Barmouth lies on the northern side of the estuary and is a traditional seaside town. Running along a narrow strip of land between the mountains and the sea, Barmouth has escaped extensive growth and modernisation. It has maintained a relaxed atmosphere with traditional activities, such as donkey riders, and a permanent fun fair. The wide beach leads around to a small harbour and the railway bridge, with a pedestrian pathway, stretching across the Mawddach. There is now an honesty box where people using the crossing are invited to feed the ‘Toll Troll’. The bridge is one of the most photographed landmarks in the area, giving a perfect platform for views of the estuary.
Fairbourne lies on the southern side and was originally known as South Barmouth. It sits on reclaimed salt marsh and was developed by Sir Arthur McDougall, of the flour company fame. The original narrow gauge railway that was built to carry construction materials nows serves as a tourist attraction. The Mawddach trail leads across the salt marsh to the beach and then the small town.