If you like long sandy beaches, stunning coastal walks and an abundance of wildlife, you should seriously consider a holiday to Cardigan and the Ceredigion coast in west Wales. The award winning beaches make it the perfect spot to catch some waves, build a sandcastle or watch wild dolphins play in the sea. For those looking for adrenaline filled adventures the miles of unspoilt coastline backed by the rugged Welsh hills makes Cardigan Bay a haven for water sports, mountain biking and hiking.
Ceredigion is steeped in history and has a thriving arts and crafts scene with plenty of local galleries, art exhibitions and craft fairs. Explore the ancient sites, stroll round 18th century gardens and enjoy a hearty harbour meal. Or venture off the beaten track to explore the stunning landscape and large empty spaces. Whether you want to explore the pretty seaside towns and villages, spend lazy days on the beach or paddle down a river in a kayak, our travel guide to Cardigan and the Ceredigion coast highlights the best things to do whilst on holiday in this magical corner of the UK.
Gorgeous Coastal towns
You will receive a warm welcome from the friendly Welsh market town of Cardigan. The beautiful landscapes and rich heritage, blended with a modern twist, makes Cardigan is a fantastic base to explore the Ceredigion coast. Overlooking the River Teifi, Cardigan Castle is a great place to visit. Explore the medieval walls, stroll through the Grade 2 listed gardens, enjoy one of the exhibitions or let the kids dress up as knights and play on one of the giant board games. Make sure you don’t miss the ‘bat cam’ where you can see a live feed of the greater horseshoe bats that live on-site.
Cardigan has a variety of fantastic restaurants and cafes, vintage and antique shops and galleries. On a summer’s nights you should head to the popular Pizzatipi, a fantastic pop up pizza restaurant run by four brothers. Enjoy woodfired pizzas, craft beer and a buzzing atmosphere under a candlelight tepee on a riverside courtyard. Unleash your creative skills at Stiwdio 3, a community studio and gallery on the High Street. Take part in a workshop, buy a local piece of art and enjoy breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea in their licenced café.
If you want to enjoy some stunning coastline views, just over a mile along the river is the start of the Pembrokeshire coastal path at St Dogmaels. If you fancy building sandcastles, or having a little snooze in the sun, the closest beach is just five minutes further along the estuary at Poppit Sands.
It is easy to see why the traditional seaside town of New Quay is a popular spot for holidaymakers. The town is built on steep terraced slopes which tower above three beaches and a pretty harbour. The sheltered harbour is one of the main places along the coast to catch a boat trip, or if you don’t fancy taking to the seas you can often see dolphins playing in the water here. If you fancy stretching your legs, keep your eyes peeled for wild ponies and seals as you follow the coastal path south to the secluded cove of Cwmtydu. This quiet beach, which is lined with caves, was once used as a harbour by pirates and smugglers. The restored kiln at the back of the beach is believed to have been used to hide the smuggler’s loot until it could be safely taken inland.
The beautiful seaside town of Aberaeron, with its picturesque harbour surrounded by multi coloured Georgian terraced houses, is a perfect spot to relax and unwind on holiday. Enjoy catching some waves at one of Aberaeron’s two beaches, or simply enjoy some family seaside fun.
Just down the road you can visit the popular National Trust property of Llanerchaeron. This 18th century Georgian villa is set in a gorgeous wooded valley and includes a working farm, a lovely walled garden and lake. There is a 3 mile traffic free path along a disused railway line from Aberaeron to Llanerchaeron which is perfect for a family bike ride. Enjoy lovely views of the river along the way. Any train enthusiasts shouldn’t miss the opportunity to enjoy a ride on a restored steam train which travels through stunning woodland and mountain scenery at the Vale of Rheidol Light Railway.
One of the best ways to enjoy the stunning views of the coast near Aberaeron is to walk between Aberaeron and New Quay on the Ceredigion coastal footpath. Passing through gorgeous beaches, woodlands and waterfalls this six mile walk is popular at any time of the year. In the other direction, the gentle 7 mile walk to Llanrhystud passes through the quiet seaside hamlet of Aberarth. This is a great place to spot birds, or enjoy the views out to sea or north towards Snowdonia.
At the end of the day enjoy a harbour meal at the infamous Cellar bar and restaurant. The locally sourced menu often includes freshly caught Menai Mussels as well as other seafood delights. In the summer enjoy tapas on the terrace whilst watching the boats bob about in the harbour. Any ice cream lovers should visit The Hive for the most delicious homemade honey ice cream.
