Dolphin watching in Cardigan Bay, West Wales

by Jan

One of the most amazing things to do in West Wales is dolphin watching in Cardigan Bay.   This beautiful stretch of Welsh coastline is home to the largest resident population of bottlenose dolphins in Europe, so is one of the best places to spot the majestic creatures.

Cardigan Bay is the largest bay in the British Isles.  It stretches for 65 miles from Bardsey Island, Gwynedd down to Stumble Head in Pembrokeshire.  It is a special conservation area, which attracts a rich variety of marine wildlife.

Visitors flock from wide and far to see the dolphins who are regular visitors to the bay.  Cardigan Bay is also home to harbour porpoise and Atlantic grey seals.

In this post, we’ll share our review of a dolphin trip from Cardigan Bay.  We also give the best time and places to see dolphins and the other wildlife we spotted in the area.

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Dolphins near Cardigan Bay

Over 250 playful bottlenose dolphins live off the coast near Cardigan Bay

Cardigan Bay is one of the last remaining havens for dolphins in the UK and currently over 250 bottlenose dolphins live off the Ceredigion coast in West Wales.  In fact, it has the biggest resident population of dolphins anywhere in Britain and is one of the best reasons to visit Cardigan Bay.

You can spot dolphins from the beaches, the coastal path, or on a boat trip.  However, if you want a closer look, it’s a good idea to book a boat trip.  We thought a dolphin-watching boat trip sounded like a lot of fun, so booked one in advance of our stay in Aberporth.

What is the best time to see dolphins in Cardigan Bay?

Although you can see dolphins in Cardigan Bay all year round, the peak sightings are between June and September.  We were there in August, so it seemed like a perfect time for a dolphin boat trip.

The best time of day to see dolphins around Cardigan Bay is usually early morning, late afternoon, and after high tide.  Generally, it’s easier to spot them when the weather is calm.

Obviously, as they are wild animals, you can never guarantee when or where you can see them.  Also, the weather and tidal conditions will influence where they will be.

5 fun facts about dolphins

  • Did you know Morhwch is Welsh name for dolphin – it means “sea pig”?!
  • Dolphins can live for more than 40 years.
  • Bottlenose dolphins can travel up to 40km per hour.
  • Dolphins have to surface to breathe (which makes spotting them easier!)
  • Dolphins only sleep with half their brain

A boat trip with A Bay to Remember

Two boys at front of boat on dolphin watching trip

We booked our dolphin trip with a reputable family company,  A Bay to Remember.  They offer wildlife watching trips for 1, 1.5 or 2 hours.

Cardigan Bay boat trips are very popular, and it is essential you book in advance in the peak season.  We left it quite late, so we could only get a one hour trip at 7.45am.  We would have preferred to go for longer, as this gives more chance of seeing dolphins.

A Bay to Remember has two boats.  They are both Rigid Hilled Inflatables, which are similar to lifeboats.  Each boat has an experienced skipper, who will choose the daily route depending on the weather and tidal conditions.

Read more:  15 best things to do near Cardigan

Our boat trip in Cardigan Bay

Canada Geese flying over beach at Gwbert

Our dolphin boat trip left from a pretty beach in Gwbert, a small hamlet at the mouth of the River Teifi and Cardigan Bay.  The beach looked gorgeous at that early time in the morning.  It was deserted apart from a flock of Canada geese and local fishermen unloading their crab pots.

Each boat holds a maximum of 12 passengers each.  We were all given life jackets, then climbed aboard for a safety talk on the boat.  Our boys rode up front on the jockey seats, which they absolutely loved.  We sat behind on some slightly more demure benches.

A Bay to Remember no longer use Gwbert as a departure point.  Boat trips now leave from The Moorings in St Dogmaels or Poppit Sands.

What did we see on our wildlife watching trip?

Cardigan Bay is a Special Area of Conservation.  It is a renowned marine habitat and home to a rich variety of wildlife.  As well as dolphins, you can expect to see plenty of other wildlife on the trip.

Unfortunately, we did not see any dolphins on our boat trip, but did see them later in the week.  However, we still loved the boat trip experience and enjoyed seeing the following wildlife:

Remember to take a pair of binoculars for a closer look at the wildlife.

Sea birds on Cardigan Island

Boat on sea with passengers looking for dolphins

Our boat trip started in an easterly direction towards Cardigan Island.  This is an uninhabited island just 200 metres off the Cardigan headland.

Cardigan Island is a special conservation area and a haven for sea birds, who come here to nest.  Some of the most prolific inhabitants are gulls, razorbills, guillemots, and oystercatchers. Cardigan Island also attracts choughs, one of rarest birds in Britain.

We saw several different birds sitting on the rocky cliff face.  From here we continued along the Ceredigion coastline, a popular area for dolphins.  We then circled round the island and crossed to the coastline in Pembrokeshire.

Atlantic grey seals in Pembrokeshire

Sea Caves in Cardigan Bay, West Wales

As we approached the secluded coves on the Pembrokeshire side of the estuary, we could see seals basking on the rocks and in the water.  These were Atlantic Grey Seals, part of a large breeding colony who live in these waters.  There are around 5,000 seals on the Pembrokeshire coastline.

It was exciting to spot the seals, and they were a pleasure to watch.  The boat engine was turned off so that we didn’t scare them, and we could sit and enjoy the wildlife.  The seals are quite curious and were keen to look back at us.  Apparently, they enjoy “periscoping”, which is when they pop their head out of the water for a quick look.

Atlantic grey seals can keep under the water for up to 7 minutes, so disappear and pop up again unexpectedly.  The seals were friendly creatures, and came fairly close to the boat.

The Latin name for the grey seal is “Halichoerus grypus”, which means hook-nosed sea pig.  Now, that’s just mean!

Sea caves

View from inside sea cave looking out onto open water

After seeing the seals, we headed round the coastline into some sea caves.  It’s interesting to see how the caves have formed naturally through erosion and fun to take the boat inside.

It was then time to return.  Although we didn’t see any dolphins on our boat trip, we really enjoyed the boat trip,  the wildlife and stunning scenery.

Other places for dolphin watching in Cardigan Bay

New Quay

Picture of the Newquay boat trips newest boat the Dreamcatcher with a dolphin breaching close to the stern.

Another of the best places for dolphin spotting in Cardigan Bay is at New Quay, between Llangrannog and Aberaeron.  This is a hot spot for dolphin tours and you’ll have a choice of boat trips from here.

The longest running boat tour company is New Quay Boat Trips, who offer a choice of dolphin spotting cruises.


foel y mwnt, Wales, UK

If you prefer to keep your feet on dry land, you can spot dolphins from the coast.  A brilliant place for watching dolphins is from the conical hill, Foel-y-Mwnt,

Foel-y-Mwnt offers a great viewpoint for watching wildlife and we spotted both dolphins and Grey seals in the water.  They come closer to shore during tidal changes, so you have a better chance of seeing them then.

Mwnt also has one of the best beaches near Cardigan Bay, so is a popular place for a family day out.

Read here for our guide to Mwnt and Foel-y-Mwnt.


Another good place for spotting dolphins near Cardigan Bay is from the cliff tops in Aberporth.  This was where we staying, but despite several attempts, we were out of luck.

A map of Cardigan Bay

What’s your favourite place for watching dolphins near Cardigan Bay?  We’d love to hear your comments below.

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