7 Best Places to See Dolphins in Cornwall

Written by: Eliot Prince

Imagine this: 

You’re surrounded by the boundless ocean off the southwest British coast. The breeze brushes against your face as you’re enveloped by salty sea spray.

And as you look around, a pod of dolphins appears by your boat; chirping and jumping, in leaps and twirls. 

Watching dolphins is an unforgettable experience, and there’s no better place to spot these animals than off the coast of Cornwall!

With seemingly endless miles of unspoilt coastline, Cornwall is one of the best places to appreciate marine life in the United Kingdom– especially if you want to go dolphin watching. 

However, with such a lengthy, rugged coast, you might be wondering exactly where to go dolphin spotting in Cornwall.

Don’t worry– we’ve got you covered! In this article, we’ve rounded up the best places to see dolphins in Cornwall. While reading our guide, you will learn:

  • If there are dolphins in Cornwall
  • When the best time is to see dolphins in the county
  • The best places to see dolphins in Cornwall
  • All about the other sea life to see in Cornwall.

Are you ready? Let’s dive in! 

Are There Dolphins in Cornwall?

Yes, there are many dolphins around Cornwall! 

Cornwall’s marine life is incredibly diverse, and no matter the time of year you can find multiple species of dolphins swimming around the Cornish coastline.

Some of the more frequently-seen dolphins that you can find around Cornwall include the Bottlenose and Common dolphins

If you’re lucky, you may even spot the much more elusive Risso’s dolphins, White-beaked dolphins, Striped dolphins, and the Atlantic white-sided dolphins.

If you encounter common dolphins, you may be witnessing them in a superpod of hundreds of these mammals swimming together as a group!

However, no matter how common or rare the dolphins you spot are, these animals are always a mesmerising sight.

Whether you’re dolphin spotting from the land or sea, witnessing these majestic mammals swimming in the wild is guaranteed to be an experience you’ll never forget. 

Just remember—if you do see dolphins or other marine wildlife at any point on your trip, make sure to be respectful and give them plenty of space.

When Is Best to See Dolphins in Cornwall?

Ideally, you’d want to go dolphin spotting in the warmer months between May and September. 

While dolphins can be found around Cornwall all year round, dolphins typically follow their food sources so it’s much harder to get a glimpse of these pods (and superpods) if the weather is cold. 

Of course, sitting out in the winter elements to look for dolphins isn’t ideal for you either! 

Going dolphin spotting in the summer months instead means that you’ll be able to take advantage of longer days and warmer temperatures.

So, what times during the day can you easily spot dolphins? The best times to see these creatures in Cornwall are from 9 AM to noon, and from 2 PM to sunset! As dolphins are active during these times, you’re far more likely to spot them.

Padstow and Rock

Located on the coast of north Cornwall, Padstow and Rock are prime areas to look for dolphins in the summer. 

A quaint fishing port, Padstow is a popular tourist spot because of its long history, yummy eateries, and gorgeous harbour view.

Adjacent to Padstow sits Rock, another charming seaside village with no shortage of lovely walks and beautiful sandy beaches.

These villages are located by the Camel Estuary, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty famous for its biodiversity. There’s an incredible array of wildlife to discover in the area, including eels, seabirds, and—you guessed it—dolphins!

dolphin near padstow
Dolphin in the estuary near Padstow

While you can see dolphins from the shore, there’s also a whole heap of dolphin spotting cruises you can join to watch the animals swim in the open blue water. 

Boat tours such as Padstow Sealife Safaris, the Jubilee Queen, and Wavehunters will take you to explore the estuary and the deeper waters of the Atlantic to look for dolphins and other marine life.

You can also take a ferry across the Camel Estuary to get between Padstow and Rock if you want to check out both villages. Taking the ferry also gives you a chance to see some dolphins swimming in the estuary around you. 

St Ives Bay

St Ives is a gorgeous coastal fishing village that’s popular with visitors—and for good reason! 

The village itself is charming with its many wonderful narrow streets, local shops, tasty eats, and art galleries. 

You can find St Ives Bay just by the village. This stunning 6-mile coastline is popular not only for its sandy beaches and fantastic surf but also for how you can easily spot dolphins, seals, and whales from the beach.

Since bottlenose dolphins in particular have been more frequently spotted in St Ives bay in recent years, you’ll have a good chance of encountering some on your trip there.

dolphin in st ives harbour
Dolphin Swimming in St Ives Harbour

St Ives Bay has no shortage of boats to charter or sea safaris to join, so you can watch dolphins leap from the water around you. You can even ride a glass bottom boat for an underwater view of dolphins and other sea creatures swimming below!

If you’re looking for something more adventurous, you can go on a sea kayaking tour to explore the coastline– with the possibility that you may encounter some local sea life! 

Sennen Cove

A fantastic place to surf and lounge in the sun, Sennen Cove is popular among tourists. 

However, it’s not just the gorgeous views that captivate visitors—Sennen Cove is also a wonderful spot to watch wildlife, especially dolphins and seals! 

Watching these creatures isn’t just limited to standing on the beach with a pair of binoculars while you track seabirds flying over the water (although that’s a perfectly fine thing to do here as well); swimming in the water is an option too.

In these close encounters, seals, harbour porpoises, and dolphins will occasionally swim near swimmers and surfers on the beach so it’s a great chance to share the water with these remarkable aquatic animals. 

Dolphin in the waves at Sennen
Dolphin in the waves at Sennen

While they aren’t usually too bothered by humans, it’s important to remember that these animals are wild. 