Often claimed to be the culture capital of Wales, the university town of Aberystwyth provides a perfect central base to explore mid Wales. If you are interested in learning more about the history, culture and language of Wales the National Library of Wales and the award winning Aberystwyth Arts Centre are both worth a visit. Or head to the Ceredigion Museum which has a fantastic programme of temporary exhibitions, workshops and events as well as permanent displays of a huge variety of exhibits that explores Ceredigion’s heritage. Aberystwyth Castle is also worth a visit. Kids will love exploring the nooks and crannies and it is also a great place for a picnic on a sunny day.
Aberystwyth has two beaches, North and South Beach. North Beach is more accessible from town and it is the ideal spot if you are looking for traditional family seaside fun such as donkey rides, rollerblading along the promenade and playing in paddling pools. At the northern end of the promenade you can enjoy a scenic cliff railway ride on the longest electric funicular cliff railway in the UK. South Beach is a quieter sheltered sand and shingle beach that is popular with surfers and body boarders. Lifeguards patrol both beaches during the summer months. Just behind South Beach you will find the harbour and marina. This is great place to see the fishermen returning with their daily catch or book your own fishing trip from here.
There are a number of places to eat out in Aberystwyth, including the popular tapas restaurant at Ultracomida or the seafront restaurant of Baravin which has a unique Welsh and Italian twist! If you would prefer to cook back in your holiday cottage you should head to Aberystwyth farmer’s market to stock up on a selection of goodies. Held on the first and third Saturday of every month, you will find a fine selection of locally produced and homegrown meat, vegetables, bread, preserves and cakes, as well as flowers, arts and crafts. It’s worth popping along just for the buzzing atmosphere and selection of cheese!
Wildlife in Cardigan Bay
Cardigan Bay is a wildlife haven. It is home to the largest population of bottlenosed dolphins in Europe and it is one of the few places in the UK where you can see them swimming in the wild. While you can often spot these majestic mammals from the shores of Llangrannog and New Quay, you have the best chance of seeing dolphins and porpoises on one of the boat trips which run regularly during the summer months. Watching dolphins play in the sea and leaping high out of the water really is an unforgettable sight. If you are really lucky an orca or humpback whale might swim by too!
The shore around Cardigan Bay is also a fantastic place to spot seals. You can have hours of fun watching their large heads pop up above the water! Atlantic grey seals breed in the caves below Cardigan Island Farm Park. When the seals give birth during September and October the fluffy white pups can often be seen basking in the sun on the rocks. It is an amazing sight to watch these cute seal pups from the coastal paths but please make sure you do not disturb them and do not allow dogs to approach them. In between spotting seals you can also enjoy feeding a variety of traditional farm animals at the farm park including sheep, goats, ponies, rabbits and guinea pigs.
The Ceredigion coastal cliffs are also a fantastic place to spot birds. Keep an eye out for peregrine falcons, red kites and the rare red legged chough. The appropriately named Bird’s Rock, just south of New Quay, is a good place to watch a variety of bird life including colonies of quillemots huddling together on the rocky ledges as well as fulmar, kittiwake and razorbills. If you are lucky you might even see a gannet, which can have a wing span of six foot, dive into the sea for fish. The Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre in New Quay is a great place to find out more about the wildlife in Cardigan Bay.
The Dyfi National Nature Reserve, near Aberystwyth, is another fantastic place for wildlife lovers. The combination of the mudflats and sandbanks of the Dyfi estuary, the vast sand dunes and the raised peat bog makes this nature reserve a haven for a huge variety of fauna, fungi, minibeasts and birdlife. There are a number of different walking trails around the reserve. Keep an eye out for lizards, dragonflies, migrating waders and the rare Greenland white-fronted goose. If you are lucky you might even catch a glimpse of an otter or osprey on the estuary. In the summer the colourful saltmarsh flowers are stunning, or enjoy the variety of red hues during the autumn months.
Cardigan Bay beaches
No visit to Cardigan and the Ceredigion coast would be complete without spending some time on some of the beautiful beaches and quiet secluded coves that are dotted along this stunning coastline. Poppit Sands, the closest beach to Cardigan town, is a large blue flag sandy beach backed by sand dunes. Lifeguards patrol the beach during the summer months, making it an ideal destination for swimming and water sports. The hard sand at the mouth of the River Teifi also makes it a popular buggying, kite boarding and landboarding beach. Poppit Sands is also the start of the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path which stretches 186 miles all the way to Amroth.
