A hiss of steam and a toot of the engine’s whistle, are all the signals that you’re off on a magical trip of a bygone era of steam train travel, and there are many amazing train journeys for you to enjoy in North Wales.
The most famous is the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways, two unique narrow gauge railways offering some of the most picturesque and spectacular scenery anywhere in Britain, and The Imperial Hotel guests can easily reach both from nearby Llandudno Junction train station.
The Rheilffordd Ffestiniog Railway operates three of the original locomotives which are over 150 years old to take you on a 13½ mile journey from the slate-quarrying town of Blaenau Ffestiniog to the harbour in Porthmadog. The historic trains cling to the side of the mountain or tunnels through it, round horseshoe bends (even a complete spiral), past lakes and waterfalls, through tranquil pastures and magnificent forests, down from the mountains to almost sea level at Porthmadog.
From Porthmadog guests can travel on the Welsh Highland Railway, the UK’s longest heritage railway which takes you on an exciting and spectacular 25 mile scenic journey to beneath the castle walls of Caernarfon. The trains – hauled by the world’s most powerful narrow gauge steam locomotives – leave Porthmadog going through the magnificent Aberglaslyn Pass, zig-zagging dramatically up the steep hillside to reach the picture postcard village of Beddgelert, nestling in the heart of the National Park, before descending from over 650ft on the foothills of Snowdon down to sea level at Caernarfon.
Another outstanding trip not to be missed is the Snowdon Mountain Railway which has been described as one of the most unique and wonderful railway journeys in the world. This great feat of engineering, the only public rack and pinion railway in the UK, began in 1894 and offers both steam and diesel trips from Llanberis to the Summit of Snowdon from May to the end of October. The round trip is about two and half hours including a half hour stop at the Summit where visitors on a clear day are rewarded with spectacular and far reaching views to the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland and the Isle of Man. There’s also Hafod Eyri, a café and gift shop which has lines of poetry from Gwyn Thomas, the National Poet of Wales, built into the building. The eagle eyed visitors will also spot a plaque bearing The Imperial Hotel’s name as we were one of Hafod Eyri’s official sponsors.
Llangollen Railway is the only standard gauge heritage railway in North Wales which takes you on a scenic 10 mile trip from Llangollen through the stunning Dee Valley to Corwen. The line follows the picturesque River Dee for its entire length and in its heyday was used to take holidaymakers to the seaside as well as transporting slate. As well as steam hauled trains it also runs Diesel locomotives, Heritage Railcar services and fun-filled days for the family with Thomas the Tank Engine giving children the chance to meet The Fat Controller, take a ride with Thomas, enjoy trips on Thomas’ friends, plus colouring and craft workshops, balloon modelling, story-telling, puppet shows and live story re-enactments.
Smaller fun-filled steam train trips can be found at two of North Wales’ impressive Lakes. Llanberis Lake Railway is a narrow gauge steam train using vintage steam engines rescued from the Dinorwic slate quarries. The five mile trip takes you past the 13th Century Dolbadarn Castle through Padarn Country Park joining the 1845 slate railway route to run along the shores of Lake Padarn to Penllyn giving stunning views of Snowdon. There are stops along the way and we recommend taking time out at Gilfach Ddu to visit the National Slate Museum.
The other is Bala Lake Railway (Rheilffordd Llyn Tegin) which is a lovely nine mile, 1 hour journey which takes you alongside the lake with plenty of stations enabling you to get on and off when you want. All trains start and finish their journey at Llanuwchllyn and early visitors may be able to view the day's engine being prepared prior to the departure of the first train of the day. After each trip to Bala and back (except the last journey), the locomotive is serviced at the water tower at the western edge of the Llanuwchllyn station site, where this fascinating process can be viewed.
And if you’ve not run out of steam after all these trips, why not round off your day with a trip on Llandudno’s West Shore Miniature Railway. As its name suggests it’s small but on the fun side it packs a punch, and also offers some great photo opportunities with the Great Orme as the backdrop.