a couple of cultural claims to fame. The Bible Society was inspired by a farm girl from Llanfihangel-y-Pennant, Mary Jones. In 1800, aged 16, Mary walked 25 miles barefoot over the mountains to get there to buy a copy of the Welsh Bible. You can find out more about her story at Mary Jones World. There’s also a prominent statue of the Victorian parliamentarian Thomas Ellis, who was an early advocate for Welsh home rule.
Take the train
The old Ruabon-Barmouth railway line used to run alongside Llyn Tegid until it was axed in the 1960s. Within years of it shutting down, local enthusiasts rebuilt a 4.5 mile southern stretch into a narrow-gauge line using old locos that had hauled slate in the nearby quarries. The resulting Bala Lake Railway provides a delightful hour-long ride along the lake’s shores, from Llanuwchllyn to Bala.
Stay on a farm
Hill farming is tough business, so a lot of traditional Welsh farms have diversified into tourism (of which, there are tons of examples on the Farmstay site). Most farms around Bala are run by families who’ve farmed here for a long time, so by staying on one you’re instantly plugged into what makes rural Welsh-speaking Wales tick. In our experience, they’re also lovely warm people who can knock up a spectacularly calorific farmhouse breakfast.
As a strategic base, Bala is almost unbeatable. A whole range of North Wales tourism hotspots – places like Llangollen, Chirk, Lake Vyrnwy, Betws y Coed, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Portmeirion, Ruthin – are no more than 45 minutes’ drive away, and one of Britain’s best restaurants, Tyddyn Llan, is just up the road.
Exploring the outdoors is fantastic fun, but please read up on the risks and make sure you are prepared.