The sheltered and sandy bay of Llangrannog is another family friendly beach. It is also a popular spot for surfers and it is lifeguarded during the summer months. If you get peckish you can enjoy traditional pub food whilst overlooking the sea at The Ship Inn or fish and chips at The Beach Hut. At low tide you can walk to the headland at Ynys Lochtyn where you will find a hidden beach and a small island. Just a few miles from Llangrannog beach any gin lovers should visit the In the Welsh Wind Distillery. Book a unique gin tasting experience or you can even make your own bespoke gin (the perfect holiday gift to take home!).
Mwnt beach, which is owned by the National Trust, is a lovely secluded bay with a sandy green flag beach. The safe swimming, rock pools and the possibility of seeing dolphins and seals playing in the bay makes it a firm favourite with families. The rocks on the nearby headland are also a popular fishing spot. If you want a break from sandcastles and fishing nets enjoy the views on a walk around the headland of Foel y Mwnt. From here you can join the Ceredigion Coastal path.
Also owned by the National Trust, Penbryn beach is a lovely long expanse of sand which backs onto a beautiful wooded valley. If the tide is low you can explore the caves and venture around the headland to find another quiet sandy beach. Just make sure you check the tide table before you head off! In the other direction you will find the small sheltered bay of Tresaith. Popular with families this attractive sandy beach is great for swimming, rock pooling, sailing and it even has its own waterfall! There is also a café and pub serving meals overlooking the beach.
The Great Outdoors
One of the best ways to enjoy the fantastic scenery whilst experiencing the great outdoors in Ceredigion is on two wheels. From mountain biking trails to gentle bike rides along country lanes and bridleways there are plenty of routes to choose from. Mountain bikers should head to Bwlch Nant yr Arian, where you will find a variety of different trails on the mountains just inland from Aberystwyth. There are also some fantastic walking and running trails here as well as an orienteering course and a kids play area. Bwlch Nant yr Arian is also a hot spot for red kites who feed here every day.
For something a bit more off the beaten track, head into the remote wilderness of the Cambrian mountains and explore the miles and miles of forestry tracks and bridleways. If you are after something a bit flatter both Rheidol cycle trail starts in Aberystwyth and follow miles of off road paths through the beautiful Welsh countryside. The Cardi Bach Trail near Cardigan is another off road track which is perfect for family bike rides. If you want to hire a guide for the day Crys Melyn and Peleton Cymru have a selection of tours and guided routes.
If you would rather get out on the water head to Cardigan Bay Watersports in New Quay where you can take part in a number of activities including sailing, waterskiing, paddling boarding, kayaking and surfing. If you can’t decide what you want to do there is a Kids Splash session every Sunday morning which is more about having fun on the water rather than a formal lesson. Or if you are after an adrenaline filled adventure, have a day on the water with Adventure Beyond. Thrill seekers should have a go at white water rafting, coasteering or gorge walking. If you are looking for something slightly less wild you can go on a kayak or canoe trip, build a raft or go stand up paddle boarding.
If tearing down a mountain on a bike or flying down rapids all sounds a bit much, arguably the best way to experience the Ceredigion coast is to put your walking boots on and explore the Coastal Path. Starting just south of Cardigan and ending 60 miles later in Ynyslas, the Ceredigion Coastal Path is split into seven manageable sections. Each section starts and finishes in one of the seaside towns or villages where you can catch a bus back to the start. Operating a ‘hail and ride’ policy, the dog friendly Cardi Bach bus service is perfect for walking any of the sections between Cardigan and New Quay. As well as stunning views you will find a wealth of wildlife, a number of geological and archaeological features and a fascinating history to uncover as you explore this heritage coastline. The path passes through a number of quaint fishing villages and seaside towns providing plenty of opportunities to stop for a coffee and cake or ice cream on the beach.
Croeso i Gymru
Cardigan Bay and the Ceredigion coast really does offer something for everyone. If you want clean sandy beaches, they’re here in buckets and spades. If you are a history buff, you have several thousand years to work your way through. And as for foodies, well, you might want to let your belt out a notch or two before arriving.
From seaside apartments in Aberystwyth to coastal hideaways in New Quay, Independent Cottages has a large range of holiday houses in Ceredigion. If you haven’t done so already, it is time you add this stunning part of Britain to your bucket list. Welcome to Wales, or Croeso i Gymru!