The estuary of the River Glaslyn has long been the scene of shipping and fishing activity, emptying as it does into Tremadog Bay and thence into Cardigan Bay.
This is the main town east of the Lleyn Peninsula. It grew up as a slate-shipping port on the coast near the mouth of the River Glaslyn. T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) was born in Tremadog, close by.
The town was named after a "Celtification" of the English name of its builder, William Madocks, a mining mogul who built the town from scratch between 1808 and 1811. The harbor that later figured so prominently in the town's history was custom-built between 1821 and 1825. In the 1870s, as many as 1,000 vessels a year pulled into harbor here to haul away slate. At its peak in 1873, 116,000 tons of Blaenau slate were shipped from this harbor to points throughout the empire and the world.
The location is 428km (266 miles) west of London and 32km (20 miles) south of Caernarfon. The Wales Information Centre, High Street (tel. 01766/512981; www.porthmadog.com), is open daily from Easter to October 10am to 6pm. Off-season hours are Thursday to Tuesday 9:30am to 5pm.
The view of the mountains of Snowdonia from Porthmadog Cob, the embankment, is panoramic. Porthmadog is the coastal terminal of the Ffestiniog Railway, and a small museum may be visited at the station. The town has access to beaches at Borth-y-Gest and Black Rock Sands, where cars may be driven onto the beach. Other than the scenery, attractions are not exceptional.
The production of traditional tapestries and tweeds can be observed at the small Brynkir Woollen Mill, Golan, Garndolbenmaen (tel. 01766/530236), in a beautiful rural setting. The products are available for sale at the mill shop. Admission is free; it is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 4pm. Head out the A487 for 5.6km (3 1/2 miles) from Porthmadog.
Now in ruins, Criccieth Castle (tel. 01766/522227), built as a native Welsh stronghold, is on a grassy headland and offers a commanding view of Tremadog Bay. During its years as an active fortress, it changed hands -- Welsh to English and back and forth -- until it was finally sacked and burned in 1404 by Owain Glyndwr, never to rise again as a fortification. The castle houses an interesting exhibition on the theme of the native castles of Welsh princes. On a fine day, from its heights you can see westward to the tip of the peninsula, north and east to Snowdonia, and far down the bay to the south. Admission costs £3.10 for adults and £2.70 for students and children ages 5 to 16, free for children ages 4 and younger. A family ticket goes for £8.90. It's open April and May daily from 10am to 5pm, June to September daily 10am to 6pm, October daily 10am to 5pm, and November to March Friday and Saturday 9:30am to 4pm, and Sunday 11am to 4pm. The castle's exhibition center is closed the rest of the year, but you can still enjoy the panoramic view.
About 3km (2 miles) west of Criccieth in Llanystumdwy, you can visit Highgate, the boyhood home of David Lloyd George, prime minister of Britain in the war years of 1914 to 1918, and also the Lloyd George Museum (tel. 01766/522071; www.gwynedd.gov.uk), designed by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis of Portmeirion resort village fame . The museum outlines the statesman's life, and the main displays illustrate his political career and include a collection of "freedom" caskets, a "talking head" portrayed by Philip Madoc, the actor, with excerpts of three of Lloyd George's famous speeches, and an audiovisual display. Admission is £4 for adults, £3 for children, and £10 for a family ticket. From April to June, it is open Monday to Saturday from 10:30am to 5pm (closed Sat in May); July to September daily from 10:30am to 5pm; and October Monday to Friday from 11am to 4pm. Lloyd George's grave is nearby on the banks of the swift-running River Dwyfor, shaded by large oak trees. The name of the hamlet, Llanystumdwy, means "the church at the bend of the River Dwyfor."
St. Cybi's Well, Llangybi, is 6.4km (4 miles) northwest of Criccieth on a minor road. Of 6th-century origin, only two chambers remain of the holy well, although in the mid-18th century a bathhouse was built to surround the font. You can visit it free.
North of the well is the site of a small Iron Age hill fort. Tourist information about the Criccieth area is available from Porthmadog .