For your and the animals’ safety, do your best to not disturb them! As cute and personable as they may appear, these creatures also deserve plenty of space. 

Land’s End

At Britain’s most southwestern point sits Land’s End. Known for its dramatic granite cliffs and rugged rock faces, the landmark is a breathtaking piece of Cornwall’s natural beauty. It’s a sight you absolutely cannot miss.

Aside from offering dramatic geological features, Land’s End is also a delight for wildlife enthusiasts

Bring a pair of binoculars with you and you’ll be able to spot all sorts of species that call these cliffs and waters their home.

Countless seabirds such as gannets, fulmars, shags, and the Cornish chough can be found flying and nesting around this iconic part of the coastline. 

Look down a bit further and you’ll likely see some grey seals, basking sharks, and dolphins in the water below. 

dolphin pod near lands end
Dolphin pod near Lands End

If looking down from the cliffs isn’t enough for you and you want to get a bit closer to the ocean, consider going on boat cruises that explore this part of the Cornish coastline!

Coast Boat Trips and Marine Discovery Penzance, for example, offer memorable boat tours that begin at Penzance before heading to Land’s End. 

These routes go past seal colonies and waters frequented by all sorts of sea life such as whales, ocean sunfish, harbour porpoises, and dolphins.

Mount’s Bay

Named one of the “Most Beautiful Bays in the World”, Mount’s Bay is a large bay that stretches from Land’s End to Lizard Point.

Along with stunning cliffs and sandy beaches, Mount’s Bay is made up of some of the prettiest villages and landmarks in Cornwall, such as Mousehole, Newlyn, and Penzance. 

Also dotting Mount’s Bay is the town of Marazion which leads to the iconic and beautiful tidal island of St Michael’s Mount. 

Whether you’re a history buff, a nature enthusiast, or you’re travelling with the family, there’s no shortage of picturesque places to explore around the bay. For anyone looking to take enchanting photos, this is definitely the place to go. 

Just imagine the picture-perfect sight of dolphins jumping from the water while St Michael’s Mount, crowned by a mediaeval castle, stands in the background! 

dolphin mounts bay
Dolphins spotted in Mounts Bay

With its long southern coastline and status as a protected marine site, it’s no surprise that Mount’s Bay is frequented by pods of dolphins

You can spot these quirky creatures from the shore, on a boat cruise, or even while kayaking through the crystal clear waters. 

The Lizard Peninsula

Another piece of the southern Cornish coast, the Lizard Peninsula makes up another part of the county’s dramatic coastline with no shortage of steep, windswept cliffs, granite outcrops, and sharp black rock formations. 

The peninsula’s geology and distinctive character give an untouched feel to the area and offer some of the most spectacular landscapes in the region. Given the beauty of the rest of Cornwall, that’s really saying something.

dolphin jumping out of the water near lizard peninsula

These breathtaking views earned the peninsula the title of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and it’s not hard to see why. 

Seals, basking sharks, and dolphins can also be spotted in the glimmering azure ocean surrounding the peninsula.

Walk to Lizard Point and witness these animals from the Wildlife Watchpoint, or try to find them as you explore the white sandy beaches of Praa Sands, Porthleven, and Perran Sands that line the coast.

Looe Island

Also known as St George’s Island, Looe Island is a small nature reserve teeming with all sorts of flora and fauna. 

Perfect for the outdoorsy nature lover, this tranquil island is a little challenging to access– but the sights are absolutely worth it!

Looe Island is accessible via a small passenger boat from the harbour town of Looe. Note, however, that only official, organised trips are allowed to land on the island. 

To book a trip for yourself, call the boatman on the number listed on the Cornwall Wildlife Trust website.

Walk the short 1-km, self-guided trail through the island and enjoy the sights of the wildlife in the area. 

You’ll spot critters from grey seals to hummingbird hawkmoths, as well as black-bulled gulls (the island has the largest breeding colony in the county for these birds).

If you’re not interested in the hassle of arranging a visit to explore the island, you can book a sea safari to view the marine life that lives around the island and the surrounding bay instead. 

On these boat tours, you’ll have the chance to see dolphin pods splashing through the water, as well as grey seals and bluefin tuna.

Other Sea Life to See in Cornwall

seal on the rocks in cornwall

Of course, Cornwall’s seas aren’t just limited to dolphins. 

As we’ve briefly mentioned in this guide, there are many other sea creatures to keep an eye out for. And we don’t just mean a couple of seals or seagulls—the county has some insane biodiversity! 

Whether you’re out at sea or watching the water from shore, you’ll no doubt see some other marine mammals like grey seals, harbour porpoises, minke whales, sperm whales, and even the occasional orca if you keep your eyes peeled!

Other fascinating species often spotted around Cornwall are the massive basking sharks, with their distinctive wide mouths that are often open to catch plankton. These sharks are the second largest fish in the world, second only to the whale shark. 

You may even come across some ocean sunfish, or mola, which grow to over three metres in length

This funny-looking, disc-shaped fish frequently basks in warmer surface waters, where their dorsal fins often peek out of the ocean. When this happens, you can see the fish from boats or while walking by village harbours.

You aren’t just limited to animals in the water, though. Seabirds like puffins, shags, terns, gannets, and razorbills can also be found all over the coast.

In Conclusion

With so many great places around the county, it’s no wonder that many tourists go dolphin watching in Cornwall. Visiting any of the places on this list will lead you close enough to see these majestic creatures.

Although these animals will generally mind their business, it’s important to remain respectful and avoid provoking them in any way.

As long as you observe their majestic beauty from a safe distance, you’ll be sure to have a wonderful experience you won’t forget!